Taking a 5am speedy minibus which zipped through the misty Cameron Highlands to Kota Bharu, where even speedier boats took us to the Perhentian Islands– myself and my travelling companions were knackered and exhausted, but the view of the awe inspiring Perhentian Islands immediately excited and awoke us. Choosing the small island rather than the big island meant our island had more of a restriction on the number of inhabitants and a more mellow vibe to the place. Seeing the dazzling turquoise waters with floating boats ashore and with just a few restaurants dotted along the beach, a warmth spread over me as if stepping next to a fire away from the cold crisp winter air, a tingling sensation arose all over my body- I had reached paradise. Asking to be dropped off at the jetty rather than being taken by a water taxi whom was waiting afloat in the sea, means saving yourself a few ringgit- and not being part of their cheeky scam!
We had decided to stay at Long Beach where cheaper accommodation was based and had more of a night life, we were told. We were not disappointed. Long Beach is tiny, a small stretch of sand with various priced guest houses and restaurants that surround the beach. Although the beach has cigarette butts in the sand, the crystal clear waters and the view of the tropical mountainous big island (as well as corners of our island peeking out from either side of us) is magnificent and makes up for the unkempt beach. I thought Koh Tao in Thailand was paradise, I was wrong. Here there are no day time bars with chill out music, but rather simple colourful parasols providing shelter from the searing sun and poky shops selling your essential items. With such a distance from the main land as well, those that visit here become a community, an island filled with essential items, stunning views, mad dancing and a solitude that many crave.
The snorkelling puts Thailand’s islands to shame. Going on a snorkelling trip for 35 ringgit; we were taken to Turtle Point where we held our breath and watched gob smacked at ancient majestic creatures dip and dive underwater, Shark Point where reef sharks encircled terrified beautifully coloured tropical fish leading them to hide away to shelter. The trip also includes lunch at a fishing village (please adhere to local custom and cover up out of respect, remember Malaysia is predominately a Muslim country), Coral Point where you can marvel at fantastically shaped coral that is second only to the Great Barrier Reef- and out stands me that vegetation like that lives underwater?! Light House Point, where brave friends jumped off from a large height, and Romantic Beach, a beach littered with pieces of coral covered in tiny holes which hangs off a tree chiming and tinkling when the wind blows. The snorkelling trip is a wonderful day out and I do advise doing one. If you are more into diving- or are thinking about learning, then Malaysia is the cheapest place to learn how to do your PADI qualification (like in Koh Tao). I was recommended Spice and Panorama Divers.
If lying on the beach, on the sea or in the sea is not your thing, then head to other areas and corners of the island. There are many hikes through the dense jungle where you will be greeted by humongous monitor lizards (I saw some bigger than myself) and plenty of insects. A sweaty trek- although you will be rewarded with serene and empty beaches. A popular beach to visit is Coral Bay– not because of the beach, but for its beautiful sunsets that explode and immerse the sky, transforming the sky into a display of spectacular colours.
The Perhentian Islands especially Long Beach, is a popular place for backpackers to visit. Not only because of its close proximity to other tourist destinations such as: Taman Negara, Cameron Highlands and Penang, not only for its beauty and perfect snorkelling and diving opportunities, but also its night-life. The tiny beach comes alive at night, and during high season and on the weekend, the population quadruples in size. Groups of local Malaysian men bring speakers, large quantities of booze and crazy dance moves to the island. A roomy dance floor now becomes a mass of topless sweaty bodies with grabby hands. Like most men, alcohol and male bravado becomes greater when in large groups, so solo female travellers should be wary of this. Although, this island is easy to meet people so I doubt you will be alone by nightfall. I recommend heading to Ooh La La for their delicious pizza and drinking a bottle of your chosen spirit- which is cheaper than buying beer, then over to Beach Bar for their fire show and dance floor. There is only one other main happening “club” which is Black Tips, so it will be quite easy to choose where to go, as you just follow the congregation of the crowd. Also, have a seafood BBQ (similar to those in Sihanoukville in Cambodia) in Family Cafe or a fulfilling burger in Panaroma.
Accommodation is plentiful on Long Beach and each place varies in style of accommodation and price. Myself and my friends went to every single place (in the hot sun with our bags straight off the boat) to find the best deal. We stayed in Tropicana Hostel in the middle of the island which was 20 ringgit for a clean 8 bed dorm with 2 bath rooms attached inside (but with only two small fans!) Rooms can be hired, and vary in price depending on how long your stay is, from 40 to 60 ringgit a night. Lemongrass have nice chalets for 60 ringgit on the beach, and because of their location, price and cleanliness (unlike 3 other chalet places!) they sell out quickly. Panaroma also has a dorm for 40 ringgit a night and Bintang Chalets offer bungalows for 85 ringgit a night that are clean, basic and offer spectacular views (although share quite a disgusting bathroom at that price).