Travel Notes: Perhentian Islands, Wrapping Malaysia

Perhentian Islands

Leaving the friendly confines (at this moment, the Cubs are still in it) of KL, it was time to venture off on my own for some time. So I headed off to the Perhentian Islands, a fairly well-known tourist spot, especially for snorkeling and SCUBA diving. 

Before basking in the sun though was the nine-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut. Make note that a) the A/C was rocking so hard I actually had to put on long sleeves before the end of the ride, and b) I will never complain about it being too cold (especially when it’s 90+ and humid outside). Remember this for later.

Left my sunglasses on the bus. First major casualty; they lasted about two years and I really loved those stylish REI croakies. My friend Andy from Austria left his $1500 DSLR on a bus, so at least I didn’t do that. Buses are dangerous places for losing things.

I had decided to take the day bus so I could get some writing and things done on the way there. Great. Bad news? Last boats left an hour before I arrived. Stuck in Kuala Besut for the night.

Kuala Besut is a very small, exclusively Muslim village on the east coast of the Malaysian isthmus. I checked into a little hotel just as the loudspeakers throughout town were playing the Muslim prayer music. Kinda like this, only a smaller village. Slightly eerie. Nonetheless, after a fun little venture out into town for some dinner and chopping it up with the locals, the evening passed without incident.

Next morning was the speedboat out to Palou Kecil, the small island. The old drop and walk routine. After a water taxi transfers me from the speedboat to shore (not sure why, except the extra two ringget) I’m suddenly standing on a white sand beach, full pack, grocery bag in hand, shoes and socks, 90+ degrees…no sunglasses. I’m instantly sweating profusely and also blinded. Squinting, I walk up the beach to find a place to sleep tonight. Oh, PS, they don’t take reservations at Perhentian (except for the high-end resorts). Guess how it works. Stop by…if we have a room you can stay in it.

Now this was important because I really needed some particular features where I’d be staying the next four nights. You see, I came to Perhentian to…well, to work.

You’re thinking the same thing everyone there thought when they saw me on my computer all day. Why did you come to an island paradise to sit on your computer?

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I have been feeling some stress lately. There are a lot of things I want to do and be and accomplish, and other things that just need to happen. Keeping up with and improving my blog, figuring out how I’m going to make money, acquiring visas, getting ready for onward travel, learning the things I want to learn to be able to do the things I want to do. This stuff doesn’t happen by itself. And even though I’m traveling around the world, it takes work.

It’d be nice to just hang out and party and see the sights and have a blast and do tourist shit every day and float along and have fun all the time – plenty of backpackers go more that route. But you know what, if you want to be savage, that’s not gonna cut it.

My dad gave me some great advice the last time I spoke with him. He told me that, instead of being concerned and stressed out, and not knowing exactly what I’m going to do when I get there and not having it all planned out: every time you show up in a new country that should be a goal accomplished. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. You’ve always done that. You’re going to get to the end of this thing and look back and just remember how stressed you were the whole time. So enjoy it.

So, inspired and motivated, I headed to the Perhentian Islands to get away for a little while, to spend some time alone, to eliminate distractions and just to get work done.

Back on the beach, still sweating and still blinded, now with sand in my shoes, I walk up to the first potential suitor for accommodation.

“Hi! Do you guys have wifi?


“Ok, roger that. Well, see ya later!”

Next guys: “yes, but we only have electricity from 6:00 PM – 9:00 AM.” Hmmm…

After traipsing up and down the beach, then through the jungle over to Coral Bay, I finally found the Shari-La. Destiny.

The Shari-La

The best I can describe the Shari-La is a budget luxury resort hostel. It’s got a lot of those elements of a luxury resort….but it’s not. For example, there is a nice restaurant, dining room, beautiful patios and a private beach; but, staying in a dorm room you’re relegated to community BYOP bathrooms and showers.

Despite the two worlds colliding at the Shari-La, an air-conditioned dorm room with privacy partitions was nice. Even made me feel like I was in my cubicle back in Lex.

Simple living. I spent four days essentially just catching up on life outside of the travel roller coaster. Also started doing quite a bit of learning, including re-learning Spanish, using an incredible learning system: (seriously, check this out).

I did work out every day on the island, and on the fitness note, it’s getting serious. Perhentian wrapped up week 39 and I’m jacked like never before. More on that later.

Rented some snorkeling equipment and spent an awesome hour kicking around the bay on my own. Practicing my free diving, my best dive was one minute, 23 seconds. No Mark Lauren status but was good to work my way up a bit.

The next day was a snorkeling day trip, stopping at five sites plus the local fishing village for lunch. On our first “dive” (I use quotes because it’s a snorkel not a SCUBA dive) I had been out for about 30 minutes and was just about to head back to the boat. I thought I’d stay our for five more minutes, and, kicking back in toward shallower water, looked down to see a four-five foot black-tip reef shark cruising casually right below me. HWY SHT! I blurted through my snorkel and grabbed the guy swimming next to me, giving him the international hand signal for shark. I followed for a minute or so but couldn’t keep up as he sailed gracefully and effortlessly along the bottom. All I wanted was to see a shark. Yes.

Next stop was “Shark Point,” so surely we’d see more. Negative. On subsequent dives, however, I did see a total of three giant sea turtles. These were equally amazing, especially free diving to the bottom and being six inches from it’s face. I grabbed some guy’s waterproof camera and snapped a few close-up shots. He told me his email address and miraculously I remembered it, so hopefully I’ll get a hold of those pics.

Classic line: Last night in __________!

Fill in the blank with Perhentian Islands. After four days of early nights and early mornings I finally went out for a good time. The night life is quite simple but captivating, with a few beach bars, tiki torches, and low tables with mats to sit on the sand surrounding them. Didn’t go too huge but had a nice, fun last night out.

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The long trip back to KL. All I’m going to say was this was fairly miserable trip, most notably due to the painfully hot bus – the same EXACT bus that was freezing cold on the way up. I asked the bus driving three times to turn the AC on…I KNOW it works, and it works REALLY well! PLEASE turn on the damn AC!!! Sorry bro, you’re sweating it out.

Chris, Natasha, Jen and Christian

Back in KL I felt great; relaxed, refreshed, confident and motivated. Had a nice little Sunday outing with Kishore and Michelle, walking through the street market and trying all sorts of new foods. Then Chinatown where I got some genuine fake Oakley’s to replace my shades. Monday I had a great time seeing the Palencia’s one last time.

Monday night was huge. Major fail on the new bar bro. For all the hype it took us 30 minutes to get a drink, it’s so hot I’m sweating, and with no ventilation it’s a smoke factory. Just terrible. I’m never coming back here. Seriously.

We went and saw elephants, then had dinner again with Kishore’s family. Love them.


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Next day was the Petronas Towers. Pretty impressive!  Met up with Kishore and his folks one more time for lunch. Last night in ____________!

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Had a nice dinner with Kishore, Michelle and Firhana. It’s great to be with great friends.

On the train to Singapore.

Photo Gallery.

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