For an island just an hour-long boat ride off of Malaysia’s polluted east coast, Redang Island is the spitting image of paradise—and not just compared to the rest of Malaysia. It’s easy to chalk pictures of white sands and impossibly crystal clear waters up to Photoshop and sugarcoated marketing, but in reality Redang could beat out a famous island contender that starts with the letter “H” to place number one in beach havens.
After seven hours of cramped car rides and brief leg-stretching stops from Johor Bahru to Kuala Terengganu as well as an overnight stay in a not-so-fancy hotel, I boarded the 9 a.m. ferry (courtesy of Laguna Redang Island Resort) for a choppy one-hour ride. When land came into sight like the intro to Isla Nublar in “Jurassic Park”, it was hard to believe my eyes as I drank in the tiny strip of beach where we docked. I hadn’t even seen the main attraction yet, and already I had fallen in love with the island.
A cold glass of Limau Asam Boi (plum lemon tea) awaited my family and I as we entered Laguna Resort’s open lobby—no doors, no windows, just a direct view of a few wooden beach chairs dotting the clean white sand and the gradient arctic-blue-to-turquoise-to-azure water that lapped at the shore. Lush jungles hugged the resort, and throughout my stay I spotted monitor lizards, monkeys, and giant insects. The heat—typical Malaysian humidity—enveloped my skin, but with the beach breezes and the shade from thatched umbrellas, it was bearable. Add our rooms with crisp, cooling air conditioning plus a marvelous ocean view and the high temperatures were easily forgettable.
Our family opted for the three-days, two-nights package that included two lunches, two breakfasts, and two dinners, all of which were buffet-style and took place on the second floor above the lobby. Again, it was open air, with the sound of waves crashing and the sight of people snorkeling nearby. As we headed for lunch, my aunt and uncle looked around at the seats available in the dining area. Less than half the tables were filled.
My cousins’ family has made the trip to Redang Island six times in the last decade. They had noticed a sudden drop in visitors after the two Malaysia Airlines tragedies in 2014 that resulted in 537 fatalities combined. China had 153 nationals on Flight 370, and many people were dissatisfied with Malaysia’s apparent mishandling of the incidents with little transparency and delayed communication. The island’s steady flow of tourists from Mainland China (Malaysia’s biggest source of visitors) became a mere trickle.
Though that equaled more beach space for us and less crowded pools, at the same time, it meant less funding for SEATRU, which stands for Sea Turtle Research Unit, an organization that Laguna Resort has supported for years. Visitors can watch the release of baby turtles at the Turtle Sanctuary. Although I wasn’t able to attend the turtle hatchling release, I’ve made it one of my top priorities when I return to Redang Island in the future.
Our package included one Marine Park snorkeling trip and two Deep Sea snorkeling trips. With gorgeous corals right out of “Finding Nemo” in the Deep Sea and an abundance of exotic fish in the Marine Park, snorkeling at Redang Island is a one-of-a-kind experience. Along with 3,000 species of fish, visitors may have a chance to glimpse sea turtles or even small sharks nearby. It’s a truly breathtaking experience with more than enough time to admire corals the shape of human brains and scout puffer fish hiding in rocky nooks, or run into needlefish near the surface and look for tiny Nemo’s swishing in and out of sea anemones. Underwater photography is offered at a rate of 7.50 RM ($2 US dollars) per picture. Laguna also boasts scuba diving excursions for those who want more than a surface peek into the underwater world.
With ample time in between snorkeling for other activities such as swimming, archery, jungle trekking, kayaking, billiards, mahjong, and a visit to the resort’s gift shop located in the “More More Tea” house from famous Hong Kong movie “Summer Holiday” (starring Sammi Cheng and Richie Ren), Laguna Redang Island Resort is a heaven like no other. Even with an action-packed agenda, I was able to find time to kick back, relax, and enjoy Redang Island for what it is: nature’s preserved piece of Eden.