The sultry blue surrounding Malaysia is home to a wealth of fantastical dive sites teeming with exotic marine life. Situated in relatively shallow waters and warmed by tropical sunshine, reefs here offer some of the best diving the world over.
Gazetted in 1991 along with eight other islets as part of the Pulau Redang Marine Park, Pulau Redang lying just 45km off the coast of Terengganu is protected as an aquatic sanctuary, home to a great diversity of marine life including endangered sea turtles.
I had been diving un-certified for two years before Redang. And so, when I began planning this trip I just know this was it, I had to finally begin my licensed adventures at this irresistible island.
Add to that the fact that Berjaya Redang Beach Resort operates a PADI 5-Star Gold Palm Instructor Development Centre (IDC) from its base overlooking Teluk Dalam and I was entirely convinced that I had made the right decision.
Of course, at the time, a 5-Star Gold Palm IDC didn’t really mean anything concrete to me. It just sounded impressive. I was to discover through the duration of the course just what the fancy title really meant.
Day One – We began our adventure by filling in our medical forms and I unwittingly confessed to being a pesky asthmatic. After all, it did state oon my form that by admitting to any one condition, this would not necessarily disqualify me from pursuing my licence. However, I found myself whisked away to the local clinic mid-protest.
Though I explained that I was not actually suffering from asthma at that point in time and that my wheezing was triggered by air pollution, Mr. Toh,(the dive course director who would guide and supervise us during the course) firmly insisted on medical approval. I felt like a criminal whining “But I didn’t do it!”
In retrospect, his actions on my behalf were responsible and I can appreciate the strict adherence to guidelines. But at the time it felt like I was being discriminated against based on my respiratory history. Thankfully the good doctor pronounced me fit and I was allowed to proceed with a clear bill of health.
To obtain an Open Water Divers License, you have to complete a theory exam, five modules of confined water diving and four open water dives. And so, after tossing around concepts like buoyancy, pressure and volume and learning about K-valves (amongst other fascinating pieces of dive equipment) we were more than ready to jump in pool and begin training.
But first, we were taught the proper way to assemble our equipment – from checking the compressed air that we would depend on underwater and strapping the BCD (buoyancy control device) around the tank to fixing the respective hoses, tucking gadgets into place and ascertaining the right air pressure for our dive.
Before, I never bothered about which hose went where, as long as the requlator found its way into my mouth. But, this hands-on assembly phase really does inspire more confidence – knowing where everything is affords a certain comfort.
Our confined water modules brought us to the pool where Mr. Toh patiently demonstrated various techniques for regulator recovery, mask clearing and my most dreaded: mask removal.
Through our confined water sessions, we learnt to adjust our weight to achieve neutral buoyancy (this is when you neither sink nor float – the desired buoyancy), hover, control our breathing, share an alternate air source, breathe from a defective free-flowing regulator, remove and replace our BCD and weights underwater, execute a tired-diver tow, navigate using a compass, skin-dive and many other useful skills.
Like many people who aren’t strong swimmers, my photographer who was taking her license with me, was a little afraid since she couldn’t even swim.
Taking this license requires that you at least be able to swim for 200 meters or snorkel for 300 meters with no time frame. So, fear not! There is still hope.
Day Two – With the wind in our hair, we sped off to Teluk Mak Simpang, situated to the west of Pulau Redang, about 10km from the main jetty. Though the seabed descended some 21 meters, as this was our first dive, we only went down as far as 8 meters. But even at that shallow depth the underwater scenery was stunning.
A riveting landscape of staghorn corals buzzing with large coral groupers, fusiliers, blue-spotted rays and triggerfish, this bay, sheltered from strong currents, offers excellent diving opportunities for both amateurs and professionals. The icing on the cake was definitely the school of large bumphead parrotfish circling below us in a riot of colours.
For our second dive, we explored Pasir Akar situated 3km from the jetty and submerged in 15 meters of water. A coral colony with an astounding array of hard corals such as acropora, montipora and pavona cactus to name a few, this reef is home to endangered Olive Ridley turtles and translucent smooth flutemouth trumpet fish.
This time we descended 10 meters to a relatively vast sandy area which provided an ideal spot for dive training, so kneeling on the bottom is much more pleasant and poses less hazard to the surrounding coral.
Day Three – Our third dive brought us to my favourite, Terumbu Kili, where I managed to spot a green turtle winging its way on the mild currents. This time, we ventured deeper: 18 meters – the limit for Open Water recreational divers. The seabed slopes to 25 meters and as the sandy bottom drops gently in layers, a world of colourful marine life unfolds.
Reef sharks are commonly observed in the shallow waters around three to five meters whilst silver tail barracudas inhabit the deeper realm where thermoclines occur. (Thermoclines being an abrupt line where warm water and deeper cold ocean water meet. It’s impressive the big words you can learn when you actually pay attention!)
Unfortunately, on this dive we didn’t witness this phenomenon or see any sharks of barracudas. But Terumbu Kili did treat us to blue-spotted stringrays unfurling above the sand, odd-looking yellow box fish, giant moray eels protruding from their dark lairs, ethereal blue-ringed angelfish and a profusion of gorgonian sea fans in radiant shades.
Brain corals and elephant ear corals are also plentiful here. Though this dive site has been known to experience strong currents, we were lucky. With wonderful visibility up to 12 meters, warm temperatures around 27 degrees Celsius and calm waters throughout our 40 minute dive, Terembu Kili was perfect.
For our last dive, we ventured once again to the sandy paradise, Pasir Akar to execute our last skill – underwater compass navigation. After ascertaining our ability to swim in a straight line following the dictates of the compass, Mr. Toh took us on another exploration, this time, 16 meters down. We discovered beautiful butterfly fish, shy gobies and ever-present clown fish hovering amongst swaying sea anemones as brown spotted groupers foraged sponges and coral.
Returning to the resort, we sat down for our final challenge – the theory exam. After three days of intensively soaking up as much information as humanly possible, it was time to see just how much we actually retained.
I was happy to see that we had covered everything pretty thoroughly in class and that I was able to solve the pressure calculations with no trouble, despite being a hopeless failure in math for most of my school years.
In the end, Mr. Toh’s patient tutelage, we crossed the threshold into the elite world of divers.
MORE DIVE SITES
Whale Mount (29m) as the same suggests, has been its share of large fish, namely the migrating whale shark that appears in April and around the end of August and September, following the krill bloom.
Divers may also expect to encounter giant stringrays, napoleon wrasses, reef sharks, schools of trevally, turtles and yellow tail snappers amongst the profusion of soft coral that swathe its two famous pinnacles.
Not to be outdone, the cape of Chagar Hutang (35m) protruding northwards, reels divers in with its schools of barracuda, tuna, barramundi cod, hunting jacks and the big favourites, green turtles and whale sharks roam the waters here.
In fact, the northern coast of Pulau Redang is protected as a breeding ground for turtles from April through May. Other reef residents include cobia, big eye jacks, luminous big eyes, yellow mask angelfish and various types of nudibranch.
Big Mouth is Pulau Redang’s signature dive site. At a depth of 40 meters it is one of the deepest and due to its strong currents, most challenging. Like the other two, it is recommended that only advanced divers attempt this submerged reef. For those experienced enough to take up the challenge, the rewards are immense.
Descending into a swirling world of black coral with sweeping vistas of whip coral, divers are almost guaranteed sightings of yellow tail barracudas, horse eye jacks, black and white tip reef sharks, giant marble groupers, tuna, string rays, and green turtles. Passing manta rays, eagle rays and whale sharks are also commonly spotted here.
When diving season is on, from mid March till end October, Berjaya Beach Resort sets up its floating pontoon fronting the resort complete with descent lines for easy access. Sloping from 6 meters to a maximum depth of 12 meters, the house reef is ideal for training dives as well as Discover Scuda dives.
Just a fancy title?
So, does the 5-star Gold Palm rating make a difference? Getting certified at a reputable dive centre carries with it a similar distinction to graduating from a reputable university. Berjaya Redang Beach Resort is not only equipt with PADI 5-star dive center quality facilities and dive equipment for safe, comfortable and trouble-free diving, more importantly, the Instructor Development Centre here is authorized and certified to conduct training for instructor education.
The IDC here is supervised by K.S. Toh, PADI Course Director (the highest rank attainable for a diver). He actually trains instructors to train you!
Each year only 80 to 1000 applicants make itto this prestigious level. In Malaysia, there are only five or six such certified divers. Besides being a Course Director, K.S. Toh is also a Emergency First Response Instructor Trainer (CPR & First Aid), DAN (Diver Alert Network) Instructor Trainer (Oxygen & Automated External Defibrillator & Marine Life Injury) and PADI Specialty Instructor Trainer with more than 10 specialties including deep diving, wreck diving, night diving, underwater navigation, drift diving and lots more.
So, once again, does it make a difference? Yes. Mr. Toh’s professionalism and quiet persistence as an educator throughout the duration of our course spoke volumes of his experience. And when you are venturing into an unfamiliar environment, 18 meters down with just a tank of air strapped to your back to rely on, trusting the man who leads you is very important.
As this is a recreational level course under PADI designed in accordance to performance based learning, you progress as you learn. There is no time frame, but most students complete it in 4 full days.
HOW ABOUT THE RESORT?
The natural wonders of this island are unrivalled in beauty. All Berjaya Redang Beach Resort can do is provide comfort. And this is does admirably, pampering guests with its spacious and plush guestrooms overlooking Teluk Dalam. Its brand new hillside accommodation, Redang Hillview and Redang Seaview suites offer yet another twist of luxury with an open bathroom concept revealing a large Jacuzzi surveying the bay.
Palms Restaurant offers a wide range of culinary delights at its daily buffets whilst wicked Thai treats are available at Pahn-Thai.
And for that little extra extravagance, visit the Ayura Spa and indulge in the healing power of a traditional Malay massage. After all, its not everyday you find yourself in paradise…
The resort opens all year round except during the monsoon months from November to February. The best time to visit is from March till October. Jellyfish season occurs from around end of July till early August, so if you fear these spineless terrors, try to avoid visiting during this period.
So now I’m certified. What next? Obtaining a PADI license means that you are certified with the world’s largest diver training organization and the most well recognized. You belong to a dive community. So, check out the nearest PADI dive chapter and find out what activities you can get involved in.
Berjaya Redang Beach Resort organizes an international clear-up day with the Redang Marine Authority annually in September. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet other divers and do your bit for the environment.
Berjaya Redang Beach Resort is situated at Teluk Dalam Kecil in the north of the island.
Berjaya Air operates weekly flights from Terminal 3, Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang to its air base on Pulau Redang located just 5 minutes’ drive from the resort.
A shuttle to and from the Berjaya Air base in Redang is organized for guests, so transportation on the island is no hassle.
With comfortable seating the 75 minute flight is a pleasure. A convenient 1-hour check-in is required for all flights.