It was sad to read about the Tioman ferry fire incident in the papers recently. Our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to those grieving for their loved ones who perished. Something that perhaps could have been avoided had the ferry been better maintained, the crew better prepared to handle such emergencies (instead of abandoning passengers and vessel) and more importantly, if the vessel was not over capacity and had sufficient lifevests for every passenger - things that were not properly enforced. Why does it always require accidents and fatalities to spur enforcement action?
Not long ago, it was the crackdown on errant coach companies spurred by the coach crash in mid-August near Taiping which resulted in 22 fatalities. More frightening was the fact that the ensuing investigations revealed many coach drivers who were serial traffic offenders, using drugs to fight fatigue, or simply inexperienced drivers driving poorly-maintained coaches. So will there now be a crackdown on errant ferry operators instead? I hope so, if the end result is that it makes it safer for folks like us to visit the islands. But more importantly is that the authorities continue to enforce strict compliance over the long term and not become complacent when the memories of such events dim, waiting for the next accident to trigger another knee-jerk reaction and crackdown.
One of the largest Malaysian frogs, the forest frog Rana blythii.
It's been a busy period for me both sides of the work/life equation which explains my intermittent periods of absence from the Forum and the general lack of updates this year. I've had to make a number of trips up to KL the last few months and on my last trip there at end of September, I stumbled onto the KLCC Aquaria while I was visiting Suria Shopping Centre below the Petronas Twin Towers. It's located a short walk away at the KL Convention Centre connected to Suria by an underground pedestrian linkway. I had mentioned the KLCC Aquaria when it first opened but had forgotten about it. Curious, I stepped in to see what it had to offer. It wasn't as impressive in terms of exhibits compared to places like Ocean Park's Atoll Reef in Hong Kong (which I still consider one of the best coral reef aquariums). However, it was interesting to see a section on Malaysian turtles with Redang and SEATRU prominently mentioned, allowing visitors to have close encounters with baby and juvenile green and hawksbill turtles similar to those in Redang. The main tank through which the underwater tunnel meanders had the usual collection of rays, groupers, trevallies, reef fishes and sharks, including a few sand tigers. What I found most interesting and which was the highlight of my visit was not the marine life but a small section displaying Malaysian jungle reptiles, amphibians and insects.
There were large forest geckos on display, lizards that looked like your typical house gecko but with slightly different markings and up to a foot long. I believe some of these may even be found in Redang, like the large spotted Tokay gecko which I think Tango posted a photo of in the Forum - this species can grow up to 36.5cm long! But the exhibit that took the cake for me was the giant Malaysian forest frog Rana blythii which was probably close to 25cm long, almost the size of a house rabbit! It's the biggest, fattest blob of slime I'd seen! Would have loved to handle it just to see how heavy it was but it was inaccessible behind a glass panel.
It's the last month of visiting season once again and all resorts would have closed their doors come end October, only to reopen next year from mid-February onwards. Let's hope my schedule allows me to visit Redang earlier in the year. This year I managed only one trip and it's the first time we didn't manage to visit as a family. With Timothy starting his 2-year national service in January 2008 and Sarah in Secondary 4 next year, we'll have to wait and see if we can synchronize holidays to make a family trip in 2008. As usual, I'll try to have opening season updates before season reopens so check this website again before you go.
What goes up must come down... superquad rooms at Redang Beach Resort torn down. Time to relegate these photos to the Redang history archives...
An NST article dated 17 Aug 2007 reports that Redang Beach Resort's new superquad rooms block has been torn down by the state municipal council because the extension was not approved and did not have a certificate of fitness, which meant the building cannot be insured and thus tourists staying there are not covered in the event of any accident.
This isn't the first time the bulldozers have moved in. Last year, the same thing happened to Redang campsites which forced their closure. While Redang Beach Resort is still operational, they may have to do some juggling to put up guests who have already pre-booked their vacation, especially if they end up overbooked with 35 fewer rooms. I guess this also means that their plans to build family suites for next year's season may be put on hold as a result.
It's a pity to see such a nice building demolished but it's probably in the best interest of guests and tourists staying there. Guess it's a wakeup call for all of us to check in future whether the hotels and resort buildings we stay at while on holiday are actually insured. Maybe resorts and hotels should frame up their certificates of fitness proudly at their reception lobbies. I also hope that all the rubble and what's left of the building is salvaged, reused or properly disposed of and not dumped into the sea or become an environmental hazard on Redang. Thanks to our forum guest rock999 for pointing out this piece of news.
Seahorse at Sandy Bottom dive site.
Desagreen resort under construction.
Redang Beach Resort's superquad rooms.
My first trip to Redang this year from 30 July to 2 August felt more like early October than late July with overcast skies and wet evenings. Good thing about it was that the days weren't hot and there was no need to reach for the sunblock. We managed to visit 2 new dive sites called the Wreck and Sandy Bottom where I encountered my first seahorse in Redang. What concerned me most was that coral cover at some dive sites seemed to be noticeably less than previous years with more patches of dead coral rubble. While this could be due to a combination of factors like poor water quality, sedimentation or simply too many visitors causing damage to the reefs, perhaps climate change was one of the key contributing factors as I also noticed some coral bleaching taking place. This being my 10th consecutive year visiting Redang, it's sad to see how quickly the reefs had degenerated over the years. My trip report is in the Diary section, for those interested to find out more.
The last monsoon had seen higher water levels which resulted in the waves eroding a fair bit of Pasir Panjang, incurring damage to many resort's beachfront facilities and forcing repairs to be made just before opening season this year. Laguna's Tupai Bar extension had to be rebuilt with a low retaining wall added in front of the bar.
Over at Teluk Kalong, a new walkway was being erected around the rocky outcrop separating Wisana's beach from Mutiara's beach. Not sure if there are plans to build a similar walkway between Mutiara and the beach on which Mozana and Redang Kalong resorts stand - if so, it would make it possible to walk all the way from Berjaya through the forest to Pasir Panjang and down all the way south to Mutiara which would be great news for trekkers! A small jetty also seems to be under construction at Mutiara's beach.
Redang Beach has added a new block housing 36 superquad rooms capable of accommodating 4-6 persons and I checked out their mini-mall behind their reception area which housed their gift shop, the La Patisseria bakery/desert shop and a mini-mart. Quite a cosy little area. They will be building family suites in front of their superquad rooms which should be available next year. With all their upgrading, they're certainly distancing themselves from the other budget resorts.
Further down, Ayu Mayang seemed to be open for business though their old website is gone. Desagreen resort looked about 80% complete on the outside but construction seems to have stopped and I heard it is now up for sale, together with its sister resort Blue Coral at Lang Tengah. It probably won't be cheap but let's hope whoever buys it will run it in an environmentally friendly manner. The resort buildings visually dominated the northern side of Pasir Panjang beach, just as Laguna visually dominated the southern part of the beach. Redang Holiday looked quaint as ever - we took a trip up to the seaview chalets on the hill and I think it's still the best seaview rooms at Pasir Panjang. What's new is that Ping Anchorage is now marketing Redang Holiday on their website as well.
Talking about Ping Anchorage, kudos to Alex Lee and his team for winning yet another major award at the Malaysian Tourism Awards 2007, this time for Best Tour Program of Adventure & Nature 2005 & 2006. Another feather in their cap to add to all their other awards they've been winning every year since 2000.
Looks like September will be a month for clean-ups at Redang. Laguna will be hosting an underwater cleanup. Chris Cheong, director of e-business at Berjaya, also informed me that Berjaya will be having their annual cleanup from 14-16 Sep 2007. Visit their website for more information. He also mentioned that Berjaya's new Premier Suites room will be available very soon.
Ever since I started diving 6 years ago, I have always had my camera with me, even on my very first open water dive at Pemanggil. It started with a film-based Sea and Sea MotorMarine 2EX, which was soon replaced by the digital Canon A40 and subsequently the Canon A95 which I am still using. Having built up my own collection of marine life photos over the years, I have added more photos and included more fish species in the fish identification and common reef fish sections for your reference.
Modern digicams have made underwater photography a lot more convenient and affordable. Many manufacturers now offer underwater marine casings for different camera models. Canon, Sony and Olympus have marine packs for almost all of their consumer digicams. It wasn't very long ago that an entry-level digicam with underwater housing used to cost around S$1000. Now, a very decent setup such as the value-for-money Canon A570IS with its WPDC-12 marine pack can be bought for around S$700 at places like Paris Silk Electronics in Holland Village or Alan Photo Trading at Sim Lim Square. For snorkellers who do not require a marine pack, there are waterproof dry bags like Aquapac from US, Dicapac from Korea, Ewamarine from Germany and Overboard from UK. All these can be used with modern consumer digicams, allowing them to be used underwater at depths ranging from 3-10 metres.
Photography is a good way to learn to identify fishes and other marine life. Simply photograph marine life that is of interest to you and identify it later using a good reference book. Often, many fishes may look similar at first glance but there are details we only notice when we review our pictures at leisure which can help us positively identify the species. For example, most of us would not notice there are at least 3 different species of striped sergeants at the Redang Marine Park Centre - the scissor-tail, indo-pacific and bengal sergeant. Even if you're not a good photographer, you can still enjoy underwater photography as an educational tool. It's a lot harder to take good underwater photos as there's much more skill involved in handling the camera equipment and learning to control yourself in the water, so don't be discouraged if your initial attempts don't yield very good pictures. Over time, you'll get better at it. Not all photos need to be a thing of artistic beauty; they can just be a functional visual record of a particular fish species (like many of the shots used in this website) or 'evidence' photos (to show that you really did see that rare species!). Whether snorkelling or diving, just make sure you conduct your underwater photography safely and responsibly. No photo is worth endangering your life or damaging the corals and marine life for - if you can't get a good clear shot, leave it for another day.
A white sea of heavy mist with hill peaks as islands at Frasers Hill.
With June and July being peak season at Redang, many resorts have been operating at near to full capacity. We have avoided visiting Redang in June since 2003 and last month was no exception; we went up to Frasers Hill in Malaysia instead for 4 nights with a few other families from church. I had visited Frasers as a young child but had no recollection of it. Now I realized why - there was nothing much in Frasers that would leave a lasting impression on a young child. Contrast that with feeding the fishes at Redang which I'm sure will remain a fond memory for many young children! Anyway, I awoke early one morning to find a thick mist carpeting the hillslopes below our bungalow which looked like a soft white sea with islands (with a little imagination). Here I was 1500m above sea level and I'm thinking of the sea!
If all goes as planned, I'll finally be making my first dive trip to Redang this year from 30 July to 2 August. As usual, I'll be staying at Laguna. With Timothy busy preparing for his IB (International Baccalaureate) exams at the end of the year, we may end up skipping our family trip to Redang this year. Once he begins his 2-year National Service early next year, it'll also be harder to schedule family vacations to Redang. Children do seem to grow up quickly, so parents really shouldn't procrastinate when planning family vacations and spending some quality-time with their kids. Before they know it, the children have grown up and probably wouldn't want to go on vacations with them anymore.
Sometimes, I come across folks referring to this website as a 'Singaporean' website about Redang (and whatever else that implies). To set the record straight, I'm a Malaysian and a Singapore PR. I've lived and worked in Singapore much longer than I've ever lived in KL, where I grew up. Joyce used to be a British (Hong Kong) subject but took up Singapore citizenship after we moved here. As for our children, Tim is Malaysian while Sarah is Singaporean - just a typical modern day family with multiple nationalities! Anyway, the point is it doesn't matter what nationality or citizenship we hold or where we stay, we can all learn to care for the coral reefs and marine environment anywhere in the world, not just those in our own backyards. The coral reefs and marine life in Redang is a heritage without borders for all to enjoy, conserve and protect. If it is destroyed, it is not just a loss felt by one country but something that affects all of us on God's beautiful Earth. In a connected world made much smaller by economically-driven diasporas, electronic commerce & communications and efficient global transportation, what we do and consume in our little corner of earth can have great impact in faraway places. By reducing our demand for ornaments made from coral, turtle shells and other marine life, reducing our consumption of endangered marine species and ensuring we are environmentally responsible at home or as tourists, we all can contribute to the protection of the marine environment worldwide.
This must be the longest period without updates since this website started. Well, not that I have any since I've not had the chance to visit Redang yet this year. For those of you looking for the absolute latest in developments, you're better off browsing the Forum page or posting your questions there.
So much has happened in the last 8 months. The weather has become quite unpredictable lately with record rainfall towards the end of last year and for a while even after monsoon was supposed to have ended, we were still experiencing heavy downpours. Then the last few days, the weather turned a lot warmer such that even just standing still would leave me drenched in perspiration. All this talk about global warming and weather gone wild seems finally to have hit us right on the head.
Now, that doesn't mean I have been standing still doing nothing. Have actually been hard at work rewriting the code for this website to be xhtml-compliant (when I've not been busy with other stuff). Finally got that done... yes, you're looking at it! Took the opportunity to redesign the site too especially the gallery section which is now presented in photo collections. The beauty of xhtml code is that this site is now W3C-compliant (W3C stands for World-Wide Web Consortium) which means it should look and behave the same on all browsers that support xhtml standards, which includes most of the common PC-based web browsers. I've tested in on IE7, Firefox and Opera and they seem to work well, unlike the old site which sometimes looked strange or different on Firefox or Opera. Though most folks still use IE, Firefox is gaining in popularity so can't ignore those users.
The spammers have also kept me busy, attacking my Forum page. I've had to stick in some additional code to ensure that it's harder for them to register and post all their nonsense which has nothing to do with this site - seems almost all their postings have to do with certain pills or anatomical enlargements, enough said! It's really a nuisance having to check very regularly that they aren't beating the system though one or two do slip through once in a while. Some of you might also have received email notifications about private messages (PM) - thanks to the spammer who manage to send off PMs to all registered forum members. I haven't found the time to fix that yet so I have temporarily disabled private messaging on the Forum.
Bird island, Layang Layang.
I finally managed to visit Layang Layang two weeks ago. This is another world-class dive site (some say it's better than Sipadan) located an hour's flight from Kota Kinabalu. Part of the disputed Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea, Layang Layang is the part claimed by Malaysia which has a naval base there. As a dive destination, it's got the most pristine-looking coral reefs I have seen so far, large gorgonian fans, barrel sponges and fields of hard and soft coral. With walls plummeting 2000 metres into the abyss, we spent a fair bit of time out 'in the blue' where we encountered schools of hammerhead sharks and devil rays which was an exciting experience.
Though the diving was good, Bird Island took the cake for me. It's not everyday one gets to be on a tiny island surrounded by thousands of nesting migratory seabirds unless you're part of a National Geographic film crew. The noise, smell and sight was nothing like I'd ever experienced. The most amazing part? With so many birds flying overhead, none of us got pelted by droppings. I just have to park my car under a tree in Singapore for a short while and some pesky bird would have unloaded its breakfast on the paintwork! You can read more about my trip in my Layang Layang trip diary.
Tenggol Island Beach Resort.
Brian Yeo, co-owner of Tenggol Island Beach Resort (TIBR), informed me they now have a new 26-seater boat with air-con and toilet for diving and transfers. They plan to expand from 7 rooms to 11 rooms and equip them with air-cons and water heaters sometime this year. For more information, visit their website or contact them at: +603 9100-3371 (KL office) or +609 849-4822 (resort).