Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kuala Penyu: Town of turtles and deserted beaches

I went to Kuala Penyu recently with a group of friends. Instead of driving past Beaufort, we took the junction to Pimping to experience the ferry crossing. Around noon we found ourselves at the end of Jalan Palu Palu where we joined a long line of vehicles to wait for the ancient-looking ferry to take us across the ‘river’ to Kuala Penyu town.

What I thought was a river is actually an inlet. On a map, the body of water looks like a misshaped bottle with a narrow straw connecting it to the sea. (The ferry goes across the ‘straw’.)

There were little motor boats crossing to and fro and many of the local folk took the fifty-sen boat ride to the shops to do their groceries. I was amazed that the people could leave their bicycles and motor-bikes unattended on the roadside. Back in my hometown, bicycles had to be chained to some posts or pillars and even these could be spirited away!

After a short delay-- a car got stuck on the ramp of the ferry-- we were finally inching across the inlet. The crossing was as slow as… well, a penyu (turtle). If you swam and raced with the ferry, you could complete several laps before the ferry even reached the middle of the channel.

The first thing we did as soon as we rolled off the ferry was look for the famous Professional Restaurant. Yes, that’s its real name. Victor, who acts as an occasional tourist guide knows this place well and he ordered for all of us: spicy, deep-fried lobsters, as big as my forearm! Steamed fish! Two vegetable dishes and another fish dish.

Could we eat so much? The Dusuns of yore would have said: ‘Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!’ Even the proprietor was taken aback. ‘I think you should cancel the other fish dish,’ she said. Happened to be good advice because after one lobster each, we couldn’t even finish the steamed fish! 

We split the bill and each one paid about RM33. Good conversation, delightful company, delicious food. Thank you, God.

With lunch done, we went exploring and found ourselves near the fish market. A boat caught our attention. One of the ladies thought it was a ‘dance’ boat… you know, like a disco thing where youngsters dance the night away… because there were huge spotlights all around the upper perimeter of the boat. We learnt that this is a fishing boat and the lights are there because they attract fish and squids to the boat. Poor fish, I thought. They gather to gawk at the pretty lights and next thing they know, they’re in someone’s frying pan. Reminds me of some unfortunate girl but that’s another story.

Then we had to check out Kuala Penyu’s beaches. So off we went towards Tempurung, Sewangan and Kiaru in the north. These beaches are part of a sand spit which extends into the sea to the north of the town. We met with the proprietors of Sewangan Beach Lodge, Vicky and Ejon Mijin, and their dog. They have a beautiful sea-facing property with a few chalets for rent. We were told that sea snakes live on the beach and during low tides one could easily catch squids and sea cucumbers. It was low tide when we came but we didn’t stop to look for snakes and squids and sea cucumbers.

You can learn more about Sewangan Beach Lodge at: http://www.kualapenyu.com/

Our next stop was Tempurung (coconut shell) Beach. We had miles of clean, sandy beach to ourselves. Although there’s the beautiful Tempurung Beach Lodge nestled among the trees on the hill slopes, I didn’t find a single footprint in the sand. No one roamed the beach that day. There were just pieces of worn-out corals, pretty shells and a thousand tiny, transparent crabs which ran helter-skelter as soon as I approached.

Right across the South China Sea is Pulau Tiga, a.k.a. Survivor Island, made famous when it became the venue of the American TV show ‘Survivor’. Don’t be fooled by the name Pulau Tiga or Three Islands. There are only two islands: Pulau Tiga and Pulau Kalampunian Damit. Of the third island, there is nothing but a sandbar to show that Pulau Kalampunian Besar had once stood proudly between the other two islands. Just mentioning this in case someone decides to buy an island, okay? BTW, all three islands were the result of the eruption of mud volcanoes.

Volcanic activities? In Sabah? You didn’t think we’re outside the ring-of-fire, did you? (Go check… Savage Earth: Ring of Fire map.)

We couldn’t stay long. The sky was overcast and we had one last stop: Meg’s orchard at Takuli for rambutan-picking. On the way we passed the Klias River, another place I’d love to visit… to see the proboscis monkeys, macaques and fireflies.

What’s your favourite destination in Sabah? Or perhaps I should ask: if there’s one place you could visit in Sabah, which would it be?


  1. Hi, Kuala Penyu is not now a town of turtles.

    Sorry to say but I was among the culprits (hey, I was a kid then in the 60s) who made regular expeditions to Kuala Penyu to harvest nesting turtles. Sometimes we will have so many we line them up in the football padang. It was a sight to behold so many upturned crying turtles (yes, they do shed tears.)

  2. Hi! Thanks for visiting.
    Yes, it's sad that the turtles are disappearing. Hopefully those who have been laying eggs there will return to lay some more.