(File pix) A group of women tourists frolicking on the one-of-a-kind coral dust beach that sparkles at night under the moonlight at the Summer Bay Resort Lang Island, Terengganu. Pix by Adrian David

KUALA TERENGGANU: It was once just a coconut plantation and resting place for tired fishermen off the Terengganu coast.

Today, Pulau Lang Tengah has been transformed into one of the top island resorts in the Asia Pacific.

The Summer Bay Resort Lang Island, in the South China Sea, has even been billed as the “Maldives of Southeast Asia” by the Asian Diver Magazine.

It is no surprise that the resort is fully-booked almost year-round (with the exception of the monsoon season), giving Terengganu its much-needed tourism revenue and providing jobs aplenty for locals.

An estimated 12,000 tourists flock to the resort annually, mainly from China, Europe and Southeast Asia – and that number is expected to rise this season, with ‘Visit Beautiful Terengganu Year 2017’ in high gear.

(File pix) The Summer Bay Resort Lang Island general manager John Chong displays the facility that is billed as the top five most romantic island resorts in the Asia Pacific and the ‘Maldives of South East Asia’. Pix by Adrian David

Resort general manager John Chong, 33, said Summer Bay is much favoured, as it faces the mainland and is located in a cove that is protected from strong currents and waves.

“More fascinating are the resort’s pristine waters and one-of-a-kind ‘coral dust beach’ which was formed by dead, broken corals which were swept over from other islands.

“Also astounding is the ‘bioluminescent blue sand waters’ of the sea, which sparkle at night,” said Chong.

Another attraction, he said, is the existence of over 100 fish species, including baby sharks, which can be spotted 80 metres away from the shore, in 3 metre-deep crystal-clear waters.

Chong said the resort occupies just one out of the 72 hectares of land space available on the island.

“Owing to its mountainous, rocky terrain, only 10 hectares of the island can be developed.

“To cater to overwhelming demand, especially from Chinese ,Japanese and European tourists, we plan to extend our premises to include an international-class, five-star hotel on the island in the near future,” said Chong, who has been managing the resort since 2013, under the holdings company of Mingstar Hotel and Travel Sdn Bhd

It is learnt that his company pumped in approximately RM20 million to refurbish the resort after acquiring it in 2011 from the owner of the Redang Lang Island Resort, who migrated to Australia.

The resort is part of S.P. Chong Holdings Sdn Bhd, founded by Chong Fah Ming, a self-made local entrepreneur and father to Chong junior.

The three-storey Summer Bay resort currently features 89 modern rooms that can accommodate 277 guests, and is run by 85 staff.

“We started from scratch, grooming mainland Terengganu locals, boat operators and fishermen into our employ.

“We have 11 twin-engine boats that ferry tourists to and from the Merang jetty daily,” said Chong, a marketing graduate from the University of Aberdeen Dundee, Scotland.

The resort also features three restaurants, a music lounge, a 50-metre swimming pool, a dive/snorkelling centre complete with professional trainers, and an island-hopping tour.

Chong has done well during his four-year tenure running the resort, after his two-year venture into a travel and tour business changed directions.

Prior to that, since 2008, he was helping his father run the family business of hotels and the AFI brand brake-pad manufactured in Gong Badak, Kuala Nerus.

“I decided to take up my father’s challenge to manage the resort and become an entrepreneur myself.

“Thus far, it’s a hectic job, but a very useful learning process which has great potential to develop further,” said Chong.