From afar the island resembles a person perching, so stood the name 'Tenggol'. 'Tenggak' in Bahasa Malaysia means 'to perch' but is pronounced as 'tenggol' in Terengganu's local dialect. For many, many years this deserted island retained its secret whereabouts. Apart from local fishermen waiting out the weather - Pulau Tenggol was pretty much left to nature.
Then came the Vietnam War and with that came the displaced victims of war..the boat people as we called them. During the late 70's and early 80's, in their last bid to escape their oppressive government, Vietnamese refugees spent all their life savings to buy themselves space on cramped wooden boats heading for a new life in the neighbouring countries. After a gruelling journey facing the dangers of storms, pirates and marine patrols, the last thing they needed was to be sent home. Upon arriving close to the beach, the refugees would 'break' their boats by crashing them on shallow waters.
The only long stretch of beach on Pulau Tenggol is at Teluk Air Tawar and in those days, it was completely hidden from view by overhang of umbrella trees, which lined the entire beachfront. Tenggol was the perfect hideaway.
When found by the Malaysian Marine Patrol, the refugees were herded and taken to the refugee camp on Pulau Bidong, a short distance from Pulau Redang. They stayed on at P.Bidong until the disbandment of camp in 1991.
Today, local fishermen still moor their boats at Pulau Tenggol to shelter from sudden tropical sea storms. The other frequent visitors to the island are the turtles. For millions of years, green turtles and hawksbill turtles driven by their instincts have returned to the same beaches they hatched from, some 30 .40.50.60 years ago, to mate and nest.
Now a new breed of visitors has found this tucked-away paradise. Gazetted as part of Terengganu Marine Park, much of the reef remains intact as fishing, spearfishing, harvesting of marine life for decorative purposes and food are strictly prohibited. The superb conservation of the reef has produced the ideal playground for scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming, canoeing.
Pulau Tenggol is a little out of reach from the throngs of weekend holidaymakers flocking to the famed islands of P.Redang, Perhentian and Kapas. A short ride by speedboat takes you to this wondrously underrated island which offers a traveller an abundance of nature's gifts.
Tenggol is especially popular with hardcore divers, and I hear some spearfishermen haunt the area too...
The sea conditions here are slightly more unpredictable then many favourite dive arenas on the east coast and it takes a pretty experienced diver to enjoy the place. It's wild, it's dangerous and it's challenging. If you're a good diver and you're in for a rush of adrenalin, this place is for you. At your own risk, of course.....