If your January was too long and you feel that February goes the same way. If at this stage you already doubt whether summer is only a mirage, an illusion created by the mind… then breathe deeply twice. Relax your shoulders, loosen your neck, and think that now there are people with sand between their toes in a place like Pulau Perhentian Besar, an unpleasant sensation too! If this cause touches you, send some good energy to those people or, instead, book a trip today!
What, where and how to get there?
The Perhentians are a small group of islands off the north-east coast of Malaysia with white coral sand beaches, palm trees and a turquoise sea. The two largest are Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil, and there are some uninhabited islands too. They are located in the South China Sea 10 nautical miles (19 km) from the north-east coast of Malaysia in the state of Terengganu, and approximately 40 miles (64 km) south of the Thai border.
The easiest way to get there, and yet a mission, let’s say, is to fly to Kuala Lumpur and from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu. In Kota Bharu, you get a taxi to Kuala Besut, and from there a speed boat to the island. Schedules are limited, so careful study before travel is advised.
See also: 11 Unforgettable experiences in Malaysia
Beautiful beaches with white sand and a refreshing forest. A coral barrier, sensitive and fragile as all, and need to be taken care for, and a breathtaking marine life. There are turtles and sharks with their families. There is essential biodiversity, with monkeys, lizards, squirrels, butterflies and many birds. There are diving schools. There are incredible sunrises and sunsets, place and time to rest, simple and healthy food. Friendly local people, divers and relaxed travellers.
What there is not?
It is considered an underdeveloped place. There are no school, medical services, banks or money change offices. There is no waste treatment system, and in reality, there is not always power. Tourist accommodations are mostly basic, the choice in the few restaurants is limited, and there are few grocery stores and shops. Sometimes things such as fruits or meat or fish run out, and you have to wait a day or two for the new supply. And, worst of all (or will it be the best?), from European standards, although there is internet, it is slow and fails quite often! There is also no sound pollution or traffic. There is no rushing, no hurry. There are no buildings or concrete, no formalities and no stress at Pulau Perhentian Besar.
In Pulau Perhentian Besar. There is no stress, but there is Malbec wine, despite the country being Muslim.
What to do?
Nothing is an option. One of the best activities is snorkelling to observe marine wildlife, from balloon fish to turtles or sharks. With warm, calm waters, a lot of visibility and a spectacular fauna, the Perhentians are also trendy for diving, being one of the favourite places in the world to obtain the PADI open waters certificate.
In the water, there are also kayaks and paddle surfing, and on land a volleyball net. There are hammocks to read a good book, some small trekking trails through the green nature. It is a promising place to meditate, or just to rest, without doing… nothing!
What is good to know?
The islands are National Marine Park. It is not possible to hunt without a license, it is prohibited to deposit waste in the water and to be in possession of underwater fishing gear, and it is not allowed to collect aquatic life, like corals, shells or fish, dead or alive.
However, the Perhentian Islands are relatively new to tourism in quantity, which in the meantime has become a vital source of income and therefore is there to stay. It was only in the last seven years that the number of tourists grew massively, so not everything is optimised from the sustainability point of view and our attitude as temporary visitors is very important.
The rule of thumb that I like to share is that we must leave on the islands only two things: nothing and gratitude. And with nothing, I don’t mean just obvious tangible material things, but also that invisible pollution. The coral reef is very fragile. Avoid boats that come too close, snorkel without fins, so you do not kick the coral, never touch it and use natural hygiene products, including sunscreen when you go to the water. The beaches are sanctuaries of threatened species of turtles that from April to September come to nest. There are conservation projects that patrol the beaches and collect the eggs to a safe place until the hatching. Baby turtles will return in 15 to 20 years, depending on the species, to the exact beach where they were born only if the beach is clean and quiet as when they were born, so it is imperative to keep it that way, and especially at night keep the beach dark, turn out lights and avoid lamps, music or other artificial elements.
Where to stay?
For full immersion, the Bubbles Resort at the southern end of the island is perfect. It is a peaceful small hotel located in a private bay only accessible by boat, or by a tortuous path not always feasible. There are only one restaurant and one diving school. In the rainy season it is closed, and in the dry season, a dozen workers and volunteers of the turtle conservation project move to this part of the island from other areas of Malaysia or the world, adopting a very relaxed lifestyle. There are kayaks and a trekking path, the few guests seem to have been handpicked, and time seems to stretch out in this place.
Cover photo: Miriam Augusto
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