We have seen a lot of beautiful beaches, but this one was really special...

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March 30th 2013
Published: April 8th 2013
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It had been over a week since we were last on a beach and while we had gotten used to (and enjoyed) the cooler climate in the Highlands over the last few days, this is the tropics and we knew it wouldn’t be too long before we were back to sweating in the heat. It was with the heat in mind that we took an early mini bus for 6 hours towards Kuala Besut, the jumping off point for the idyllic Perhentian islands, just off the East coast. On the way we met a nice girl from Holland (Debbie) who was travelling alone so our group of four quickly became five, which would grow more in the next few hours. After the obligatory stops for lunch/petrol/toilet breaks we arrived at Kuala Besut ready to take the boat over to the islands, but first had to wait for another bus to arrive which took over an hour. In this time we wondered over to the bus station and booked our bus for a few days time to Kuala Lumpur, as we would be leaving on a weekend which coincided with the school holidays so places were getting booked up fast.

We finally got on the speed boat (after the boatman’s entire family hopped on the back) and whilst we had heard it was a bit of a hairy journey we weren’t too worried at first as the boatman slowly pulled out of the ‘harbour’…but he was soon gunning it through the water, crashing over waves and treating the boat like it was a toy – luckily we had life jackets on! It was bumpy to say the least but we made it in one piece to Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two islands which we had chosen to spend our time on as it was said to have more of a backpacker vibe. We got dropped off on Long Beach, which only had electricity between around 6pm-7am, a handful of chalets and bungalows and a few local shops and restaurants. We arrived just as it was getting dark, along with Seb and Ceileigh (pronounced Kayleigh) from Zimbabwe who we had met on the boat, and as no one had accommodation booked the girls set off to find rooms while the boys had a beer on the beach. After finding a few places full or very overpriced, the boys had a go at looking and typically within 20 minutes had found rooms for us at the Eastern end of the beach at a reasonable price, which actually turned out to be pretty good. We had heard some horror stories about accommodation on the island, and as I have a bit of a phobia of anything creepy crawly I was sort of dreading what the rooms would be like, but they were fine in the end.

After we had all freshened up, the 7 of us went for dinner on the beach at one of the BBQ restaurants. The food was ok, nothing special, and it was a bit more expensive than we had expected, but once we all started having a few drinks it didn’t matter. The shops and restaurants are Muslim here so don’t sell any alcohol, but you can bring your own in, so we found a guy called Henry on the beach who sold cold beer and bottles of rum and vodka every evening from his cool box – I swear we kept him in business the week we were on the island! Anyway, 3 bottles of vodka later we were all merry and carried on the night at a bar on the beach. It really is not a party place (thankfully) here and there are only a couple of chilled out bars, but we were lucky as this one was having a special party that night with a live band who were great. Most people went home around 1am but we stayed along with Thea and Jeremi having more drinks until around 3am and had a great night.

The next morning we were woken at 7am when the fan went off and it was just too hot to stay in the room without it, so we had an early start. We (especially Scott) were feeling a bit queasy, but when we opened the door to our room and saw the stunning beach just steps away and the sun shining, it helped a lot! We chilled on the beach all day, and honestly hadn’t seen such clear turquoise water anywhere else – it really was a paradise island. That night we met up with Cynthia, who we had last seen in February in the Philippines, so we were now a group of 8 and this is how it stayed for the next few days. We had a great catch up and it was so nice to see her again – some people you meet while travelling really do become great friends and we hope to keep in touch with her for a long time to come. After a lovely sunset, we all chose a small restaurant for dinner and we have to say, the BBQ’s on Coral Bay (the other side to Long Beach) were much nicer and also cheaper! We got to choose what we wanted from several delicious types of fish, seafood or chicken, what sauce we wanted it marinated in, then you get rice, a baked potato, salad and fruit, all for 15rm (less than £3) and it was really good. The walk back to Long Beach along a jungle path was scary at times as it was dark and there are some huge monitor lizards around, but luckily we didn’t see any and made it back to our room in one piece, although later in the week we did spot a few hiding in the bushes which were quite big, and Scott saw a huge one (6 feet long!) one morning at breakfast!

One of the nicest activities to do here is a snorkelling trip which takes you to various spots where you can see lots of different marine life and swim, so we all signed up to go on one the next day. Again like the food, these trips are much cheaper from Coral Bay than from Long Beach for some reason – we paid 35rm each for the trip including lunch, while on Long Beach they were charging 50rm each with no lunch! We heard it was because they had put their high season prices on show early while Coral Bay hadn’t, but as you know if we can save money then we will. So the 8 of us set off in our own little boat along with a nice guy called Juan from Columbia. The day was fabulous, with the best snorkelling we have ever done. The visibility was just perfect, so clear, and some of the fish that we were seeing were so amazing it was like they weren’t even real – huge colourful parrot fish, rare leopard fish, multi coloured fish – just amazing. The highlights for us though were when we saw sharks and turtles! The black tip sharks were small-ish (around 4 feet long) and they were the harmless ones that don’t hurt people, but it was still scary to be swimming so close to them. We had been snorkelling a while and hadn’t seen any so I headed back to the boat when one swam right past me! I had a little freak out but was then fine. Then we went to another spot and saw some enormous turtles just cruising through the water. They must have been so old, they were massive but very graceful and we just watched them for ages. Some idiot swam down and held on to its shell while it was swimming which really annoyed me and even though I had my snorkel in I tried to shout at him to get off but it came out as just a muffled noise. Some people just don’t have the respect for wildlife and it really makes me mad! The boat man made an impromptu stop at an old tower in the middle of the sea so the boys could do a bit of cliff jumping - I was too chicken so stayed with the other girls for this and just watched! We then had lunch in a small fishing village and the last stop of the day was at ‘romantic beach’ which was very secluded and we just relaxed in the sun after a brilliant day.

The next couple of nights were fairly quiet, eating again at Coral Bay for the great BBQ and also trying another place on Long Beach which turned out really nice – we all had Malaysian curries and they were delicious. It was nice getting to know the couple from Zimbabwe and we were very interested to learn about their lives back home – they live comfortably with maids and cooks, which apparently is quiet normal, but have to live behind big gates because it’s not very safe for them as white people there. They also don’t have bank cards, and when they need cash they go into the bank, fill out forms and basically keep wads of cash locked in their safe at home until it runs out. Some of the other things they told us about the country’s history was quite shocking and something we can’t even comprehend, coming from a country with no corruption or real political problems. We also bonded even more with Thea and Jeremi and just got on so well with them which was lovely, and of course talking with Cynthia is like talking with an old friend. We were all very comfortable with each other over the few days and while sometimes it’s hard to be around people 24/7, this really was easy as we all just got on so well. We will be sad to said goodbye when the time comes as it's not often we just click with people as we have done these past few days.

Because of the early nights Scott managed to do a couple of dives with Cynthia which he was really pleased about, as they were the best he has done so far. One was to a wreck (Jeremy and Thea also came along) which he enjoyed as he had never done a wreck dive before, and although the visibility wasn’t amazing it added to the eeriness of swimming through a sunken ship, but the second one was to a site called Temple which was incredible. He saw everything from sharks to rays to trigger fish to eels and more and absolutely loved it but the ultimate highlight was swimming in the middle of a swimming vortex of thousands of fusili fish– he would have done it again if we weren’t leaving so soon. While he was diving I was lazing on the sand topping up my tan, as you do. On our last night we enjoyed a few drinks and some live music at Monkey Bar and it was a great end to a fantastic few days. When we went back to our room we were greeted by a family of huge colourful gecko’s near the door which were cool to see, and we slept soundly once again.

This little island really is a paradise and one of the nicest islands we have ever been to. The beach is lovely, pretty quiet and has soft white sand but the sea steals the show – it’s just SO sparkly and clear we could swim in it for hours (and we did!). We were lucky with the weather, as when we were here it was just the start of the dry season but we had sun and clear skies every day (from Oct-March the island pretty much closes due to strong rain and wind). There is such a great vibe on the island too, its so relaxing and chilled out, and we loved spending our time here with the people we did - it definately made it extra special and one of the highlights of our trip. Malaysia continues to surprise us; the people are friendly, it's not as expensive as we thought, it's so diverse and we are just loving it so far! What's more important is that it has given us our travel mojo back and we are looking forward to exploring more of this country over the next few weeks.

S&V's Travel Info & Tips:

General Info: Approx 4.6 rm to £1. Malaysia is 8 hrs ahead of UK.

Transportation: We booked a mini van through our guesthouse in the Cameron Highlands at a cost of 60rm per person - the journey to Kuala Best took 6 hours. Then we took a speed boat to Perhentian Kecil which costs 60 rm each for the return journey. We booked this together with the bus, seperately on the island it cost 40rm one way so it's cheaper to pre book it and it's an open return so you don't need to specify a date - just call the day before you want to leave to confirm the boat pick up time.

Food: As many people have said the food is not the best on the island but we found some good meals. Amelia's on Coral Bay does the best BBQ sets at just 15 rm each - the same thing on Long Beach costs 25 rm! Ewan's Place on the path between the two beaches is fabulous for breakfast and cheap too. On Long Beach, Daneila Cafe (the middle one with yellow chairs) was the nicest and served up great Malaysian curries as well as yummy shakes and lassi's. Buy beer from the guys with the cool boxes, there is one on each beach - a can of Tiger cost 7-8 rm.

Accomodation: We got lucky and had a decent room at Moonlight Chalet's at the end of Long Beach for 50 rm per night. It was clean (ish) with fan and cold shower, but it was the view across the bay which made it. Rooms at the back with no view were 40 rm. The electric went off at 7am - 6pm. When you get off the boat walk all the way right until you reach the end of the beach.

Other observations:

x) Everything is cheaper on Coral Bay, from food to trips, but this may change soon if they put their prices up to match Long Beach. Having said that, Long Beach was the nicer beach of the two for sand and sea, so we were pleased we stayed there.

xx) The boats back to the mainland left at 8am, 12pm and 4pm, and the buses to Kuala Lumpur were at 9am or 9pm.

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