Where time is of no concern

Right so if I’m gonna make a go of this travel blog thing I’m gonna have to do a lot better than what I’ve done so far… the total of 1 post.  Mmmm note to self – blog posts don’t write themselves.

So let me tell you about you about the Perehentian Islands – the tropical paradise where I decided to pursue this travel writing dream.

Langkawi, Penang and Sabah are what spring to mind when you mention islands of Malaysia. But these little gems Pulau Kecil (small island) and Pulau Besar (large island) situated 25km off the east coast of Malaysia will soon join this list.

Getting here requires several modes of transport and a little patience, but it’s all part of the adventure and is all the more rewarding. Boats to the islands depart from the small port town of Kuala Besut. For the overly adventurous a local bus from Kuala Lumpur will get you there in around 9 hours, but for the glampackers of the world a flight to Kota Bahru and a taxi to the port will get you there in half the time and for only a fraction more of the cost.

After purchasing a ticket from one of the few local shops, you meander your way through the plethora of newly erected souvenir stalls along the jetty wondering whether the piece of paper you’ve just been handed will actually get you a seat on a boat. Rest assured it does, but there’s no process here, so don’t expect a timetable a schedule of any means of an orderly process. Boats will depart as and when there are enough people and the drivers are ready to go.

The crossing takes about 45 minutes and can be a little rough and tumble depending on the swell and the weather. But mostly it’s a pleasant trip where you’ll happily bounce over the sparkling turquoise waters, with the wind in your hair as the stresses of the modern world melt away.

Certain things take precedence here, and it’s important to understand that time is not one of them. I learn this early. As we were speeding across the crystal waters I was daydreaming of what this tropical paradise will be like when suddenly I’m jolted back to reality as the engine of our tin boat cuts off and we stop dead in the water.

My heart sank; the start to my week of relaxation was going to be marred by a broken down boat leaving us bobbing around in this watery expanse for hours to come. I turned to our driver only to find him sheltering from the breeze to light himself a cigarette. Puffing away we were on our way again. This happens twice more, once so he could relight said cigarette and again to have a chat on his mobile phone. Remember it’s the important things that matter here.

Perhentian Besar is the larger of the two islands and is targeted more to honeymoon couples or families and has a higher standard of accommodation than its smaller neighbour Kecil.

Cousin Kecil where I’m staying has a simple existence. There are no roads, no cars and only a few bush tracks through the jungle to get around by foot.

It’s easy to slip into this timeless society. Your days will be spent lazying under the palms, floating around in the crystal blue waters and marvelling at the exquisite underwater world beneath the surface. Your biggest decision here will deciding where to eat and whether to pop in for a snorkel or just stay right where you are on the crisp white sand working on your tan.

Long Beach is the main beach and the most densely populated, lined with an array of beach bars, cafes and dive shops, with various accommodation options dotted between. It’s the longest and widest of the beaches on the island and the sweeping bay of crisp white sand is perfect for all day snoozing in the sun, interrupted only by the occasional dip in the sparkling clear waters.

A 15 minute stroll through the partly paved jungle track to the opposite side of the island and you’ll find yourself in Coral Bay. Sandwiched between two resorts it has a quieter, more civilised existence.

My home for the week is here at Senja Bay Resort. Consisting of about 20 huts built into the hillside this 50 room resort is an ideal option for us glampackers. The ensuite rooms are simple and clean with air-conditioning, hot running water and balconies that provide an excellent view point for the spectacular sunsets.

The bay is full of coral, so it’s a snorkellers’ delight with plenty of brightly coloured fish and the occasional sting ray to follow around. The here is much smaller with far less sand to laze about on here, but unlike Long Beach there are plenty of big palm trees to relax under which are ideal for escaping the blazing hot afternoon sun.

Only accessible by boat (or 2 hour hike) the budget resort at D’Lagoon has its own beach and is well worth a visit if for no other reason than to claim a hammock and gently sway between the palms for a few hours. The snorkelling here is also some of the best on the island.

The islands are part of a protected marine park so there is an abundance of marine life and as such the islands have become a mecca for dive enthusiasts. There are numerous dive operators across the islands offering all levels of PADI open water courses and fun dives. With no less than 20 marked dive sites around the islands with depths up to 25m there’s no shortage of options to choose from. ‘The dive sites that put the Perhentians on the map are Temple of the sea, T3 and Sugar Wreck’. Quiver Dive instructor Simon tells me. ‘But essentially anywhere you jump into the water is a dive site’.

For evening entertainment, Long Beach is where the party is at. The beach bars that line the beach will be pumping with music well into the wee hours of the morning. Head over to Ooh La La and Monkey Bar for dinner to start the evening. The beef Wellington is to die for here.

As the island is a Muslim island alcohol is not readily available.  A few of the bars sell cans of beer or you can by a bottle of vodka or monkey juice (bourbon) from Monkey Bar and mix your own drinks which is readily acceptable.  Alternatively bring your own alcohol with you from the mainland.

As Ooh La La winds down for the night head down the beach and pull up a table in the sand to continue the festivities at Beach Bar. Or, if you’re up for some mischief and all night dancing with the sand between your toes Black Tip is the place to be.

Full moon parties and snorkel tests are a common affair here. This initiation ritual for the newly accredited Dive Masters includes you guessed it, a snorkel and lots of alcohol.  There is lots of fun to be had here.

When you tire of lazing on the beach, dancing the night away or discovering the underwater haven there are plenty of jungle treks with a diversity of wildlife to keep you amused. Don’t forget to take plenty of water as the heat and humidity in the jungle can be like an outdoor sauna at times.

So if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, relaxation and some fun in the sun, then these islands should definitely be on your bucket list. But get here quick before everyone else does.

THE ESSENTIALS

Getting here:
Flights depart daily from Kuala Lumpar to Kuala Terengganau or Kota Bharu. From either airport you’ll need to take a taxi (approx 1-1.5hrs and RM 50-90) to the port town of Kuala Besut where all boats to the island depart from. Alternatively there’s a locals bus from KL that takes about 9 hours.

Speed boats departing from Kuala Besut cost around RM 70 return and start from about 7am daily and run according to demand. Boats will drop you off at your resort or beach of choice and the crossing will take about 45 minutes depending on the number of stops. Boats return to the mainland three times a day at 10am, midday and 2pm and you must book your spot – do this at your resort. Note that some boat services may be cancelled if the seas are rough so bear that in mind if you have a flight to catch.

When to go:
Peak season is between July and August with temperatures around 21-35 degrees and about 85% humidity. Most resorts are closed from the end October through to the end of February due to the monsoon season.

Where to stay:
Senja Bay Resort (3 star) – ensuite rooms with air-conditioning and hot showers
Shari-La Resort (3-4 star) – ensuite rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV and mini bar. Also has a dorm room that isn’t advertised.
Matahari Chalet – range of accommodation from simple huts with share bathrooms through to bungalows with ensuite and air-conditioning.
D’Lagoon Chalet – dorm rooms and camping through to basic rooms

Get in the know:
–  There are no ATMs on the island so bring all the cash you need with you. Some hotels/resorts will accept credit card – but check before you go.
– There is a RM 5 conservation charge per person for going to the island.
– The island is Muslim so alcohol is not readily available. Bring your own from the mainland or you can purchase beer and bottles of vodka/bourbon from selected bars.
– Take insect repellent – the mosquitos are hungry here.

Nic’s tip:
Beach BBQs are your best bet for good tucker, choose from an array of freshly caught seafood – have it barbequed while you wait and served with potatoes, coleslaw and Bananna Bread – super tasty and great value for money. If you are homesick, head to Bintang View overlooking Long Beach which has the best western food on the island and a pretty spectacular view to boot.