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Published: December 18th 2013
It was now seven months to the day since we'd left home. When our pals Darren, Jim and Ste had told us of there plan to meet us in Malaysia along with Sonya's buddy Laura, Sonya and I had been in New Zealand, just four months into our trip. We were delighted at the prospect but it seemed along way away. Yet the three months in between had passed by and the reunion we had so eagerly anticipated was upon us before we knew it. We would meet the gang in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, spend less than 48 hours there before heading to an idyllic little island off the north east coast of the peninsula, called Perhentian Kecil. I'd had the pleasure of visiting the Perhentian's on my last trip to Asia in 2009 and it seemed the perfect spot for the six of us to relax, soak up the sun and share a few jars.
Our flight from Surat Thani arrived in KL at 2pm
and we took a bus to the city, which was another hour and a half away. Sonya and I were staying at a backpackers in the heart of Bukit Bintang, while the
boys had booked a flash hotel just ten minutes from us. We checked in and I was straight on the wifi to arrange our rendezvous. Later that evening, Sonya and I arrived at the boys hotel and went to the rooftop bar to wait for them. It was happy hour so we ordered two glasses of red wine while I sat there tapping my feet in anticipation. Not only did the hotel have a rooftop bar views of the iconic Petronas Towers, it also had a rooftop swimming pool to boot and there was a pool party later that evening. We were so envious. I suggested to Sonya we check out of the grimy hostel and get a room here, if only. The boys arrived and after rushing over for a Hollywood like embrace, we were all beaming. It was so good to see them and after the initial shock wore off, it seemed like I'd seen them all only yesterday. We took group pictures with the Petronas Towers in the background and caught up with the latest gossip from back home over drinks. For dinner, Sonya had scouted out some street food in Bukit Bintang so we made the
short walk back there. Malaysia's street food is widely acclaimed so we were keen to get stuck in. The Chinese lanterns shining above the road gave it a warm and welcoming feel. We passed a few vendors until Jim took a shine to an old lady outside a busy place. We sat down on the plastic chairs inside away from the road and got a round of beers in while we contemplated the menu. There was fresh, live seafood behind us and despite my mother always telling me not to play with your food, I couldn't resist picking up a crab and posing with it, mouth open-wide. Sonya and I ordered a chilli crab and spicy prawns. It was possibly the messiest combination of dishes we could of ordered - I managed to splash chill sauce everywhere while cracking open the crab crawls, peeling the prawns was a real chore but it proved to be worth it. The food was so delicious and incredibly cheap for fresh seafood. Empty plates all round, I think the boys enjoyed it too. Next we headed to a nearby bar and after a little haggling we ordered a tower of tiger beer - not
Sonya's usual choice but she was one of the boys for the night! The five of us were also seduced by the fragrant waft of sheesha in the air so had a pipe between us. One beer tower turned into two and our the laughter grew louder. We shared jokes and fooled around until midnight and decided to head to back to Pacific Regency hotel to gate crash the pool party. Things were fairly mellow at the roof top bar but Daz, Jim and Ste soon livened things up by jumping in and causing a splash. Sonya and I, without our swimmers, minded the bags and out the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Daz wrapping his arms around an inflatable dolphin before launching himself onto Jim in the pool. They rounded up a couple more dolphins and straddled them happily. It was 3am
before we knew it so Sonya and I decided to call it a night and head back to our hostel.
Day two in Kuala Lumpur, we woke up around 11am
feeling the effects of the previous nights' boozy reunion. Sonya complained of a banging headache - her first beer hangover! She would
have to pull herself together though as her friend Laura was arriving later that day. Showered but not feeling so fresh, we ventured out to grab some lunch of fried rice and noodles. We were feeling sorry for ourselves after our first big night in quite some time - what a pathetic couple of drunks. It was soon time to go and meet Laura at the airport so we made our way to the bus station. We waited excitedly at the barrier at arrivals. Over an hour after she landed, still no sign of Laura. Sonya began to worry but soon Laura appeared through the automatic doors, cue the second Hollywood run-and-embrace moment of the weekend. I let the girls gas on the long bus journey back to Bukit Bintang. After Laura freshened up, we met up with the boys at their hotel again. This time things could get out of hand as we were flying at 8am
the next morning. So after a few civilised drinks at the rooftop bar we went to find somewhere to eat. We bypassed the Bukit Bintang street food of the previous night in search of some Indian cuisine. Malaysia has mix of cultures, a
population made up of Malay, Chinese and Indian peoples, which means a incredible mix of cuisine. It took us longer than I anticipated but after being pointed in the right direction we found an 'authentic Indian restaurant'. It looked a little grimy, possibly the reason for the use of authentic in the name but we were tired of walking around so sat down. It was tandoori chicken and a plethora of breads all round; chapatti, roti channai, plain naan, butter naan and garlic naan. Roti channai was my favourite, a thin, multi layered, elasticy bread served with a runny curry sauce. The chicken wasn't bad either. It cost us just over a pound each and taught us all a valuable lesson - you don't eat with your eyes! At least I would stand by these profound word so long as I wasn't dashing to the toilet during the night.
Thankfully the Indian food didn't cause any bad effects. We awoke at 4am
and got a taxi to the airport. Despite the three of us being absolutely shattered we didn't sleep a wink on the hour ride. Our taxi driver was a loud, eccentric former policeman who insisted on filling every
passing moment with advice, local knowledge or tales of his own travels. At first I found this annoying but you couldn't help but be won over by his enthusiasm and his crazy cackling of laughter which erupted every few minutes. At the airport we met the boys and had a maccies breakfast before checking in. After a short hour flight we landed in Kota Bharu, collected our luggage and arranged for taxis to drive us to the boat jetty at Kuala Besut, the departure point for speed boats to the Perhentian islands. The hour drive to the pier was much more eventful than the flight. Our driver had his put to the floor the whole way, passing anything in his way and at one point even overtaking a police car well in excess of the speed limit. About half way into our journey we came to a T junction. There was a queue of traffic and a police officer directing vehicles around a stationary car and crowd of people. As it was our turn to pass the scene, we looked over a saw a women lying still on the road. In the few moments that she was in my line
of sight she didn't move whatsoever. She wasn't being attended to by any paramedics or members of the public. Instead people stood around in discussion. We speeded away and it dawned on us all that she was likely dead. It made for a somber remainder of the journey. The speed boat ride was exhilarating. We bounced along the swell on our way out to the Perhentian's and excitable, the six of us posed for photos in our orange life jackets. We arrived just off the coast of long beach on Perhentian Kecil and hopped onto a smaller boat to shuttle us the last remaining few shallow metres. The sand was fine and white, the sea was clear blue, while the tall jungle interior of the island made for an impressive backdrop. Everyone spent a few moments taking in the beautiful surroundings before we set about finding somewhere to sleep. The first few places we saw along the beach we old, basic and didn't offer value for money. I suggested we try a place I'd stayed previously, Tropicana resort. It was five minutes off the beach, inland and uphill but it was cheaper and much nicer than any of the alternatives.
We checked in and headed back down the beach for a spot of lunch at one of beach restaurants with colourful plastic chairs. Three in a row, serving almost identical food and drink for exactly the same price. No one knew the names or the difference you just choose your favourite colour from yellow, blue or red chairs. After lunch we played frisbee, fooled around in the sea, soaked up the sun and relaxed on the beach. The boys slept for a few hours still suffering from jet lag. That was pretty much how our days were spent; getting up when we wanted, rotating our choice for breakfasts between the red, blue or yellow chairs, messing around in the sea, playing frisbee, playing volleyball. Sonya would try and baptise us all in the sea at every opportunity. Darren got sunburnt on day one and every day after that, even by the end of the week he was a painful shade of pink.
Without doubt, one of the highlights of the week was when we took a snorkelling trip around the islands. We visited three sights. First of all we stopped at turtle bay, where we had a close encounter
with a green turtle. The boat driver spotted the turtle within minutes and we all jumped in to get a look. I expected a small turtle perhaps just bigger than my the size of my hand. Instead the turtle was huge, the size of a large coffee table. He was as calm as you like, trudging along the sea bed. After diving down to get a closer look and watching him for over 10 minutes, the turtle started to ascend. I swam furiously to get in front of the pack and managed to get alongside it as it reached the surface. He was within touching distance as he took a few long, deep breathes before diving back down to the bottom. It was over within seconds but an amazing experience nonetheless. Next the boat took us to some deeper, choppier waters around the other side of the island. We were told to jump in and swim along the shore line, around the corner to shark point. The six of us were less eager to enter the water this time after the mention of sharks but our guide assured us it was safe and that the sharks were not dangerous. The water was rough and was murky. The visibility was so poor, you could see anything more than an arms reach in front of you. It was an eery few minutes but soon enough we found ourselves round the rocks and into a shattered bay. It was shallow and the water was so clear. There was some colourful coral, tonnes of tropical fish but no sign of any sharks at first. We'd split up, and I think I was with Jim when we saw a shoal of multicoloured fish turn on one of their own. They attacked it, picking it apart with their sharp teeth until moments later there was just a carcass left. Jim and I, a little concerned swam off and left the cannibal fish well alone. After 10 minutes or so, I finally saw a shark swimming around in this distance. It was small, only one and half metres or so in length so confident it wouldn't be able to eat me I set about swimming after it. I swam hard, chasing after it but a quick change of gear and the shark was gone. I started to see more and more of these black tip reef sharks, always on their own and swimming intently. I tried in vain and could never quite keep up with them. Back on the boat, our last stop was a lighthouse in the middle of the sea. The six of us swam to the ladders and climbed up with every intention of jumping off. It took a little while for any of us to take the plunge but I think it was Daz who went first, I followed suit with a timid pencil dive but as I came out of the water the mouth piece and funnel was no longer attached to my goggles. It was lying on some coral deep under the surface. I tried unsuccessfully to hold my breath and dive down to retrieve them. Our guide, making it look ridiculously easily fetched them though thankfully.
The evenings followed a bit of pattern as well. We'd all agree to be ready at a certain time, shower and get dressed. When it was time to meet up to go for dinner, Jim would be in the mirror making himself look pretty and we'd wait for him to finish perfecting his questionable hair style!! Sorry James. Every night without fail, we tucked into a delicious BBQ meal, Sonya and I would usually share a variety of fish steaks, king prawns or chicken. We were never let down and for £4 it was an absolute steal. Drinks would now be in full flow. We had our own spirits that we pre-mixed before leaving the guesthouse. Most nights we sat down, enjoyed drinks and a sheesha while watching the incredible fire dancing and breathing at one of the bars on the beach. A few westerners, who possibly escaped from the circus, put on these night long shows; they would swing flaming balls, spin wildly staffs and of course spit fire flames from their mouths after drinking kerosine. On a couple of nights things may have got a little messy. There was one occasion where a boisterous James Kent pushed me and inadvertently sent me flying over a low table, scattering drinks and candles everywhere. Thankfully the guy lap whose lap I landed in didn't punch my lights out. Sonya and Laura would often take to the dance floor, flailing their hair around in the circles and clearing the wooden platform in minutes. One night Ste and Jim got lost in the jungle, after taking a wrong turn on the way home and with huge lizards and nasty spiders around, I didn't envy that little adventure.
Our time with the boys seemed to be over so soon. They were heading north up into Thailand while, Sonya, Laura and I would explore more of Malaysia. It was a emotional goodbye, we embraced on the picturesque long beach of Perhnetian Kecil and waved them off as there speed boat bounced its way into the distance. It was a special time for us, getting to spend some of this incredible trip with good friends. We shared some great times that will live long in the memory and it was even better to have a reminder of who awaits you at home. Get the beers on ice chaps - see you in the New Year!
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