Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Les Bleus

I was feeling the blues. Not the twinge of melancholy as sometimes associated with the color blue, but a sense of calm and serenity and overall well-being that comes from feasting my eyes upon nature’s most calming blues – water, amidst the sun and the sea.

The Redang blues – running the spectrum from beryl to turquoise to azure – fed by the south china sea and made more intense by Redang’s unique ecology and of course, the presence of a perfect canvas of clean, powdery white sand, to showcase the clear blues.

Caption: Teluk Dalam Kechil, Pulau Redang, Malaysia. Insert accompanying music: La Mer!

But before we get there, a little detour on how we got to Redang from Singapore.

There are a couple of ways to get to Redang from Singapore, one way is by car/coach (12-hour journey to Kuala Terangganu)), followed by a ferry transfer (40-90 minute, depending on which jetty you board from). Another simpler, direct way, is to fly there by plane. This is especially covenient, if you choose to reside at the Berjaya Redang Resort, which is the only resort that is located on the same side of island as the sole airport in Redang. From the airport, it’s just a mere 5-minute land transfer to the Berjaya. Most of the other resorts are clustered on the other side of the island, separated from the airport by a jungle mass that is inaccessible by land vehicles. Hence, those staying at the other resorts will travel to the nearby Kampung Jetty to catch a boat to their resort.

Currently, the only airline that flies directly from Singapore to Redang is Berjaya Air (the next nearest is Air Asia or Fire Fly, which lands at Kuala Terangganu, a 40-50 minute ferry ride away from Redang). Berjaya Air operates from Seletar airport, which is situated at the north-eastern part of Singapore, away from the main airports of Changi, which are located at the eastern part of the island.

I’m digressing from Redang a little to highlight Seletar airport, because it’s such a unique piece of Singapore history and I’m simply lovin’ the quaint retro-licious vibe the place gives off. From its hidden-find location among the quiet Seletar Hills estate dotted with heritage colonial black&white bungalows, to the throwback to earlier times simple architecture of the smallish airport, to the odd-looking boarding gate holding area, that’s reminiscent of some retro-alien movie set. With the development of plans to upgrade the airport to support an upcoming Aerospace Park, Berjaya Air, currently the only commercial flight available at Seletar, will relocate its operations to Changi Budget Terminal from November 2010 onwards. And with that, a chapter will be closed, as most of the public will probably not have much of an opportunity to use the premises again, save for the few who are enrolled in private flying schools that operate out of Seletar airport.

Some factoids culled from Wikipedia and

- Seletar Airport was built and completed by the British, in 1929, and it was the British Royal Air Force (RAF) first airbase in the Far East.

- When it was opened to commercial aircraft in 1930, it also became Singapore's first international civil airport.

- It is no longer a military airbase but it still serves as a commercial airport, operated by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

- About 80% of the total number of flights operating at Seletar Airport are by the various flying schools. Aircraft charters, repairs and maintenance make up the remaining flights.

- The only airline operating scheduled commercial flights from here is Berjaya Air, which offers round trips from Seletar Airport to the Malaysian islands of Tioman and Redang.

- Private jets and chartered planes account for most of the other travellers that pass through the airport's gates. Seletar is also Singapore's general aviation airport so if you own a private aircraft, you will most likely land here. Yes, Tom Cruise famously landed here when he visited Singapore (possibly to avoid the paparazzi)!

- The Seletar Aerospace Park is slated for completion by 2018.

The quaint airport gives off such a unique anachronistic vibe that is hard to come by in gleaming, modern Singapore, that it makes one compelled to go trigger happy with their camera, in fervent bid perhaps, to capture some timeless shots. I could only snap a couple of pictures of the airport, as there are restrictions for general photography for most areas. However, the public can download this form and apply 7-14 working days in advance to the Changi Airport group for permission for photography and filming.

If you still have a chance to fly Berjaya through Seletar, in these last few weeks before they shift to Changi, you may also wish to visit this hidden-find food haunt in the vicinity – the Sunset Grill. You may wish to take up their flaming hot buffalo wings challenge, which go up to Level 30 of spiciness! But I'll probably recommend that you only contemplate such a challenge on your return flight. You would not wish to find yourself battling the runs on a departing flight! I've heard that's how devastating the fiery wings can be if you let yourself go nuts and try the crazier levels.

And so after a 1-hour 15 minutes flight, you’ll arrive at Redang airport, then it’s a quick (less than 5 minutes) transfer to Berjaya Resort.

We stayed at a (regular, non-Premier) Seaview room at the hotel complex (versus the standalone chalets where the suites are probably housed in). We liked that the room was spacious, clean and well-maintained. The room hardly showing any signs of ageing, which is probably due to their recent refurbishment from late 2009 to early 2010.

All in all, it was a very comfortable stay. When we awake in the morning, we find ourselves either relaxing by the bed-side chaise lounge which looks out the window to the gorgeous turquoise bay; or step out to the balcony and gaze at the sea and horizon, from the sun-deck loungers.

Berjaya’s biggest perk (for which you pay a premium of course, as its rooms are easily the priciest on the island), is its own private beach. Unlike at the boisterous Pasir Panjang, which is shared by the 10-odd hotels, Berjaya’s Teluk Dalam Kechil is occupied exclusively by its guests, being the sole hotel located there. Which is perhaps why some may find this beach more pristine compared to the more crowded Pasir Panjang.

We were there for just a short weekend, a 3-day-2-night affair and to be honest we could just spend our whole 3 days chilling by the beach. Feasting our vision on the clear blues & greens, swimming in the cordoned off shallow, calm cove. Resting our belly on the soft white sand while we work on our tans, pausing occasionally to take a respite under the sheltered beds and attend to our hunger with a beachside lunch of pizzas and coconut juice. Or just take in a relaxing nap amidst the lulling sound of the lapping waves, rustling leaves on the thatched roof of the tiki huts/cabanas & strains of chill-out, easy-listening tunes aka Jason Mraz, from the nearby beach pub, as evening approaches.

However should you feel wont for a some activity, the resort has a dive center, whereby you can take up dive lessons or go on dive trips or snorkelling trips, among other sea activities such as kayaking, banana boat rides, parasailing, turtle-watching aboard glass-bottom boat etc. For land activities, there’s beach volleyball, tennis, jungle trekking. And if you fancy some indoor time, there’s a fitness center, pool room and games room, as well as a small library, and a spa. We enjoyed the one-hour deep tissue massage at their Ayura spa (RM175++). The spa premises was clean, spacious and well-set up.

We also had a complimentary 1-stop snorkelling trip as part of our tour agency-booked package, which we topped up RM60 per person, to include 3 more sites. Malaysia made an announcement to close off dive sites at Redang and some other islands from July to end October 2010, in a bid to aid in the recovery of damaged corals. We got to snorkel at some of the other sites that were still open, but the Marine Park was not on our itinerary, as we were told that it’s too popular with visitors and too crowded, so our snorkelling experience would be compromised.

Sadly, while we still see plenty of fishes (schools of them in fact), the corals we came across looked mostly bleached. Hopefully the closure of some of the sites may indeed help restore the condition of the corals at those affected sites. Of course, as visitors to these fragile environment, we should also play our part to lessen the toil of tourist impact - such as paying heed to the marine park instructions given, not wear flippers as advised and not touch or worse, pocket any corals or marine biology as tainted souvenirs.

Being the sole resort on this part of the island, Berjaya’s dining choices are limited mostly to its 2 restaurants (Palms restaurant which serves Malay & international cuisine in their ala carte & buffet; Beach restaurant which serves Indian & international and also does a seafood barbeque on weekends) and 1 beach bar (Bayu bar: western/Italian). They also have an Ocean Terrace Lounge that serves light bites, cocktails and drinks with live music at night. We did come by a local eatery that’s on the outside premises of the Berjaya though. Perhaps the more adventurous and possibly conversant in Bahasa Melayu can try venturing there to eat.

That said, we were mostly satiated by the quality of food served at Berjaya, but of course, we were only there for a brief period, so did not have to endure much the tedium of repetitive cuisine choices. For visitors on a longer-term stay, you may wish to catch a 7-min speedboat ride to Pasir Panjang (which means “long beach” in English). The resort charges RM60 per person. And perhaps because it was September, the lull season when we visited, there was a minimum requirement of 4 passengers before the boat can depart.

As mentioned earlier, save for Berjaya, most of the other Redang hotels are located at Pasir Panjang, so naturally this beach has a greater variety of food choices, souvenir shops, dive centres and other amenities. The guests at this beach also seems of the younger, partying set, as there is also a disco located at the front of the Laguna hotel.

If you’re familiar with Hong Kong films, Redang’s Pasir Panjang beach was the backdrop for the movie, “Summer Holiday” starring Sammi Cheng and Richie Ren. The movie was shot here in 1999 and a jolly-pink house was built on-set to serve as an inn (called “More More Tea Inn”). Later the neighbouring Laguna Resort rebuilt the movie set house into a sturdier structure and it currently serves as souvenir shop. You can see the character cut-outs in the left of the photo below. No doubt the movie further fuelled the popularity of Redang as a choice island getaway among Asian tourists.

The opening of the trailer gives a moving preview of the gorgeous beauty of Redang.

While we were at Pasir Panjang, we tried out this pretty good foot reflexology place called Bamboo Inn, located near the Redang Beach Resort. The place is a simple, rustic, but clean set-up, with mostly Malaysian Chinese therapists. We had the 1-hour foot reflexology for RM60, which is great value, especially when compared to the Berjaya Ayura spa’s 30-min foot reflexology for RM70.

At Redang, there’s this natural phenomenon, colloquially termed “Blue Sand”. They are basically a type of bioluminescence that gives off a blue glow at night. I did not see any while I was at Berjaya as the blue sand is apparently more commonly found along the coasts of Pasir Panjang. And the cut-off time for the last speedboat shuttle back to Berjaya is 6:00pm.

Yup, currently, it seems like one would be torn between staying at either Teluk Dalam or Pasir Panjang. One one hand, you have the exclusive resort of Berjaya – regarded by online reviewers as the top resort in Redang (see trip advisor), and its pristine beach. On the other hand, at Pasir Panjang, you have variety of amenities and choices. I guess if you prefer variety and the option of cheaper accommodation & dining choices and some party action, not forgetting the Blue Sand and the chance to catch the sunrise, Pasir Panjang would be the place for you. But if you are particular about accommodation standards or want some quiet and prefer to chill by a cleaner and less crowded beach scene, as well as easier accessibility from the Redang airport, stay at Berjaya (

Before you book your ticket, do note that most Redang resorts are closed during the northeast monsoon season from November till late February. The recommended period to visit is between April to September when the seas are generally calm and the weather is good. And if you’re a turtle fan, August would be a time to go while September is the best month for sightings of migratory whale sharks. If you wish to avoid the holidaying crowds, it might be a good idea to check out when the Malaysian and Singaporean holidays are, and avoid the crunch.