July 17, 2008

Azure Escapade

By Anis Ramli

ON THE 45-minute boat journey from Merang, Terengganu, it was evident which of the many islands on the horizon belonged to Pulau Lang Tengah. It was the only one circled by a lone eagle, or lang, in flight.

The island's geographical location, sandwiched between Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Redang, explains the other part of its name.

Like the middle child in a family, Pulau Lang Tengah does suffer somewhat from the `middle child syndrome'. It is often overlooked in favour of Pulau Redang's famous marine park and Pulau Perhentian's Long Beach - both having earned a following among tourists and backpackers from foreign countries.

When it comes to Pulau Lang Tengah, even the locals could only offer a blank stare as to its location.

Well, perhaps, this neglect is not such a bad thing because in the end, it puts Pulau Lang Tengah where it should be - left for the quiet enjoyment of those who would truly appreciate the peaceful nature of this secluded gem in the South China Sea.

Because unlike its siblings, Pulau Lang Tengah is best enjoyed unhurriedly, like that slow sip of fine champagne or the melting of a truly fine piece of chocolate on the tongue.

Without the crowd and screaming children, you get the sense that the island is all yours. There is no one around to block the sun while you sunbathe, no one to elbow at the buffet counter, no one to fight with over the last deck chair.

With only four resort operators spaced out on separate beaches on the island, there really is space for you to breathe and relax, whether on land or in the water.

Of course, when in the water, you might have to jostle about with the schools of fish, but again, that's not a bad thing. Not when you have colourful parrot fish, silver needle fish, and sergeant fish coming up close to inspect their new swimming partner.

With just a mask, fins and, for safety, a life jacket, one can already enjoy what Pulau Lang Tengah serves up best - abundant marine life in its beautiful blue waters. Most resort operators here offer full-board three- day-two-night package deals that already include two snorkeling trips round the island.

Snorkeling off the beach easily offers encounters with colourful fish and corals. With a boat, snorkelers can explore the underwater world at other parts around the island like Batu Bulan, Karang Nibong and Blue Coral where the best snorkeling sites are.

Although some protest it, feeding the fish with bread is sometimes practiced here by the boat operators to attract fish and draw out squeals of delight from snorkelers. Fry fish, silvery pompano, red breasted maori wrasse, snapper and masked rabbitfish are among the common underwater denizens.

The various types of coral here include table, boulder, brain, cabbage and staghorn corals. While some are still in pristine condition, other parts of the island reveal many dead corals - a kind of coral graveyard, which is a sad sight to see.

There have been sightings of black tip sharks around the rocky outcrops in the sea by snorkelers. `Harmless,' say the guys at the dive shop. Still, a close encounter with this shark may stir memories of another dorsal fin that struck fear in many.

Besides spotting a shark or two, the other highlight would be to see turtles coming up to lay eggs on the beach at Turtle Bay. It happens, but is a rare occasion. Guests can check with the resort operator for details.

For an even closer look at the underwater world, there is diving to be done. Most of the resorts on the island have their own dive shop with PADI-certified dive guides. The ten or so dive sites around the island are colourful feasts for the eyes.

Since Pulau Lang Tengah is pretty small and is mostly covered under dense jungle, trekking into the interiors reveals a different type of adventurous experience.

Trekking over steep slopes, navigating in thick jungle and scrambling over rocky boulders, one can easily find a nice spot from which to view the sunrise, with waves crashing on the cliffs and rock boulders below.

The staff at one resort recommended a pre-dawn trek to Batu Kucing in the south which takes about 25 minutes from the nearest resort there. Promises of a breathtaking sunrise makes the equally breathtaking trek worthy.

So yes, despite being the hidden gem that it is, Pulau Lang Tengah has plenty to keep its guests occupied. How perfect that sounds, especially when you've come to escape from it all.

(c) 2008 Malaysian Business. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.