Since our flight out of Indonesia (provided by the dubious, but dirt-cheap Sriwijaya Air) was canceled, we had the opportunity to change our travel plans up a bit. We flew back to KL and, feeling weary and whimsical, decided our next destination by which plane was leaving next. We hopped on a flight to Kota Bharu (a small city on the north-eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia), which is a jump off point to the fabled Perhentian Islands. Throughout our time in Sumatra, many a traveler spoke of the white sand beaches and pristine reefs of Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar... they unfortunately didn't tell us about the hordes of holiday-makers.
After a short night in Kota Bharu (where we stayed at the utilitarian and welcoming KB Guesthouse), we shared a taxi for the hour drive to Kuala Besut. We then jumped on the fast ferry over to the Perhentians, and boy was it fast!
We arrived at Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil (the small island), based on the recommendation of many, but immediatly felt like we had been duped. A massive government jetty (apparently a new addition) had been built in the middle of the bay, blocking the sunset view with its great concrete appendages. The water in the bay was dotted with boats and had an unhealthy sheen and the crowded beach was lined with guesthouses from one end to the next. Just fifteen years before this bay was nearly untouched, but unmitigated development has changed that. We joined another dismayed traveler (Susan Sydney) that we met on the ride over and took off in search of that ideal beachfront we're all chasing after.
While we had all been told that Perhentian Kecil was the place to be, we had a lead on cheap accommodations on the usually more upmarket and resorty Perhentian Besar (the Big Island). After an overpriced water taxi from an incredibly surly boatman (unfortunately the norm around these parts), we found our spot on Teluk Dalam Beach. While packed with locals on the weekend, the whole beach was practically empty during the week, making it a veritable paradise for us.
While Malaysia generally has some for the best food I've ever had, we were pretty underwhelmed in the Perhentians. I guess not everything can be perfect in paradise! We did however enjoy all the fresh fruit juice, coffee, and milky tea (teh tarik).
Our days were relaxing, lots of dips in the sea and sunbathing, a few jungle hikes to desolate and pristine beaches (a must if you come to the island!), and lots of snorkeling. We also spent a day on a snorkeling trip to nearby Redang Island... but we'll save that for another post.
Thanks to Susan Sydney, our travel companion for a few days for the cool nighttime pictures of us.
Where to stay: We recommend Samudra Beach Chalets wholeheartedly. We got a private bungalow just a few meters from the sea for 50 ringgit, an absolute steal for the Perhentians in this day and age. The food was good and the staff was laidback, helpful, and friendly (another rarity on the islands). The free Wifi was also greatly appreciated!