Saturday, 1st August 1987
I woke up at 7 o’clock on Saturday morning. After a quick coffee I braved the early morning bustle to get to the bus station. I had an orange juice at a McDonald’s on the way.
I headed to the exact spot the ticket tout had told me to wait the day before. It was already 8:50 but, although there were plenty of people waiting, there was no sign of any bus. Suddenly at 8:59 a man appeared and led us all from the bus station along the pavement, round a corner and across a road to a roundabout. 3 minutes later, with remarkable efficiency, the Kuantan bus pulled up. I was impressed.
My seat mate was a young Malay engineering student. We chatted a bit, I glanced at the New Straits Times a bit, and I looked out at the green almost jungle-like scenery a bit. In the end though I found the old Mercedes bus too comfortable and I slept for most of the 5 hour journey.
We pulled into Kuantan about 2pm. I got off, walked through the town and eventually found the local bus station. I boarded a very full local bus and bought a 50c ticket for the short ride to the beach suburb of Telok Chempedak.
When I got off in Telok I really felt I had finally arrived in Malaysia. It was a really beautiful beach town. The people seemed really friendly and, after asking a few locals, I soon found a good place to stay. The Asrama Bendahara Hotel was spartan but comfortable. I got a dorm room for 2 nights for 14 dollars.
I went down to the beach and took a dip in the sea. It was warm but a little rough. Then I just sat at a table of a pavement cafe outside the hotel. There were quite a few travellers there. It was just getting dark but it was lovely and warm and there was a really relaxed atmosphere.
Saturday evening passed quietly enough and the highlight was a delicious bowl of fresh fish porridge complete with all the trimmings: nuts, dried salted fish and carrots.
Sunday, 2nd August 1987
Sunday was another day on the beach. I was joined by two Dutch cyclists and I spent all day bathing and sunning myself. I had a nice meal of beef and bean sprouts for dinner and washed it down with an Anchor beer at the Gold Beach cafe.
I went back to the Asrama Bendahara and had a great conversation about Islam and Malaysian football with a local lad called Antim.
Monday, 3rd August 1987
After breakfast I went into Kuantan for what I thought would be the relatively easy task of getting the 160km north to Rantau Abang; the turtle beach. Unfortunately, after 20 minutes trying, I realised it might be hopeless. The ensuing Malaysian holiday meant that there were no deals on any buses going north and taxis were even harder to come by. Consequently I decided to hitch.
I tried for over an hour but it started to really pour down and I was getting drenched. I then decided to book a bus ticket for the next day and make my way back to Telok for the night. That plan quickly fell through as I was told that all the tickets for the next day were gone too.
I was starting to think I would have to spend the rest of my life in Kuantan when a tout guided me to another counter. Suddenly there was an extra bus and it was going to be leaving at 5:30pm today. I secured seat 36 on the 40 seat bus.
I celebrated with a wonderful claypot chicken rice meal near the bus station. I decided to have a look around Kuantan. It certainly wasn’t a bad little place. It had a tranquil river walk which provided a great escape from the hectic bus station.
The 5:30pm bus took an hour to leave. It was plagued by being overbooked and by having several little faults. Eventually with everything sorted out and a few unhappy customers left behind we left Kuantan. We were only 3km out of town when we were stopped by the police. It was only a short stop but I sensed there could be some bribery and corruption going on between the driver and the police. After 10 minutes we were finally on our way again.
We spent the rest of the journey with the driver doing his best to try to kill us with his dreadful driving. We swayed from side to side as we overtook things and swerved to avoid obstacles on the road. The Chinese woman sat next to me kept feeding me dried fruits and potato chips and that helped to keep my mind off the driving.
It went dark. Soon it was very dark and the only thing we saw for an hour or so were the lights of a giant petrol-chemical plant in the distance. There was no street lighting of any kind and it was difficult to know where we were or when to get off.
It was 9pm before we reached Rantau Abang. I alighted at what I thought was the centre of town but it actually turned out to be 3km short of the town. I saw a hotel and they directed me along a dark smoky road towards the town in the distance. I flagged down a motorcyclist and hitched a lift with him. After another 2km I finally arrived at a large collection of bungalows next to the beach.
I quickly secured a single room at a bungalow. Actually it wasn’t really a bungalow. It would be better described as a wooden hut with a bed. Rantau Abang was undergoing a series of power cuts when I arrived and there were candles everywhere with everyone looking around at each other as they waited for the power to come back on.
It was getting close to midnight but everyone was still awake and sitting around waiting. They were all waiting for the same thing; the emergence of a giant turtle from the sea.
The turtles came up onto the beach to lay their eggs and they had become a massive tourist attraction and a big money earner for Rantau.
I waited on the beach with a Chinese family and a Swiss lad called Bruno. We waited until 1am but the turtles never arrived. I retired to the guest house, had a chili fried rice and went to bed.
Tuesday, 4th August 1987
The next morning there was no hot water so I had a cold shower.
I sat in a pleasant café on the beach and had a cracking cheese omelette for breakfast. I chatted to an American from Boston and then read for most of the morning. There wasn’t much to do apart from read, sunbathe, swim and wait.
I talked to John from Boston, a couple of kiwis and a few others. We had a lovely lunch of Mee Goreng and then waited again.
In the afternoon we watched as the fisherman rolled in the fish nets. The whole village seemed to come out to help and and it was quite special to see them all work together.
In the evening we had another meal of fish sweet and sour and waited some more.
At 11pm a shout went up and everybody dashed towards where the shout had come from. We were confronted by the sight we had waited for; a giant turtle on the beach.
The guys at the Malaysian ministry of fisheries were being very protective of it though and wouldn’t really let us near it.
They stopped what must have been 100 plus people from crowding the mother until she had finished laying her eggs. It took her about 20 minutes to lay them and then the fisheries guys snatched them up from underneath her and took them off in a box.
Then everyone rushed around the poor turtle and ensured she was half frightened to death. I took one look and headed back to the bungalow. After all the waiting it was all a bit of an anti-climax to be honest.