After realising that I was within a two hour trip from the Perhentian islands, I felt geographically obliged to stop there. The bus from Kota Bharu cost only 6 ringgit and dropped me right outside the port; from there a return boat journey was just 60 ringgit, bringing the total cost to around 13 pounds return. I climbed into a speed boat with no more than 10 other tourists, I expected the usual calm ride…but did not get it! The driver hurtled into action and was bouncing off of waves with no regard for the condition of his boat, nor passengers. It was about 20 minutes of gripping the side of the boat and bouncing in the air, I looked across to see a Chinese tourist almost weeping.
The boat acted as a taxi service and dropped everyone to their individual beach; I got off first at coral bay. I had heard this beach wasn’t as busy as long beach but was only a short walk away. As soon as I arrived I was greeted by an English scuba diving instructor that pointed me to a cheap dorm, I checked in for 20 ringgit a night which is the second cheapest bed on the island, and the room was largely more comfortable for the extra 5 ringgit. I met two English guys at the check in desk and went for dinner with them that night, the food on the Perhentians was typical of Malaysian cuisine…..very very good. The specialty on the island was a daily fish BBQ hosted by essentially every restaurant and hotel. They all offered different slants on the BBQ but my hotel the Shaari Laa provided the best value for money, everyday they had different fresh fish ranging from blue marlin to tiger prawns, the deal was 20 ringgit and you gained access to an all you can eat and drink buffet and a large chunk of fish.
After the meal and a shower we made the walk to long beach to check out the islands nightlife, there I was greeted by some friends I had made on Lang Kawi and they explained that alcohol was exceptionally expensive on the islands which diluted the potential drinking scene. However the local bars sell small bottles of spirits for around 6 pounds and I was keen to indulge. By 12 o clock everyone was dancing and there was loud music, I actually preferred the nightlife on this island with anywhere else in Malaysia, everybody started by drinking at small tables and chatting, and then later moved on to the small beach bars, it was calm but the atmosphere was very friendly and the locals were fun and talkative. The only downside is that if you live on coral bay you are faced with the daily task of trudging through the pitch black jungle path to find your way home.
In the daytimes on the Perhentians there was little to do but eat, relax and snorkel/scuba, the food was very good; there were three competing restaurants, each sporting a different primary colour. These provided the best food on the island. They served up everything from Italian to Malay and I was never disappointed with my meal, there was also a small Malay woman called ‘rice lady’ who patrolled the island at around 3:30 selling her food at 3 ringgit a meal. This was a hit with the locals and with the backpackers as it was cheap and very tasty.
The major problem with the Perhentians is that there is no ATM, this meant that if you ran out of money you were going home, it also meant that paying for scuba courses was difficult, you were able to pay my card, however my bank would not allow the transaction to happen so I was only able to snorkel. The water however is crystal clear and fish approach you without fear in the shallows, snorkelling you can see turtles, reef sharks and other smaller fish. The beaches around the island are pristine and the view from every beach is spectacular. Without a doubt the closest thing to paradise I found in Malaysia, food, beaches, crystal water and cool understated nightlife. I wouldn’t want to scare any visitors but just watch out for monitor lizards, on this island they grow to over 6 ft and although they are not dangerous they scared the bejesus out of me and after a local telling me it was an alligator I was bedridden for days.
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