Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lure of Riverine Living

A CLUSTER OF traditional wooden houses on stilts in Pulau Duyung, Kuala Terengganu, is drawing a steady stream of visitors, mostly foreigners, to its doorsteps despite not being promoted much.

Awi’s Yellow House, as this back-to nature-rough-it-out accommodation is known as, comprises a cluster of 10 chalets of various sizes built by seafarer Wan Osman Wan Abdullah (or Awi as he is fondly known) and his wife Rohani Longuet in the 1970s.

According to Rohani, who is in her 70s, it was originally built to house those who came from afar to have their boats built by the local craftsmen.

The chalets were added as more people came, both to build their boats as well as to visit the island.
I was there recently for an artist residency programme and fell in love immediately with the Malay kampung-style riverine life.
The entire resort sits on a huge boardwalk

While painting this piece under a huge mangrove tree, known as the berembang, I was transported back to my childhood days when my family lived in Kampung China, Kuala Terengganu.
The back of our house was also built on stilts over the Terengganu river and when the tide brought in clear waters, a cool dip would never be missed. Children living on riverine houses were born to swim, we proudly told visitors.

Although Awi’s Yellow House is rarely promoted in tourism programmes, it is well known among foreign visitors to Terengganu. Strings of accolades have been showered on it by grateful travellers who have walked through its doors.

In recent years, it has also received rave reviews in travel portals such as Lonely Planet and Virtual Tourist. Awi, who is in his 60s, has been often praised for his friendly hospitality.  The rooms here are basic and the beds come with mosquito nets.

If you have not slept under one, perhaps this is one of the few places you can give it a try. Some of the chalet units have attached bathrooms equipped with basic facilities.
Rustic feel under the attap roof
There is a common shower and toilet, and a common kitchen area which have the basic utensils if you decide to cook. If not, a walk around the neighbourhood will take you to some stalls where you can have a decent and affordable meal rich in local flavours. There is also a sundry shop at the entrance to Pulau Duyung where you can get your supplies if you need some. 

The entire chalet area is a huge boardwalk constructed from tropical hardwood. It is built around mangrove trees that rose from the mudflats. When the tide is in, the water’s surface is just a few metres beneath the floorboards.

Mullets and small riverine can be seen darting off just below the surface when startled by human presence. I caught a glimpse of a family of otters foraging at the water’s edge during one of the mornings while I was there.

Inspiring moments amid nature
The foliage of the towering berembang trees keep the area decently shaded and cool even on the hottest of afternoons. The chalets are built is such a way that there are plenty of natural light for you to curl up with a book or sit and paint the riverine scenery.

There is certainly no lack of greenery here, both of decorative flowers in pots around the chalets as well as the indigenous nipah palms and more mangrove flora rising from the banks.
How to get there
AS the Yellow House is strategically located on Pulau Duyung, you can also check out the main attraction that made Duyung famous — the traditional shipbuilders who are famed for huge seafaring vessels based just on the experience imprinted in their minds. There are a few within walking distance of the Yellow House.

Call 09-622 2080. Awi will be happy to take your call. Ask why the chalet is named so and he will be more than happy to share interesting stories behind it.

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