In August 2015, I went on a solo trip to Malaysia and visited just 2 places- the skyscraper town of Kuala Lumpur and the pristine islands of Perhentian.The way I discovered the Islands is a little hilarious. I abhor crowded and touristy places. Langkawi despite its pristine reputation failed to impress me. While loitering on Google maps figuring an option close to Langkawi. I thought to myself, if Langkawi is a beautiful Island on West Malaysia, I wonder what is on East Malaysia? It turned out to be Perhentian Islands. The islands have very limited information on the internet and all the reviews spoke about it being a hidden gem, beautiful, pristine. I knew I had to go to this unexplored heaven. The way to reach these islands is to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu and from there you can take a boat-ride to the islands from Kuala Besut jetty.
Perhentian islands are a pair of beautiful islands tucked away in the far off South China Sea where I spent 5 days.Yes, they are actually pair of islands- Pulau Besar (The big island) and Pulau Kecil (The Party Island – I named it). They are exactly as we imagine the word Island – white sands, blue water with colourful fishermen boats and a laid back lifestyle! I stayed at the Party Island as it has more options for budget backpackers accommodation. The big island has more resorts suited for families.
Perhentians were a lovely break from mundane work-life and I was fortunate to observe a different lifestyle of a secluded community from close quarters. A few experiences I loved about the Island were-
- Experiencing the primitive way of life- The islands has only walkways. There are no roads and thereby no vehicles. Taxi boats are the only way to move from one part of the island and in-between the neighbouring islands. There is limited electricity – it mostly works on generators and on windmills. Equipments like washing machine which require a higher voltage can be used only for 4 hours a day and there are just 2 policemen on the entire island!
- Limited connectivity- Isn’t this like a dream come true! Living secluded on a beautiful Island with no contact with outside world! I actually had to enter into the sea to get good mobile network, exactly how they show in movies. And I completely enjoyed the experience of being by myself and not distracted by Facebook browsing or Whatsapp chatting. The islands do not have any medical facilities or roads. The closest hospital on the mainland which is 2 hours away, of which 1 hour is a bumpy boat ride. Hence, I would caution visitors who are parents with toddlers or anyone who needs to be in vicinity of medical attention.
- Friendly and helpful locals – The locals are friendly and helpful and I made quite a few friends during my brief stay. We partied and had a lot of fun with locals and fellow tourists. However I am sorry to say they can’t cook good food. I was astonished to find that none of the shacks on Long beach (which has a party every night) serve delicious food and neither do they feel sorry about it. Unfortunately only the bigger resorts with attached restaurants serve lip-smacking food, so I failed miserably at abiding my travel ethic of giving business to the local community.
- Inexpensive Scuba-diving and watersports activities– The Perhentians are popular for the most inexpensive scuba lessons in the world. The scuba schools are great with instructors to drool on 😉 One should just be careful while booking return air tickets. After diving one is advised to not to board a flight within 48 hours. There is a medical condition called decompression sickness also known as ‘the bends’ which one may be diagnosed with for going below sea level and within no time of taking off. I knew it thanks to TV series ‘The Monk’ and I have never been more proud of myself for watching it.
- Bumpy boat rides- The only way to connect to the island from the mainland is 10-15 seater boat. The ride is crazy with boatmen trying to race with each other. I was also stuck in a storm right in the middle of the sea and am glad to be safe thanks to the courage of our boatmen. You can read more about the experience here.
Perhentian is a great place and must be visited by everyone bitten by adventure bug. For all the adventures I had at Perhentian Islands they have a special place in my heart! Whenever I revisit the islands, I aspire to do some volunteering with a non-profit organisation probably to give a helping hand to conserve turtles.