Diving at Pulau Bidong

How many of you know Pulau Bidong? Do you know it was once known as the Hell Island? To be honest, I never know until I was browsing through the google map to find out the islands that I haven't been yet in Malaysia. Pulau Bidong was once a refugee camp for the Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
If you not know where it is located, you can click to enlarge the picture above. Pulau Bidong is located at Terengganu and the jetty that access to Pulau Bidong is from Merang Jetty. It is also the jetty to get you to Pulau Redang and Lang Tengah Island.
From Merang Jetty, it just takes about 30 minutes to reach. Alternatively, you can stay at Lang Tengah Island with Summerbay Resorts to join their boat trip to this island. They have a minimum requirement which is must have at least 4 persons to join.
There is a toilet and shower area provided here with minimum maintenance done. 
On the opposite of the restrooms, there is a bridge which leads you to the monuments which is left by the Vietnamese refugees.
This is the old monuments left by the Vietnamese refugees before they being eradicated. To shorten the story, after the Vietnam War ended about 2 millions refugees fled their country by various routes in 1975. One of the route is to Pulau Bidong. They squeezed in a tiny boat drift to the sea to seek for asylum, at that time they were also known as the Vietnamese boat people. Some boats sunk along the way, some boats being robbed by the pirates in Thailand and women being kidnapped or raped while the guys being killed and the first boat that successfully arrived in Malaysian shores was on May 1975 with only 47 refugees.
There are many tombstones place on this monuments to remember those who were dead either in the sea or on this island. In 1978, Malaysian government opened a refugee camp at Pulau Bidong for the Vietnamese Boat People. By June 1979, there were 40,000 refugees crammed on an island of 13ha in size. In average, it was about 500 boat people a day. Actually not just Malaysia alone who is offering the aid, Philippines offered their Palawan Island, Indonesia offered Galang Island and Singapore offered a refugee camp at Sembawang.
This is the new monument set up by the refugees who came back to Malaysia as a remembrance by thanking Malaysia government for their help during the dark times.
Unfortunately, there are Chinese deities on this island has been destroyed by our locals. It is ashamed and shameless for doing such an act by destroying an history worthy site.
However, a few weeks after this picture was taken, I was been told the Vietnamese people whom previously stayed on this island has came back to repair them. I felt disgusted with our own people doing such a deed and the Terengganu government has no plan to restore it but in the end it was the Vietnamese boat people who was the one who appreciate this piece of land.
Terengganu government must step up their security to secure this island from any further vandalism. In 2017, Terengganu government which was governed by Barisan Nasional planned to open Asia's first underwater gallery here but after they lost their election in May 2018, this plan has been reviewed by the new government from Pakatan Harapan.
Coming over to this side, the beach is really beautiful. The sand is white and the water is so clear. It is a paradise. In June 1979, due to overcrowded issue, then Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed shocked the world by announcing that Malaysia will remove 70,000 refugees from the camp and put them into the sea again. Any more boat people attempt to land in Malaysia will be shot in sight. Even the boat people trying to sink their boat, they will not be rescued and being left to drown. 
This kind of statement and decision have shocked the world to create the attention from the strong countries and United Nations to act to resettle the refugees faster. It worked and UN organized a conference and decided that the developed countries will continue to fund and paid the cost to upkeep the camp as long as the ASEAN countries continue to accept the refugees. While Vietnam itself, they agreed will orderly departure its citizens, mostly ethnic Chinese.  
It took many year after that until Pulau Bidong was closed in October 1991. The remaining refugees were moved to Sungai Besi camp until 1996. By that time, Malaysia has repatriated almost 250,000 to the third world countries and almost 10,000 back to Vietnam. It took 18 years to end this refugee crisis but not many people know about this and not even in our history book. Back then, the information about this issue and the media has been controlled tightly by the government.
Sadly, very few to none historical structures that was left after the incident. Unlike in Palawan Island and Galang Island, some structures such as churches and temples being preserved and museum is built. No effort at all has done by our government at that time. This island can be a great tourist place.with high historical value. What a pity! The effort to conserve this island has only announced by Menteri Besar of Terengganu after 40 years. I wonder what is still left on the island.
I was told currently there are only 7 known people reside on this island which are employed by state government. They work as a cleaner, security guards and this camp is the marine conservation center managed by a local couple.
Students from University of Terengganu (UMT), Faculty of Maritime Studies will occasionally organized a trip to this island to study about marine life and also coral planting.
Vehicles and some of the things that was used on the island has been sunk here. Not far away from the jetty.
It seems like an underwater museum in this dive site. It is really an eye opener for us to witness all these.
Currently there are three dive centers that are offering a diving service to Pulau Bidong. The details as below:
  1. Seamonkey Dive Center - from Merang Jetty
    • Starts from RM300 for two dives with lunch included. (exclude equipment rental)
  2. Nemo Divers Dive Center - from Merang Jetty
    • Starts from RM230 for two dives with lunch included. (exclude equipment rental)
  3. Summerbay Resort - from Lang Tengah Island
    • Starts from RM2738 for 6 days 5 nights full board package for 11 dives. (exclude equipment rental) - minimum of 4 pax is required.
Personally, I signed up with Summerbay resort just to enjoy living on the Lang Tengah Island which is also a beautiful island. The journey to Pulau Bidong took about 1 hour. It is a long journey and that's why the resort will only go there if you signed up for 6 days 5 nights diving package with them. Anyway, I will share some of my diving experience during my Pulau Bidong dive below.

At this moment, no resort is built on this island so night dive on this island is impossible. I really do wish one day Pulau Bidong can be developed into an historical island tourist spot. I am looking forward to that day. If you are a diver, I strongly recommend you to dive on this island. It is really different than any island you have been in Malaysia. It is truly a unique island with so much stories in it. It is even a cinema-worthy material but our local film industry has turned it into a romance story which is a waste. You can check out the movie, Bidong The Boat People which was released earlier this year.
Ambiance: 4/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Freakout Level: 2/5
Recommended?: Yes


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