During my Hong Kong visit, Hakan, my friend there, told me about a friend of his, who was staying in Perhentian Island in Malaysia, which was very beautiful and apparently cheap. Carried away by the idea of adventure, I accepted his offer, even though that meant my 2-week visit in Hong Kong would be one week. Then, we found ourselves planning a spontaneous holiday to Malaysia. We googled the island before arranging our flight and accommodation. We liked the results of Perhentian, an island we had never heard about, on Google Graphics. Then we made our mind to fly to Malaysia!
A night in Kuala Lumpur
Our first stop on the way to the island was Kuala Lumpur, following a four-hour flight from Hong Kong (Istanbul-Kuala Lumpur flights last around 11 hours). While entering the country we were asked to fill in some forms, which clearly indicated that drug dealing would lead to capital punishment. We were immediately reminded of the fact that Malaysia was a moderate Muslim nation. Being aware of the country upon this weird, and slightly scaring, warning, we had a moderately priced taxi ride from the airport, which was one hour away from the city centre. We were able arrive at our hotel only towards the evening due to the gridlocked traffic that blocked our way in the city centre. Our hotel was close to the Petronas Towers. I had always wanted to see those towers, which once were the highest structures in the world, and now are the 5th highest structures.
Foursquare was a life saver for us, who didn’t quite know what to do in this city, which looked like giant construction site due to many structures under construction (in Malaysia, roads were surrounded by luxury residences on one side, and by squatter houses on the other side). We heeded to the popular tips on Foursquare, and headed to Pavilion shopping mall, which pledged beautiful stores and outdoor restaurants. One ringgit was equivalent of 0.85 Turkish Lira, so we were able to consider ourselves slightly richer. We had tapas at Spanish restaurant La Bodega, which received positive feedback on the application, and then toured the large, elaborate shopping mall with our mouths open. The mall offered any kind of brands with very attractive prices. Quite surprised and happy to have found the dress of my dreams in Malaysia, I added Kuala Lumpur on my list of cities for shopping. We had a few tours in Sultan Ismail, which I guess was the most popular street of the city. Bars were closed, either because it was Monday or because we were in Ramadan. Having a look at them from the outside, we went back to the hotel, as we would wake up early the next day.
Yes, the island was a bit far away…
We woke up early in the morning and headed to the airport. Our second stop on the way to the island was Kota Bharu in the northwestern coast of the country. It took us less than an hour to get there. Kota Bharu was not as developed as Kuala Lumpur, even the airport of which was extremely simple. A taxi took us to the small coastal town Kuala Besut (you can also take a bus). One hour taxi ride cost 70 RM.
From Kuala Besut we would take a boat to get to the island. You can arrange all the tickets for the bus (or taxi) and boat in the airport. Don’t think that I was just enjoying my time on the arduous way to the island. But, upon watching the scenery along the way, I had to swallow all my disappointment back. When I managed to hold my breath, I could do nothing but uttered: “I think we have died and ascended into Heaven”.
Perhentian Survival Guide
Let me first warn you that Perhentian is not an island where you could rest on the sun beds and sip your mojito, while listening to tacky songs and watching iconic fashion enthusiasts, with blown-dried hair, in their ever-changing monokinis. Also, you won’t be surrounded by men trying to show off their wealth, by throwing various expensive objects to the sea. The island is typically home to young people. Visit this tropical island with a small rucksack rather than giant luggage to contain your beach and nightgowns. There are no luxury hotels, and prices are not insulting there.
Hotels in bungalow or hostel style are located on the two coasts of the island: Coral Bay and Long Beach. You need to walk ten minutes through the jungle to travel between the two coasts. What you need to have in your backpack to survive on the island are as follows: Swimsuit, bikini, beach towels, sun cream, sun glasses, a pair of shorts, a few t-shirts, slippers, sports shoes, fly repellants, shampoo, tooth paste and toothbrush, a hand lamp, and an under-water camera, if available. You don’t need chic costumes, and it’s impossible to wear high heels.
Eventually, we made our way to the Coral Bay.
On our first day on the island, we lay our towels on the sands of the Coral Bay, and bathed in the aquarium-like waters of the sea. There was not the concept of beach clubs, so we didn’t have to pay sky-high prices. The exhaustion of a two-day travel was soothed by the peace and happiness of the beach which was extremely tranquil. The sea had corals, making snorkeling an ultimate fun. We would go to the Long Beach to meet Roberto, who encouraged us to visit the island. We needed to go through the jungle, possibly thanks to our hand lamps and fly-repellants.
Long Beach is the more animated part of the island, lining little restaurants next to each other. Our delicious dinner, which cost 30 RM, included fresh fish, tropical fruits, Malaysian style rice, salad and potatoes (such fix menus are available all around the island for the same price). Then we headed to Panaroma which staged a live performance. The moment we took off our shoes and sat down by the small table, the band stole my heart by playing Teardrop by Massive Attack. The next piece was High&Dry from Radiohead. I enjoyed the ambiance.
The local drink there was orang utan which the locals called “monkey juice”. It tasted like watered whiskey. We ordered a bottle to our table. Since the island was tiny, people had already got to know each other. Majority of the visitors was Europeans, reminding me of a bar with Erasmus students. The band sometimes invited the viewers to the stage, and entertained us with a repertoire including modern and classic rock. Then suddenly, a shower kicked off, welcoming us with the realities of a tropical climate. After the rain, we had to go back through the jungle, while my subconscious was scaring me to death, presenting me the leaves as iguanas.
Waking up to the sound of waves on a tropical island…
I was blessed to open my eyes in a bungalow beside the sea, the waves of which sang lullabies to be during the night. We went to the Long Beach to swim. This time, we really saw an iguana, it wasn’t my subconscious. The animal was a bit big but being afraid of us, it didn’t come closer. We needed to watch the coconuts instead of iguanas. Warning signs also indicated this.
Here is a fallen coconut.
We swam all day long. The weather was not sultry, so it was easy to play beach valley and beach ball. I opted for fruits and ice cream for lunch. Everything was fresh. Bananas were tiny yet delicious. However, the function mattered, not the size.
In the evening, we would dance to the DJ’s songs on the beach, without having to deal with unnecessary entrance fees. The alcohol service was smooth, despite Ramadan. Locals were incredibly warm and friendly to the tourists. It looked like Malaysians didn’t prefer the island for a holiday. Visitors were mostly foreigners. Locals were working. The reception kindly informed the visitors that they didn’t serve between 8-9 p.m to allow locals to break their fasts. Having competed with the tourists in beach volley, Malaysians asked our permission to leave, in order to break their fasts during the sunset. At night, they again joined us and feasted the night of Laylat al-Qadr with fireworks.
In the morning, it was raining in Perhentian.
We saw rain-bearing clouds in the sky. We didn’t mind it at all, since all of them dispersed in an hour, bringing back the sun and an incredibly beautiful rainbow which more or less looked like the one in my photograph.
Having never heard the name of this island before, I was wondering whether we were the first Turks there, when I found out that one diving trainer in the island was Turkish. I immediately rushed to meet him in Turtle Bay Divers on the Long Beach.
Harun, who had been living there for two years, told me that he had no idea about the island before he became a diving trainer. Perhentian, which was sunny most of the year, except the Monsoon season, was a great address to dive, he said, because no tourist flocked there and nature was unperturbed. The island, he added, was the second cheapest place that offered diving lessons. 900 ringgits will be enough for you, including the rental of equipment, to receive bottom-up diving lessons and a certificate. What’s more, it will be in Turkish! I had decided to never dive after watching Open Sea, but Harun slightly reduced my prejudice.
He told me about Malaysia and how Malays, Indians and Chinese lived in harmony together. I asked him what he had been doing on the island for 8 months. Not much, he said, adding that he missed driving. He was still happy, though. The island hosted almost 15 Turks in a year, he said. Should you be one, say hello to Harun for me :)
I found Nemo!
On our fourth day, we had a “snorkeling trip” for 40 ringgits on a boat of 8-10 people. We swam on the points where turtles, fish and sharks were swimming and then headed to a fisher’s village for lunch.
As scary as it may be, I watched thousands of colorful fish drifting under me, making me feel like I was in a dream. By the way, we found Nemo there
Our last stop after lunch, Romantic Beach, blew our minds. When we got back to the island following the snorkel tour, I was convinced that I would have started scuba diving if we had had the tour on the first day. I was ultimately carried away by the magical underwater world. Now, scuba diving is on my to-do list.
My last night was the Ladies Night at the Beach Bar which would serve free drinks to women once in every hour. I was more than happy. Some witty guys made everyone laugh, by walking around in bikinis and skirts despite their hairy legs. There were also some people doing fire dance. I watched and recorded in admiration a French guy doing a stunt show, who later offered me to teach how to do it the next day in the afternoon. I had to decline his offer, as I would leave the next day. I had loved the island so much that I wanted to cry in the arms of iguanas, which scared me to death on our first day, and which I chased with great courage on the second day, before photographing them on the third day.
I didn’t want to leave!
In the morning, we would take Jetti to Kuala Besut; take the plane to Kuala Lumpur, where we would stay a night; head to Singapore, to have a seven-hour compact Singapore experience; and then go back to Hong Kong. Our newly-made friends and Roberto came to the marine to say good-bye to us. Their next destination was Indonesia. The island was unsurprisingly filled with youngsters who were in search for adventure. We waved goodbye to Perhentian when we boarded on the boat, and being quite determined to coming back there, we were so happy to have met those lovely people, iguanas and the tropical climate.
Foursquare and tips were so helpful for us while we were asking ourselves what to do and what to eat in Malaysia. My list might be helpful for you, don’t hesitate to click here: https://foursquare.com/cizenbayan/list/malezya
During my Hong Kong visit, Hakan, my friend there, told me about a friend of his, who was staying in Perhentian Island in Malaysia, which was very beautiful and...