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A Perhentian stopover

My trip home last year was short – a mere ten days – and for a number of practical reasons, F stayed put in Paris. It therefore makes this trip his first to Malaysia, and with a couple of big family events to attend, he was in for the tough task of meeting absolutely everyone. If there’s anything you ought to know about Chinese family events, it’s that just about anyone related in anyway gets an invitation and the extended branches could get a little too crazy.

In order not to overwhelm him with the amount of time we spent with too many people at the same time, and to also introduce him to parts of Malaysia, I planned a couple of stops in Penang and Perhentian Besar during the weekdays flanked by family event weekends, and just before flying back, we had a quick visit of Kuala Lumpur and its environs.

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Getting to the Perhentian Islands from my (small) hometown wasn’t too straight forward but with strategic planning, I think I nailed it. First, a car trip to my brother’s in Penang, followed by an one-hour flight to Kota Bharu from Penang, hopped onto a taxi from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut, and finally a boat ride from Kuala Besut to Perhentian Besar. Wash, rinse and repeat for the journey back, in the reverse order. I’m not sure I could do any better than that. Good thing my brother lives in Penang so we could sightsee the island and visit his family at the same time.

The Perhentian Islands is a cluster of islands off the coast of Terengganu, and the name itself gives a hint of its functional past, as stopping points along the South China Sea trade route between Thailand and Malaysia. The two main islands are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil (besar means big and it is larger than the small kecil – logic) although not far off the Perhentian Kecil, a few much smaller uninhabited islands are also found. The conditions here run back to basic: no running electricity except those from generators, and food/water supplies are transported in from the mainland. Mind – there is still wifi! ;)

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Keeping in line with our wants for a relatively quiet break, we chose to stay at Perhentian Besar, normally the preferred island among families and resting visitors. Just across the water, Perhentian Kecil caters more to budget travellers and backpackers. Given the limited number of restaurants and banking facilities here (we didn’t want to carry too much cash around) we booked for a chalet with meals, snorkelling trips, and boat transfer package. Minimum hassle, maximum relaxation.

For three full days, we pattered around in beach and swim wear, went on snorkelling excursion once a day, swam in the sea right at our doorstep, read under the shades at the beach, and enjoyed our substantial meals without long waits as we notified the chalet operator in advance of the set menu that we’d like for our subsequent meal. Life is much simplified this way without a gazillion decision making beyond “shall we read, swim or eat?”, or something to that effect. While F still checked his emails from time to time, I was on an internet detox – I even left my smartphone at my brother’s – and was quite pleased with myself for not missing the lack of cyber-activities.

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

My slight regret was to not have thought about getting a waterproof case for my PnS. In my defense, I’ve never needed one since I don’t swim and up until this trip, I’ve never snorkelled either. Small disposable waterproof camera can be purchased in the small shop ran by our chalet operator but the price was clearly marked-up to make a tidy sum of profits. In the end, we just went without and have nought but our memory of the colourful fishes swimming around us, the large sea turtle that we trailed beside, and the impressive coral beds in some parts.

When I bought an inflatable buoy to aid beginner snorkeller for the trip, I remember thinking to myself “oh man, it’s like I’m a kid again with all the flotation aid” but then decided to banish such thought. I shouldn’t be embarassed about it. It’s something that will allow me to do an activity that I lack the skill to on my own. It’s that, or I get left out entirely. Better swallow that pride, girl!

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

We didn’t always snorkel off the Perhentian Besar. Of the three snorkelling excursions that we had, two were at different points of the island but one was to the small islands of Rawa and Tokong where the conditions were pristine and one can easily spend the day frollicking in the water and languishing by the beach. A Swedish couple who were on the excursion with us even saw a shark (the harmless reef shark) but sadly no such luck for us. Another spot we went was around an old lighthouse in the middle of the sea, and here, I peeked into the water to be magically surrounded by fish but I also got out quickly the moment I spotted some tiny jellyfish floating a little too closely to me!

One particular observation: many Asians, like me, some despite growing up near the sea, simply don’t swim. It seems the tour operators have found a good solution afterall, for those adventurous enough to want to try some water-based activities despite the lack of swimming ability: lifejacket. These snorkellers were clearly visible on the surface of the water thanks to the high viz orange lifejackets, and they relied on the boatsman to stay close so they could return to deck easily.

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Apart from the amazing underwater world which we get to observe, F also marvelled at the lush tropical setting of the islands. This is something I’ve probably taken for granted, but for him, it was fabulous to see so much tree and plant cover on the islands, something not often seen in Europe. It is even more precious given this is a natural tropical jungle, and something he strongly believes should be preserved and not be sacrificed for tourism. I am in agreement on this.

There were supposed to be a couple of paths that we can take, a little inland, through the jungle. However, one part was shut down for some military camp and training purposes. In any case, I was a little hesitant about jungle trek given the likelihood of encountering a variety of insects and other fauna that called it home. It wasn’t until a couple of days in to our trip that he saw a huge spider and a rather long lizard that he understood my fear of coming face-to-face with these critters in the wild.

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Perhentian Island

Every evening, we grabbed the same table on the restaurant terrace, watching the sunset while having our dinner. It was a bit of a pity that we never really had a very clear day while we were there, and the sunset never quite got as spectacularly as I wished it could have been. Nonetheless, it made a beautiful close to the largely relaxing day.

On a final note: because of the foggy-ish conditions and all, the sunset actually reminded me very much of Monet’s Impression, soleil levant (Impression, sunrise). There were much similarities between what was unfolding before my eyes and the masterpiece that gives Impressionism its name, and the colours of the sky could easily merge into one another. This was when I sighed dreamily, knowing I was tasting a small slice of paradise.



Category: 101 Goals, Asia, Malaysia, Travel

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4 scribbles & notes

  1. med says:

    Perhentian is nice…missing it ;)

Scribble a note to med × Cancel reply


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