Island bliss

Lovely as the jungle and fabulous as the wildlife are, I wanted a couple of days of beach time before heading out of Malaysia. The Tioman islands are popular for diving but one of the newer hotspots are the Perhentian Islands. The name, as they’ll not let you forget, means ‘stopping place’. Formerly a port for Chinese traders, now it’s a stopping point for bags of lazy tourist bums, many of them British.

My camera – piece of crap – has given up again, but these pics give you an accurate idea of what the little paradise is like.

Ok I suppose.

Average beach.

It’s reached by a super-bumpy, very splashy boat ride from Kuala Besut on the mainland. Beware if you’ve got a bad back and don’t expect your bags to get there safe and dry. That said, it’s also pretty fun as you fire across the waves on the wings of 400 horsepower engines.

There are two islands. One is full of resorts, the other is more geared to backpackers. Needless to say, I only bothered with the backpacker one. They say it’s expensive but, actually, not really much more than the mainland or Borneo. Digs can be found for the same price as Malaysia’s other cities, food is a little bit more expensive but very good and the snorkelling/diving – the main reasons for visiting, except for the beach – are pretty cheap.

There are two main beaches on the island: Coral Beach where the boats come in and Long Beach, a short jungley hill path away. Long Beach is also home to a handful of beach bars that pump dance and reggae music out each night until the last man falls, not in a Phi Phi way but a more relaxed Perhentian way. Fuelled by Monkey Juice and shisha, visitors hang out on the beach, mingling and boogeying until they feel so inclined towards bed.

The waves can get pretty high during rainy season on this unprotected bit of land at the edge of the ocean and very sadly two people drowned in the strong rip current on the day that I arrived. It’s all too easy to casually mention these but I couldn’t help thinking of the families of two holiday-makers who won’t be going home. Very sad. Never underestimate the sea.

Sombre moment aside, I had a bad-ass five days here, sunning myself, snorkelling, chasing black-tip reef sharks, admiring corals and walking through the jungle. There’s a path that runs more or less around the island to the larger fishing town, stopping in at all the little beaches on the way. Petani Resort looked the very finest in Robinson Crusoe/Swiss Family Robinson, reclaimed wonderment to me. There are just five huts on a more-or-less private beach and all decoration comes from bits and bobs washed in from the sea.

The jungle is home to thousands of lizards, spiders, calling birds and fascinating plants for ogling on the way. I liked that, despite the tourism development, a couple of wrinkly old locals are still tapping the rubber trees and harvesting coconuts. Construction is rife across the island so get there now before it gets too built up.

I stuck to Tropicana on the main stretch of the island and whiled away casual, lazy days with just one evening out on the monkey juice pop. Were it not for a pressing engagement in the form of little sister’s wedding, I would still be there.

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