Tuesday, 17 September 2019

One Day Island Hopping @ Mersing, Johor

Think of must-visit islands in Malaysia, - names like Langkawi, Tioman, Perhentian and Redang usually dominate the list. But recently, names of smaller islands around the coast of Mersing have been making its round on social media. Pulau Rawa has been gaining a lot of traction, with photos of the changing gradients of turquoise blue water, white sandy beach, and its trademark slide & swing set on the shallow water circulating around social media.
One of the hidden gems around the coast of Mersing

However, only overnight guests are allowed to set foot on Pulau Rawa, as it is a privately owned island. The price range for a night stay is way out of my league. (I heard that a night stay can easily go up to a thousand!) But the good news is there are plenty of smaller, inhabited islands around the coast of Mersing that are almost as nice.

I was never a beach person - I don't really fancy the humidity and baking heat at a beach. It is a pain to wash my hair after swimming in the sea as sea water tangles up my hair. Yet, I was intrigued by the pictures of the islands, and I made a mental note to visit the islands before I move out from Johor, as once I move back to KL it will be a long arduous car journey from KL-Mersing!

Upon googling, I realized that there are plenty of day trip packages for island hopping priced below RM200! The cheapest package I found was RM150 (all-in) by Sea Hunter. The itinerary for most tour operators are almost identical, and reviews are mostly on the positive side. So I made my decision based on the price.

Be wary that some prices charged by tour operator are not inclusive of marine conservative fee. The fee we paid was inclusive of everything, no extra/hidden charges!


When to Visit

Before I move on to the details of the tour, I'd like to point out that the tours are not available all-year round due to the East-Coast monsoon. It is best to visit during the summer months (June-September) as it is dry season = no rain = sea is calmer = safer & visibility under water is much better


Price

What was included in our RM150 fee?
- Light breakfast
- Lunch
- Fruits
- Drinks (Bottle of drinking water and packet drinks)
- Snorkel and goggles rental
- Life Jacket rental
- Transportation (Speed boat) to all islands
- Marine conservation fees
- Fun-filled activities like cliff jumping and hiking!
- Exciting boat rides and interesting stories from our boatman and guide!

The route we went on!

Booking

I made the booking via Whatsapp. Do note that most tour operator would ask for a certain fraction of the fees in advance as deposit. We were told to wait at Mersing jetty at 9am.

We left our house in Pasir Gudang around 6.40am and arrived at 8.30am. Lost of time to spare still. There are plenty of public parking around Mersing jetty. If I remembered correctly, parking was RM15 for a full day.

We embarked on our tour close to 10am, as there were other people who were on the same tour as us that were late. So please people, be on time =D

It was an exciting 45 minutes speed boat ride to our first island.

Stop 1: Pulau Raja Sandbank

My eyes marveled at the glistening, turquoise blue water surrounding Pulau Raja.

There was supposed to be a short stretch of sandbank in the middle of the sea. However, it was high tide during the time of our visit so the sand bank was submerge under the turquoise water.

It was a little crowded there as this island is usually the "starting point" for most tour operators. We had our little photo shoot session there, like many others. I felt some sharp, stinging sensation on my limbs, and after a while my friends reported the same too. We were told by our boatman and guide that we got stung by mini jellyfish, that are as minuscule as a strand of hair, hence, invisible to our naked eyes.

I wasn't comfortable with the stings and I got on the boat earlier than everyone else. These stings left nasty red bumps on our limbs a day or two after our trip - which aggravates into ugly scars if you scratch it too much.

Stop 2: Mangroves around Pulau Raja

Yes, snorkeling around a mangrove!

After Pulau Raja Sandbank, we embarked on a 10 minutes boat ride to the mangrove area. The water was clear and we could see the bottom - it wasn't too deep, perhaps a little more than 2m (or more, due to the distortion of light giving the illusion of a shallower water). There were some sign of marine life, but coral reefs were non-existent.

As my clothes were still relatively dry and we were going hiking next, I skipped snorkeling here - I didn't want my clothes to bear the weight of the water absorbed by the fabric, hence, we stayed on board, and went on round 2 of our photo shoot. (A little narcissism wouldn't hurt, no?)

And also there was my fear of salt-water crocodiles and snakes. It seems that this is a popular stopover spot for snorkeling and there hasn't been any casualties as far as I know so...it's safe I guess?
We lingered around for about 15 minutes, before we took off to our third stop located about 15 minutes away.

Stop 3: Pulau Seri Bulat

Pulau Seri Bulat is definitely my favourite island among all the islands visited, because there's a hiking trail! We were told that Pulau Seri Bulat used to be a popular stopover spot for pirates around the area.
Before we embark on the hike, we had our breakfast (included in the rate we paid) - Nasi dagang! The portion was small - which is good as it wouldn't be nice to hike with a bloated stomach!
We went up the trail after wolfing down the our meal. The hike was short and sweet, we reached the peak after about 10 minutes of ascending!

Our guide was really helpful and patient, guiding our friend step by step because their shoes' grip weren't that great. 10/10 for service, really!
The view at the peak was breath-taking. We could see the changing gradient of the sea around the island - signifying a change in depth. The strong sea breeze at the peak was invigorating, drying our sweat from the hike!

Photo credit to our Mr tour guide, who voluntarily offered to help us take photos! (Just so you know, this isn't a sponsored post k...genuinely grateful and satisfied with the service :P)

After we descended, we hopped on the speedboat and went around the other side of Pulau Seri Bulat for a bit of cliff jumping.

Stop 4: The Other Side of Pulau Seri Bulat

The area where we did our cliff jumping! Unfortunately, none of us have a waterproof camera case nor go-pro so...no videos or photos of us jumping.
We leaped from the cliff on the right side! It doesn't seem that high (and it wasn't that high up, probably around 2-3m?), but I could feel my legs trembling when I stood at the edge of the rocks! It took me a while (+ lots of convincing & words of encouragement from my friends) before I took my leap of faith.

Do take note that this activity is subject to sea conditions! We were told that if the seas are rough we will not be allowed to jump.

The boatman took us to a higher cliff and did a demonstration of a high cliff jump (I'm pretty sure it was at least 5m high), but by that time, somehow, we (by we, I mean me and my friends) were suffering from sea-sickness, so we didn't bother taking any photos or videos sorry!

Stop 5: Random islands

My apologies, as my friends and I were suffering from sea sickness at this point, so there isn't much photos and details beyond here I apologies. I just remember being on the boat for quite a while, and we arrived at this beautiful island. We unanimously agreed that this is the most beautiful island we saw on that day. However, we were not allowed to disembark there as it is forbidden by the Johor Sultan. So it was more of a "see-see-look-look" stop.

We were told that this island was once a filming location for the reality series "Survival". Sadly, visitors are banned from visiting it after some teenagers were caught filming extreme stunts on the island...


We cruised past Pulau Rawa too. We were also shown different islands that were featured in "Survival" but we were too unwell to pay attention and take more photos. We stopped quite a bit on the sea for photos, the boat wobbled and swayed on the rough sea when we were stationary so we really wasn't at our best state.
This was an island used as a "punishment" site for participants that lost in Survival...I think

At this point, the boatman and our guide could sense our faltering enthusiasm which stemmed from our seasickness and they swiftly made a change of plan, and we brought forward our lunch stop at Pulau Besar.

Stop x? (Lost track due to sea sickness): Pulau Besar

Lunch was chicken rice -  I loved the fact that it is packed in reusable containers! Plastic waste minimized (though there are some plastic waste produced, as plastic was needed to contain the soup and sauce!)

We felt regenerated after lunch and was ready for snorkeling - we stopped at three different spots for snorkeling but as mentioned previously, we had no waterproof camera and hence no photos!

The snorkeling experience was okay - coral reef not as pretty as the one in Perhentian and the marine life not as diverse but still it was an enjoyable experience. I was quite relieved when the snorkeling trip ended and we were heading back to the jetty.

BUT bear in mind I'm not a beach and sea person so I spent more time sitting by the beach, waiting for everyone :p I don't quite enjoy underwater activity so, perhaps I'm not the greatest reference point for snorkeling review :p


Being a teacher, I like to give everything a tangible rating. 

I'd give Sea Hunter a 10/10 for this trip. Our guide and boat man was the best guide one could ask for - they were attentive, humorous, and fun! They were patient when anyone in the group would like to take photos, or when we took our own sweet time. They were attentive to our needs (always reminding us to drink water!), and cracked up a lot of jokes during our trip. If you're planning an island hopping trip around Mersing, I'd really recommend them!

Sea Hunter

Other places to visit near Mersing:
1. Pulau Mawar
2. Gunung Arong

Other places to visit in Johor:
1. Blue Lagoon of Kangkar Pulai
2. Rainforest Treehouse, Pulai

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