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Penyabong in monsoon season, 2nd December 2018 | Helen Gray

Penyabong in monsoon season, 2nd December 2018

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Received wisdom is that you do not go to the beaches on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia during the north-east monsoon season. From Oct - March the seas are too rough and many of the island resorts off the east coast close because transportation is erratic. Nevertheless, our brief 2-day/1-night visit showed us that, if you can put up with a bit of rain, then there is still much beauty to be found in this part of Malaysia.

We drove 2.5 hours north from Johor Bahru to meet up with our friend Hanis Harun who was taking her daughter and her friends to an educational camp at Telok Gorek Chalet and Camp Site. We have visited the Penyabong area several times before, staying at the Sukalayar Resort just across the isthmus from Telok Gorek. Accommodation around here is basic but functional, so we came prepared with a picnic lunch and some cooked food for our dinner that night. When you drive north from Mersing on Route 3, you can slip off to the right to join the coast road (J80) for a more scenic route. Being English, we stopped along the road with a view of the sea and ate our sandwiches. Mersing itself is also a good stopping off point as there are plenty of food options there.

The rain arrived just after us, so we rested inside our chalet until it had stopped. For readers unfamiliar with monsoon rains, they are very heavy and the winds blows the rain everywhere. Best to stay under cover if you can. The campsite is right on the beach, so we headed off towards Gunung Arong (Mount Arong) as soon as the rain stopped. You can see the steam rising off the hillside behind Hanis in the photo below.

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The plan had been to walk around the base of Gunung Arong, sit on the red rocks and watch the sea, but the tide was all wrong for that. ‘Arong’ means ‘wading’ and the mountain got its name because travelling along this coast on foot meant you had to get around or across Gunung Arong. Well, the mountain itself is too steep to climb over, and you cannot easily pass by inland because of the dense forest, so travellers would have to wade through the sea instead. The sea is very shallow along this piece of coastline, and generally very safe, but today it was brown and fierce. Still, the late afternoon light gave a silvery look to things, and the fine layer of water on the sand became a mirror.

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This is Gunung Arong which has a pile of red rocks around its base (to the left) and mangrove (to the right). Overhead you will see huge elegant eagles flying high, and you may catch sight of some monkeys.

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When Hanis finds mangrove sprouts, she tries to give them a head start by ‘planting’ them from a great height.

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The beach is not a white sandy beach, but a textured grey/brown beach. There is plenty of wildlife here too, but mostly you will see hermit crabs and small delicate sandpipers hopping along in search of food or flying low in formation over the sea.


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Back closer to the campsite were the only other people on the beach that evening; as I have seen here before, the locals love to just sit in the sea and chat. The temperature was very pleasant indeed, and the whole experience was very relaxing.

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Our next plan was to head to Pantai Penyabong, a little further north along the coast. Here there is a fishing jetty from where you can watch the sunset. We went to the local food stall area to get some snacks to eat while watching the sunset, but today the sun failed to put on much of a display. The food here is typical Malay-style of deep fried everything! We had deep fried prawns, fish sausage, and bananas, and all were delicious. The larger boat jetty is currently being modernised and these food stalls will soon be moved to a newly-built food court nearer to the jetty.

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This whole coastal area was once reknowned as the haunt of pirates, and Penyabong itself gets its name from cock fighting which was also popular around here; something to think about while snacking!

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The next day we were greated by the sun beaming at us! If I come here again, I’ll have to remember to get up early for some sunrise photos.

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Lawrence had wanted the opportunity here to practice flying his drone, but the wind off the sea here at Telok Gorek was far too strong. All just a reminder of how the wind influenced the trade routes in the past during the time of sail. So we packed up and drove off in the rain to the beach in front of the Sukalayar Resort in Tanjung Resang. Again, the beach was deserted and at 8:30 am the temperature was very comfortable. And we enjoyed watching a beautiful rainbow.

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Lawrence rushed to get his drone ready to fly into the rainbow, but it faded before he was ready.

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As you can see, the tide was out but there was plenty of wave action. So while Lawrence did his thing, I spent time taking photos and Hanis walked in the sea. I’m not a sea lover, but Hanis did persuade me to walk in the sea as well and search for crabs.

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I love this beach, and low tide just adds to its beauty. You can walk for hours listening to the rhythm of the waves, then all of a sudden the rains come and you simply get wet! As long as my camera is safe inside my bag, then rain is not a problem. Even Lawrence learnt that he could still fly his drone in the rain, but rain drops on the camera have rather messed up the footage!

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Just before the rain came, the colour of the sky changed and even the sea looked browner and greener than before.

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Now it was time for an early lunch before driving home, so we drove to the Kedai Makan Hentian Bendang on Jalan Air Papan. We will have spotted this restaurant when driving into the Penyabong area as you turn right just after this building to get from route J80 to J78. I’d recommend parking along the roadside rather than taking the small bridge further up, unless you have a very small car.

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This restaurant is by the paddy fields, which today were very full of water and dotted with white egrets. Rice is difficult to grow here because the water is a bit salty.

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We have eaten here before and the food is always good. It’s standard buffet style so you choose what you want and the staff come and calculate the cost from what’s on your table. It is remarkably cheap, just RM40 to feed and water three hungry people.

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Then it was time to head home, thankful to Hanis for suggesting we come and join her and thankful for another mini-adventure in Malaysia. 


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