Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pulau Ular (Snake Island), Pahang

(Copyright 2009 Google, of course. But they didn't take the photograph, they just figured out how to link to the database in which the photo resides. But we have to give them credit. Pulau Ular is not visible in the blog view: click on the photo and you will see it.)

After having made 12 trips (in 13 years) to several of Malaysia's wonderful islands (Tioman 5 times, Kapas 5 times, Tenggol and Pangkor once each), we finally made it to the island closest to our house: Pulau Ular, just 30 minutes up the coast from us on the way to the famous Cherating beach area. Many times had I driven past Pulau Ular and its neighboring kampung, Sungai Ular. Trips to the other islands is quite costly both in time and money. But here was an island just off the coast, maybe only one kilometer. In fact, it looked like one could swim to it, or at least take a kayak out on a calm day.

(Right: Sungai Ular estuary)

Over the years I would ask the local Malays with whom I worked: Have you ever been to Pulau Ular? Is it possible to hire a boat to go out there? No one knew. Very few of my colleagues had ever been to an island off Malaysia's coasts. In fact, when one lady decided to take her honeymoon to Pulau Tioman, she came to me for advice on travel and accommodations!!

Finally, I met the sister of a colleague of mine at work. She and her husband live in Kampung Sungai Ular and said, "Yes, people go out to the island all of the time for fishing and snorkeling."

(Left: West coast of Pulau Ular)

That sealed the deal for me. My wife and I set a date for a 3-day vacation to Sungai Ular and Pulau Ular, coinciding with Malaysia's national cuti sekolah (school break) period (described in another post).

To get to Pulau Ular, you can hire a boat from any of several jetties. The closest jetty is that at the Sungai Ular estuary beside the Sanctuary Resort in Kampung Sungai Ular. As the photo shows, the island does not appear to be too far off the coast, perhaps only 1-2 kilometers.

(Right: Clear water, but dead coral)

Although some resorts advertise the "Snake Island" trip in their brochures, basically a client must go down to a fishing jetty (there is one at Cherating, also) and negotiate with a boat owner. The only price information that I could find before going was a post from 1998 that stated RM30-35 per person. The Lis Na Ree resort, where we stayed, advertised RM45 per person at their front desk, but when I inquired, I was told that I had to go negotiate for myself at the jetty! A boat owner and I agreed on a price of RM50 per person since there were only two of us. Perhaps if we had four people, he would have given a lower per person price since it probably wasn't worth his time to take his boat out for less than RM100.

We left early, around 7:30am, with a promised 11:00am pick-up. Having been sunburned before in Malaysia's tropical heat, I know my limits despite a heavy dosage of sunscreen. I also wear a T-shirt when snorkeling because the back is the hardest to keep protected, and I had been burnt raw one time before. These days, I also wear a skull cap under my snorkel mask to keep my head from getting red. I am not bald, but thinning hair means less protection.

(Left: Lonely monkey in the island interior)

We actually went too early in the morning for the water was quite murky, and it was hard to see far underwater until the sun came up over the hill on the island, around 9:30am. After that, it was easier to see, but still less clear than the other islands we had visited (except for Pulau Pangkor, which is just as murky).

The coral on the west side of the island, off the sand spit, was dead, but there was an assortment of fish around the granite boulders. Since the ocean swell comes in from the east, the west side was calmer and better for snorkeling, but protected coves also become the collection zones for jellyfish of which the blue variety (about 6-7 inches in diameter) were the most common.

We hiked up the hill and across the interior of the island in a 3- or 4-minute walk. The island is quite small, but it does have a high hill and tall trees, and someone had built a rain shelter at the top.

One website had mentioned that Snake Island had no snakes but one lonely monkey! We didn't see the monkey on our hike, but as we were snorkeling the monkey came down to inspect our equipment basket for food! A few rocks thrown and the monkey was back up in the trees, where I was only barely able to get a photo of him with my little point-and-shoot camera. What does he do all day?

A couple of boats from other resorts came during our short stay, and there was plenty of evidence of past pickniks (lots of paper plates and plastic bottles) so I am sure Mr. Monkey survives on human rubbish in addition to what few fruit and coconut trees are available.

The east side of the island, open to the swell that comes off the South China Sea, has a steep drop-off and, thus, not so conducive to snorkeling from the shore. There is also a smaller island to the southeast of Pulau Ular: I call it Little Pulau Ular, and it has only two tall trees on it. The snorkeling might be better around the outer island, but that question will have to remain until I can make another trip.

For serious snorkeling and scuba-diving, a trip to Pulau Ular could be considered to be a joke. But since I am getting older and less interested in battling the masses to visit Tioman, the Perhentians, Redang, and etc., and I have Malay colleagues, kampung folk, who have never been out to a single island, I feel that Pulau Ular is the perfect choice to introduce them to the fun of visiting a slice of rock and forest out at sea. It is a great place to introduce people -especially children- to the wonder of snorkeling. Plus, I can be at home in my own bed by nightfall!


  1. t.kasih atas maklumat
    btw sanctuary resort tu kat mana eh
    tak pasti lah walaupun saa dah pegi pulau ular

  2. Sanctuary Resort di Kampung Sungai Ular, di sebelah kuala Sungai Ular.

  3. The write up was quite some times.. but it gave some crucial inputs to me.. Iam planning to swim to the island from shore.
    The island was always in my sights every time I pass by from my home in Kemaman to Kuantan and i think it is time for me to try out swim to the island.