- Surface Skimmers hunting for Crush
“Der …. turtle! Jamp. Jamp now….” and in the skip of a heartbeat, everyone around us plunged into the blue waters to officially commence an underwater chase of the elusive sea turtle. I’ve played ‘Simon Says’ before, but taking orders from our Kelantanese boatsman, Hafeez and jumping into the South China Sea was stretching it a bit too far.
I conceded. I jumped. I resurfaced. I snorkelled. I drifted. I waited. While the rest continued hunting for Crush, I was rewarded with a site like none other. Gliding over the reef and under my belly was the sea turtle, magnificent, graceful and content.
Terimakasih Pulau Perhentian!
Terimakasih Mother Earth!
Where on earth? About 10 nautical miles off Peninsular Malaysia’s northeastern state of Terengganu lie the Perhentian Islands. The two main islands, Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil belong to the Pulau Redang National Marine Park. And for all those who have already black listed the islands for not being able to locate the co-ordinates, follow us on our spectacular journey to utopia.
The waters of the Perhentians
Journey maketh the Destination. I chose the Perhentians for the last leg of my ’kinda-sorta’ backpacking honeymooning expedition. Reaching the Islands seemed like a daunting task – a two hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu (KB), a nights stay at the Cerana Guest House in KB, a one hour taxi ride from KB to the Kuala Besut Jetty (KBJ) and then ofcourse, a 40 minute boat ride from the KBJ to the islands. But just as they (‘they’ being ‘me’) say, the ‘journey maketh the destination,’ my wife and I enjoyed every pit stop on this passage to paradise.
A boat taxi stations itself at the Big Island
This ranged from relishing martabaks at the KB night food market to being followed by Shah Rukh Khan smitten Kelantanese girls singing Kuchi Kuchi hota haii; from sipping on Kedai Kopee with ‘jai ho’ chanting French-Moroccan backpackers to enjoying a late night rendezvous with Abu and Faizal, the friendly owners of the Cerana Guest House; from guzzling down the most satiating fresh coconut water shake to speeding on the sometime choppy, sometime calm waters of the south china sea; from rationalizing why an Island in Bahasa Malaysia is called a ‘Pulau’ to reasoning that if big is Besar, why is small is not Secil? More on Kota Bharu later. For now we focus on:
Big – Besar; Small – Kecil. Our ferry from the Kuala Besut Jetty had an eclectic mix of people on board – a mohawk sporting Japanese diver, a trendy Swiss couple, a chain-smoking Dutch bookworm, two gorgeous Canadian gal pals and us Indian honeymooners. Oh and we did get the occasional ‘awwww’s when co-travelers found out we were just married. 10 minutes into the sea and we caught our first glimpse of paradise, albeit a bit blurred.
Our first glimpse of Paradise
40 minutes into the sea and we were kissing the reefs of Perhentian Kecil or Small Island. Scattered with pockets of white sand beaches and budget accomodation, this is definitely a backpacking beach bum’s haven offering uninterrupted panoramas of the Perhentian Sunsets. Long beach, a rather finite stretch of white sand is where most of our co-travelers disembarked, while we waited (im)patiently to catch a glimpse of….
The Big Island and the Perhentian Island Resort. After depositing the trendy Swiss Couple at Coral Bay, our ferry chugged around Pulau Besar to slowly reveal the Perhentian Island Resort – our home for years to come (or so we wished).
A view of the P. Kecil from P. Besar
We arrived at the resort’s jetty and as Qasim escorted us on the boardwalk to the reception. it seemed like all my senses had awakened. The sight of the clear blue waters, the sound of the surf splashing gently against the boulders, the smell of fresh grilled seafood wafting from the Beach Kiosk, the taste of freedom from civilization and the warmth of Kelantanese hospitality.
‘Good Aftelnoon Mistel Langwala’ greeted Nur, welcoming us with a refreshing Es Jeruk (orange juice). Amidst the sound of some rather annoying birds, she gracefully led us to our beach facing suite which had all the basic 3 star amenities sans television; but honestly, with paradise at our doorstep, who’d care about what’s inside the room? The Wife. Period. So while my wife serenaded and pampered herself to a bubble bath marathon, I headed for a dip, a dive and a salt water soak to the Beach.
An idyllic beach setting is what the resort offers
I have seen clear blue waters, white sands and exotic marine life. I have been to isolated beaches, Eco-friendly resorts and seafood binge-a-thons. But for the first time, I was experiencing all the seens and the beens in one destination.
My first step into the waters of the Perhentians was nothing short of a revelation. It seemed as though the big toe dragged the rest of me to an awkward plunge into the sea. I now realized what it was to be like Benjamin Button, to reverse age in a jiffy; Al by myself, I felt like a starry-eyed two-year old, splashing water with both hands and chasing the colorful fish. It was then that I Iooked up at the celestial blue skies and lay afloat on the emerald waters for a brief 20 minutes – which felt like eternity; a feeling I did not mind at all.
Fish at my feet
In the meanwhile, my wife continued her bubble bath marathon as I did not hear from her for another hour or so. Once again, I jumped onto this golden opportunity and began to explore the waters of the island. A few meters towards the jetty and I bump into a school of fish who seemed to fancy me and my two itchy feet. Ha! I so wanted to use the name of my website in some context for my very first blog. The fish reminded me of those from the fish pedicure, only a tad bit less aggressive. After a few rounds of touch ‘n’ go with ‘em fishes, I figured that my D60 was feeling neglected. Out she came and within seconds we were parading the beach in a trigger happy mode.
The white sands and turquoise waters of Perhentian Besar
Zero Nudity is what the beaches of Peninsular Malaysia are all about. Being strictly Islamic, it wasn’t surprising to find local women covered from head to toe and entering the waters in traditional burqhas/ hijaabs. In contrast, the backpacking Europeans would unabashedly sashay the beaches in their really tiny two-piece bikinis. I wasn’t complaining – nope; not at all; especially while the wife was still enjoying her bubble bath. I’m sure you guys must be thinking what on earth was I doing out on the beach on my honeymoon whilst my wife was doing her bit to woo me. Well – she is my wife and I have her for a lifetime; the islands I had for all but three days. I chose the latter! Wise decision – no?
When the tide comes in
Lunch on the first day was a set menu of an eclectic mix of local and western cuisine. We had a fresh shrimp salad and some incredible tangy fresh orange jus to begin with. This was followed by a cream of mushroom soup with some bread crispies. The main course was a Nasi Berlauk which is rice with side dishes of chicken curry or gulai ‘ikan tongkol’ (tuna fish spice curry), served with a dash of sambal and pickled vegetable. My wife digged into her Ayam Percik which was a chicken roasted over a wood fire combined with a spicy coconut sauce and local herbs. The kelantanese dishes were truly fitting meals in a gorgeous setting.
Jumping Japanese Kids
Now I’m pretty sure y’all will stop reading beyond this point if I continue to discuss each meal with such fervour; I know you have no patience to read and I know I have no patience to write. So let’s shoot straight to visuals of Japanese kids jumping off the jetty with abundant glee, us walking down the soft white sand amidst the afternoon breeze, fresh fruit jus photography, friendly monkeys and dramatic sunsets to sum up the happenings of our first day in paradise. And yes, before I forget, it is important that you make reservations at the nearest dive school kiosk for a snorkelling/ diving expedition to the islands of Pulau Rawa and Susu Dara Kecil for MR40. Selamat Malam …. Yawnnnn.
South China Sea Sunsets
Selamat Pagi. Come day two and I was super excited. Visuals of swimming with fish in the waters of the South China forced me to make short work of a delicious and generous breakfast spread. My wife and I hopped onto our motor-Sampan and were introduced to Hafeez, our teenage navigator/ dive instructor.
These fish love their daily bread!
A dutch couple with their three gorgeous daughters joined us on our trip. Within 20 minutes of speeding around Perhentian Kecil, we anchored our li’l sampan on the shores of Pulau Rawa. On came the snorkelling gear and out came the bread crumbs. Tip of the trip – carry some bread with you. The fish love them. Sprinkle a handful of crumbs and you will have fish circling around you. That’s what I did and that’s how I found nemo – the clown fish. Sounds a little hard to believe – eh? Well, it’s paradise after all innit?
A couple of pointers for the snorkelers would be to avoid stepping on the corals;
I am strictly a surface skimming snorkeller - Pulau Rawa
you will not only be destroying nature’s bounty but in the process, you will also cut yourself bad, real bad; add to this the salt in the waters. I say this out of experience. As we neared the next hot spot aptly named Susu Dara Kecil or the Virgin Milk, Hafeez indicated it was ok to jump in the waters.
Susu Dara Kecil
The three girls and their father jumped. I followed ensuite, only to have my bum bruised by the sharp coral reef. It was a wakeup call for me to not undermine the existence of the reef and its residents. Barring this minor hic-cup, the rest of the experience was by far nothing short of spell-bounding. Learning the art of deep-sea diving is next on the agenda.
An active morning was followed by a rather passive afternoon. I am normally full of zip during my travels but there was something about this island.
Japanese schoolgirls know what to do with their sand!
My wife and I spent the entire afternoon chillaxing in the waters. We whiled away doing absolutely nothing but staring at the vastness of the South China Sea. The afternoon transformed itself into an even more relaxed evening dinner by the beach.
Preparation of the sleepy prawn
It was my only opportunity to try the sleepy prawns which I had been eyeing from the time we stepped into the beach side kiosk on day one. I parked myself alongside the ice-containers which displayed the fresh catch of the day and handed the finest plump pair of prawns to the chef. A center slit, a lemon squeeze and a ten-minute grilling session later I was served to a scrumptious meal of a pair of exotic crustaceans. My wife had a strawberry shake – BORING! For her, I have always been a devouring carnivore who eats anything that moves. This is partially true. I ensure it is cooked. Ha!
Strawberry Shake for the Wife and Sleepy Prawn Salad for Me!
After dinner, we enjoyed a quite stroll by the beach. It was incredibly silent. The sky was black with gazillion stars (I hail from Mumbai where the sky is blacked out by smog; please pardon my excitement). The wife wanted to lie on the sands and spot ‘em shooting stars (straight out of a cheesy romantic novel). I gave in and trust me on this all ye dudes, it surely was some feeling, especially when you are experiencing it with the love of your life. Cheesy enough? Deal with it. Ha! And then all of a sudden it hit me that this was my last night in paradise. I couldn’t do much about that you know, except for reminiscing the hypnotically comforting fiesta vibe, the jungle setting and the utterly sublime emerald turquoise waters.
How do I get there? Fly Air Asia from Mumbai to Kuala Lumpur all the way to Kota Bharu. Your best bet would be to spend a night in Kota Bharu and cab it up to the Kuala Besut jetty early next morning. The fare is approximately MR40 (non air-conditioned) for an hours drive; definitely wear your bargain hats people. From the jetty, speedboats operate every hour between 8am to 4pm; lifejackets are duly provided and the fare is roughly MR80; tickets should be purchased at the jetty itself as everyone thrives on commissions. In the opposite direction, speedboats operate thrice in a day. Make sure to inform the resort a day in advance the time of your departure.
What’s the best time to visit? March to Mid-November. The islands are inaccessible during the monsoons.
Where do I stay? The islands have a range of accommodations mainly catering to the backpacking travellers. Perhentian Besar has a few family resorts of which I highly recommend the Perhentian Island Resort. For more information, click here.
A view of the Big Island and her jetty
What to bring? Swimming costumes, sun tan lotion, shades, an open mind and some ringgits. At the time of writing the blog, there were no ATMs on the islands.
What not to do? Be as green as possible. The islands are of part of the Pulau Redang National Marine Park, which means that fishing, collecting corals and littering are strictly prohibited.
What to do? Kayaking, trekking, deep-sea diving, sun-bathing, beach-hopping, snorkelling, swimming, star-gazing, devouring sea-food and thanking God for gifting us the Perhentians.
To live and here for what time may allow, To truly live is my life’s solemn vow – Matthew C Mitchell.
Summing up the Perhentian Islands