My dear friends, have you heard of a place called Pulau Tiga? The name ‘Pulau Tiga’ means ‘Three Islands’ in Malay. It is one of the hidden jewels of Sabah which even the people of Sabah might not know about. I stumbled upon this place one day when I was searching for islands within the vicinity of South East Asia that my friends and I could visit.
After searching for information on Pulau Tiga, the first thing that one would notice that Pulau Tiga is also known as Survivor Island. Further reading explains that the island became well known through the reality television series, Survivor.
Pulau Tiga is actually one of the three islands that make up Pulau Tiga National Park, the other two being Pulau Kalampunian Besar and Pulau Kalampunian Damit (also known as Pulau Ular, which means ‘Snake Island’ in Malay). The pictures available on Pulau Tiga was convincing enough, plus Pulau Tiga has a natural mud volcano which none of us has ever tried before in our lives.
Off we went; for our road trip, starting our journey all the way from Kuala Belait, Brunei.
Our first stop would be Limbang, which also happens to be the hometown of Su Ling. We left Kuala Belait when the whole time zone was still in dreamland, reaching Limbang in time for a delicious breakfast at the Open Air Market.
What looks like Teh-C Special (3 layer tea), a common drink in the region, is actually normal coffee with a very thick layer of coffee grind. Looks very interesting and tastes even better.
After breakfast, we dropped by Su Ling’s house which found that her father was an experienced chinese calligrapher. His calligraphy works are one of the best I’ve seen in my life.
While Su Ling’s father was an avid calligrapher and also a practicing chinese doctor, her mother loves planting flowers, This very vibrant coloured daisy flower immediately captured my eyes. Apparently, the wasp did not want to miss out on this photo-shoot opportunity.
As we continued our journey, we arrived Lawas in time for lunch. We have heard of Lawas’ reputation for its fried bittergout dish, so we decided to stop by Soon Seng Restaurant, Lawas. The dish lived up to its reputation, it was indeed a delicious dish which rendered us craving for more until today.
Our itinerary includes a one night stopover in the small town of Beaufort which gives out an old-town feel with its wooden houses. It is known for its frequent flooding therefore the houses and buildings there has adapted, and grew stilts over time.
Walking around Beaufort town brought us to a shop selling very colourful island clothes at very reasonable prices. Taken over by the spirit of the islander, each one of us bought these colourful floral clothes.
All that clothes shopping took its toll as we found ourselves thirsty for a nice cold drink in the warm climate of Beaufort town, ordering the coincidently colourful ABC (Ais Batu Campur), which means ‘Mixed Ice Rocks’ in Malay.
Recharged, we walked a little around Beaufort a little more and found ourselves at the old train station, the one and only railway that spots a classic steam-engine train, the last in Borneo.
Breakfast the next morning was something I have looked forward to since my last visit to Beaufort. Beaufort’s Fried Kueh Tiaw is cooked with very generous amount of eggs and is served with beautifully roasted pork meat.
In order to get Pulau Tiga, we headed for the coastal town of Kuala Penyu which is around 45 minutes away from Beaufort, and then taking a 1-hour speed-boat ride to the jetty of Pulau Tiga as shown in the picture.
Alighting from our boat, we made our way from the end of the jetty towards the shore. Looking back into the sea, I was awe-struck by the blue tranquility of the crystal clear waters.
Picture (left): Pulau Tiga is dotted with many beautiful and unique statues left-over from the era of the Survivor Island series, which makes for a wonderful picture opportunity as demonstrated by Henry in the picture. Picture(right): Signs to point first-time travellers to this island to the right direction and also a hint of other curious places around the island.
The simple chalet which we spent our 3 days 2 nights on the island is landscaped around natural greens and tall trees to preserve the feel of nature.
After having checked into our chalets, we reported to the island’s main building for a briefing. We were greeted by a petite cute Dutch named Diana who was there as a volunteer diving-instructor.
Our first activity on the island would be trek to the natural Mud Volcano located at the center of the island. The sign in the picture sits right outside the start of the trek to the Mud Volcano as a safety precaution.
After a leisurely 30 minutes trek, we finally arrived at the 1.1km mark where the Mud Volcano awaits. The palm-pasted sign gives a feeling of eeriness to this curious place.
Welcoming is not exactly the word I would use to describe the feeling we had as we stood in front of the mud volcano wondering if and how we could get in. As we stood there, we saw the mud raised a the bubbles from the earth makes its way up to explode on the surface.
Henry did not waste any time applying this natural ‘mud spa’ on his body, which would be an expensive treatment at any high-class spa.
There are actually two sections to the Mud Volcano; one section having the thick mud, the other being the liquid mud which is watery enough to swim in. The first thing that you will lose when you enter this liquid mud would be your balance. The volume of the liquid mud is heavier than the volume of a human body, therefore causing anyone, such as my Henry in the picture to float no matter how hard you try to sink yourself.
After struggling for what seems like a long time, the group finally figures out a way to pose for the picture without falling over… well, almost.
Satisfied with our ‘mud spa’ we made our way back to the shore which, by the time we arrived, the mud has hardened on our bodies and we had no problem ‘blending’ into the beach. Visitors are also advised, prior to entering the mud volcano, that the fastest and easiest way to wash off all the mud would be to jump into the sea.
The effects of a mud treatment spa includes smoother skin and a renewed soul, which can be seen on models Tawny and Henry, posing on the jetty before a setting sun.
As the sun goes down, and the darkness slowly takes over, the sea begins to show a sense of calmness as the silence takes over the sound of the rushing waves.
At night, the walkways are brightly lighted and the main building turns into an inviting venue for activities which includes an entertainment room, pool/billiard room, karaoke room, carom table, dart and a nice bar that serves alcohol. There is wi-fi connection available but the connection is not really stable.
There are not a lot of visitors to the island especially since not many people know about it YET. So we could have the facilities all to ourselves as shown in the picture; me showing off my ‘pro’ skills at pool.
I got up really early the next morning, just as dawn was beginning to break, walked along the seashore to see if I could see anything interesting worth photographing. Indeed there was much to see in the innocence of the morning. Picture shows a large coral rock washed ashore, wave after wave.
The Chlorophyta (Green Seaweed) are directly edible and is a common sight along the sea shore, tangled with other sea grasses.
Lying on the sandy brown sea shore, the brightly classy purple flower of the Barringtonia Asiatica tree or sometimes known as the Fish Poison Tree is easily spotted because of its poisonous properties.
Amazed by the beauty, I took a close-up shot of the Barringtonia Asiatica flower with its classy purplish filament and bright yellow anther.
Walking further along the sea-shore, I almost missed this very rare opportunity. What looked like discarded pineapple skin that later caught my attention as there were a few beautiful seashells on it… moving! Curiously, I approached the pineapple skin and found these adorable little hermit crabs in the seashells! Once they were alerted of my presence, they quickly dispersed as if they have just been caught for having an illegal gathering.
I was really delighted to have stumbled upon these hermit crabs, and I presume these crabs must have good taste, seeing the beautiful salvaged shells that they have chosen as their temporary home. I mean temporary literally because when they grow bigger in size, they will need to look for another bigger shell.
This little hermit crab was being extremely cautious. It dare not move an inch when I was near. So I decided to hold my breathe and stayed really still, sure enough, it slowly lifted its shell and stuck its eyes out, before which I have already released my camera’s shutter in burst mode, capturing this instance which lasted for shorter than a second before it went into hiding again.
This brave hermit crab was more interested in getting the h*ll out of there, which allowed me to shoot it from its side-view with its eyes and tentacles clearly seen.
After the delightful hermit crabs, I continued along the shore and noticed a monitor lizard (Varanus Salvator) walking along the shore as well. Again, curiously I tried to sneak up on it and failed yet again as the lizard made a sprint… into the sea! The race was on! And I found myself combing the waters for it, knowing that it could not have gone far. Sure enough, I found it resting in the water… and that was when I discovered that monitor lizards can hold their breath for an unusually long time! I must have stayed still next to it for what seemed like more than 15 minutes, waiting for it to gasp for breath. If you’re wondering why it did not run when I was just next to it; well that is because it had its eyes closed the whole time.
Seeing as I still had time before my friends wake up from their beauty sleep, I decided to proceed into the jungle. Barely 5 minutes in, I stumbled upon… the mother load! Monitor Lizards (Varanus Salvator) in every direction, left right up down, all basking in the sun, many of which was extremely shy and started taking shelter deeper into the jungle when they saw me approaching.
There were also some that were as curious as me, and stayed on their spots just looking at me. As I try to approach it, every step that I made found it sticking its snake-like forked tongue out.
Another lizard decided to approach me, but did so very cautiously, again sticking its forked tongue out every step of the way to detect, taste and smell for danger.
This was how close I managed to get to a Varanus Salvator. Apparently, one of the largest and heaviest among the lizard family, does not have a good sense of hearing despite its visible ear holes.
After the sleeping beauties friends of mine had woken up and we had our breakfast, we decided to island hop to the nearby island of Pulau Ular (Snake Island) which promises a chance to see the snakes breeding on the island. Apart from amazed by the small island size; probably takes you 5 minutes to walk around the whole perimeter of the island, I was also impressed with the solar panels that was installed for the lamps on the jetty of the island.
Picture (top-left): Tawny wants to touch the snake so badly in this rare opportunity but she has a phobia for snakes! Picture (top-right): “Common Tawny, you can do it, were all rooting for ya!” Picture (top-center): For what seemed like eternity, Tawny finally gathered enough guts to hold the snake (by her fingers) and still managed to pose a convincing (almost) smile for the camera.
Satisfied with molesting the snake, we decided to head for the center of this extremely small island, which is actually a hill which can only reached by climbing these century old tree roots, which gives out a sense of eeriness as if we have entered the forbidden forest.
According to our skipper, Pulau Ular is home to two eagles. Sure enough, the first sign of the eagle was a feather dangling from the branch of a tree.
After much searching, we finally located the eagle’s nest. This was the first time I have seen an eagle’s nest, and the only word I can use to describe it is… HUGE. Instead of normal twigs, the eagle uses branches to build the nest. Just compare the size of the nest against the leaves of the tree!
The eagle was aware of our presence the whole time and kept circling the island, wary of us invaders into its territory.
There is a point on the island where two shores meets. I walked slowly to the end of the shore-line as I enjoyed the gentle sea breeze and the mesmerizing sound of the waves from both side rushing to shore. I knew then that no where else could I find a paradise like this.
There was plenty of squid swimming below the jetty so our skipper took the chance to show us how easy it is to fish these squids. Careful though, the squid will spray its black liquid once pulled out of the water.
Having enjoyed the snake molesting, eagle spotting, squid fishing and the eternally mesmerizing beach, we made our way to the next island, which is known as the Sands Pit. The Sands Pit is just a small crescent shaped island made up of very clean and pure white sand which can be a good alternative for snow! (As Henry and Tawny demonstrated forming a ‘snow angel’ on the sand)
Later that afternoon, we took the introductory course to scuba diving! We were taught the basic skills on how to use the diving equipment, which is really not as easy as it seems on television. Since that day, I have a deeper respect to those skilled scuba divers, especially those photographing underwater.
Henry’s reaction after successfully completing the Introductory Course to Scuba Diving.
We spent some time on the beach, just looking for interesting corals, they come in so many shapes and textures.
More corals collected from the beach, these seems like they come from some alien world, kind of eerie if you think about it.
We relived our childhood days when we played on the big swing. Henry’s shouting his lungs out, Su Ling asking Henry to keep quiet and Tawny still has time to pose for the camera. Good times.
The fruit of our labor; the squids caught this morning was fried by the island’s chef. The taste… exquisite. So this is how real fresh squid taste like.
As our Pulau Tiga chapter came to a close, we made sure we had a last heartily breakfast on the island. We stared our into the ocean reminiscing the wonderful moments and the paradise that we have discovered.
Back on the mainland, we wasted no time in food hunting. First on the list was fresh and hot dim sum at Foo Phing Dim Sum, located along Lintas Road in Kota Kinabalu.
Some of the variety of siew mai (pork dumpling), which is a traditional chinese dumpling since the Qing Dynasty.
And another traditional beverage since the 15th century introduced by the Muslim world, coffee! Since then, coffee consumption and cultivation has spread throughout the whole world, and today, is it known as STARBUCKS.
Next stop was a restaurant called Upperstar Grill & Bar, a popular eatery among the young adults. Its drinks menu holds almost sixty different drinks, ranging from juices to soft drinks, even beer and liquor.
Upperstar’s dishes are also quite reasonably priced. Shown in the picture is Upperstar’s Lamb Chop which is wonderfully grilled to perfection, includes crinkle fries, and as if that was not enough to finish you off, even garlic bread, mash potato and coleslaw is included. All that for a price of RM12.90.
Another factor that would definitely make your dining at Upperstar enjoyable would be its interior decoration with a theme of “A Blast from the Past” and ceiling and walls that are painted with paintings from the renaissance era.
Kota Kinabalu is world renowned as a seafood paradise, so hunting for seafood was definitely part of our itinerary. We found ourselves at Welcome Seafood Restaurant, known for its good food with reasonable prices.
That day was also the day our dear friend, Joan celebrates being blessed on this temporary home for half a century. What more can a person wish for, being able to celebrate such an important day amongst close friends.
Later that evening, being our last night in Kota Kinabalu, we decided to drive up to the Signal Hill Observatory, which promises a birds-eye view of the city of KK.
Finally, it has come to the end of this long post. I’m sorry that the post is so long but I wanted to share with you every interesting details of this Pulau Tiga trip. It just goes to show how passionate I am when I say Pulau Tiga is a place you must go when you need a place to unwind and just relax. Still not convinced?
Picture (left): Hammocks are available all around the island. It is easy to doze off laying in one of these as the shades of the tree shelters you from the sun while the soft gentle breeze of the ocean brushes against your skin. Picture (right): Another way to enjoy the sunset, resting on the hammock, watching the evening sun burying itself into the ocean.
Spend the days just chit chatting with your love ones, while enjoying the blue ocean view. Who needs a high-class hotel room that overlooks the ocean view when you can’t even smell the ocean breeze?
As the sun sets and the tide rises, no words could express the sense of calmness and peacefulness that overwhelms me as I captured this beautiful moment.
Serenity. Paradise. Healing. Freedom. Those are the one-words that would best describe Pulau Tiga. In my opinion, Pulau Tiga’s reputation for being the Survivor Island does not do it any justice. In fact, far from surviving, Pulau Tiga teleported us to a place of serenity, gave us a glimpse of what paradise is like, allowed us a chance to heal our body and soul, free from the problems that plagues us in the real world. I definitely would recommend Pulau Tiga to anyone looking for a paradise on earth.