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Published: July 11th 2011
Another night bus, another driver with little or no sense of safety for his passengers as he winds recklessly (often on the wrong side of the road) through the mountains, another early drop off and a night spent being eaten alive in a travel agent’s office in the middle of nowhere, a further boat ride... then we had arrived at Pulau Perhentian Kecil; the small Perhentian Island. And I can say with certainty that it was worth the effort (and cost of £30 per passenger, a weighty expenditure on a traveller’s budget) to get here.
Blue sky, white sand, lush green jungle and the clearest water we have ever seen. The Perhentian Islands are located on the north eastern coast of Malaysia; there is the big island (?) with its resorts, and then the small island (Kecil) with its backpacker friendly, A-frame huts. No roads, part time electricity running on generators, a handful of family run restaurants and only two makeshift, laid back beach bars. We’d finally found a beach destination we couldn’t be disappointed with.
Kecil has two beaches; Long Beach and the smaller Coral Bay. The boat will drop you wherever you choose to stay. We’d chose
to stay on Long Beach as we were looking for cheap accommodation, and cheap was what we found.
Positioned on the far left of Long Beach we found rooms for 30 ringgit (£6) per night, and as they seemed to be considerably cheaper than others around, plus the fact that we were tired and our packs seemed twice as heavy in the heat, we agreed to stay for three nights- but we hadn’t seen the room yet! With walls made of rotting fence panels, great gaps between each, the kind enjoyed by a nosey neighbour or peeping Tom; a loosely fixed sheet of corrugated metal that looked incapable of surviving a good rain shower acted as a roof and another to separate the “chalet” into two rooms, no electricity, no running water and filthy common bathrooms... this was asking a bit much of me!
Now, please don’t get the wrong impression, neither Chris or myself are shy of roughing it on occasion, we can happily cope without electricity and running water, we’ve stayed in rooms we’ve suspected to have been dog kennels in the past, and I have spent two consecutive summers working in Cornwall and Canada where
the places we’ve stayed for months have been crawling with spiders, insects and other creatures... but this was inhospitable to say the least. Chris coped fine, being a bona-fide macho man and all, and I managed to get myself together in the end.
We stayed for two nights, sleeping poorly and taking thirty-second showers whilst being watched by the perverts of the amphibian world (there may have been mild screaming coming from my cubicle during the first shower). On a walk through the jungle-come-building site from Long Beach to Coral Bay we saw a sign for “Tropicana Inn” which was advertising much more comfortable rooms for slightly more than what we were paying, so we checked out and checked in the next morning, and extended our stay on the island for an extra two nights.
Now back to the beaches. We spent the majority of our days being lazy and sun hungry on Long Beach, not for the convenience of location as we were now staying in the jungle, half way between the two beaches, but because we preferred it to the smaller, shaded Coral Bay where, although gorgeous, the sand was mostly shale in parts and although
there are less people there is also less space.
So, we spent our six days of beach life shifting between the welcome shade of an umbrella, spending as much time as was bearable in the scorching sun, and the cool or the shallow waters, watching tropical fish swim by or finding entertainment in the lively imaginations of the local children who would come out to play after helping in their family run restaurants. We ate and drank well at the beach front cafe where Chris opted for shark one night, giving it the two thumbs up.
We had seen a few signs on the beach for snorkelling trips, and heard excellent reviews from fellow travellers on the island. The signs gave choices of trips to various places around the island including the coral garden, Turtle Point and Turtle Bay (a conservation sight for turtle nesting) and Shark Point, where you could swim with “vegetarian sharks”; hopefully they would be better so-called “vegetarians” than I can claim to be, myself being guilty of enjoying the occasional Big Mac...
So on our last day we jumped onto a little, yellow speed boat which took us to all of the
sights for 40 ringgit. The variety of fish at the two coral gardens was vast and the coral itself was diverse in colour and shapes. I heave a sigh of relief when I tell you that no sharks where sighted at Shark Point (I often wonder if they ever are likely to congregate in one spot? Especially once they are flooded with tourists; even the tourists don’t want to be around other tourists!) but we both valiantly tried the water to investigate further - how brave we are! The indisputable highlight of the day was swimming alongside a giant turtle as it idled between the seabed and the surface.
Now, as if the wildlife, beautiful scenery, laid back atmosphere, delicious food and friendly people hadn’t already sold the Perhentians to me as a “dream destination”, it was at night time when we fell in love with the place. Eating dinner by candle light on the beach with our feet scarcely out of the ocean, fishing boats on the horizon lighting up like a 70’s disco, a pretty and soundless electric storm illuminating the sky, intermittently disguising the stars; enjoying drinks on a low wooden table whilst sat on a
reed mat in the sand, flames shape shifting with the light wind which brought with it the dusty smell of shisha smoke, listening to sitar-heavy music and feeling very, very content...
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