Extra Photo Gallery: Room | Restaurant | Turtle Sanctuary
The only resort on Pulau Gemia, which is located a few hundred metres north of Pulau Kapas. From Kuala Lumpur, the journey to Marang jetty (not Merang jetty, which is for Pulau Redang and Pulau Lang Tengah) takes about 5 hours that passes through the outskirts of Kuantan, Cherating villages, Kemaman, Paka, Dungun, Rantau Abang and finally the quaint fishing town of Marang. In general, the journey is very scenic, with rolling green meadows of the Titiwangsa Range, vast palm oil plantations, rustic fishing villages of the South China Sea as well as azure-blue ocean views.
If you prefer to fly in from Kuala Lumpur, the closest airport is at Kuala Terengganu (TGG) which is served by both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. From the airport, the journey south of Kuala Terengganu to Marang takes a mere 35 minute drive by taxis.
The jetty is well-marked in a secluded river estuary. If you have not purchased your boat ticket with your room booking, you can get one at the many boat operators which serve both Pulau Kapas and Pulau Gemia. Return boat transfer should cost you RM30 per person (although I have seen an online travel agent quoting RM40 per person but I rather not mention names). The journey is relatively short at 15-20 minutes. In general, you will need to specify your return date and time just to ease things up during your vacation.
Let's call a spade a spade. I thought this resort is probably one of the best-kept secrets of Terengganu. And it is very affordable too. The resort has recently completed its refurbishment and re-branding initiatives, and to me, it scores highly in this regard. In general, the renovation projects concentrated mostly on the resort's interiors. Nothing much seemed to have changed from the outside.
Visitors will disembark at a floating pontoon some metres away from the reception-cum-restaurant. The reception counter is very basic with a check-in and registration desk located by an open window. The reception area also host the resort's only eating outlet called Samudra Restaurant. Breakfasts are included for each night booked at the resort, but unless you opt for the all-inclusive holiday packages, you will have to fork out a great extra for lunch and dinner. In general, the food prices are very expensive, but based on the menus that I glanced through, the restaurant seems to offer a very delectable selection of Asian and Western fares.
Once I was assigned to my room, I walked for a few minutes on a raised concrete platform to get to my Water Villa unit amidst verdant green forests. The units in the resort are aptly named after precious and semi-precious stones (such as Ruby, Jade, Emerald, etc) in keeping the theme of a "gem island", so-to-speak. As soon as I stepped into my room, I was deeply overwhelmed by the interior design. Simple, yet elegant! The resort's website has suggested that the rooms are detailed down to a pat, and I have to really agree on that. Coconut-shell decorations, rattan-made lazy chair with fabulous ocean-view, clay-sculptured bathroom sink, timber-strip flooring, dry tree branches, etc, are featured in the room, given it a touch of modern simplicity. To me, this resort clearly proves that luxurious rooms do not necessarily come with imported materials from some countries far, far away. The king size bed is heavenly comfortable with mosquito net hung over it, giving the room an overall living experience in the rustic days of yore. The room opens out to a spacious balcony with soothing views of the ocean and the neighbouring Pulau Kapas. You can switch on the air-conditioner, or you can let the natural sea breeze whisks you away. Big thumbs up for the Water Villa room!
The Water Villas are the least expensive offering at the resort (and yet, it was still amazing!). The more premium units are the Premier Water Villas fronting a small sandy partition in the resort, and the Hideaway Villas as well as the Premier Hideaway Villas, both are two-storey detached units built inland amidst the forested jungles. In general, each room is equipped with air-conditioner, king size bed, bathroom, mini fridge, kettle jug and complimentary coffee, regular and fine Chinese tea leaves, safe box, small selection of Astro channels, etc.
Other facilities in the resort include a beach activity centre (for snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing trips, water skiing, wake-boarding, knee-boarding , island-hopping excursion trips, kayaking, bird watching and banana boat rides), games and indoor activity rooms, and the Tusita Wellness Spa that will spoil you with bath therapies, herbal sauna, facials, body treatments, ear candling, manicures and pedicures.
One unique feature of Gem Island Resort & Spa that is not found anywhere else is an in-house turtle breeding sanctuary located right in front of the reception centre. Turtles, mostly of the Chelonia mydas variety (the green turtle, or locally known as penyu agar), frequent the sheltered beaches of both Pulau Gemia and Pulau Kapas. A dedicated resort personnel, nicknamed Ronnie (his actual name is Rani), is overseeing the overall management of the turtle sanctuary upon approval from his employer. Often, Ronnie finds himself waking up at ungodly hours in the morning to collect freshly-laid turtle eggs in the surrounding beaches before local villagers could do likewise. If he was late for a few hours, chances are these eggs will find their way to the local produce markets in and around Kuala Terengganu as a much sought-after local delicacy. The eggs that he collects will be buried in a confined sandy space in the resort and the hatchlings will be transferred into a make-shift pool where these adorable creatures will live for a few weeks on a steady diet of freshly pumped-in sea water and raw fishes. The reason behind this conservation method is to ensure the small turtles growing into better strength before they are released back into the ocean wilderness, and hopefully will return back to the island in years to come.
Kudos to Gem Island Resort & Spa for the efforts done to provide an affordably lavish holiday experience with a commendable turtle conservation initiative. I proudly present my 5-star rating to them!
Meticulously done. Fascinating holiday experience overall.