The Story of Bagus Place
by Ahmad Husni bin Datuk Ahmad Zainal Abidin
This story of Bagus Place is dedicated to Dato’ Razali Mohd Yusof (Razali). A former Victorian, he turned this holiday retreat in Tioman Island (Pulau Tioman), Pahang, into what it is today. He decided to call Bagus Place his own after falling in love with the fine sandy beaches, the deep blue sea, the beauty of the island, picturesque fishing villages and the simplicity of its islanders.
My story begins with a trip to Pulau Tioman, an island I had once dreamed of visiting but never found time to set foot. Located on the southern tip of the island, Bagus Place is a jewel accessible by small boats from Kampung Genting, a transit point on the island where visitors and tourists take a 12 to 15 minute ride southward to their destination. When the idea of making the trip was mooted, I was reluctant to travel so far from my home in Ulu Kelang, due to work commitments, if only for just a few days. As there was a remote chance of joining my six friends, I politely turned down the opportunity to go.
But things took a sudden turn and I soon found myself in a tour group of seven friends bound for Bagus Place, fully aware that this excursion could be great fun and unforgettable. I was apprehensive about the three-hour drive from our rendezvous point, near Sri Petaling in Kuala Lumpur to Tanjung Gemok, a coastal town on mainland Pahang, but decided to follow where my heart would take me. So in a seven-seater Starex driven by Captain Mazlan, we left KL at 4.00 am on 27 October 2017.
Shahi took over halfway and was in the driving seat for the rest of the journey. Upon reaching Tanjong Gemok at 10.00 am, 300 km from Kuala Lumpur, there was a further two-hour ferry ride departing at 11.00 am for Pulau Tioman. After half an hour’s delay, we were finally on our way to Kg. Genting at 11.30 am. We docked in this transit point at 1.30 noon. There was Razali to greet us and invite us on board a twelve-passenger speed boat. Joining us were two newly wed couples, one of them being Razali’s niece and her hubby.
We soon arrived and disembarked from our boat onto a beautifully constructed jetty about 300 meters in length and 15 feet above sea level at the furthest end from the shore during low tide. This well-designed jetty served its purpose as a walkway to Bagus Place. On the way, we passed by a small club house and noticed a few guests relaxing over a drink or two, and reading a book. It gave me the impression of a retreat that was designed for its guests to unwind and escape from stressful times and the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Just one hundred meters away from the club, we could see glimpses of timber chalets with nipah palm roof tops, and walkways connecting them, all nestled in between huge rock boulders of different shapes and sizes. Different species of fully grown and matured plants and trees filled up empty spaces in the terrain, giving character and much needed shade. With a forest canopy and a rock mountain as its backdrop, the chalets appeared to blend in so beautifully with the natural landscape.
I immediately felt at ease with the surroundings and knew then that I had made the right decision to come. There was no doubt whatsoever that Razali had brought this place to life with his personal touch and exuberance. I wondered how a Mining Engineer with a Master in Engineering Management and 25 years of mining and oil and gas industry experience could be so absorbed with Bagus Place. But then again had he not been an engineer, I was told, Razali would have pursued Geography because of his love for the nature. I could see that Razali loved living this life and it was what mattered most. His passion had indeed infected his staff and they enjoyed working in the sanctuary, going the extra mile for him.
Although Razali and I were in the same Victoria Institution class of 1971-1977, I did not get to know him until the year 2016 when a small group of VI Old boys from the same batch started a chat group called “UFJ..u free jom jalan.” Initially, the chat group was led by Old Boys Aziz and Rahmat, who named it “jom jom cari makan.” Later it evolved into “jom cari kawan”. By the time I came on board, there were already five in the group, namely, Aziz, Rahmat, Fuad, Shahi and Azlan. On the behest of Aziz, who was also my old VI hostel mate from 1972-1975, I joined in 2015 to make an even six. However, a few months later the group sadly went back to five when Azlan passed away.
Soon after, Raja Kamal was added to the group followed by Razali, Nizar, Mazlan and Ungku Malik in October 2017. But it was only in 2016 that I began to know more about Razali as a humble person, friendly and easy to talk to. When his daughter got married in December 2016, our chat group friends would not miss it for the world. Ex-VI Boys and Girls from the class of 71-77 turned up in large numbers to celebrate the occasion. Friendships in the chat group grew and our shared values became stronger with this trip to Bagus Place.
So what really is Bagus Place all about?
The story began some years ago when a Frenchman named Eric came across a deserted beach in the southern tip of Pulau Tioman. As he was passing by, the boatman who was driving him shouted out “Bagus, Bagus!” to mean that the place was good. Eric built an eco-paradise retreat with three chalets at that very place. He opened the retreat to guests in 2004 and called it Bagus Place. He was happy to run it but for reasons best known to him, he decided to move on with his life after five years.
Eight years ago Razali bought from Eric the three-acre site for an undisclosed amount. He then added value to it, with various designs for new chalets but retained the same original concept for this holiday retreat. Later Razali bought another three acres next to Bagus Place from the State Government of Pahang. This was followed by an acquisition of two additional acres from an old lady in Pulau Tioman who had wanted to perform her haj. Today, there are ten chalets but Razali has plans to close the place down for renovation and to add a few more chalets.
In the last ten years, Bagus Place has helped give Pulau Tioman a touristic boost. As a peaceful sanctuary of breath-taking natural beauty, no one can deny Bagus Place its rightful place under the sun. It will certainly add to the colourful history of Pulau Tioman, way beyond its existence as a volcanic island. Here is TripAdvisor LLC on the history of the island until the years just after World War Two:
“Proof of human inhabitants there dates as far back as the 11th Century, and it has been inhabited by people from many lands over the centuries. In its early days it served as a resting place for Arab sailors headed to Asia, and in fact has always been a stopping point for ships to rest and reload throughout its history. Tioman was taken over by the Chinese during the Song Dynasty and was fought over briefly by European nations looking to strengthen their trading power during the 1800's.
“For a time Tioman also became a dangerous area, taken over by pirates in the early 19th Century who were known for kidnapping and murder. Ships avoided the area for many years until it was taken over by the British in the late 1800's. After several decades of peace, Tioman was occupied by the Japanese during World War II who wanted to use it as a base, but they were soon defeated by allied forces.
“Up to 1970s, Pulau Tioman was a hidden treasure in South China Sea but in the 1980s, Pulau Tioman became a popular haven for backpackers and budget travellers with plenty of cheap accommodations. In Kg. Ayer Batang, you could find huts with mattresses but no fan or light. In Kg. Tekek, there were accommodations with no fans, often no electricity and with only communal bathrooms. At Salang, there were a couple of wooden bungalows with basic amenities and in the beach south of Juara, chalets were empty."
Today, it would be a tragedy to not leverage ethically on Pulau Tioman’s naturally endowed marine life with its beautiful and interesting coral formations combined with a variety of fishes in large schools flashing their bright colours.
On the day we arrived and right after lunch, a boating expedition was organized by Razali to observe our catch of the day. It comprised all kinds of colourful fishes lured into traps cast in the open sea. It was great fun and excitement and we enjoyed the catch immensely. Right after, it was time to jump from the fifteen-foot high jetty and take a cool dip in the sea. This Razali, Shahi and Nizar did to their hearts content, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Mazlan and I opted out at this time, however, but we promised to return the next day all psyched out for the jump. As for Aziz, Rahmat and Malik, they found time to rest and enjoyed a late afternoon snooze.
That night, a bonfire for the two honeymoon couples was lit just before a tasty Asian cuisine was served for dinner. Kudos to the Bagus Place Chef for preparing a scrumptious meal of fresh grilled fish - our catch of the day - as the main course! We finally called it a day after dinner and retired to our respective chalets. Aziz, Rahmat and Malik went to Eagle View Chalet while Shahi and Nizar were proud occupants of Big Chief Chalet, standing on the hill slopes. Mazlan and I checked into the Boat House with a fantastic view of Turquoise Bay in the South China Sea.
The Boat House was a unique experience for me because it felt like I was living in a ship wreck close to the beach but with all the comforts of home. It is a far cry from the life led by Robinson Crusoe or those who lived on Gilligan’s Island. The Boat House was crafted exactly like the local deep-sea fishing boat and has a king-sized bed in the master bedroom where Mazlan slept at night and enjoyed an amazing ocean view during the day. For me, it was a spiral staircase that led me up to the superstructure where I occupied the second room, equipped with a double bed, and out to its own private sun deck looking out to the sea.
On the second day right after our early breakfast, Razali led Mazlan, Shahi, Nizar and yours truly for some jungle trekking to view the undeveloped side of Bagus Place. The natural surrounding was as beautiful as what we had witnessed the day before. Razali was very excited in its potential. His vision was to build new chalets of the same character and connect them with more paths and timber walkways.
We then went back to our chalets for a rest before our boat ride to Kg. Tekek which was about twenty minutes away. Upon arrival, the marina at Kg. Tekek was indeed a welcoming sight. As we chugged in, we passed all kinds of sailboats, schooners, catamarans and yachts. On the shore, people went about with their daily lives and tourists were everywhere, some on foot and a few riding bicycles.
After lunch, Nizar, our friend from the Department of Civil Aviation, took us for a tour to check out the air traffic control tower overlooking the only airfield in Pulau Tioman. The newly-wed couple and three members of Bagus Place crew were in awe when they joined us for briefing by Nik Mohd on what an Air Traffic Controller normally does running his daily operations.
We headed back after a brief stop at a Duty Free Shop, had our tea break in Bagus Place and rested our tired muscles for a while before going back to the jetty for a swim in the deep blue sea. Ah yes, not forgetting that nervy fifteen foot jump that I had promised to make! With a life vest on, I had no worries plunking in to enjoy swimming, dipping and floating like there was no tomorrow.
Soon it was time for that jump with Mazlan and I being the new comers, while Aziz stood by to give moral support. After Razali gave us a few Shell Oil Company survival tips, we stood in line along the fixed timber railing. I was allowed to take a few steps down the jetty, which I appreciated very much. So it was not exactly fifteen feet after all for me but I was nervy nevertheless. On the count of two, we jumped with our feet into the water, shrieking, howling and shrilling in delight. Fair to say, all 90 kilos of me hit the bottom, my throat gulping a few litres of salt water along the way. I resurfaced after a few seconds feeling relieved that all of my body parts were still intact. We collectively felt like school boys all over again.
Day 3 was down time in the morning for us. After dinner the night before, we played one or two games of carom for the first time probably in forty years but were too tired to continue and so we went back to our chalets. Razali gave me the Rock House for the next two nights so as to experience at least two varieties of Bagus Place chalets. There I found the 180-degrees vast open sea view mesmerizing and couldn’t resist taking pictures from its balcony especially during sunset. I also found my chalet quiet; the only sound I could hear was the sea waves and the leaves blowing in the wind. I loved the tranquillity as it gave me time to reflect, coming to terms with some of my life’s imperfections.
During my coffee break, I found time to sit down in one of my favourite hang-out places with Razali, Shahi and Mazlan. It was a cabana where guests took refuge and left their books, novels and magazines behind before moving on to the next chapter of their lives. This I reckon, was their way to tell us how much they appreciated Bagus Place and what the place meant to them.
I also found time to gather colourful rocks on the beach and to take home a few as souvenirs. It has been a small hobby in my working life when I first picked up a rock in Tanjung Aru, Sabah way back in 1982. Likewise, I felt a rock from Bagus Place would stir memories of what the retreat meant to me!
At 12.00 noon, we were to head eastwards on a boat towards Kg. Mukut, a fishing village with a population of 121 inhabitants. Razali had earlier arranged for us to have lunch there and to do a bit of sightseeing. Although Mukut was just 10 minutes away from Bagus Place, the South China Sea breeze blowing in our direction during that short spell on the boat was still pleasing.
On the way to the restaurant built on stilts that stood above the sea, we stopped by to have a quick chat with Isma, a DJ who ran “Bapakku.fm”, the only radio station in Mukut. A colourful character, Isma was friendly. At the restaurant, we were introduced to Lance Corporal Yuzi. He was a young chap but we were mindful of his position as head of police in Mukut. So it was not really the rank but the designation that we were actually mindful of!
Right after our hearty lunch, we made a tour of the Mukut village and had no problems finding our way around with Isma putting in a shift as our tour guide. Along the way, we met European and Australian tourists. Some had their families with them, too. I was told they simply liked the life there in Mukut. A few had even climbed the twin peaks and stayed up there for weeks. Mukut folks are simple, kind and hospitable. They would welcome visitors and make them feel at home. They even went as far as to provide food and drinks for climbers who were stuck high up in the mountain.
A short chat with Pak Man was interesting too. Perak-born Pak Man who migrated to Mukut in 1970s showed us his catch of the day and Razali was happy to just pay him for them so we could take home with us to Kuala Lumpur. Group photos were taken to wrap up our tour.
We were back in Bagus Place by 4.00 pm in time for tea and a short rest before heading back to the jetty for another attempt at jumping into the sea. This time we had more company in Rahmat and Malik, to enliven the evening. Aziz also returned for moral support. The ritual was to go for a swim first and then jump. So we did the first part before we took to the railing. No problem.
After this it became a little dodgy because the first spot we chose was not suitable as we could easily lose our balance and mistime our steps. The second, however, was game on. We jumped one at a time but this time around, I was less nervous. As Shahi put it after his first jump, the subsequent ones were like “riding a bicycle” or “a piece of cake” according to Fuad who had done it before. When it was all over, I retired for the day to have a shower and made time for prayers.
Dinner was at around 7.45 pm followed by a long heart-to-heart open discussion amongst the eight of us. Razali’s life endearments came to the fore as we listened attentively when he opened up in regard to his business and personal life, sharing his experiences with us. He displayed another side to his personality, one that very few of his friends had privy to. What was said reinforced further our bond, friendship, and personal trust enhancing our camaraderie. We understood where he was coming from and we realized where he will be heading in the next three years. In all honesty, we remained respectful as friends.
The fourth day was a time to bid farewell. All the while we were at Bagus Place, the weather was excellent and so favourable for a perfect holiday. We basically thrashed the weatherman’s report telling us we would be in a rain storm throughout our stay there. On the contrary, rain only poured after we left Bagus Place as we were heading out to Kg. Genting to catch our 9.30 am ferry. But as expected, the ferry was again not on time. So we hung around on the pier and I spent time writing more on the Bagus Place story.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur after a short stop for lunch and again another stop for tea to savour the best Murtabak Mengkasar Hj Din in Pekan Town. The first order was obviously not enough because we asked for a second helping. After that, it was so good that we ordered more to take away. We took the Karak highway back and this time Mazlan drove all the way home. My place in Taman Melawati was the first stop and then Shahi’s in Ampang Jaya, followed by the rest.
As I am writing this last bit, I am thankful to Allah SWT for a safe journey to and from Bagus Place and for letting us have a gratifying time at the holiday retreat. He is infinitely the Al-mighty, All-knowing and All-merciful. Bagus Place have been on our minds since we came back and it will be a long time coming before we get over it. Perhaps we never will.
To Aziz, I thank him for persuading me to go on this trip and for keeping calm throughout. To Mazlan, thanks for letting us use his Starex, driving the distance and for just being himself. Thanks to Rahmat for illuminating the trip with his openess. To Shahi, for his wit and sense of humour. To Nizar, for his generosity in more ways than one. Last but not least, to Malik for his vibrancy. These are just but a few words to mention. There are of course much more. To Fuad, although he couldn’t make it, he was and still is a VIP of this group. To Raja Kamal, I wish he was there but I understand why he wasn’t. Finally, thanks to all who helped make this trip unforgettable.
A special thanks goes to Razali, our dear friend, who went out of his way to make things happen at Bagus Place. No words can describe how good he was to us. May he spend the rest of his life with the blessings of Allah SWT.
Dato' Razali Mohd. Yusof
Last update: November 10, 2017.
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