The Perhentian Islands, about an hour’s ferry ride off the north-east coast of Malaysia, were hands-down one of our favorite places along our trip through SE Asia. We had just come from Thailand: a bucket-cocktail party filled week on Koh Pha-Ngnan- culminating with the infamous Full Moon Party- followed by another 5 crazy days spent on Koh Tao, where Cory and Federico completed their Basic Open Water diver’s certification. After that run, let’s just say our bodies needed a break from the insanity that is ‘The Backpacker’s Life’ on the Islands of Thailand. The Perhentians proved to be the perfect location for a bit of respite.
We knew our livers were going to get a break, as alcohol in Malaysia (A Muslim country) is either very hard to find, or ridiculously expensive. Usually both. We had been advised to buy whatever booze we wanted for the islands prior to boarding the transfer ferry, but by that point, the mere mention of more alcohol was enough to induce an instantaneous psychologically created hang-over (Muscle memory and all… Your brain is a muscle, right??). Needless to say, we passed on the bottle shop, and looked forward to a few days of detox.
We purchased our ferry tickets, and found out we had a while to wait before the boat headed out. We wandered over to a little cafe, hoping to get a bit to eat before the trip. An hour later, and STILL waiting on our chicken sandwiches, that idea was out the window, and we had to head back to the dock. Unbelievable- there was hardly anyone in the cafe! Maybe they had to go and catch the chickens (Not as far-fetched as it might sound when in a small town in SE Asia…). Nevertheless, we were excited to board the ferry and head out to the islands.
We were staying on Perhentian Kecil- the smaller of the two islands- as we had heard it was geared a bit more towards backpackers as opposed to high-end resorts. We hadn’t booked accommodation on the island, and our first afternoon was spent exploring the options along the beach. Guesthouses of all sizes, colors, and prices stood shoulder to shoulder along the edge of the sand, all with open-air bars/restaurants/reception areas inviting us to come in and drop our bags. We toured a few, settled on one, and then it was time to hit the beach.
The best thing, or at least one of the best things (There are many ‘best things’ when talking about Perhentian Kecil) about the island was its size- it is pretty small, and the only ‘developed’ part is the main beach along Turtle Bay. At the time we were there, it was still a bit ‘off the map’, so to speak, and wasn’t overrun with backpackers looking for yet another massive beach rave. It had a much more laid-back vibe than the Thai islands we had just come from- no pounding techno music on the beach all night long, no crazy parties packed with intoxicated tourists, no locals hawking bucket cocktails at 10am… Tossing the frisbee around, lolling in a hammock, reading a book in the shade, or taking a snooze in the sand made up our days, while quiet sea-side bbqs, twilight volleyball games with the locals, and small bonfires on the beach made up our nights. It was nice to be able to just chill out. On one night, we wandered into what turned out to be a great restaurant that doubled as a movie theater, and found ourselves returning night after night for the ‘Dinner and a Movie’ special.
Fede and I took our Advanced Open Water course at this awesome little dive shop right there on the beach (Turtle Bay Divers), and found it to be some of the best diving we had experienced in all of SE Asia. Cory went on hikes while we were diving, exploring the hidden corners of the island, photographing the incredibly untouched beauty of the landscape. Crystal clear waters, sun-bleached white sand, a cool breeze off the sea, friendly locals and a feeling that today- this day- was hands-down the best day of the trip. That was the feeling of being on Perhentian Kecil.
We ended up extending our stay by one day, then two, then three… We looked at the calendar and tried to figure out how to adjust our itinerary to allow us to stay longer. Later in the trip, when faced with monsoon rains on the West Coast of Thailand, we contemplated back-tracking across the Malaysian peninsula, all the way back to the Perhentians- thats how much we loved it there. The day we finally left, we stood there, the three of us, on the transfer skiff, about to head out and board the ferry back to the mainland. All the places we had passed through before- all throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia- they all seemed like a ‘stop along the way’- a place to see what was to be seen, do what was to be done, and move on. Perhentian Kecil was different. We didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to move on to the next stop. ‘Man, I love this place…’ Fede said, standing on the transfer boat, squinting through the sunlight back at the glimmering beach. We all loomed at the rail, looking back at our guesthouse, the hammocks swaying in the morning breeze; back at the dive shop, instructors and students climbing into to the dive boats, ready to get the day’s courses underway; back at Paradise on Earth, the golden sand contrasting sharply against the impossibly blue waters… ‘Me too,’ I replied. ‘Me too.’
If you’d like to learn more about how to travel through Malaysia, click here.