There are several islands off my birthplace in Tumpat. When I was a kid, Pulau Rulah was one island mentioned very often at home. Ustazah Hj Cik Nab hailed from Pulau Rulah. She came to our house weekly to teach the womenfolks of my kampong. My late mother looked forward to her visit. I looked forward to her visit too. I look forward to the food my mother prepared for her Ustazah, something special which I got to enjoy thereafter!
Then there was also Pulau Kundor. As kids, my father did bring us in his fishing boat to visit my mother's relatives. There were many other islands, including "Teluk Jjuno", as spoken in local dialect for Pulau Teluk Renjuna. There is also Pulau Beluru and Pulau "Toke" (Tokang). All in, there are 13 islands, big and small within the Tumpat district, a fact I recently discovered.
This discovery was as recent as 3 days ago. My co-author Hj Khailani and I flew in to Kota Bharu to discover some of these islands. As part of our book project, we plan to cycle within the islands off Malaysia and write about the journeys. We did Crab Island (Pulau Ketam) last month. I was looking forward to this trip as I had harbored the thought of visiting these islands for quite sometimes.
So, with borrowed bikes from my brother and his wife (also two ardent cyclists), we rode the short distance from Kg Baung in Pengkalan Chepa, passing through Kg Banggol to Kuala Besar where we took the passenger boat across to the first destination, Pulau Suri.
Kuala Besar, branches off from the main road heading for Pantai Cahaya Bulan (formerly Pantai Cinta Berahi). Kuala Besar is a big rivermouth and is the take-off point to the islands. The other take-off point to the islands is Pengkalan Kok Majid in Sungai Pinang.
The fare is RM1 one way. I paid RM5 for both of us plus 2 bikes. It was a short boat ride of under 15mins to the jetty at Pulau Suri. We chose Pulau Suri as it is connected to several other islands by bridge. Pulau Suri also provides homestay facilities, something we also recently discovered.
Houses offering homestay facilities have this logo displayed.
The lady passenger in the boat was quite chatty. When asked, she was quick to tell us about the islands and the routes we can take on our bicycles. Disembarking, we headed towards the direction pointed out to us. We were not sure which homestay we were supposed to stay the night though we had the mobile number of the contact person - Kak Lah.
When we chanced upon the first house displaying the logo, we stopped to enquire whether we have arrived at our booked homestay. The owner, known as Abe Li (abang Ramli - and what a coincidence) and his wife Kak Moh welcomed us in. Actually I should be calling him adek Li and his wife adek Moh. A bit "ke'kok" though.
Very hospitable couple. They casually said it did not matter whether we have booking and invited us into the house. A laptop caught my attention, with internet connection.
Over several glasses of cold iced orange drink, we discovered there are more than 20 homestays. The couple are the designated leaders. I found Kak Moh quite forward thinking for someone staying in a village, so deserving of the leadership role she played. She talked about the challenges in this homestay ventures amongst the fishing folks. She talked about the subsidy mentality and the desire for immediate gains. She said it was initially challenging to get the participating houseowners to spruce up their homes, their facilities and their compounds. They expected streams of visitors and to see money rolling in first. She therefore took the lead to invest in their assets and arranged for gotong-royong to make the island hospitable.
The laptop belonged to the daughter, who managed the operations. She had set up a blogsite at www.homestaynelayan.blogspot.com . I checked out the site upon my return. A good start.
The 20 homestay facilities are mostly one-bedroom, owner occupied and have basic facilities. I see potential in the venture for foreign tourists.
Apart from Pulau Suri, we planned to explore the other islands connected by bridges. These are Pulau Beluru and Pulau Teluk Renjuna. Abe Li suggested we explore Pantai Bharu first and then return for lunch. Meantime Kak Moh will check which homestay we were booked in, otherwise we could check in at their homes. That was fine with us.