Pulau Tiga, the Survivor Island of Borneo
Funny, though I’m from Sabah, I learned about Pulau Tiga Island in a foreign TV game show named “Survivor” in year 2000. In this reality game series by CBS network, 16 Americans were competing with one another on Pulau Tiga and the sole survivor took away $1 million. The Survivor TV series is so famous that it gives Pulau Tiga a new nickname “Survivor Island“. The game is long over but not my desire to visit this wild tropical island.
Pulau Tiga means “Island of Three” in Malay language. In 1978, Pulau Tiga is gazetted as a Marine Park, which covers an area of 158 square KM (96% is sea rich with coral reefs). The Park consists of 3 islands, namely, Pulau Tiga (Survivor Island) being the main island, Pulau Kalampunian Besar (Sands Spit Island) and Pulau Kalampunian Damit (Snake Island). To visit Pulau Tiga, just drive 2.5 hours, about 114 KM from Kota Kinabalu city (KK) to Kuala Penyu town, then take a 20-minute boat ride to reach the island 15 KM away.
Pic: the jetty and office of Pulau Tiga Resort in Kuala Penyu
You can follow the boat of Pulau Tiga Resort, but please note that you need to book the island tour package in advance. They also provide land transport from KK to Kuala Penyu for a fee. Since I went with my own transport, I just parked my car in front of their office.
Of the 3 islands, only Pulau Tiga Island has accommodation, the other two islands are uninhabited. I was staying in Pulau Tiga Resort for 3 days 2 nights. You can look at the layout map of Pulau Tiga above to see what are on the main island.
Pic: Pulau Tiga, a.k.a. Survivor Island
The main island, Pulau Tiga is the biggest island of Pulau Tiga Park. It is formed by eruption of several mud volcanoes hundred year ago. Pulau Tiga is relatively flat, with the highest point reaching 100 Meters only. You only need 6 hours to walk one round of the island.
Pic: the famous Snake Island (Pulau Ular or Pulau Kalampunian Damit)
Pic: Sands Spit Island (Pulau Kalampunian Besar)
Pic: the jetty of Pulau Tiga Resort on Pulau Tiga Island
The weather was good and the sea was calm, so it was a smooth ride.
As seen in TV, the sea of Pulau Tiga is crystal clear.
Pic: Survivor Island welcoming me.
Pic: the sculpture left behind by the “Survivor” TV reality show
After registration and getting my room key, the resort gives me a short briefing on what they have and what we can do on the island. I just can’t wait to enjoy the sun and the sea!
There are many tall trees in the resort area. Pulau Tiga is a national park, so nobody is allowed to cut any tree. Most of Pulau Tiga is densely forested. Pulau Tiga is one of my favorite islands, due to its undisturbed lush forest and rich flora. Most Sabah islands have beach but no forest.
Another geology feature not found in other Sabah islands is the Mud Volcano. There are 3 mud volcanoes on Pulau Tiga. According to the guide, two of them are dry up. The active and largest mud volcano is in the center of Pulau Tiga. You can look at the trail map for its location.
The 1,100-Meter jungle trail to the mud volcano is just behind the Pulau Tiga Resort.
Beware of “Mud Monsters”! LOL. On the way, you will see muddy tourists returning from mud volcano bath. A visit to Pulau Tiga is incomplete without getting yourselves covered in mud. Some says the mud possesses medicinal and therapeutic properties which are good for skin, but most get dirty just to have fun.
The trail is mostly flat and easy to walk. You will reach the mud volcano in 20 minutes. If you are lucky, you will see red-faced megapods galloping into the wood. There are about 10 of such wild fowls living in Pulau Tiga, and hundreds of forest skinks foraging on forest floor.
The mud volcano is just next to the shelter. More mud people appear.
The mud volcano pool of Pulau Tiga. I can smell mild odor like rotten egg in the air.
The mud volcano is still active. You can see gas seeps in the mud, sometimes coming with loud burping sound. About 86% of the gas released from mud volcano is methane. The activity emits gas and new mud rich of minerals to the surface, so the mud pool is always “fresh”.
There are two mud pools at this mud volcano area. The smaller one (see photo above) can take less than 10 people. This mud pool is very shallow but a few times stickier than another pool behind it.
Kid also enjoys the mud. I remember when I was a kid, if I was covered in mud like this, my mom would beat the crap out of me.
The bigger mud pool is more “watery” and deeper (about 4 feet). There are two ropes that help you to balance in the deep mud. Mud volcano is not quick sand pit. Instead of sinking, you will float on the mud, due to the buoyant force of dense mud. Therefore, it is perfectly safe even if you can’t swim. But little kids are better accompanied by adult.
Seeing so many people have fun wallowing in mud like buffalo, I also join the party. The mud is cooling and sticky. Though the mud is mainly fine particles, it mixes with coarse substances such as dry leaves fragment and grainy stones. I relax myself and without any effort, my body just floats on the mud surface, cool… There are a lot of mosquito, so I apply mud all over my face and body to stop them, haha.
More people come. They were scared at first, then they laughed at one another and even started mud wrestling. The mud is sticky so you better take off your shoes and jewelry before entering. A small boy even lost his pant. I advise you not to wear your favorite cloth too, as the mud stains can be hard to wash away.
Pic: a small mud pool for facial mask
After the mud bath, you can walk to the beach to clean yourselves in sea water. My flip-flop is so slippery with mud that I almost trip over it a few times. You better don’t wear flip-flop with open end, or it’ll be very hard to walk. My body is also so heavy with the mud.
There is a water tank nearby, but the water volume is too small.
You can watch people have fun in Mud Volcano in the 2.5-min video below:
Click Here to see wider video
Another new video of Mud Volcano bath:
Click Here to see wider video
Near to the Mud Volcano area is a junction to Pagong-Pagong Beach about 800 Meters away. Very few tourists walk this trail so it is not maintained properly.
When I was approaching the beach, I saw hundreds of hermit crabs on the trail and on the shrubs.
After a long walk and moving around a few fallen trees, I reached Pagong-Pagong Beach at the north side of Pulau Tiga. The beach is wide and covered with yellow sand. I can see Snake Island and Sands Pit Island from there. Nothing really impressive but the good thing is – there is nobody around so the whole beach is yours and you are free to do anything. 😉
This beach is one of the main filming sites for the “Survivor” reality show. The 16 contestants were divided into two groups, one group was based in Pagong-Pagong Beach, another at Tagi Beach.
Another nice beach that I explore next day is Larai-Larai Beach at west side of Pulau Tiga Island. If it is low tide, you can walk on the beach from Pulau Tiga Resort to Larai-Larai Beach and reach there in 45 minutes.
I go to Larai-Larai Beach because it’s the best spot to photograph sunset. And they tell me there is an interesting rock that looks like bird (Batu Burung). Please be informed that there are a lot of sandflies at this remote beach in late afternoon. I don’t recommend you to go there without applying insect repellent with DEET formula, unless you want to go home with dozens of itchy bites that last for week.
When I arrive the western end of the island, I see large area of rocky shore. There are pockets of sea water trapped among the rubble during low tide, and you can find goby fishes, anemones, shrimps, seashells, etc. in these tide pools. Quite fun to look at.
Pic: the “Bird Rock” (Batu Burung)
The sunset view is really magnificent at Larai-Larai Beach. I took many great shots. However, high tide hit the beach after dusk, so I have to walk 3 KM in the dark forest of Larai-Larai Trail back to the resort. Again, I want to remind you that such activity is for those who are adventurous. Don’t bring your city girlfriend there for sunset. It won’t be romantic.
You may check out my photo album on Pulau Tiga Island if you would like to see more nice pictures:
Photos taken in Kuala Penyu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo