Shedding its shell

31 May 2006 by intern11
Tired of being labeled as staid and sleepy, Malaysia's Terengganu state is banking on an international regatta and heavy promotions to spic up its profile, reports Laura Lee

As a beach and marine life mecca, Terengganu, along Malaysia’s east coast, has no difficulty maintaining that profile. It’s the other reputation for staidness that the oil-rich state wants to shake off.

To do this, it’s banking on a world-class regatta, a full events calendar and aggressive promotion to do the trick. Last November, the Swedish Match Tour, dubbed the “Formula One of Sailing”, chose the destination as its Southeast Asian leg, which helped fill up hotel rooms in the area for the first time during a period infamous for monsoons. The winner bagged the inaugural Monsoon Cup.

Alongside this, smaller races and beach activities were staged, adding to the fun and excitement. The 2006 Monsoon Cup is scheduled for December. Visitors shouldn’t be quick to write off Terengganu entirely during the traditionally wet season. Surprises do happen. As Raja Dato’ Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad,
managing director of The Aryani Resort, points out, there was hardly any rain during the competition. In fact, the sun shone on the final day!

Ever since Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wrested control of Terengganu from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the Islamic opposition party, in the 2004 general elections, efforts have been made to convince the conservative leadership to adapt to changing times.

But that remains an uphill battle in a country where the government must tread a fine line between the urgent need to modernise and maintain respect for religious and cultural beliefs. One of the sticking points, particularly when it comes to attracting tourists, is the ban on liquor sales in hotels, seen as a way of minimising the negative influences of more liberal societies on the Muslim community.

This “dry” issue, however, has been creatively tackled by hoteliers,who usually outsource the sale of alcohol on their premises to a non-Muslim supplier, who
also employs non-Muslim staff, to serve the guests. As a tourism executive remarked to us: “It all has to do with political mileage and religious sensitivity.”

But despite the constraints, Terengganu is determined to come out of its shell. In the recent ITB travel show in Berlin, tourism officials opted for their own space instead of joining the general Tourism Malaysia stand. Having declared 2008 as “Visit Terengganu Year”, the pitch is to play up its “islands in the sun” – Redang, Perhentian, Lang Tengah, Kapas, Tenggol and Bidong.

Redang Island is popular with Hongkong and Taiwan visitors, who remember the movie Summer Holidays, starring Hongkong actress Sammi Cheng and Taiwan heartthrob Richie Jen, as having been shot here. Terengganu’s northernmost island, Perhentian (meaning “stopover” in Bahasa Melayu) is frequented more by Europeans.

In the 80s, I visited Redang,which received Tourism Malaysia’s Best Natural Tourist Attraction Award in 2003, way before any of the five-star resorts had opened their doors. It was a memorable trip, I recall, communing with nature, marvelling at the starry night skies, while sleeping in a tent.

We even enjoyed “open-air” baths, the ingenious handiwork of the organiser, who directed a long hose, carrying the fresh spring water from the catchement area, and dangled it from a tree branch like a shower head. Now, that seems more charming to me than all those sophisticated knobs and thingamajigs one finds in today’s bathrooms.

We were reminded then to avoid stepping on the coral reefs when we snorkelled, as well as to resist taking any of the sea shells or corals away. Not a diver myself, I certainly welcome the news of plans to introduce submarine service for coral reef viewing in Redang and Bidong, which once hosted the Vietnamese “boat people”. Much awarded local operator Ping Anchorage Travel & Tours has been arranging tours to this former refugee island for some time now.

Squid catching is becoming a popular pastime in Redang. In May, enthusiasts come from all over the country and the world to pit their fishing skills against one another.

Redang Island has developed rapidly over the years and even boasts an 18-hole golf course. The Berjaya group,which manages Berjaya Redang Beach Resort and Berjaya Redang Spa Resort, as well as operates Berjaya Air, has done much to promote the area. The Beach Resort recently launched 112 new rooms. For those on smaller budgets, a variety of lower range accommodations is available.

Reaching Redang has never become easier since Berjaya Air, using a 48-seater De Havilland, started flying daily from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. This is a breeze compared with the 12-hour journey by coach and ferry service. Pulau Duyung (Mermaid Island), famous for its traditional boat making industry, was thrust into the limelight after the Monsoon Cup and news that several celebrities had decided to purchase property in its Terengganu Heritage Bay project. Among them are actress Michelle Yeoh, Ferrari chief Jean Todt and Hongkong superstar Jackie Chan.

Also on the drawing board is a six-star resort and 300-berth marina. One wonders though how the locals, who are used to their laid-back lifestyle,will cope with such drastic changes. For me, Terengganu will always represent a natural idyll. I think of Lake Kenyir with its rich ecosystem, picturesque fishing boats dotting silver rivers, giant leatherback turtles laying the next generation in the sand and munching on the local snack,keropok lekor. It also stands for unique Malay architecture, which is still very much in existence in the capital Kuala Terengganu and the towns.

Yes, Terengganu demands another visit.


Berjaya Air, based at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang, Selangor, flies daily from Kuala Lumpur to Redang Island. Return airfare for the 75-minute
journey is M$498 (US$139). An extra charge of M$20 (US$5.58) for one-way airport tax, insurance and fuel surcharge is levied. Return fare from Singapore is
S$298 (US$190.23) for the hour and 25- minute trip, www.Berjaya-Air.com


? The Aryani Resort has 20 Malay-style villas, which include restored heritage suites made out of 100-year-old timber. Its Heritage Spa is housed on a structure on stilts. Published rates start from US$90.
tel 60 9 653 2111, www.thearyani.com

? Awana Kijal Golf & Beach Resort, Kijal, Kemaman has over 300 sea-facing rooms and boasts the Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, an 18-hole golf course and 7.6km of private beach front. Golf packages start from M$277 (US$77.33), single occupancy, but check online rates for promotions.

? Berjaya Hotels & Resorts has two resorts on Redang Island, Berjaya Redang Beach Resort and Berjaya Spa Resort. Rates for the former, which offers 255 guestrooms and suites, start from M$350 (US$97.72) during the low period (January to February and November to December).
tel 60 3 2142 9611, www.berjayaresorts.com

? The award-winning Tanjong Jara Resort and its Spa Village, off Dungun, charges from M$805 (US$224.75) for a room and from M$2,415 (US$674.27) for a suite. tel 60 3 2145 9000, www.tanjongjararesort.com


? Ping Anchorage Travel & Tours is one of the most reliable Terengganu experts, whose specialty is island hopping excursions. It has five branches including Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Terengganu. tel 60 3 4280 8030, www.pingachorage.com.my

? Tourism Malaysia’s Terengganu office will be of immense help. tel 60 9 622 1433, www.tourismmalayasia.gov.my
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