PERHENTIAN ISLANDS, MALAYSIA

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Yet another post about an Asian destination… I’m reluctant to publicise just quite how spectacular the Perhentians are but it would be a shame not to. They’re not entirely unheard of or untapped but thankfully are far from being spoilt. If I could I’d call a holt to any development, take a snapshot in time and cherish the islands in their splendour for as long as possible I would. Sadly there are signs of movement on the building front so go and go now!

They are probably the closest thing I’ve come to unadulterated tropical paradise. The coastline is hugged by a halo of aquamarine with slow sloping sands and waters as clear as they come. Towering above the beach the rough-hewn jungle still wild, unspoiled and majestic.

Picking your Perhentian is easy. There are only two. Besar will be your cup of tea if you’re after more upmarket, family or ‘grown-up’ friendly accommodation. The smaller, Kecil, is a hub for hostels with low-key but unforgettable nightlife on the beach around fires under the stars. The beach bars spill onto the sand and music plays into the night. It’s very much backpacker-style travel here. For the most part you have to be prepared to pitch up and hope when you’re looking for the accommodation, a little daunting maybe but worth it without a doubt.

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We stayed on Pulau Kecil and plumped for the pricey Shari-La. The Perhentians were one of our first destinations we didn’t really want to have to stress about running around to find somewhere decent from the off. Sadly though, we regretted our choice. The hotel was average at best and outrageously priced in comparison to what else is on offer. Breakfast was certainly nothing to write home about and the rooms, dark and squishy with pretty shabby en-suite facilities.

On the plus side, we were right next to Quiver divers on Coral Beach. For anyone learning to dive, this school was outstanding. I was a complete beginner and had the luxury of one-on-one tuition. This isn’t generally the case I might add, but they will run the course just for you which is rare. Certainly, having spotted the dive boats heading out from Long beach (the opposite side of the island linked only by a trail through the trees) packed to bursting with divers, compared to what essentially was a private dive with Quiver, I couldn’t recommend them more. It’s overwhelming often when you’re picking between schools, particularly if you’ve no clue what to look for and I definitely didn’t so I’m immensely relieved I lucked out. One bit of advice, if nothing else, search for a dive school with the best safety rating and work from there. It’s key after all.

The waters around the Perhentians are literally teaming with wildlife and the big story-worthy stuff two. I’m talking turtles, reef sharks and rays. TO put it into perspective, and I may have been on the very good side of lucky, in my time learning to dive I saw the biggest turtle my instructor had ever seen, about every fish there is around and, most bizarre of all found a newly dead black-tip shark which we proceeded to carry to the surface to check for causes of death. I can now officially say I have been eyeball to eyeball with a shark. Wildlife on shore is about as varied. You’ll have to get used to roaming monitor lizards of almighty proportions, cute geckos and less cute insects…

Food on the island is generally rough and ready but very tasty. Long beach is your best bet for anything remotely Westernised but if I were you, I’d stick to the beach-side restaurants which do BBQs each evening cooking up fresh fish and meat. You’ll come across local specialties aplenty; Laksa, Rendang and curries galore but quality, freshness and spice vary so eye up other people’s plates and follow the crowd if you’re uncertain.

A few bits of practical advice; the islands pretty much close down in monsoon season so don’t plan to visit between November and May. Bring cash with you since there aren’t any banks or ATMs and it’s very rare that restaurants take card. Plan your journey carefully. Crossings from the mainland are less frequent than you might imagine so don’t risk falling into the trap we very nearly did. You don’t want to quite literally miss the last boat.

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