The gorgeous azure sea, stunning blue sky, soft beige sandy beach and wonderful sea breeze that leave a tangy salt taste on one's lips are all I could think of even way before setting foot on Manukan Island in Sabah.
It has been two years since I last dived into its stunning water and ventured to its reefs to be mesmerised by the sea dwellers that live down in the deep blue. Two years, I thought, is way too long to be away from a place that I have considered as home away from home.
Located about half an hour's boat ride off Jesselton Point, Manukan is the second largest of the five islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Others are the Gaya Island, Sapi Island, Mamutik Island and Sulug Island.
It is noon and the boat ride to Manukan Island is rather smooth when compared to the one I had during my last trip here.
While the wind blows by, we squint to avoid the splashing seawater as the boat cuts through the vast South China Sea, home to an array of fascinating sea life and diving sites.
Occasionally, schools of anchovy-like fish leap to the surface - their shiny scale glistening under the hot sun, probably startled by the boat or perhaps swimming away from predators beneath.
The boat service regularly takes visitors to the islands - catering to families, day-trippers and couples who prefer solace.
In June, the 800-metre stretch of beach on Manukan's long coastline becomes a haven to hundreds of tourists and backpackers, mainly from Europe, who turn up in droves to discover life under the hot sunny skies.
Captivated by the relaxed and laid back lifestyle the island offers, it is not surprising that some visitors keep coming back for more.
Most tourists join the daily snorkelling trips that take them to several snorkelling spots located around Manukan.
For those who are keen to learn diving, Mamutik Island, an island next to Manukan, has a dive school - Borneo Divers - that offers a full range of scuba diving courses. Otherwise, visitors may opt to ride on boats with a glass bottom to observe the fascinating sea life around the islands.
Among the marine species at the park are sea squirts, hermit crabs, feather starfish, lion fish, barracuda, rainbow runners, rock fish, brown groupers, clown fish, parrotfish, puffer fish, angelfish and black-tipped coral sharks.
Other attractions include island hopping rides, banana boat rides, kayaking, beach volleyball, parasailing, water sports and doing a 40-minute trek through the cool lowland forest for a scenic view of the beach.
If you are one of the lucky ones, you may even spot pangolins or scaly ant-eaters, squirrels, hornbills and monkeys along the trails.
Soft-speaking picnickers may occasionally see large monitor lizards visiting the picnic areas in search of a few scraps of food.
Visitors are spoilt for food choices at this seaside destination, which serves a wide range of seafood dishes done in BBQ style or ala carte aside from the normal array of Western, Chinese and Malay style dishes such as chicken chop, fried rice, noodles and typical mixed rice.
To get there, go to Jesselton Point, the pick-up point for all boat rides to the islands. You can choose between a return trip to an island, two islands or even three islands.
The return fare for an island is RM15 per person, RM25 for two islands and RM35 for three islands. There is an island entrance fee of RM10 per person which can be used for visits to all the other islands.
The earliest boat leaves at 9am and returns by 4pm.Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday