Monday, July 14, 2008 Malaysia Malaysia

Pulau Perhentian

The main way to get around on Perhentian. [IMG_4552]
Taxi! [Enlarge]

Unfortunately because of our stupid journey yesterday and our stupid decision to pre-book onward transport this morning we left ourselves with no time to see Georgetown.

We complicated our route to the Perhentian Islands a bit by taking the most westerly border crossing from Thailand to Malaysia, when we could have crossed the border on the east side and missed Georgetown altogether. We did this for two reasons: firstly, we wanted to see Georgetown (failed—see above), and secondly, because the border crossings in the east are a bit dangerous due to some Muslim separatists in the south-eastern provinces of Thailand. Some people swear by the eastern crossing, saying that westerners are not targeted and that they've never seen any problems, but just three weeks ago there was a shootout on a train and four people on board were killed.

From Georgetown, we had two main options for crossing Malaysia: a long bus journey, or a short flight. The buses take either all day or all night to make the journey. The flight takes just 45 minutes and costs about GBP 35 each (USD 69.90). Again we were constrained by our stupid decision to try to do the whole journey in two days. In our defence, we did have trouble booking accommodation on the Perhentian Islands because they're very busy right now (this is peak season). Having secured a booking after a couple of days of phone calls and emails we then had to work a plan backwards to get to the islands on time, so our current predicament is not all down to stupidity. Anyway, we digress... We reluctantly chose the short flight.

Our hour spent in a Fokker turboprop care of cool little low-budget carrier FireFly was hassle free. We took off from Penang fifteen minutes early and landed in Kota Bharu still fifteen minutes early. Almost everyone on board was European and was heading for the Perhentians. Bracing ourselves for a huge army of touts in the airport arrivals hall, shouting "Hello yes! My frien'! Where you wanna go?!", we were stunned to emerge from baggage reclaim and find the airport practically deserted, apart from a sleepy little taxi counter. There were no tuk-tuks. No share minibuses. No pickups. No motorbike taxis. Weird... We're gradually realising that ultra-laid back Malaysia is nothing at all like its northern neighbour Thailand. We teamed up with an Irish couple to share a taxi direct to the ferry terminal at Kuala Besut for 78 ringgits in total, so 19.50 each (GBP 3.05 / USD 6.09).

The taxi driver dropped us off right outside our guest house's ferry ticket desk in Kuala Besut. The set up here is weird. The guide books say that there are 'ferries' and 'speedboats' to the islands which run several times per day, which suggests that there is some sort of public boat service. But instead the truth seems to be that there are a thousand different private operators with their own boats, who run back and forwards all day long. We didn't work it out because we weren't there long enough—within five minutes of arriving we were hurried onto a speedboat and handed lifejackets.

Ah, yes, the speedboat. Our boat didn't look like a speedboat. A speedboat is small and pointy. Our boat looked like a standard pleasure boat with a little canvas roof, and bench seats for maybe 14 people along the sides. The only thing giving away that the thing might soon be travelling quite fast were the two 200 horsepower motors hanging off the back. The women passengers all put their lifejackets on when given them, whereas most of the men awkwardly put them to one side, not wanting to be the first bloke to look like a girl... That is until we started moving! Everyone was wearing their lifejacket by the time we left the port, because by then our little pleasure boat was already bouncing over the waves at a face-deforming speed. We covered the 20 km to the islands in twenty minutes. After a few stops at other guest houses, we were ferried to shore by a water taxi.

Perhentian Island beach [Enlarge]

Imagine two pristine jungle-clad islands in a warm, calm, turquoise ocean. Imagine white sandy beaches fringed with coconut palms. Imagine huge lizards roaming in the forest. Imagine a place with no cars, in fact no roads, the only way to get between beaches being to walk, stepping over gnarled tree roots on a twisting jungle track. Now imagine that the whole thing is made into a protected marine park to restrict development and ban fishing. That's the Perhentian Islands. OK, OK, so they're a bit resorty in places, but the hotels and restaurants lining the beaches are small and reasonably sympathetic to their environment. And the food and drink is a bit pricey because everything has to be hauled from the mainland, but in spite of that, things are looking very good for our stay here. Judging by the number of fish we could see below our water taxi, and the fact that we could easily see the bottom when the depth was around 15 metres, the diving is going to be excellent.

After getting out of the water taxi we checked in at Mama's Place, a collection of little wooden chalets practically on the beach. Aziz, the owner, is a character and seems to speak lots of languages. Our room is basic but very clean and it's literally right next door to the dive shop that was recommended to us by the folks in Koh Lanta. We've already spoken to the owner of the shop, Yaakub, and booked two fun dives tomorrow. We're planning to stay here for a while, try a few fun dives with them and then probably go on to do our advanced open water qualification.

Map of Day 598

Day 598
George Town to Pulau Perhentian Besar

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.

1 Comment:

Sez said...

Ah! Thanks for posting your journey. I have been looking for info on what the journey from Kota Bharu to the jetty at Kuala Besut is really like, and it sounds like shared cab is the way to do it!

I am particularly interested in what the return journey is like. But of course (I will read on) you may have headed south at that point :-)

Thanks for sharing!