October 22, 2010

Visiting Bidong Island


Bidong Island

Bidong Island

I’ve never heard of  Bidong Island before and unless you’re a diver, most likely you might have not heard of it as well. I recently got invited to a friend’s wedding reception in Terengganu and plans were made for some of them to go for a dive in Bidong Island. Not knowing much about it left me curious and I decided to do a search on it.

Bidong Island served as a transit point for Vietnamese refugees during the Vietnam war during the 70’s. Bidong at that time only had the capacity to accommodate for 4,500 refugees, however during the peak season the island sheltered almost 40,000 people. Long houses, schools, workshops, post office, church,temple, tailors, hair salons, bakery, noodle shops, sundry shops were among the basic things built to ensure a better living condition. The locals even named the beach as Pantai China-China Beach, the famous counterpart in Vietnam hence why Bidong is also known as Little Saigon.

View of the newly rebuilt jetty

View of the newly rebuilt jetty

Bidong was a temporary home for many of the refugees before they were resettled. Time taken for the resettlement process varied for each individual; some a few months while others a few years. UNHCR organised vocational training, languages classes, kindergarten etc for the refugees to prepare them to face the challenges in life when they are resettled in other countries.

More than 250,000 Vietnamese had passed through or resided in the refugee camp and Bidong was closed as a refugee camp on October 91 and remained restricted to the public until 1999. So what happened to Bidong Island during that 8 years being isolated from the world outside ? Few of the buildings had been torched, equipment that remained in the vocational workshops has been smashed, wooden platform of the jetty were stripped, in other words no preservation actions were ever carried out. Despite the harsh conditions, few structures survived, such as the artificial boat beside the temple to commemorate those that arrive on the island.

Remnants of a boat

Remnants of a boat*







*Pics taken from http://www.pulaubidong.org

In 1999, the island was opened to tourism as there still were many remnants and ruins left behind on the island. Tourists were allowed to see the remnants as well as go for a snorkeling or dive to explore the corals and marine life around the island. In 2003, a group of former boat people who have resettled in other countries made a trip back to this island. Many came back with their spouses and children.  For many this island will forever remain a bitter part of their history. To date, not many Malaysian tourists come here, not only because they are not familiar with the name but also, some of them claim that there is black spirit on the island. For those that would like a glimpse of history, be safe and get a guided tour of the islands as there are many uncovered wells that lie around the island. There isn’t a place to stay so it’ll just be a day trip.

What set’s Bidong apart from the other surrounding island as a dive spot is it’s “heritage row”. This is a treat for those who go diving because apart from seeing the variety of marine life, one can see things like a keris, traditional Malay headgear and even the famous Batu Bersurat. Anchored in waters some 15 metres deep, divers will get to see this man made gallery developed by the State tourism.

The arch

The arch**

Perahu Payang

Perahu Payang**

Perahu Payang

Perahu Payang**

Broken kris

Broken kris**

Malay headgear

Malay headgear**

Underwater 1

Underwater 1**

Underwater 2

Underwater 2**

Underwater 4

Underwater 3**

Underwater 3

Underwater 4**

**Photo’s taken from Shawn’s Facebook who is a diving buddy

Merang Jetty

Merang Jetty

Abundance of fishes

Abundance of fishes

Clear waters

Clear waters

The trip to Bidong Island takes about 45 minutes from the Merang Jetty in Kuala Terengganu and even if you don’t go diving, snorkeling around the island presents an opportunity to check out the abundance of fishes available.

To arrange for a tour of Bidong Island call

En. Rosli

Pulau Bidong Ex-Workers Association
492 Losong Dato Amar
21000 Kuala Terengganu
Tel: 013-9317165
Email: lie3827@yahoo.com



1 Comment »

  1. Wah! Our resident Island Reviewer 🙂

    Cheers from Abu Dhabi…

    Comment by Julian Si — October 27, 2010 @ 3:22 am | Reply

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