Having spent the last 8 months on and off on the west coast of Malaysia in the Malacca Straits we wanted to experience ‘the other side’ which is far less travelled and we had heard relatively unspoiled. When we looked at the charts we found places we had never heard of, so we were looking forward to exploring.
We left Sebana Cove and had a really slow frustrating motor sail up to Desaru. We had the current and the wind against us which was not usual for this time of year, all we could do was be patient and move up the coast slowly. Luckily we have plenty of time up our sleeves as our kids are not arriving until 27th which gives us a month to meander up the coast. There are many islands worth visiting before the Thai border, a few of which we will visit on the way up and more on the way back down. The first one we called into was a small island called Sibu. We anchored off a small resort hidden from view in glorious clean water. We had not seen such clean water since Thailand so we dove in and cleaned the hull. We were the only yacht in the anchorage and after a couple of hours we dropped the dinghy and wandered ashore.
We were met by the owner/manager – a guy called Rich who was really welcoming. We were surprised to hear that he had been educated in Perth, and he went on to tell us that he was brought up on Sibu and over the years had built up the resort mainly for ex-pat Singaporeans. We met some of the other staff, mainly backpackers who were interested in our journey. They were thrilled when we offered to show them Indian Summer as they had seen other cruisers coming by and had never been on board one. We spent a lovely evening with these young adventurous people – both of us admiring each others lifestyle.
Everyday the beaches in front of the resort are cleaned and the whole resort was pristine, but unfortunately just half a mile down the beach, the rubbish obliterated the beauty. This has become a familiar sight for us – a sad reflection of mankind.
We took the dingy over to the island of Tingi – again small resorts but little else and went snorkeling on a small uninhabited island. (see top pic) It was so relaxing to spend a few days just in and out of the water with no rushing off to somewhere but the journey north was beckoning so we upped anchor and set off to see more of this beautiful coastline. We were very short on diesel, so we had to got to the small town on Mersing to fill up. Mersing has a small river inlet which causes the water to be really muddy and because the river is so narrow we had to anchor outside. It was incredibly shallow and we managed to set the anchor in 3.5 metres but were still 1.5 miles from the river mouth. After the long dinghy ride to town, we asked everyone we met including the customs dept where we could get diesel for our boat. They were so unhelpful, basically telling us we couldn’t fill up here unless we lugged jerry cans to the local petrol station. We tried to explain we needed 400 litres and could we fill up from the bowser direct but then they were suddenly unable to speak English and waved us off with a flick of the wrist! We had got ourselves into this predicament because the fuel barge just off Sebana Cove was unmanned the day we left and we didn’t expect to motor up the coast as it is usual to have south westerlies at this time of year. We ended up going back on Indian Summer and decided that we could fill about 100 litres in jerry cans – it would be a challenge but we really had no option. The next morning at high tide, we filled the dingy with jerry cans, and headed back into Mersing. We had done a reconnaissance the day before and found a dilapidated jetty that we could tie up to with only a 500 metre walk to the gas station. We came early – as the Malaysians tend not to start work until about 10am and we were hoping to be out of there by then. When we arrived at the gas station, the girls working there were really helpful – I don’t think they get many Aussies turning up on foot attempting to carry 100 litres of diesel by hand… We did not hang around Mersing long after we had done the diesel run and left within the hour.
We got some great wind after that, and sitting on between 7.5 and 8 knots made our way up the coast stopping at a couple of small places until the got to the cute little town of Cukai (pronounced Chukai) This town is up a very wide river and we were able to anchor right off the town. We had met up with our friends on Site on the way and that evening we docked the dinghies by the town steps and were greeted with “Welcome to Cukai” Most of Cukai is one long main street running along the river – it was clean, friendly and delightful. The only issue was that because it is Ramadan there were very few places open to eat during the day. We found a chinese restaurant where we had a cheap n cheerful meal.
The next day we did some provisioning – they had a great frozen food shop with imported New Zealand lamb and Australian Beef. That night we found a different chinese restaurant – with a good range of beers for the guys, and had one of the best meals since we have been in Malaysia. Meal & 3 beers each cost A$10 – so cheap…
Our next destination was the small island of Kapas. We arrived early afternoon and what a gem – crystal clear water, four or five soft white sand bays with a few backpacking type huts set back. No large resorts or tourist boats. Later on that afternoon another cat turned up called PFM so there were three of us in the bay. I jumped overboard and spent about 40 minutes swimming with a large totally unafraid turtle. The markings were completely different from the green turtles of Western Australia. We went snorkeling but sadly most of the coral was dead although the fish life was abundant. We all went ashore and had a fabulous meal from this small beachside restaurant – a perfect end to a lovely day.
The next day we went snorkeling on the other side of the island which was much better as there were large areas of live coral and great fish life. Ian saw a reef tipped shark and I saw a stingray. Over the next few days we enjoyed this amazing relaxed island. We loved the laid-back vibe, while having dinner watching backpackers playing beach volleyball or footy on the beach. We ended up staying a week, we could have stayed longer but Ian has broken a tooth and we need a dentist. We will see Kapas again on our way back down the coast – but for now its off to Terengganu 12 miles away.