Grubby KL and the stunning Perhentians

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November 21st 2012
Published: November 21st 2012
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Planty's version: As we very slowly made our way to Kuala Lumpur, I really wished I'd given more of an input in our travel plans, I personally would have flown. The journey took 6 hours, but according to google maps, it takes 4 hours to drive, so it really says a lot about the train you're on, when a car is faster than it. I spent the next few hours playing on the I-pad, and wondering how dreadful our hotel was going to be after the extra small shoebox we stayed at in Singapore.

As we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, which I'm now going to refer as KL because I'm too lazy to type its full name over and over again, it didn't feel like we'd travelled to a different country, the scenery had changed slightly, but we'd been on so many flights since leaving the UK, getting a train to cross borders felt weird. We headed up into the station and arranged a taxi from a counter by the door, which are brilliant for when you arrive in a new country and have no idea of prices, and struggle with the currency conversion. We found these desks at the airports in India, Singapore and now Malaysia, they really do make things easy for you.

The taxi ride took about 20 minutes to the hotel, and from first impressions, I was pleased with Lotty's decision, as directly opposite the hotel, is the KL tower, once the tallest building in the world, so far so good then, so we headed inside to check in. The staff were all really nice and welcoming, the place seemed quite posh, so you can imagine how we both looked with our backpacks, me in shorts and a Liverpool top and a cap, looking like the typical 4 star hotel guest....that's sarcasm incase you didn't get it.

Check in seemed to take a bit longer than normal, but once that was done, we headed up to our room on the 31st floor, having to use our room key to activate the lift, very snazzy indeed. As we ventured inside the room, I was very confused, there was no bed, or bathroom, or at least not at first. Turns out, we booked a suite, and a huge one at that, as we walked in, we saw the kitchen, beyond that was the living area, turn a corner and there is an office, turn again so you're coming back on yourself and there was the bedroom with the bathroom beyond that. I was gob smacked, but to make things better, we had a magnificent view of KL and the impressive KL tower out of our windows. I thought our hotels were going to get worse from Singapore, but this one was incredible, the bedroom in this hotel, was even bigger than our entire room and bathroom in Singapore.

Before we headed out to grab some food, we took advantage of the free WiFi, and set loads of apps to download on the I-pad. We again used trip advisor in deciding on our place to eat that evening, and the number 1 rated place to eat in KL was called 'Taps Beer Bar' very convenient, after Lotty rationed my beer allowance for Singapore, I couldn't wait to try this place. Its safe to say the place didn't disappoint, they had 10 beers available on draught, and I don't mean any of these crap lagers, I mean proper real ales. I had an absolutely amazing mango wheat beer, I could have drank it all night, but once again, Lotty had to be the sensible one out of the 2 of us, I also tried a 9% I.P.A which was different, but still nice.

After we ate our food, (which was nice too), we sat at the bar, and Lotty had a cocktail, although she didn't read the description properly, and I did, so I waited until the guy started making it and asked her if she realised what she'd just ordered. The drink she asked for was a lychee Martini, which consisted of Vodka, Martini and lychee liquor, but silly Lotty thought it was lychee juice, and was mortified that her drink was pure alcohol, but surprisingly it was nice, even if it was so strong it could corrode a nuclear power station.

We had a look around KL the following morning to see what the city was all about, and we weren’t really that impressed. It seems that no matter which city you visit, they're all very much the same, dirty, smelly, busy, annoying one way systems and traffic lights that make no sense at all, the only cities that I would say are different from this is Dubai and Singapore, but then again, that's probably more to do with the amount of money spent on them, and how clean they must be kept, or else you'll end up serving a 900 year prison sentence on Jupiter.

After feeling slightly let down by KL, we decided to head back to the hotel, and to the roof top bar as they're happy hour was just about to start, perfect timing really. The bar looked really nice, it had a view of the KL tower one way, and the Petronas towers the other, and 2-4-1 offers on beer, so I was happy at least. As I mentioned earlier, the staff at the hotel were all so helpful and friendly, nothing was too much of a problem, the bar staff however were the worst I've ever had to deal with, and they all seemed to lack basic manners. I'm not being picky just for the hell of it, I've worked in bars for enough years recently and had to deal with every type of customer and complaint you can imagine, and had to work on the busiest shifts ever, so I do sympathise with other bar workers, but these took the piss. After we finished our drinks, a member of staff who looked like his own mother had bent him over her knee and slapped his bare arse in front of his mates, depressingly asked if we'd like any more drinks, I said yes please and said what we would like. I then watched as he walked off, went no where near the bar, pulled his phone out, started playing with that, then walked into the back area. I must also point out at this point that there were around 8 other customers in the whole bar, and about 6 members of staff. About 15 minutes later I'd had enough of waiting, and went up to the bar and asked for my drinks myself. The same thing happened once we'd finished those drinks, I couldn't understand it, then the cheeky sod came over with our bill and said we had to pay it, when I said no because we're having more drinks after this he came up with some crap excuse that made no sense at all. I'd love to know why the staff up there are so arrogant, rude and ask you what drinks you'd like, then not get them for you, it's such a shame though, the rest of the hotel is absolutely amazing, it's just let down by this bunch of monkey's on the roof.

Our next adventure in Malaysia would take us to the Perhentian Islands on the North coast of the country, but as nothing is ever straight forward, we had a long journey to get there. Our day started at around 7am, checking out from our mansion, we got a taxi to the airport, and a flight to Kota Bharu with Air Asia, which is a slightly classier version of Ryanair. The flight was only 1 hour, but me and Lotty seemed to be the only people on the flight who'd pre ordered food, it was basically £2 so why the hell not. The check-in staff at the airport seemed to lack the intelligence of a coconut as they sat us on seats opposite the aisle from each other, when the plane was nowhere near full, so as we felt that other passengers wouldn't want to smell our food or have to sit next to us scoffing it, we moved a few rows back to some empty seat.

As we sat there eating, a stewardess came and asked if they were our allocated seats, as they wern't she informed me that we had to move, as you have to pay more to sit in those seats, as they are extra legroom (maybe for a gnat, because there really was no difference). I looked at her with a very vacant expression on my face, and somewhat sarcastically replied that I would move once I've finished eating, silly bint. We thought it was quite funny though, the plane was hardly full, what difference does it make if we sit in a seat that allegedly has extra legroom of about 0.12mm? Surely it would be good customer service to offer them to passengers if they're not being used, or maybe not in Malaysia.

So, we arrived in Kota Bharu, collected our bags and arranged for a taxi to take us to our next port of call, Kuala Besut jetty. The journey took about as long as the flight, and I think I fell asleep for a bit because I don't remember much about it. We arrived in a very deserted Kuala Besut as it was low season, and there was only one place open to pay for the boat over to the islands, but we had to wait for an hour until the next one. We sat in this seedy little office playing scrabble on the I-pad (as you do) while avoiding the pointless small talk offered out by the guys who worked there, I didn't want to seem rude, but after answering one word questions by about the country you're from, if this is your first time in their country, and other pointless crap over the previous 8 weeks, it gets a bit boring.

Our boat was supposed to leave at 13:30, but as with most things in Malaysia, and basically every other country we'd visited, time keeping isn't one of their strong points. We eventually jumped into a twin engined speedboat and sped off through the waves bound for the Perhentian Islands, and you could tell it was low season, as the only people on the boat with us were the driver, 3 locals, and an Aussie bloke and his Asian wife/girlfriend thing who seemed to be taking supplies over to build something. The ride lasted about 25 minutes, and we arrived at our island, being the only people to get off as the others were carrying on to the bigger island. I sometimes regret bringing 4 Liverpool tops travelling with us, as locals are able to identify me as English and start talking to me, offering me all sorts of things I don't want, but as we got off the boat, wearing a Liverpool top worked in my favour. Our bags weighed the small as a medium sized planet, so Lotty got off the boat, and I was going to pass them to her, when the Aussie bloke jumped up and gave me hand with them, as I turned and thanked him, he responded by telling me that he'd do anything to help a Liverpool fan, which is always a bonus I suppose.

Our hotel was very conveniently placed immediately as you walk off the jetty, so we didn't have too far to walk. The jetty itself is quite long, and there is always some sea-life to see as we soon found out. About halfway down, I looked over the right hand side, and saw the fin of a black tip reef shark prowling the shallow waters looking for some lunch, quickly drawing Lotty's attention to it, you should have seen the excitement from her, it was almost as if she'd figured out the meaning of life and won the Euro millions at the same time. To be honest though, it was impressive, and a very stark difference to what we'd been used to for the previous 6 days, the city streets of Singapore and KL were the exact opposite of what we were about to experience for the next 5 nights, and we both couldn't wait to get into the water again. We checked in, to be informed that due to it being low season, the electricity in the resort is only switched on between 6pm and 8am, we didn't think this would be a problem, until we were shown to our hut/room, and realised that it has less natural light in there than a 100 metre deep well, I could wear a blind fold in a pitch black room and be able to see more than I could in there, thankfully when the lights went on at night, we could see better.

We spent the next few hours exploring the islands beaches to see what, if anything, was open, and we soon found out there was pretty much sod all to do. Apart from a couple of hotels, the only places open was 1 dive centre, 1 cafe/restaurant and 1 shop, but the worst of the news was still to come. The islands are really, really small, no roads, no transport, you can walk across it in 10 minutes it's that small, all of that I can deal with, but there is no alcohol on the island in low season. In high season, there are bars open that sell it, even a couple of guys with cool boxes stock up from the mainland and sit on the beach selling it, but I was having to go without beer for the next 5 days, disaster!

We booked a snorkelling trip for the next day through the hotel, as I didn't think that the dive shop was PADI accredited, and didn't want to risk diving them. That night, we grabbed a bite to eat in the hotel, which was pretty poor to be honest, then headed back to our room to drink our bottle of vodka that we'd purchased in as we arrived in Sri Lanka, but hadn't drunk because the beer was cheap enough. After a few 'Planty measure' drinks, we got some sleep, ready to get in the water the next morning.

There seems to be a sense that things in Malaysia aren't planned properly at all, or planned at all in some cases, as we got to the meet up point to go snorkelling, we'd booked the long trip, and a couple showed up who'd booked the short trip....not too sure how 1 guy was going to do both trips at the same time, but the other couple agreed to join us on the long trip. Heading down the jetty to the boat, we did what everyone else on the Island seems to do, walk slowly, looking over each to side, until you see some form of marine life that impresses you, yesterday it was a shark, this time it was blue spotted rays.

Eventually getting into the boat, after a few minutes of watching the ray's swim about with their menacing look in their eyes, we headed off to our first stop, but stopped at the big island to 'borrow' some masks and snorkels, you think they'd have their own at the hotel, but it seems this was the normal thing to do. We reached the first stop which was called 'fish bay', no prizes for guessing why its called that, and spent about 20 minutes there, and surprise, surprise, we saw fish, lots of them. We spotted a rather greedy and rather large triggerfish that seemed to be caught in a fishing line, only on closer examination, we realised he was trying to get a crabs claw that was stuck on the fishing line, eventually the fish wriggled free and swam off happy as ever with his lunch.

From there we headed to shark point, and again, the name pretty much points out what we were to see here. As I’m rather fond of sharks, and may have a few mental issues, I was the first to dive in with excitement, as the others took there time to get in, and from there it didn't take long for us to spot our first shark. I was really looking forward to seeing a shark in the close up in the water, but even though it was about 10 metres away from us, it was a pretty exhilarating experience, even though I know that black tip reef sharks aren't dangerous, I suppose it's a slight altruistic fear that I was having too, I feel that if it was to suddenly attack us, I'd be able to fend it off, although I was fearful that Lotty may have panicked a bit. We saw a few more sharks as we swam around and we were both really impressed with the day so far, until we realised that we had a stalker, in the shape of a very shifty looking barracuda. The crafty looking thing seemed to be circling us for quite a while, with menacing eyes, I had no idea what, if any, its intentions were, all I knew is it looked a little bit scary.

We got back on the boat and headed for the next stop, turtle bay, and yes, obviously it was the place to see turtles. As we approached the bay, the driver stood up and was frantically looking over the side for turtles, telling us to get ready to dive in, I thought this was a very strange tactic to adopt, but nevertheless, we got ready. All of a sudden, we got the command to dive in, as a turtle had just swam close to the boat, so like a pack of hungry dogs, we jumped in and followed the poor creature. After swimming with turtles in Egypt last year, we've got a lot of respect for them, along with all other species of marine life, so didn't swim too close or stress them out, we simply took a few photos, and got back onto the boat.

We were told that our next stop was lunch, which I made me a very happy boy, as I do like food, a lot. Our driver dropped us off on the big island, and told us that because it was Friday, he had to go and pray, and would pick us up again in 2.5 hours, now I'm not trying to insult any form of religion, but 2.5 hours to pray?! Was he for real? Anyway, we sat and ate, and talked with the other couple who were on the trip about our travels, and theirs, as it was the only thing to pass the time for the next few hours. Once our driver returned, we headed back to the little island to pick up 2 more people who wanted to do a few stops on our tour, so we headed to a small lighthouse type thing called sea bell rock, and once again, jumped straight in. Without a care in the world, I was too busy observing the underwater world to realise that the current in this area were very strong, I hadn't even swam at all, but seemed to be about 40 metres away from the boat before I knew it. Lotty and the other couple were all around the same area as me, while the new couple, who hadn't been snorkelling before, struggled with the current very close to the boat. After a few minutes of trying to fight the current and get closer to the boat, I decided I'd had enough and old Lotty I was going to have to get out, she agreed and we both tried to get back to the boat, but it was so difficult, the current was so strong. It was pretty scary if I'm honest, but I was more annoyed with the boat driver, he should have known what the currents are like in this area, and should have been able to see we were struggling with them and helped us out. As Lotty and I got back on the boat, we noticed that the guy from the couple was sat on the lighthouse, awaiting our rescue, it seems that I wasn't the only one having difficulty in the water.

The last stop wasn't too impressive, just a few fish really, and a lot of sand, not really the best place to see anything too spectacular compared to the previous sites. On the boat back to the hotel, we spoke to one of the couples about diving, and they informed us that the only shop that was open, was a PADI one, so we decided to check it out when we got back, and arranged for a dive the following morning. That night, we decided not to bother eating the slop that the hotel was serving, and opted for the only place open for food on the island, a brilliant little place called 'Ewans', the food was so cheap, but was so good, it was all fresh, huge portions, and it seemed the entire island congregated there each evening.

For our next three days on the island we only ate at Ewan's, 3 times a day, and quickly fell into the routine of....breakfast, diving, lunch, diving, dinner, sleep, breakfast, diving, lunch, diving, dinner, sleep.....and so on. I'd love to tell you about the dives, but if you've already read Lotty's entry, I'm sure you've already been bored to within a millimetre of your life about the types of fish, coral, and so on that we encountered, although if you haven't already read Lotty's entry, I do feel very sorry about what's coming up.

I had mixed feelings about leaving the islands as we walked back down the jetty to wait for our boat, as I hadn't been too keen on them at first, but it didn't take long for me to get used to the lifestyle, and the constant cycle of diving, it seems that I'm slightly addicted to it now, and already planning on doing more dives and courses in Thailand. We had about 30 minutes to wait for our boat, so as usual, we keep an eye out over the jetty for any signs of life, and as we'd seen a shark on our way onto the island, we saw one as we were about to leave, probably the same one to be honest. It was strange watching him swim around, while knowing that the next time I'd get a chance to go diving again and see marine life like him was in a few weeks.

Our journey from the perhentian Islands to KL was the same as how we got there, boat back to the main land, taxi to Kota Bharu, and a short plane ride to KL for 1 night. During the flight I began to think about our experience over the last few days, and the extreme differences in places we'd stayed, although I had enjoyed it, I was looking forward to getting back to a bit of normality, civilization, 24 hour electricity, and the obvious!

Lotty's version: We got the train from woodlands checkpoint in Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Boarding the train was like an airport, we did security, customs and immigration before struggling with the train doors for five minutes and finally alighting. The train wasn’t beautiful, I think I slept for a few hours but i'm not completely sure. The seats were uncomfortable and there were a group of loud gossiping Chinese women a few seats behind. We stupidly hadn’t bought food for the journey, I had intended to go to the 7eleven next door to our hotel for supplies but Planty was dubious as he had read that it is similar to an airport and they are strict about food. The warning signs confirmed this, there was a list of prohibited items with pictures including fresh meat, fruit, horses and dogs, the picture for the horse was a thoroughbred and the dog a bull terrier (abundant in Singapore..) but I’ll definitely bear it in mind if I ever want to take Clipper on the Singapore- Malaysia train! So we sat there with about 6 cookies, two bottles of grape fanta and a bottle of water between us for the 6 hour journey. The people over from us started to pull out tubs that looked like the ones you get in the Chinese takeaway at home, they also looked like they contained food that you get at the Chinese takeaway at home! We thought about getting food from the trolley but as he whizzed past us we realised we had no chance. The train was also stopping at every single stop on the way, taking a painfully long break at each one while people casually strolled on. unlike India where the train barely came to a complete stop at the station and it was every man for himself. The other passengers also were unable to settle. Wandering up and down, chatting away. It was exhausting! I spent a lot of time looking out the window, this part of Malaysia doesn’t fit the “Malaysia, truly Asia” advert stereotype and I was a little dubious. What was most concerning however were the palm oil plantations. lines of uniform trees stand for miles, where there was once probably rainforest.

Kuala Lumpur was pretty miserable when we arrived. We grabbed a taxi and it began to rain, heavily! We checked into the most beautiful hotel, the staff were all “sir and Madam” it was great, and our room was huge, we walked into the kitchen and I waited for our bags as planty checked it out, “ we don't have a bed, oh yeah we do its in here” it was massive! We got some Malaysian pot noodles for lunch, the sky was still grey and threatening. We had an amazing view of the KL tower, but you could barely see the top for clouds. Planty decided where we should go for dinner so we left and went to a lovely little restaurant serving all the local delicacy’s... OK I lie. We went to “taps beer bar”, 10 different draught ales from all over the world and countless others in bottles. A beer/cocktail cost the same as a whole meal. It was like planty heaven! I had a strawberry daquari then a lychee Martini. Both were amazing, however I misread the lychee liquor as juice so I drunk a cocktail of vodka, Martini and lychee liquor which was as potent as it sounds! We didn’t really know what to do in KL, there were museums and gardens and towers but the towers were expensive and the weather rubbish. We went on a wild goose chase for a shopping centre, through some dirty parts of kl. The shopping centre was beautiful but luxurious and above budget! We had lunch in a gorgeous little British style café. I had the best lemon meringue pie in ages and then to top it a lemon meringue Martini (yes for lunch dad!) it was lemonchello, vodka, lemon juice with sort of frozen cappuccino froth and sugar on the top. How could I resist? And in my defence it was miserable weather... we had dinner in the hotels top floor restaurant, they had a limited view of the Petronas towers that were aptly shrouded in clouds making them look eerie (it is Halloween today) food was OK, drinks were overpriced and service was pants so we went down to our room to pack and make use of the wifi as we didn’t know whether we would have it for a few days!

And that was KL, I didn’t really like it, it was dirty and had no charm to it. To be honest I couldn’t wait to leave the city.

The next morning I had to drag planty out of bed kicking and screaming. We were off to the Perhentian islands for 5 nights and he was adamant he would rather stay in the comfort of our kl room. We went down to the taxi rank outside the hotel where there was a lone taxi sat. as we approached we were accosted by a man who was asking us were we were going, etc. he then proceeded to wake the driver and distracted us while he got changed and cleaned up. He insisted we pay first and although I was aware it was the right price I may have been abit of a brat over him not using the meter. We set off and to say the driver drove like a maniac would be an understatement, he was a loon! If we were in the UK he wouldn’t have a licence, he was undertaking and cutting across all three lanes for the whole journey! We went past more palm oil farms which were basically a green blur and to top it off Malaysia have their own version of Goa FM. It actually played the song from pochahontas, Craig David and Cher. The DJs were overly enthusiastic, with daft jingles and even dafter adverts. For example;

“if you borrow money from a friend it can be embarrassing for you but it can also be embarrassing for them asking you for it back, borrowing money can cause huge problems in friendships so make sure you pay them back or make sure you let them know you intend on paying them back”

or equally bizarre:

“ewwww your hands are all wet and clammy” “avoid awkward situations by frequently washing your hands, remember not washing your hands can spread diseases and make you ill so always wash them, especially before eating”

last of all we had the news, worryingly Al-Qaeda featured heavily, including them stating the website had been set up from a KL address, not what you want to hear on the way to the airport!

Luckily we made it there in half the time due to our drivers erratic driving. But we now had ages to wait. We decided to indulge in a McDonald breakfast, it was like being home but better! It had an egg on it that actually resembled egg and looked like it may have even seen a chicken in its not so distant past! We checked in our luggage and proceeded to security, here they insisted you empty out all electronic equipment, we could only laugh as we unloaded a laptop, ipad, e-reader, 2 ipods, 3 cameras, 2 broken phones and 1 working phone. If they cared to a greater extent they probably would have questioned our over indulgence in all things electrical, but they didn’t and We made a mental note not to keep all our electronics in our hand luggage anyway! Although the plane was half full we ended up both sat on the end of isles, the plane was delayed taking off and the captain informed us if we were bored we should talk to the person next to us as we may make a friend for life.... I was sat next to an old smelly Malaysian man. Luckily I think he may have fallen asleep by this point! When we were up they began coming round with the trolley. Since food had been around £1.50 I had booked it with the flight (even though it took less than an hour) we were the only ones on the plane who had.. we promptly moved as soon as we got our food. Mine smelt like wet dog that had sat next to the radiator for a few hours and I didn't want to inflict that on our fellow passengers, we moved to a few in the middle and away from everyone. shortly after the air stewardess came and asked if they were our assigned seats, she proceeded to tell us that these were extra legroom seats and therefore more expensive. Obvious as they had a red headrest as opposed to black and we had to move to the back of the plane where there were plenty of spare cattle class seats, we were surprised as we had not realised, (the legroom wasn’t even noticeable) but even more surprised that she was asking us to move from empty seats to other empty seats, great customer service air Asia!

The plane began its decent about 10 minutes after it reached altitude, we touched down in a gloomy Kota Bharu and after fighting with the cash machines headed to a nearby travel desk advertising transfers to the perhentian islands. The guy behind it told us it was monsoon season so don’t go. We explained we had a booking there and he looked a little bemused before motioning to the taxi service desk next door.

An hour later we reached Kuala Bbesut jetty, the taxi driver drove round looking for an open travel agents so we could get the boat across, it was like a ghost town! Eventually he found one that was open and we were piled out and into the front door. There were chickens running around outside and three guys sat snoozing and listening to music, they all stared as we walked in and stated we needed to go to Perhentian kecil, we were given seats on a 1.30 boat and having 45 minutes to wait we were told to get some food. We had a brief look but the open places were unappealing, and it was starting to rain again. We ventured back to the shop and Planty sat on a grubby orange sofa one of the staff had been sleeping on, I stood for as long as possible before giving in and joining him, trying not to touch it. I examined the walls, faded fluorescent posters advertised accommodation and trips. There was a sign stating if you need booze to ask them for it (we still had vodka!) and photographs of happy guests from god knows when! We sat playing scrabble on the ipad whilst I formulated a plan to discreetly get out rain coats out the rucksacks without throwing clothes all over the shop. One of the guys sauntered in and passed us a bag of Malaysian super noodles each, he then sat at the computer, put some music on, opened his noodles and began eating them dry, I was horrified, luckily planty followed suit declaring them to be just like crisps, I hid my packet hoping for a kettle later on. When It was time to go we were lead to a decrepit looking speedboat containing locals and a lexmark printer, after moving across the jetty to collect some mdf and plaster we set off on a very bumpy ride! I possibly would have enjoyed it more had I not been preoccupied with keeping our brand new electronics alive! Every bounce and splash of spray I was paranoid we would be surrendering more electronical items to the sea. However even with that on my mind I couldn’t help but stare at our destination. Out hotel, the shari-la was nestled up in the jungle to the left of a beautiful sandy bay, as we walked along the jetty to the beach we were going from one side to the other looking into the shallow water at colourful reef fish. I was excited, however when Planty shouted “a shark” and I looked over to see a blacktip reef shark whizzing around I was beside myself, I had to get in the water! We checked in and it was here my island paradise began to tarnish, electricity was only on from 6pm to 8am, I brushed it off just hoping we would have the weather so wouldn’t need to be in the room. Our room was a little wooden hut surrounded by jungle, it was a relatively large hotel with lots of these little huts but it was so quaint and being low season most of the inhabitants were locals. Once inside we could barely see a thing, the rooms had a very 1970's feel being mostly dark wood interspersed with lighter wood patterns. It was pretty dingy but we had little choice but to go out and explore. First we checked out the secluded little bays to the right of the hotel, there were many little beaches with course sand and only the crabs and flies for company, I was still itching to get in the water so we decided to grasp our bearings and on the way pick up a snorkel.

We set off across the island to the most famous beach, long beach. We learnt that the only way to move between different sections was by water taxi as the interior of the island is thick lush jungle, save for a path between our beach (coral bay) and long beach, we set off up the path through the jungle, it was steep and sweaty. When we exited onto long beach we saw a massive juxtaposition. My first exclamation was its so beautiful, Planty's, its so dirty! It was beautiful, it was a desolate white sandy bay surrounded by jungle. It didn’t exactly live up to its name, being from Southport I know a long beach when I see one and this was totally lacking, however it looked so rugged, especially with the rubbish weather. The dirty bit was if you were not encapsulated by the sea view and looked around where we currently stood on the beach, we knew we were hitting the beginning of the monsoon season and places would be shut, we just didn’t expect everywhere to be shut! Furthermore this place looked like it had just been abandoned. There was the remains of fires, rubbish and bedraggled living areas all around us. Big chest freezers proclaiming “tiger 7 ringgits” were abandoned and then all the shops, hotels and dive shops were shut up. We paddled a little then left just as it began to rain. coral beach was just as quiet, there was a shop open but aside from that any sign of life were people attempting to retouch and refurbish their properties after the high season. We found a restaurant “ewans café” behind our hotel that was to feed us breakfast, lunch and dinner over the next five days being both cheap (about £10 a day) and amazing food. I fell in love with their Malaysian fried rice, it was delicious and planty had fresh pineapple juice with every meal.

The hotel offered snorkelling trips so we enquired about them, I also asked if there were any dive shops as we were desperate to dive again, but I was told everywhere was closed. With snorkelling booked for the next day we ate at the hotel (the only time we did) before heading up to our rooms, where we now had electricity. In the soft glow of the interior lights we were properly able to look at our room, there were giant ants and a spider with a pretty impressive cobweb living in the bathroom and the bedroom furniture had seen better days. The couches and curtains had mildew stains all over them, the whole place needed a good scrub and I could tell planty was not impressed.

We opted to sit outside on the patio, however the light was not working and there were no chairs, it would take two days of nagging before we finally gave in and pinched a bulb and chairs from a room we didn’t think was occupied. In the meantime we got comfy on the mildewy chairs in front of the doorway, we still had a bottle of vodka and you couldn’t get beer anywhere on the island. As you can imagine by the last day Planty was close to insane.

We were joined by another couple on the snorkelling trip, they were Brits living in Australia Our first site, fish point was swarming with fish (surprisingly) it was awesome! There were all different types of wrasse, groupers butterfly fish. We are fairly certain people feed them though, judging by the pestering we got from the Sargent major fishes as we entered the water, aggressive little things when they’re hungry! We saw a titan trigger fish munching on a massive crab claw,, the other girl noticed fishing line and was concerned it was in the trigger fishes gills, she dived down and after a few minutes had a handful of line but no hook, the triggerfish swam away triumphantly with his huge crab claw and we were hopeful that the line had been attached to the crab and not the fish. Our next stop, shark point we were hopeful we would see a blacktip of two. Actually we saw quite a few, but it was always as we turned round and they were swimming in the opposite direction, defiantly not living up to their reputation! The most intimidating thing was a barracuda, he was only little but circling us which I found unnerving. I was so happy we had swam with sharks! From there we went to turtle point and saw yep you guessed it, turtles! It was shallow and clear enough to hunt for hem from the boa then jump in when we saw one. Our time at this stop was much too short for my liking! From there we went for lunch in a little fishing port that looked slightly more lively then where we were. As its Friday our guide had to go and pray, meaning we had two and a half hours for lunch. We just sat and chatted to the other couple about travelling, they had done Costa Rica, Europe, Malaysia and Thailand. So conversation was easy. When our guy returned we went to pick up a Indian couple who were joining us for our last few snorkels, and drop off some locals we had acquired, they al had carrier bags containing strange and obscure items, such as dead fish, rice and hair gel. We went to lighthouse rock, we jumped in straight away but the new couple had never snorkelled before so put on life jackets then held onto the bowline. Almost immediately we were dragged from the boat by a really strong current, swimming against it was near impossible, especially because I had my camera. I put so much energy into fighting it that when we encountered clownish I couldn’t even stop to say hello! It was a daft place to try and snorkel, especially since we had beginners in our group. Our last stop was romantic beach, we were snorkelling a few meters from a secluded white sandy beach which we decided to revisit on a nice day. To my relief clownish were abundant and they were so cute! The larger females were coming forward defensively as we neared the anemone then flitting back to the safety of their home. I was enchanted by them! We also saw a baby blacktip, loads of clams and hundreds of different reef fish. After snorkelling We noticed that one of the dive schools had signs of life, we knew nothing about it, not even if it was padi but with abit of persuasion on my part we checked it out. On the way we noticed a fairly large monitor lizard casually stroll along the beach and into the sea for a swim, I made a mental note to keep an eye out when I was swimming, that’s not something id like a collision with!

The dive centre turned out to be perfect. Padi certified and run by a fab group of guys. We planned to dive the next morning. For the next three days we set into a routine of eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, sleep. For 12 dives in total we spent £146 which is beyond reasonable, the more we did, the cheaper it got and the more we did the more we wanted to do!

The staff were a good laugh too. Two especially, one of them looked like Mr chow from hangover and laughed exactly like him too, he had a great sense of humour, he had a girl doing her padi who he was often teasing. She asked him the name of a species of fish and he said “oh that’s a fish” and did the Mr chow laugh, then told her they are good to eat deep fried with a beer despite the fact they were about 2 inches long... maybe you had to be there. his hand signals for another species of fish was him pretending to BBQ it because it tasted good and during her exam he asked her what to do if you come across a trigger fish, she answered swim away and he said “no you push your buddy in-front of you, that is why we use the buddy system, for the trigger fish to attack”. The other instructor launched a full on kung fu mock-up when we saw a triggerfish underwater, unfortunately the fish was not interested, would have been a sight if he was! They were light-hearted and amusing, I was really tense as it was our first dive as certified open water divers but I was totally put at ease. Our dive master was the quietest one of the group and kept himself to himself. However it was obvious he cared about what he did. On the Sugar wreck dive we perhaps didn’t see as much as we could have as there was a fisherman’s net with fish trapped in near the mast, we tried in vain to free them and it took up precious air. It reminded me something nick in unawatuna had said about how he had just bought a dive knife and he didn’t think he'd ever need it. We had been doing a quiz whereby it was asking the purpose of them and we laughed as it specifically stated the answer was not for use as a weapon or to defend yourself from fish (or other divers). No one on the dive carried a knife but we really could have done with one to save the poor fish.

The best dives were the first and the last. The first was to “sugar wreck” a 90m cargo ship carrying sugar that had sunk in 2000, I find the history of such sites as interesting as the current life around them, I always feel a little disappointed how little info is given and endeavour to google the origins of the wreck. Using a site ( I was able to find out the ship was registered in south Africa and carrying sugar from Indonesia to Bangkok when she ran aground upon a sandbar. A crew member made it to shore in a lifeboat allowing all 15 Indonesian and 2 Burmese crew members to be rescued however Mv union star 20 was not so lucky, they managed to free her from the sandbar but lost her on the journey to Batam island for repairs.

She now lies on her side, the port side being at around 6m in depth, the starboard being 18m. The visibility was great on the top and there were swarms of reef fish, as you got lower the visibility diminished, especially as you neared the seabed which was sandy. The seabed was swarming with urchins and the whole ship had been transformed into a reef. We were surrounded by schools of barracuda, trevally and there were lion fish everywhere. Lionfish are one of my favourites, I was gutted we hadn’t brought the camera down. There were also scorpion fish along the mast and then pufferfish and box fish swimming around too. Had we been advanced we could have penetrated the wreck. Then again not being high season it would have been difficult to see anything. I would genuinely consider revisiting just to dive this wreck in high season! The other divers saw a nurse shark, we were not so lucky. This dive incited us to accrue as many as possible in our stay, it was better then expected (I expected very little from monsoon season) and we wanted to get a few more under our belt with them being so cheap. We took each day as they came, they were mostly cloudy with a little rain. All there really was to do on the island was dive! I could easily go into each dive in detail but I will spare you. we did a few reefs and then one on the sand to see if we could find blue ring octopuses and seahorses (we didn’t). It was good to just practice skills, mainly buoyancy and breathing. Interesting fish we saw were

our final dive was one we had not planned on doing. We did our last dive in the morning then planned on heading back to long-beach and chilling out. Over lunch Planty suggested we just go and see what site they are diving in the afternoon, I think with the hope we may be able to revisit sugar wreck. I agreed to just go and see and we headed down. I don’t think they planned on diving but within 10 minutes of us arriving a site had been arranged and equipment set up. We were going to D'lagoon to search for large rays. It was a part of the Perhentian we had not seen yet and was just as beautiful as the rest of it, the sun was shining giving turquoise waters with good visibility, useful as we were not going that deep. We set off along a reef trying to keep an eye on the reef and the sand. There were all the different varieties of reef fish we had become accustomed to and we were getting pestered by cleaner wrasse, i'm sure they are supposed to take dead scales and parasites, not a chunk out of your leg! We studied cleaner wrasse behaviour in uni and how the wrasse and the large fish have a mutual relationship. We learnt that the bigger fish employ punishment tactics if the wrasse takes live cells and the wrasse move on or stop the bad behaviour, I would like to contest that paper, these wrasse were persistent and a right pain, no amount of chasing them off worked. Someone should pay me to research the subject further I think! Aly (our divemaster) had a metal stick to point to things and that he banged against his tank to get our attention. His first good find was a baby white eyed moray eel and not long later we heard him frantically tapping his tank again, “ray” he signalled, we couldn’t see it anywhere b followed him until we caught it up. It was massive! About a meter round plus tail, its a situation where you want to see this amazing creature up close.... but maybe not too close!, the biggest being just over 1 meter, again I wanted to get close but their size was intimidating. I’m not sure if they would get aggressive but when a creatures staple diet is coral, there is no chance i'm risking it! Lastly we saw another ray (possibly the same one?) they are so spooky looking and have really intelligent eyes, they freak me out a little! Aly was ecstatic when we returned to the boat, such a change from his normal demeanour, he thanked us for making his job so good and then repeatedly told us how lucky we were as he had never seen so many parrot fish before. When we got back Mr chow refused to believe us, when we said we had pictures he claimed they were off google. I think Aly was fairly smug that we'd had such a good, unintentional afternoons diving!

When I booked the perhentian islands I had know it was the beginning of monsoon season, I crossed my fingers (and my toes) the rains would hold off until wwe had been. I never expected to be so lucky with the weather and the diving. I loved them, they were a new highlight of the trip. and judging by the fact that Planty woke up in the middle of the night and asked me if I had seen the shark on our last dive before promptly falling back to sleep, I think he loved it too! The Perhentians remained special right up to the last minute. The last day was exceptionally sunny and our last few minutes were spent on the jetty watching the black tip reef shark cruising around and the barracuda picking off fish from the edge of a tight shoal. It was just paradise!

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