Sunday, July 17, 2011
Visited July 2011
The pier beach on Pulau Kapas - the northern third of the beach past the pier is hard to see in this shot. There are 3 resorts on this beach and it is possible to walk to all the other accommodation places within 15 minutes. However many of the island transport services out of Marang will drop you directly in front of your resort.
Kapas island is the nicest I have visited in years. It is compact but has 6 very attractive beaches which can be walked over a period of 25-30 mintues (plus another beach which needs boat/kayak access), very clear water, pretty good snorkelling, good sunsets and a surprisingly supply of accommodation with 8 flash packer/backpacker resorts (some of their chalets may go into the midrange) and one camping area. There are no roads, villages, motor vehicles or dogs. It is part of the Marine National Park and so coral and fish are pretty good. It is much easier to access than Redang, Perhentians, Tioman or Langkawi and is uncrowded except for weekends which extend from Thursday night to Sunday morning in this particular part of north-east Malaysia.
This modified Google image clearly shows the beaches, trekking tracks and the relatively compact size of the island. Note my miss-naming of nearby GEMIA ISLAND which has one midrange resort, Gems Island Resort. Note too that I have turned this image 90 degrees - north is to the left, not up.
Kapas is only 7 km from the mainland pier at Marang (not Merang which is the pier for Pulau Redang to the north) which is 17km south of Kuala Terengganu - you can fly into KT from KL. Kapas is part of the north-east’s marine national park which also includes Redang and the Perhentians.
(from the south)
Turtle Beach is the island’s southern most beach. I shot this from Kapas Turtle Valley Resort’s rather nice restaurant perched on the rocks at the western end. This beach has a different orientation to the others, facing more south than west and was picking up the cooling sea breeze better on my visit. The downside is that you will not get the sunsets.
The beach is not as nice as some on Kapas - the sand is not as fine as the best, there were a fair few small rocks on entry to the sea and the water offshore did not have particularly good coral although there was enough of this plus fish to keep snorkellers interested. However the much nicer southern end of the pier beach is a short steep climb over the headland steps to the north.
What you have at Turtle is exclusivity - the Dutch managed resort is the only one on the beach and has flashpacker into lower midrange chalets in the trees on the slope to left of shot. A friend staying there said the food was very good. The accommodation hand-out I got at Suria Link Transport at the Marang pier shows rm300 family and rm150 double chalets.
Pier Beach South. This shot shows only the southern-most corner - PBS is a long stretch of sand, best appreciated from the shot top of page. In this corner Captain Long House resort (the former Light House) is located. This seemed to be the funkiest place on the island with good music from the restaurant bar and some interesting architecture, graphics and motifs. I understand it has a dorm. Some locals pitched tents behind the beach to left of shot on the weekend. Rm60 fan, rm30 dorm.
Closer to the pier is the very big Kapas Island Resort with aircon chalets at 200, 180 and 160 plus fan at 130. This joint has a tiny pool (would be okay for kids/learner divers) and an associated dive school. It had a horde of locals at the weekend but has so many chalets it looked deserted at other times. It also has a small store.
The very steep stairway across to Turtle Beach starts around that coconut palm far right in the above shot..
There are scraps of fringing coral and some coral bommies plus a fair few fish out along the headland to right of shot but I snorkelled right around the headland to Turtle Beach and wasn't whelmed.
Pier Beach North - this smaller section of beach north of the pier is not as wide ocean to trees as the south side but has the same crystal clear water. There is one resort here, Pak Ya Seaview (your guide-book may have the old Beauty Island Resort), a pretty sweet-looking budget joint with newish A-frames just behind the beach. This place was packed on the weekend but had only about two guests before that (then again only about 8 chalets). Suria Link's price list says rm90 for a fan chalet but my friend from Turtle also stayed here and managed to bargain one for rm60 mid-week. She said the food was very good here too.
Note the stairway in far background which leads to a short walkway to the next beach north. There was a bunch of local weekenders snorkelling this section, but it was similar to the headland area at the south end. I get the impression Asian snorkellers (and a lot of western tourists) are happy if they have fish to check out - don't sweat the coral or lack of. I shot this from the pier which also attracts a good range of fish - a couple of local visitors were fishing here. In a marine national park? Crikey.
For want of its correct name, I'll call this Beach #4 - less than 10 minutes walk north of the pier. This is a good one - probably the most popular beach both midweek and at the weekend. Very nice sand, clear water which is not too shallow low tide, and 3 resorts: Kapas Beach Chalet (KBC) which despite not looking as cool as Captain Long House had the most traveller types hanging around mid week - and lots of locals weekend (plus a hamburger stand on the beach with rm5 whoppers - delicious! rm3 standard - who says the dollar-burger has gone?) Chalets rm70/60/40 plus a rm 15dorm - well duh, maybe those prices explain the travellers.
Makcik Gemok Beach Resort - rm150 family aircon, 120 double aircon, 80/40 fan.
Kapas Coral Beach Resort - this place seemed to be largely under reconstruction in July 2011 with some nice looking flashpacker/lower midrange chalets being put in. So my Suria Link's prices may be misleading. But when/if you call in Suria will maybe have an updated list.
Snorkelling at this beach is similar to the pier beaches, but much better stuff is maybe 10 minutes walk away off Camping Beach.
If you click to expand this shot you can see Qimis beach to the north, inlcuding the small headland (high tide) island, which has good snorkelling right off its sea-ward end.
Qimi's Beach - I climbed to the top of that headland/island I mentioned last shot to get this pic. Hey, beach looks pretty nice but in fact is probably least best (but not poor) on Kapas - and I don't think I'm talking from ignorance on account I stayed here at Qimi Chalet. Beach gets skinny at high tide yet suffers the low tide blues with shallow water containing lots of rocks, dead lumps of coral. But the best beach on the island is 1 minute to the left. Almost all the beach is in this shot - you can see the walkway stairs from Beach #4 far right and the low rocks between here and Camping Beach to the north start immediately left of pic.
Qimi Chalet is under those big trees behind the boats and up the steep hillside to the right - if you click to expand you can maybe see some of the restaurant tables on the beach under the trees. Chalets rm300 for an aircon family - 130/100/80 for fan. More info down page. Snorkelling very ordinary in the area in shot but quite good coral/fish off the end of the headland/island behind camera, maybe a 70m swim off the beach.
Camping Beach - arguably the best beach on the island. I'm calling it this for want of its real name - in fact the Harmony camp site (rm10 per person rm15 tent rental) is in a flat tree shaded area behind those rocks far right, and has its sign and entrance at the far northen end of the previous beach, Qimi's. I noticed a local had also pitched a tent up the far left end on the beach under the trees on the weekend. This is a sweet beach - lovely sand which continues into the water low tide, lots of shade in back under the trees, no resorts, very clear water and quite good coral and fish in a lateral line maybe 40m off the central beach and extending south towards the camera. Most guests at Qimi Chalet spent long periods of time here and it was also popular with people from other resorts. Hell you could stroll up here from the most distant resort, Kapas Turtle Valley, under 25 minutes and from the pier in less than 15.
Another shot of Camping Beach from near the far northern end looking back at the island/headland which separates it from Qimi Beach.
North Beach. Reached from Camping Beach by a rather steep set of stairs and a short walkway. Many would argue this is as nice as Camping Beach. No resorts or camping areas. Very similar sand and water. Probably the best snorkelling on the island about 40-50m off the beach, with good coral varieties and fish - look for the snorkelling trip boats from adjacent Gemia Island, Marang and Kuala Terennganu - or if it is quiet mid-week, their mooring buoys. Note this isn't really the northern-most beach - there is a similar strip of sand around the far headland. But there is no walkway and I found it too deep to wade at low tide. Didn't think to grab one of Qimi's sea-kayaks. Duh!
Two jungle tracks lead to a small inlet on the rugged west coast. The southern track starts near the top of the Turtle Bay/Pier Beach stairs. The northern one starts at the end of the pier and goes inland along side the solar electricity farm, then winds its way to the right and dives into the bush behind the most inland of Kapas Island Resort's many bungalows. Because both tracks lead to the same cove, I did them as a loop - maybe 90 minutes.
The northern track, 950m to the cove/ - This is pretty easy effort wise. From the entry point into the jungle it rises over a small saddle with no real tough climbs and then gradually drops along this water course to the western cove. Good jungle along here. It does get a bit technical in that you have to criss-cross the creek about 10 times - National Parks have put up a good quality guide rope the full length of both tracks to show the way.
The west coast bay. The northern track accesses by way of that gully in back - if you click to expand you may be able to see debris blocking the mouth which came from a big land-slip high on the right, probably in the monsoon season.
The 1250m southern track to near Turtle Beach starts out of picture near that log at left - look for the guide rope. The first 10 minutes is an incredibly steep haul up the side of the hill - I'm pretty fit and it gave me a real good work-out. The track then tends to dip, climb and wind thru less dense but still okay jungle.
A couple of trekkers coming the other way went for a dip in the cove. The water looked nice and clear - according to the guidebooks there is a bit of coral here too. I was feeling lazy and gave it a miss.
To recap what I wrote under beaches: the best snorkelling is probably off North Beach. It is also quite good off Camping Beach and the end of the headland/island at the north end of Qimi's Beach. And it may be okay in and around the western trekkers' cove.
How good? Well I thought it was a slight step down from the Perhentians and Tioman in the same period, which were a step down again from the best at Pulau Redang (in the National Park HQ snorkelling area). But better than anything I saw in the Surin Islands earlier in 2011 - supposedly the site of Thailand's best coral. The Surins were very very ordinary - coral bleaching has really knocked them around.
I don't think it matters. Just chose the resort you like the look of because you can so easily walk to any of the other beaches.
WHEN TO GO
East coast peninsula Malaysia has a pretty full on monsoon season which tends to run from around October into Februaray. Rose at Qimi Chalet told me her place is the only accommodation which stays open in the wet season. She said the island gets plenty of sunshine in this rainier period but December is normally the worst month. She said Suria Link and the other boat services stop running and so guest should contact the resort to organise a boat.
I did not check all resorts but I know you can buy a beer at Kapas Beach Chalet and Kapas Coral Beach Resort. Rose at Qimi Chalet sold me a can (not cheap at rm14) but I think this was surplus to a supply she brought in for a regular guest.
I'm not sure about spirits and other alcohol. I was happy with my 1L bottle of Ballentine's scotch from the duty free at Singapore's budget terminal - great company when leaning up against a rock on the sand at sunset.
I chose Qimi partly because I liked the reviews on Trip Advisor, and partly because I found an email adress - email@example.com - which Rose answered promptly promising me she would reserve a bungalow for me without the need for telegraphic transfer of deposit or full payment which so many Malaysian places want - my bank is not interested in telegraphic transfers to Malaysia (or at least it makes them very difficult).
Qimi's reception and bad weather dining area is built under two big boab type trees - there are Bali style bale sitting platforms, a tree-house sitting platform, hammocks strung between trees etc. This is the view looking from the veranda of my "Bamboo" chalet.
Zooming in slightly towards the beach shows some diners enjoying a sunset snack.
You don't get to eat too much closer to the water most places - in fact I had an earlier breakfast than these people and the water was lapping the legs of my table - a full moon king tide coinciding with early breakfast at the time of my visit. The two big trees offer sun shelter to the dining tables well into the afternoon.
Qimi's throws on some side at dinner and puts cute placemarks on each table coinciding with the name of your bungalow. That's my "Bamboo" placemark with my "Bamboo" bungalow in background - the smaller one with the washing out front.
My Bamboo chalet was not constructed of bamboo but of that dark stained wood favoured by Malaysian resorts. It was identical to the Tembescu chalet Rose gave me first night when I showed up one day earlier than I booked - except it was 80% the size (makes sense at 80% the price - rm80 reduced to 70 for single occupancy: water is scarce here plus the solar generated electricity is very expensive and single occupancy uses less), in better condition and nearer the beach.
It was just big enough for 2 people and gear, clean, comfy double bed with good net, good lights, towel and toilet paper supplied, good fan, water pressure pretty poor. Quiet at night. Value-wise in comparison to places I saw on other islands, maybe not fantastic - but I'd pay more to stay on Kapas. Not to mention Rose's cooking is really good and the resort is pretty nice.
Prices in the restaurant were very reasonable - one of the most expensive dishes was the claypot seafood noodles at 11rm which was sublime. Service was quick and friendly. The resort's laptop is available gratis for guest email.
Qimi Chalet has a small number of bungalows but a good range. I loved these hillside treehouses to the south of the restaurant. The bigger right-hand one was the most expensive aircon family place from what I can gather. The other 3 or 4 treehouses were fan jobs - I'm aiming for one of the latter when I bring Lady Tezza to see the island.
The mainland pier town is MARANG (not Merang) which is only 7km away from Kapas and 17km from the regional center of KUALA TERENGGANU. The latter has an airport with regular Malaysian Air and Air Asia flights from KL - don't know about JB or Singapore. The airport is the other side of town so airport taxis may cost more than the rm25 taxi price I paid from KT bus station - I thought this a fair price and so didn't bargain. Local buses also run from KT's bus station - look for buses going to Dungun and ask which others go thru Marang - get off at the main bus stop just past the main road traffic lights, walk back to the lights and turn right down the hill, right again to the pier - 400m from the traffic lights.
If coming from the south on one of the big express buses that run route 3 from KL, Kuantan, Cherating, Mersing (Tioman Island) or Johor Bahru ask to be put off near the traffic lights.
If you are island-hopping down the coast and coming from Pulau Redang's mainland pier of Merang (a few of Redang's resort ferries go to Kuala Terengganu) the cheapest option would be to use one of the very inexpensive bus transfers that link with the ferries into KT bus station. I think a private driver (I didn't find any taxis waiting at Merang pier - the resort bus set-up is pretty well organised) direct Merang-Marang would be around rm60-80 at 2011 prices.
See my Perhentians page for inexpensive Kuala Besut pier (Perhentians) to Kuala Terengganu transport. I read somewhere a taxi direct Besut-Marang would be around rm150.
BTW, the Agro Bank just south of the traffic lights on the main road does not change money and the ATM will not pay out or regurgitate non-local cards (don't ask me how I know this). If you need cash, turn inland at the lights, walk 400m and on the left is a bank whose ATM works with main foreign cards. The bank does not change money - you need to go to Kuala Terennganu.
At the pier is about half a dozen island transport companies. Standard price is rm40 return using speedboats although one outfit has a bigger ferry which runs to the main pier and Pulau Gemia for rm15 each way. Qimi recommends Suria Link which like most will deliver to individual beaches - it has boats running out at 0900 - 1100 - 1300 - 1500 and 1700.
The small island of Pulau Gemia is a short distance north of Kapas. The resort here, Gems Island Resort, is midrange and looks to be one of those places where your room balcony is over the water. Quite a few kayakers were cruising across and checking out Kapas' northern beaches. A French guy told me the snorkelling is quite good around Gemia and mid-channel.
End of the day shot at Qimi Chalet for end of report.
If you visit Kapas you might also be interested in the nearby islands of Redang and the Perhentians which you can access via the INDEX link top right of page.
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