Posted by: facetothewind | May 12, 2015

The Components of Joy – Our Retreat to Lang Tengah Island

Sari Pacifica Lang Tengah

After so many postings about how miserable I’ve been in Kuala Lumpur, you might be wondering, “Hey Dave, what does it take to please you?” The answer though simple to enumerate is a bit harder to assemble all in one place.

  1. Quiet
  2. Beautiful surroundings
  3. Good conversation
  4. Good food
  5. Decent people

This last weekend in Lang Tengah Island, Chuan and I found nearly all the above. Food wasn’t so great, but it wasn’t dog food either. They seem to be doing their best considering they’re so far from the mainland which on a good day isn’t a reliable source of decent ingredients. So we kind of ate the same basic food for a few days which didn’t kill us. We were there for the respite and the beautiful setting.

Lang Tengah 1

Lang Tengah is a small island that if there were a road you could walk the perimeter in about a half hour. There are 3 functioning “resorts” on it and one defunct. We spent 3 nights at Sari Pacifica there after a quick flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu, then a long taxi ride, and finally a fairly long speedboat ride.

Click on all photos to enlarge…

Lang Tengah 2

Everything was nearly picture-perfect with a few environmental transgressions. The island in the South China Sea off the northeast coast of Malaysia is largely undiscovered (but not for long) and was wonderfully quiet and beautiful. There was a minimal amount of rubbish on the powdery white beaches, though Chuan and I did make a point of picking up plastic bottles every day only to find out that they burn the plastic in the evening. Asia!! Wake the @#$% up!! Why are you poisoning your own habitat? We were told the so-called recycler would charge the hotels to come and collect the bottles and then take them out to sea and dump them. So they stopped that and now just burn the plastics which triggered a lung infection which I am now nursing back in smoggy KL.

Lang Tengah 6

Anyway. Other than THAT, it was pretty ideal. The large groups of mainland Chinese tourists who now invade the world’s tourist destinations have already discovered the resort down the beach so we witnessed that noisy scene on our after-dinner walks. Glad we weren’t staying there listening to the karaoke and bad rooftop bar music. From our resort it was a very distant mumble. For the record, I don’t hate the Chinese…my boyfriend is Malaysian-Chinese. I simply don’t enjoy any large group of tourists who descend upon a place in a loud and uncivilized way. It used to be the ugly American tourists arrogantly plying the planet in their white sneakers and golf shirts. But we are now wildly upstaged by the throngs of goofily dressed Chinese, though interestingly, they don’t really come to KL. KL only seems to attract Muslim tourists from the Middle East which is a whole other deal. Same same but different. Alas, I digress.


Anyway, on a walk one afternoon we discovered deep in the jungle, a scruffy and bright-eyed group of heroes come to the island (mostly from England and Australia) to protect the endangered green sea turtles from poachers and predators. It’s called the Tengah Island Turtle Watch. Here volunteers pay to spend a week or a month sleeping under the palm trees in a makeshift camp taking 24-7 shifts to watch for mama turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. They patrol the beach and move the eggs should she lay them in front of an unprotected cove frequented by the local poacher who has a taste for turtle eggs. They log and monitor the turtles’ laying sites and on occasion are treated to a midnight escape of dozens of little 4-legged friends scurrying toward the water where they face 1-in-1,000 odds of surviving to adulthood.


Check out their Facebook page and consider making a donation or joining them for a period of turtle patrolling on this idyllic island. I did note that the group had only one Asian among them. Why isn’t environmental conservation more of a priority in Asia? Perhaps they feel it’s a lost cause and that a turtle egg omelet is better knowing how precious and rare it has become.


The rest of the time we spent snorkeling and doing nothing. Chuan worked on his tan. I nibbled on my books between naps. Snorkeling was fantastic. We saw a bluespotted stingray just watching us overhead. We were surrounded by lots of triggerfish and parrotfish and all sorts of other little bright blue and yellow fishes. Nature is so fascinating how it endows these sea creatures with such fanciful bodies.

Snorkeling for me is like flying without the need for an airplane. Gliding over mountains of rocks and looking deep into valleys full of fish darting in and out, it’s like being a bird in an aquamarine world. Chuan started out the trip frightened of the deep water. “Scared scared,” he would repeat tapping the center of his chest. Over the 3 days of snorkeling holding my hand, he began to swim out to the deeper water where the turquoise turns to cobalt blue and where the bigger fish live. I was proud of how brave he had become, though he wouldn’t accompany me out to a distant buoy where nurse and blacktip sharks were rumored to live. So I swam out alone (and found nothing) respecting my boyfriend’s limits and trusting his own instincts.

Watch the video and you can see a giant monitor lizard, some pretty scary spiders, and even go underwater with us. And I know it’s Enya singing about the Caribbean but hey, try finding a song about swimming in the South China Sea…

Click on a photo and use your arrow key to advance…

So on the final day I was blissed out from sun, sand, and solitude. As we stepped aboard the water taxi, the deckhand tossed his cigarette into the shimmering blue water and then I heard a little tap on the water. Kind of a hollow tap. It was the sound of someone’s soda can being tossed off the back of the boat to join the cigarette butt for a short journey ashore where someone would either step over it or haul it to the trash where it would ultimately be tossed out back behind the hotel. Welcome back to reality. If Asia is any measure of the planet’s health, this big blue jewel is doomed.

I rode off in the speedboat, car, and jet thinking about that soda can and cigarette bobbing in our wake…the wake generated from an engine spilling motor oil into the sea and dispensing its carbon emissions for 4 passengers. And how much jet fuel did it take to propel my body into the air all the way to KL? We’re all complicit in this big mess. I’m glad that I got to see a few colorful fish, some remaining blue coral, and swim alongside a majestic green sea turtle while I still can. If the convenience of the sea as a trash bin and a turtle scramble is more important than a little self restraint, then I fear that future generations will not be so lucky.

I returned to KL with a suitcase packed with crushed plastic bottles to hand over to my building’s renegade recyclers. I do what I can. I once saw the Dalai Lama speak at the University of California, Berkeley. Someone asked him what we can do about the deteriorating state of the world. He said overpopulation is to blame and what we need is more monks and nuns. I thought, yah, and gay people. But he also said, “If you want to change the world, look in your own backyard.”

Yes! Tell me what you’re doing in your own backyard.


Next stop: Malacca and then Pai, Thailand.



  1. Terrific post, David. It looks a lot like the little island on the extreme northwest of Bali where Nicole and I spent a week once, many years ago. And we too loved snorkelling even though I was a little scared scared of the sharks. Those same turtles (or their cousins) nest on this island in Florida, too, and have as many (or more) admirers and supporters here. In my own backyard I have gotten rid of the lawn and planted fruit trees and vegetables and flowering bushes for butterflies, installed cat-fencing to keep Milly in, and refused to use any pesticides or even anything new: everything in my garden and house is at least second-hand. Much is made from repurposed construction waste from the endless new houses my neighbors keep putting up. On my own beach, I pick up plastic and metal and other non-paper litter every single time I go. These beaches are very clean, but there is never a time when I see NOTHING to pick up, and often after a busy tourist day I fill a plastic bag with plastic bottles and other junk, which I then take home to recycle. If I don’t have a bag, I fill my pockets. My pockets are then filled with sand, which then gets in my house, but it’s fine. I pick up cigarette butts ostentatiously in front of smokers; I pick up families’ baby- and kid-junk in front of them. Once in a great while, someone I pass thanks me for cleaning up the beaches, and twice in my five years here I’ve seen someone else doing the same thing. Keep carrying your bottles to your recycler. It has to start somewhere, and LK and Indo are just a few decades behind the USA. I remember in college in the 80s when I was nearly the only person to recycle glass. It’s okay. Keep doing the right thing, even if it does seem futile and hopeless. It might be futile, but it might not be. xxx

  2. Wow, looks like paradise. And you have a camera that goes under water? Loved the video (and love Enya anytime). The pictures are beautiful, but what’s with that toilet?? Is that some kind of contact paper decoration?

    Lucky you to be traveling to such beautiful places. And yes, we’re all complicit in one way or another in effing up the planet. All we can do is our little part and hope it adds up to some bigger parts.

  3. Your visit is so much like ours to FIJI

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