Less than 4 nautical miles from the shore of Marang – a sleepy fishing town on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia, lies a beautiful marine park island surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and pristine sandy beaches. The sand is powdery soft and the texture is very much cotton-like; this is how the name of this island came about – Kapas, a Malay word for cotton.
The island can be reached in less than 10 minutes by a speed boat from the Marang jetty. One might presume that since the island is so close to the mainland, the waters might not be as crystal clear as those surrounding islands in more isolated locations. However, this is not the case – you will be immediately attracted to the clarity of the waters as soon as the speedboat coasts to a stop when arriving at the jetty.
The moment I dipped my feet in the water (I say dipping because I do not swim unless in the presence of several life jackets), I immediately noticed that I could see all the way through to the bottom, far below. What added to the magic of the moment – was a massive school of colorful fish swimming by in a whirling motion (I later researched that this method of swimming is a prey to predator safety mechanism).
Large shoals of fish can be easily spotted from the shore. Suffice to say, snorkeling and diving is readily available – directly from the beach! All necessary gear can be rented from most of the beachfront hotels or tour operators in the area. If you dream of swimming among colorful fish, bring along some pieces of bread to draw them towards you.
Most visitors come to the island for a day trip. As of late 2020, the return boat ticket from Marang to Kapas Island costs MYR 40 (USD 9.5). The beaches are usually abuzz with holiday crowds in the morning hours – especially on sunny days. Along the coastline, the sea is calm and the waters are protected by a safety net, offering an ideal and safe space for numerous water related sports.
If crowds and a party atmosphere makes you cringe, Kapas has a number of secluded spots where one can find tranquility. I discovered a little bay with few people overlooking Gemia Island, a scenic private island that is geographically close to Kapas Island.
I am not a swimmer myself (as I clearly alerted you early in this post), but dang it, the view in front of me was simply irresistible – sparkling turquoise water glittering under the bright blue sky. With my t-shirt and flippers tossed aside, I was immediately lured into the ocean as if being pulled by a magnetic force. The water was still and shallow enough for me to stand and walk (well within my safety zone). I had no fear of being knocked down or swept away and was constantly mesmerized by how surreal everything was. I soon lost track of time – and began thinking about how the year has simply flown by despite all the additional challenges the world has faced.
You may consider spending a night or two at a hotel or a resort to explore the island at your own pace. I stayed at Kapas Island Resort – a beautiful space set amidst lush greenery. The chalet features a front porch where I spent most of the afternoon tucked away with a book, with my attention periodically distracted by a squeaky sound from giant lizards scampering underneath.
For jungle trekking enthusiasts, there are a few routes leading to a viewpoint on top of a nearby hill and trails accessing several secluded beaches.
For those on a tight budget or limited by time – a day trip to the island is absolutely doable. Pack some food and plenty of water before you go to save yourself from paying higher prices for the food and beverages on the island. Public buses leave from the bus terminal in Kuala Terengganu, the state capital of Terengganu, providing access to Marang town. Depart the bus at the bus station next to the big mosque in Marang and walk towards the direction of the jetty.
I guarantee you will have a memorable and pleasurable time on the island!
Across the sea from me,
shrouded with wispy clouds,
Kapas island sits majestically.
Dreamlike from afar,
I can’t wait to hit the bar.
I bring a sense of adventure
along with my cigar and guitar.