My initial idea was that I would stay on the Perhentians for three nights. Maybe if I heard good reviews I would hop on a boat and stay a few nights on the larger island for a day or two. Ultimately I stayed for five nights due to a strange combination of terrible accommodation, the bus schedule, and having a pretty good time. Below are some stories and pictures about my time on Kecil.
I had planned to get off the water taxi on the eastern side of the island – Long Beach as it’s known – to look for a place to stay. The logic behind this was simple – there are more places to stay on Long Beach and I’d have an easier time finding a bed to sleep in (since I didn’t book anything before I went). When the boat pulled up to the dock at “Long Beach” and I got off, I was perplexed as to why the hotel in front of me wasn’t listed as one of the options on the “Long Beach” part of the paper I was looking at. As it turns out, I was at Coral Bay instead – the smaller western beach of the island.
My range of emotions went from ‘pissed off’ to ‘the hell with it, it’s a small island I’ll walk there’ and eventually to ‘well since I’m here I’d be a fool to not check out the places to stay here, even if it’s just for one night.’ Ultimately I decided to check out the range of accommodation on the Coral Bay side of the island. Keep in mind that at this point I’ve got a backpack with everything I’m traveling with on my back, a camera bag slung over one shoulder, and a small backpack held on the other …and it’s about 90 degrees at high noon with the sun in the dead center of the sky.
So… I’m in my sneakers walking along the beach with my gear going from place to place – it’s worth mentioning that there are only seven options. One was full but offered me a tent. No. I didn’t even ask how much that would cost. Another was full except for their deluxe beachfront A/C room for 200 Ringgit ($67) a night. No. One had a small dorm but it was full (come back tomorrow they said) but they did have a three-person chalet I could look at if I was interested. No. One of them actually did have a private room available for 60 Ringgit ($20), but after further inspection of the “U”-shaped bed and wooden plank floor that I could see the ground underneath through …I decided to keep looking.
There was one last place to check out before going to the other side of the island – Ombak. Ombak had overpriced single rooms and a so-so 8-person dorm. There were two fans and half a dozen windows – it would be warm in there but not completely unbearable. Still, I wasn’t impressed with the place. Outside of the room itself, there wasn’t anything else that Ombak was offering besides a restaurant that had wifi. Hot, sweaty, and starting to smell terribly, I decided to head over to the other beach.
Until Bastard Hill that is. Bastard Hill is the ascent of the walkway that takes you from Coral Bay to Long Beach. In the high heat and with all of my stuff on my back, I decided that it would be smarter to sleep at Ombak for one night – at the very least to get everything put away and then hike over to the other side of the island.
It turns out that the water wasn’t working at Ombak when I checked in but would “be back on in an hour or so.” I had to use the bathroom and would have loved a shower at this point, but I could wait for an hour. I went to sleep much later in the evening and the water still wasn’t working, nor was it working in the morning when I woke up. Fortunately the dive shop attached to the hostel had a bathroom and shower room with working water, or else there was a good possibility of me finding a brown paper bag to leave at the front of reception during the middle of the night. Eventually on the second day the water issue was fixed and I stayed at Ombak for another night…before eventually moving to the resort next door.
The dorms at the place that had told me to ‘come back tomorrow’ were actually much nicer than the one at Ombak. Two people who were in my room at Ombak the first night moved and I was able to check them out – I definitely wanted to move. Unfortunately nobody was leaving. Oddly enough, while sitting at their reception area in the morning to yet again find no vacancies, someone that I met in George Town at my hostel showed up on the island and was looking for a room at the same place. Because there were two of us and we were talking, the reception staff assumed we were together and offered us a “budget” room that was normally $33 a night but we could have it for half price because the A/C unit was broken. It had a fan, hot running water, and a toilet WITH toilet paper. It also had a small ant problem and the door was jammed and in a continuous state of ‘locked’ – better than never locked though. We planned to stay for two nights, but ultimately stayed for three because the bus that we both wanted to take upon leaving the island only ran at 10am. Overall, the state of accommodation on the island really did run between “absolute crap” to “fancy resort and I’m not paying that price.”
During my time on the island I lived like a fish and was almost always in the water. I went on three dives, and by far the best site was ‘Temple of the Sea’. The highlight of the three dives though came at another site when we ran into a small school if Giant Humphead Parrotfish. These things look like swimming dinosaurs with giant teeth and are HUGE. While coming across these guys was the most exciting part of being underwater, the most terrifying was the sharks…
I went on a snorkeling day-trip for $10 that took us to 5 different sites and a fishing village for lunch. Along the way we saw a couple Blacktip sharks, giant sea turtles, and a ton of other fish. The last site we went to was ‘Romantic Beach’ and on the way there I recognized where we were and that it wasn’t that far from where I was staying. I jokingly told the French-Canadians girls I was with that I may swim back to the hostel and that, “I’ve done crazier things” before. I similarly told the boat driver when I was getting in the water that I was going to swim back and he laughed and thought I was joking. I told him that I was serious and then jumped overboard. I swam back to shore – it took about 30 minutes but I was equipped with a mask, fins, and snorkel and knew that if I kept the rocks on my left shoulder that I’d eventually get back to the hostel/resort beach. (Based on google maps it was about 1 kilometer / .62 miles) Along the way I saw a full sized blacktip shark and a couple full sized titan triggerfish. In the back of my head I was wondering if the people on the boat took me serious or would be looking for me as if I was lost. Similarly I was wondering if I would beat them back to the shop we organized the trip with.
It turns out that I beat them back by an hour …and they spent about 30 minutes looking for me before one boat went on ahead to see if I really did swim back while the other kept searching for me in the water. (About a month ago someone lost their legs due to a snorkeling accident with a boat…) Oops.
The next day I rented a snorkel for $1 and wanted to make the swim to the beach and then back. I was with one of the French-Canadians and we came to the same spot where I saw the full sized shark – it was there again and she freaked out and got scared. We eventually headed back to shore. Later in the day I went again. Roughly 66% of the way to Romantic Beach I was at the same point and two full sized sharks were there. I’m not sure if they were either curious or hungry, but they swam under and around me a few times and I decided that it would be best to swim like hell in the opposite direction and towards the rock line with much shallower water. As far as I could tell they weren’t following, but I didn’t hang around the area long enough to see if I could get around them and make it to the other beach.
I mentioned that during the snorkeling trip we were taken to a local village. I was really intrigued by the place but didn’t have the time to walk around since we were there just to eat. I also was disappointed by the fact that I didn’t have my camera with me. I had been told that you can walk there, but depending on who you asked it took anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours. I woke up one morning and decided to hike over and find out myself. On the way there I stopped to take pictures of the various rundown chalets, deserted beaches, and other things that I found. The trip out took about two hours, and on the way back I was able to make the trip in 45 minutes at a brisk pace.
Besides being underwater and hiking around, there isn’t much else to do on the island but enjoy the sand and sky. On the days that I was walking around with my camera, I was able to find a few cool things to watch or see.
During one night we had a lightning storm come through. Trying to get pictures of lightning is a huge pain in the ass. I took about 500 pictures of the dark night sky when nothing was happening, but was lucky enough to get a few decent shots out of the process.
Cats. There are cats everywhere in Malaysia. I’m gathering pictures of them for a later post and still trying to figure out why they are all missing part of their tails, but until then here’s a picture of one that I took on the island.
All of the nightlife on the island is at Long Beach. This is the only bar/dance floor/DJ booth on the island. Elsewhere people just sell overpriced (and overtaxed) alcohol from coolers and setup chairs and tables. For $8 you can buy a small bottle of alcohol and then mix your own soft drinks in as you’d like.
This guy just clearly pissed off his boss. Sweeping sand off a walkway on the beach is a terrible job to have to do.
Hands-down the best BBQ on the entire island was at Amelia BBQ. For $5 you had your choice of any number of meats and an entire other plate of side dishes and desert. The portions were generous and the wait was fairly minimal – roughly 30 minutes. At another place on the beach we were told that the wait on BBQ would be at least an hour so we were encouraged to order something off the menu.
On my second to last night on the island I went down to the beach to see if I could get a good picture of the sunset. Unfortunately there were clouds. Fortunately instead of a sunset, I ended up with a cloud-rainbow…or whatever this is actually called. I took about 100 pictures of this strange cloud setup over a period of time, but I can really only describe it as a rainbow colored watercolor painting of the aurora borealis made from clouds. I’ve never seen anything like it and have no idea if I ever will again.
Overall, the Perhentian islands were a really nice getaway. I have no idea what I was getting away from – especially considering I was one city off of a three week island stint in Thailand – but I’m quite glad that I took the time to visit. There is a small part of me that wishes I checked out the bigger island, but I’ve been told that it really is just more of the same for more money. As you can see in this final picture below (which feels to me like two pictures in one…), the locals come to the islands on the weekend (this was taken on a Friday as the water taxi boats were letting people off) and the population of the island seems to triple. If I was planning a trip back to the islands, I would plan to arrive on Monday morning and leave Friday morning.
Oh, and I would have brought bug spray. I’ve got at least a dozen bug bites on my arms and another dozen on my legs and ankles.