August, 2010 browsing by month


Island in the sun – Perhentian Kecil, Part 2: Coral Bay

Friday, August 20th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

The trek over Perhentian Kecil’s hill from Long Beach was quite an ordeal for me, but when we finally made it, we rewarded ourselves to one of Fatimah’s tasty Burgers. Fatimah’s Chalets were also right at the trail head on Coral Bay. Check-in took only a minute and Kim dragged me to the water. Coral Bay has its name for a reason, a large reef in the center part of the Bay is home to countless fish. My little niece was a little bit afraid at first, as we attracted the small coral fish by feeding them small pieces of the burger bun. Even the slice of Tomato was in high demand with the fish here, the feeding frenzy was funny in the warm and shallow waters here. Pretty clear, those waters though!

The lady attending the restaurant of Fatimah was also the receptionist, ocean kayak agent, snorkel tour sales person and shopkeeper. A real talent in multitasking. Fatimah’s Chalets were 35 Ringgit per night for us 4, the simple structures had a large bed, a single bulb and a mosquito net. A nice front porch with chairs and a table was 10 to 15 barefoot meters from the shoreline, depending on the tide. Absolutely perfect for us. Kim played wildly on the beach right in front of the hut, this beach is also very suitable for smaller children or non-swimmers. In my case half lame dudes enjoyed the situation and setup here too. My own balance was very limited still and to hobble to and from the beach was all I did over the first days. Sorry, we didn’t take any pictures from our chalet, but it was roomy enough for us and even provided our own bathroom and shower. Everything fairly basic, to tell the truth.

But basic equals cheap and the Perhentians used to be super cheap for a true paradise destination. It won’t be long, until resorts with A/C and the whole nine yards of amenities will surface here. On all our previous trips here, we witnessed gradual improvements in the general infrastructures here. Ugly cellphone towers came first and the pier here in coral bay was made just recently. It is cool for those, heading here right away – because the ferry boats dock there directly and allow dry legs to embark and disembark now. We planned on departing from there, when it was time to do so.

Snorkeling is the big thing here and diving, of course – but other than great times at natural beaches with only a few visitors, one doesn’t expect much here. You will be fed if hungry, higher charges relate to the island location, but there is enough variety in food to be eaten here, especially barbecued seafood dishes. We came here a few years back, when Phuket and Samui got too overpriced and too overcrowded for us, we were still not disappointed this year. There are now warning signs posted everywhere, as a few drug addicts must have made it here. Theft and crime was unheard of, when we came here the first time. I would have loved to snorkel much again, but that would have been tricky with one leg and arm working only.

So snorkeling pleasures have to wait a bit for me and the girls did not feel tempted this time to go without me. For next time, we will not only go snorkel for sure, we will show the world under water to you as well. A waterproof camera should find its way into our possession until then.

Depending where you book, snorkel trips cost 25 to 50 Ringgit, with most offering a 5 to 6 hour trip with 5 stops to submerge several times at various locations around the Perhentians and a lunch in the isolated fishermans village. A great deal anyhow, compared to the rip-off fees in Khao Lak, Krabi, Phuket or Phi Phi for less attractive reefs and more snorkelers then reef-sharks or stingrays!

Watching the islanders servicing larger fishing vessels offshore or getting fresh supplies from them reveals what is on the menus tonight.

Pretty Lala from Chile and her Equadorian cousin were our neighbors, great people on their world trip during a sabbattical break year long break from studies.

Senja Bungalows a bit down the beach offered also beach side accommodations in neat huts, a bit too steep for our taste. Maybe a nice option for travelers with bigger budgets, they are located in the southern part of the bay.

Very popular obviously with female visitors to the Perhentians, like this group from Scandinavia.

The central part of Coral Bay is occupied by a dive shop and 3 or 4 eateries. Evening sunset BBQs with fresh seafood are very high in demand here, most of the tables will be occupied later in the day.

This picture shows the central and southern beach and the jungle in the backdrop.

Our final day here arrived again much too early, but we did not say good bye to the Perhentian Islands for long. There are still more beaches and reefs left to explore for us when I am in a better shape to do that. Twin 200 HP outboards shuttled us back from the pier in Coral Bay to Kuala Besut on the mainland in another high speed run.




Island in the sun – Perhentian Kecil, Part 1: Long Beach

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

Pasir Panjang was our first goal, it means simply “Long Beach” in Bahasa Malay. It is located on Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the Perhentian islands in Malaysia. In order to get there, one has to travel to the ferryport of  Kuala Besut. From there you can take the speed boat. The jetty is on the bus route from Kota Bharu and the cheaper slow boats from Tok Bali left already for the day. Clouds approached at a frightening speed from the Malaysian mainland and we were eager to get to the islands quick. Twin outboards cared for speed, as we were fleeing the rain storm eastbound into the South China Sea. It was a very choppy ride, but the skipper handled his craft well and the twin 200 HP powered engines roared their deafening song.

We arrived at Long Beach after a 40 minute speed-run, here the “ferry” dumps passengers into smaller boats, called taxiboats. These completed the journey on the water for 2 RM (Malaysian Ringgit) per person. The ferry boat sped off to drop other guests at various locations. The ferry deal here is, you get taken to your resort or beach by them.

Having been here before various times, we chose Long Beach as our first destination. Cheaper accommodations by the score were here in abundance and much less expensive, than on the big island Perhentian Besil.

I had the task to sit and relax at a beach side restaurant, watching supplies being brought in by boat to this island, which is completely free of motor traffic other than the engines on the boats. Melona and her sister were scouting around for possible accommodations, all I had to do is watch the luggage. A recent brain stroke had left my right half paralyzed temporarily and moving around with a tripod cane was surely no fun in the fine sand. We had booked the flight south prior to my mishap and I saw it as a part of my rehabilitation to go anyhow.

Chalets and bungalows are plentiful here, but so are travelers occupying them. Ranges start from 35 RM per night, but they are very basic with hardly any amenities. Power for a small light may be available after dark for a couple of hours, thats it! The generators here feed the bars and restaurants, but not the simple huts. Trying to find an outlet to recharge camera batteries or the cell phone or laptop is quite a task on the Perhentians. The beach is the main traffic route here, no roads at all, very few walkways to the bungalows further away from the beach.

Every small hut rents out snorkel gear and offers snorkel trips as there are many reefs and snorkel spots plus diving sites surrounding the Perhentians. Charges for renting  snorkelgear are cheap, for 3 RM you end up with a mask and snorkel or fins. Tourism has picked up somewhat, but we are sure glad that the hordes haven’t discovered this yet. Things will change soon and the infrastructural improvements are either in the process of being built or in place already. Surprisingly, 3G coverage for cellphones on Long Beach is very good, as Malaysia is several years ahead of Thailand, bring your UMTS sticks for the laptop, internet cafes charge high fees.

Every boat is over equipped with engine power, a common sight in Malaysia. Divers come and go all day, going on dive trips to the reefs nearby. No Marine Park Charges here and no overpriced services in sight. At least for now as the Perhentians are still a backpackers paradise, much like Phuket was in the 70’s and Samui in the 80’s. Technically, their diving equipment here appears of a higher standard than in most Asian diving locations. I did participate in the past actively, but with the handicap it is impossible. My little niece did’t mind at all, as I was able to dedicate a lot of time to her now.

Sunbathing, swimming, ocean-kayaking, diving or snorkeling are the main things to do, the beach is very well kept at all times and the water quality is hard to match.

We’re at the center of the beach here, above picture faces southwest and below photo shows the eastern part of Long Beach.

There is only some natural small driftwood at the waters edge to be found, other than that everything appears to be very tidy and clean. Local gigolos watch the bikini-clad and occasional topless females eagerly. This is Malaysia and the strict muslim sharijah-law does not seem to be enforced at all.

Watersport is restricted to banana boat rides, absolutely no jetskis allowed here. Swimmers and snorklers like it that way too. Noise pollution is kept to a minimum here. Some areas are safe for non-swimmers in the ocean near the beach, they are marked and no boat traffic bothers the kids playing there. Great looking beach umbrellas made from natural materials can be found oin the center of the beach. The colored variety is in some places available, but most visitors come here for a tan. Nobody really misses the masses of beach umbrellas and sun loungers, as rented out by the beach mafias on Phukets beaches. 2 RM per day sounds alright to me for the folks here per day of usage.

From here, one can see the bigger Perhentian Besil island. It looks like one could amost swim there, but it is at least 2 km away. Note the perfect clear water!

Pattaya would dream about this.

Taxi boats are an expensive way to travel here. But at least it is somewhat reasonable, if compared to island-tuktuks elsewhere. A 10 RM ride to the other side of the island may let you see some fish or turtles. Prices are per person and it compares to roughly 10 Baht = 1 RM

The footpath to the other side was a free option, we walked it before and it took us 20 minutes or so. With all economical accommodation here gone or too close to techno beach bars for us, we decided to move to Coral Bay from the 2nd night on. My handicap was bothering me much, as all muscles in my right arm, leg and foot were on strike. It was a task and I wanted to take it, we had plenty of time. The first couple of hundred meters were easy, I just took the tripod cane and dragged the leg in the soft sand. But then I faced this challenge:

The footpath was overgrown with roots, which made me trip twice probably every meter! This was then open season on me for all the mosquitos this interior jungle features, but despite quite a number of falls, I made it after several hour of ordeal. That was a typical case of over estimating my own abilities. Thanks to Melona, my sis-in-law and a lot of insect repellent. I felt good that it was accomplished, but no marker will tell the tale of a stupid dude, that came half paralyzed to a place like this and conquered the interior hill on the rough footpath from beach to beach.

Despite all hassles, we never regretted to have ventured here again. When Coral Bay did spread out in front of us, all was forgotten quickly an we were looking forward to almost a week long vacation on this paradise-like island. This part one deals with Long Beach (and my long walk), part two will show you the place and pleasures on the beaches of Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil.