Published: March 13th 2010March 2nd 2010
A colourful giant parrot fish
It took me a day to get across Peninsular Malaysia from Penang to Kota Bharu, and I was rewarded with the worst hostel I've seen since India... the little family of rats living near the shared toilet (I'll use that word to describe both the WC and the shower room) being the highlight. Thankfully there was a cosy common room with free coffee and internet, so I sat out the evening there. Next morning, I caught a minibus to Kuala Besut, and from there a short and bumpy jet boat ride to Pulau Perhentian Kecil - the small Perhentian island.
The Perhentians are a pair of islands which sit 21km off the coast. I'd chosen the smaller island, as the big island is more upmarket and has less of a backpacker vibe. On the small island, accommodation is clustered around two beaches - Long Beach and Coral Bay. I opted for smaller, quieter Coral Bay and took advantage of the one saving grace of the dirty Kota Bharu hostel - the owner's brother worked at a resort at the southern end of Coral Bay beach, so he was able to get me a discount on a double chalet. What was
It's a turtle... can you see?
normally RM240 per night was given to me for RM50... including a big double bed, air con, a private shower and a nice little deck area. Sweet! The resort also had access to a secluded series of beaches away from Coral Bay itself, where there were no boats and consequently better swimming and snorkelling opportunities. To say I'd arrived in low season, things were amazingly perfect... the sun was out, the water was crystal clear and there were very few people around.
As with Mui Ne in Vietnam, I'd come to the Perhentians to relax and unwind and take a break from travelling. Thankfully my ailments were also improving, so that by the time I positioned myself on one of the tiny secluded beaches, there was no pain from my feet at all (great timing considering I didn't intend to walk anywhere!). For anyone who enjoys snorkelling, Pulau Perhentian is a paradise. The water is beautifully clear and shallow... sea slugs and fish can be seen just by walking out into the shallows, and hiring a mask and snorkel gives access to larger fish and even sharks just ten or so metres away from the beach. I bought a
Tranquil Coral Bay
disposable underwater camera and booked onto a snorkelling trip around both islands, and spent a great day seeing perhaps the best coral and most numerous fish I'd seen on any snorkelling trip (parrotfish, wrasse, butterflyfish, needlefish, blue-spotted rays and more). Our first swim was at Shark Point, and guess what we saw? Hugging the bed about five metres below us, black-tipped reef sharks swam in and out of the gloom, too fast to capture on camera but close and clear enough to give an initial chill as their familiar outline emerged. The highlight of the trip, however, were the giant turtles we saw at Turtle Point (damn those Malaysians are good at place names!). I'd wanted to swim with turtles at Borneo's Selingan Island, but thankfully had baulked at the RM500 cost and decided against it... here I was, within a few metres of the creatures having only paid RM35 (about $10) for the privilege. Sadly the results from my disposable weren't great, but you can at least see the basics. Annoyingly I ran out of photos just before I got to swim about ten centimetres from a family of clown fish (now universally known as Nemo fish) as they
Watching sunset from the rocks
hid in a sea annemone, darting out now and again to stare at me before retreating for safety. My last sighting was a shoal of giant blue fish, a metre or more in length, whose noisy eating as they bit off chunks of coral were all I could hear (and whose name I can't find on identification charts!).
The rest of my time in the island was spent swimming at Long Beach (a beautiful, long sandy beach with some great swimming water... and at around 6pm it was as warm as a bath), dining with people I'd met there and on Penang and spotting monitor lizards on the path through the trees from Coral Bay to Long Beach. My only criticism of the Perhentians is that there are no hammocks for dozing or reading and you have to pay for shade on Long Beach... crucial in the strong southern hemisphere sun, which caught me out a few times wearing only SPF30 sun cream. But they're small complaints, and so I left Perhentian Kecil fully relaxed and ready to move on to the final chapter of my trip around Southeast Asia.
There are more photos below