An unexpected dive at Redang Kalong
If this trip is about anything it is about saying why not.
We’d looked a few times at Malaysian islands over the last few months in our spurts of planning and even booked a resort on Tioman, the island we honeymooned on three years ago. You used to be able to fly to Tioman but the airport has now been closed leaving only a sporadic, and by all accounts, pretty shambolic ferry service which seems to be cancelled the day before on a fairly regular basis. Pretty sure that’s not most people’s idea of a relaxing start to a holiday and it is certainly not ours. I understand it all has it do with the tides but maybe a smaller boat with a more frequent schedule would be a better solution, anyway… After looking into the ferry we cancelled the reservation and started looking at alternatives and soon stopped looking at all.
Last week, struggling in a hot city I started looking again and came across Redang Kalong, a dive and snorkel resort on Redang Island known for it’s excellent reefs and rated 1 on TripAdvisor, with easy speedboat access from the mainland included in the rate, sold! We called up and booked a four day three night snorkelling package, twice daily snorkels, a deserted beach and all meals and soft drinks included, yes please and thank you very much.
The journey from the mainland was smooth and pain free and we soon arrived at Redang Kalong and its idyllic deserted beach. The rooms are basic and clean, all you need when you spend the majority of the time in the water or in the large open sided restaurant, the only space with wifi. Our room with comfy beds, was not made up in the eight nights we were there but I’m sure it would have been had we asked, clean towels and toilet roll were provided when we needed them. This is not five star accommodation, nor does it need to be. The meals, all inclusive and buffet style are good, with variety if not a little repetitive but I think their bread and butter is short two to three day trips so usually not an issue. We also discovered a short walk through the jungle to a huge resort with a variety of food should you wish to stay longer and eat elsewhere. Iris, at the front desk is ever cheerful and ready to help if needed.
The day we arrived we went on the 2.15pm snorkel and were a little surprised to see the captain feeding the fish white bread, which is no good for humans and certainly no good for fish. Fins on, we swam away from the feeding frenzy and fellow snorkelers who were all in life jackets, a bizarre phenomenon we first noticed in Tioman, going into the ocean when you can’t swim seems a purely Asian pursuit, and saw beautiful coral and two huge trigger fish amidst a wonderful variety of fish all colours, shapes and sizes.
The next morning’s snorkel was to the marine park, an enclosed area of sea and beach, with maybe 150-200 people crowded in, the majority in life jackets treading on coral, feeding the fish, it was a grotesque theme park version of snorkelling which I hated (JHubz says he just disliked it) and agreed to skip the morning snorkels, we had been chatting to some other guests who had said the house reef was pretty spectacular anyway.
Later that day, while JHubz showered, I started talking with AB the zen and amusing dive master here and before I knew it we’d arranged to stay an extra five nights and were signed up to do the PADI Open Water Certification, holy crap! I have always been afraid of the sea, having seen Jaws at a very formative age. I don’t even really like swimming in swimming pools if I am the only one in them. I went snorkelling for the first time with JHubz on our honeymoon and absolutely loved it, while still being terrified. Over the last few years we’ve snorkelled whenever we could and knew that we wanted to do a lot more during our adventures and even brought masks with us and bought fins as soon as we arrived. But diving had never even been mentioned. So it was a little surprising to us both to find ourselves intensely studying so that we could pass the tests that would allow us in the water with tanks. but…WHY NOT!
We started our training with an awesome snorkel to check our fitness with Lorenzo, our self proclaimed skinny lizard, chain smoking, quite wonderful and patient dive instructor, and saw several six foot plus black tip sharks and eight huge turtles. Totally mind blowing to see them and even more so to remain calm throughout. That was when Lorenzo said you always see more sharks and turtles snorkelling and I questioned why anyone would want to dive in that case ha! Too late to turn back now.
Next we learnt to assemble and disassemble our kit and then came our confined water skills. Not that there is any confined water here, so we practised in the ocean in about 2 metres of water, out of air procedures, flooded mask, tired diver tow, etc etc. I was a little freaked out at first breathing through the regulator and kept telling myself it was ok if I didn’t want to keep going but pretty soon I was just focusing on whatever we were doing, although not sure I will ever like removing my mask underwater I know I can if needs be. One thing I knew already but this confirmed, I am a natural floater, I can sleep floating in a swimming pool and we needed 5.2 kilos of weights to keep me from floating up to the surface when diving. Later that morning, when I was towing Lorenzo I was swiped by a bloody jellyfish and after screaming and crying just a little went back to practising like the good student I am *grin*.
Meanwhile JHubz had been having a little trouble adapting to breathing underwater and spent the afternoon with AB being zenned out and then delightful, patient, confident Janine, who took him through his confined water skills so that we could dive together the next morning. While JHubz was busy I went snorkelling with a lovely Dutch girl and ended up seeing a majestic old turtle as he swam pondorously by.
The next day we had our first two open water dives. I was a picture of calm but freaking out internally, heart racing, felt sick, I did not want to do it at all but sucked it up and struggled into my wetsuit, not an attractive sight I can assure you, gear loaded into a tiny boat and off we went. I can’t lift my tank and weight belt at the same time (seven hernia ops later I have learned my limits) so I back rolled off the small boat and put my gear on in the water, which was pretty easy and not nearly as terrifying as I’d imagined it would be in the beginning. And then we went down and down, ten metres for our first two dives and redoing of all the skills we’d learnt the day before, it was breathtaking! Lorenzo was ever calm and present and when I almost freaked out fully filling my mask and blowing the water out I choked, coughing in water, he was there reassuring me until I was back in control. I even breezed through removing and replacing my mask a little bit later. I am totally rubbish at pivoting, JHubz and Lorenzo perfectly aligned, me all over the place, I end up laughing which makes it worse, I am sure I’ll improve in time but right now am a happy floaty mess. Stationary tests completed we scubaed around and saw a huge Manta Ray camouflaged on the bottom, sublime!
Our last two dives, accompanied by Lorenzo, Tim; another zen guru, AB’s brother and one of the Dive Masters here and another instructor and his three students, were to eighteen metres and utterly mind blowing. It was our first dive with more than the three of us and the other students were a bit all over the place, above us, below us, chill dudes, the ocean is a huge place. Lorenzo has taught us to stay an arms length from the bottom, which we were getting pretty good at unless distracted. We saw shoals of thousands of fish and one enormous metre round jelly fish with dozens of little fish swimming in and around its head. When we went to ascend a smaller jellyfish, with metres of tentacles, got caught on our guide rope attached to the boat, we hovered below watching, several minutes of tugging and it was on its way, its tentacles left behind. Ascent up the rope impossible, we swam away from the boat and surfaced before boarding on the opposite side, dude!!! That was scary and awesome all at once.
Tim led our fourth dive, with Lorenzo following behind providing any needed assistance, and pointed out an amazing pipe fish that looked like a foot long sea horse, two tiny shrimp living in a floaty coral, a huge hermit crab and we saw the tiniest nemo living amongst an anemone, wonderful fishes large and small including a foot tall blue angel fish and this time thankfully no jellyfish.
We were due to dive again the next morning but I woke with the start of a cold and we reluctantly aborted. I am sure we will be back in the water before long. Breathing underwater, so alien and so natural it was amazing! We would also love to return to Redang Kalong, the reefs are crazy beautiful and the people we encountered were warm and welcoming with a great sense of humour. We spent several relaxing and enjoyable evenings chatting away with Lorenzo and Janine.
In terms of feedback for the resort we had only a few observations:
- The majority of the staff are amazing and helpful
- The training was great, educational and enjoyable
- A more detailed briefing on arrival of the facilities at the resort would be useful
- A reminder on arrival that the walls are thin, no need to shout, stomp around or slam the doors
- A briefing to snorkelers about what is and isn’t ok to do in the water, there is a small sign detailing this in the restaurant but no confirming anyone has even seen it
- Stop feeding the fish, it is unnecessary and is harmful to aquatic life
- Tell smokers to put their cigarettes out carefully, we saw butt after butt being tossed in the ocean, not for a lack of ashtrays
- On the walk to the other resort we noticed a lot of rubbish, make it a part of any course that your students have to pick up trash for thirty minutes a day, conservation is everyone’s responsibility
- Of note, Janine, Lorenzo, AB and last but certainly not least, Tim, were excellent company and wonderful teachers.
We laughed and learned, and we will definitely be back Xx