Perhentian Islands: My last hurrah in Malaysia

Katherine in Rawa Island
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Sometimes I question my decisions in life.

For instance, this trip to Perhentian Islands. I only have one last weekend before my flight back to the Philippines. Do I spend it relaxing and organizing my luggage or do I go ahead on this trip? I was leaning on the first, but I promised myself I’d see Perhentian Islands before I leave and I’d cross off one other place in Malaysia besides Kuala Lumpur.

The bus tickets. 3 weeks before a long weekend already falls in what you call late planning. I asked a friend to join me but I postponed booking the bus tickets that day because I’m used to people saying “I have no budget yet” or “Isn’t it too early?” or another line so they have time to flake out. I flake out too, so I at least understand this. A few days later, I checked an online booking website and saw that all bus tickets to Kuala Besut were already sold out, save for one bus line with doubly priced tickets. I told my friend we should book that ASAP, and of course she backed out.

The alternate route to Kota Bharu. I got a bus ticket to Kota Bharu instead and then a taxi to Kuala Besut. My taxi driver was nice, but he drove a clunky car, he smoked and when he was looking for a video from a fellow Filipina he’s friends with to show me, I saw the stash of porn videos on his phone gallery. Slow driving, empty road, porn on my driver’s phone.

The campsite in the jungle. Orang Hutan Campsite is located in Rainforest Beach in Perhentian Kecil, and it’s the cheapest one I could find online when I was planning the trip. The Airbnb description clearly states it’s 5-8 minutes of trekking from the beach, although somehow I convinced myself it means trekking in flat land. Instead, it’s a short but tiring trek up to the mountains, what we call as “assault.” It left me breathless and it bummed me that I have to do that every time I would go down to the beach.

Trail to Orang Hutan campsite
Trail to Orang Hutan campsite.
Orang Hutan campsite, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Orang Hutan campsite.

While I was lying down inside my tent on my first night, I thought about my self-project to think more positively. This came from a book called The Secret of Life Wellness by Inna Segal. I was looking up healing for eyesight and I read that a bad eyesight on the left eye (my left eye is super blurry) means failure to visualize good things in life. A little more positive thinking is necessary.

I started counting the good things that happened since I arrived.

Earlier that day, I strolled along the pathway looking for Mira Beach and found this little spot with no people. It’s a small sandy beach with clear green-shade water. There are rocks with seashells on them. Swimming is nice, snorkeling is too I bet.

Random beach in Perhentian Kecil, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Found a nice little spot.
Seashells in rocks
Took this photo because it’s this type of detail that Hali likes to see.

After several more minutes of walking, I also found Petani Beach. Again, this area has no people. Just the quiet, dense jungle along the pathway and the beach front. Further along the long beach, I can see a resort of some sort.

Pathway to beaches in Perhentian Kecil
The jungle pathway between beaches.
View from trail in Perhentian Kecil
Overlooking view from the pathway.
Petani Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Petani Beach, where I spent the last remaining hours of that day.

Thinking about it, the campsite I was staying at is actually quite nice. We’re surrounded by a thick forest and sometimes when the wind is strong, the tree leaves sway and make a swssshh sound like it’s raining. There are 2 cats in the campsite named Ping and Malas, and I’m particularly fond of Ping. He would climb in a tree, play with a leaf and one time he woke me up by scratching incessantly on the side of my tent. Dinner that night was late and warm — nasi lemak and a kind of vegetable noodle soup. Guests stayed in the main lodging’s outdoor area, in mats and sleeping bags and hammocks, chatting, smoking and playing guitar.

It was actually a nice day.

The next day, I signed up for a snorkeling trip. I held my breath when I saw the beaches in Perhentian Kecil. It’s not unlike the other beaches in Malaysia which are brown, murky, ordinary. The beaches here are clear, in shades of either blue or vibrant green. A testament to its pristine condition is the fact that you can snorkel right out on a beach and see various types of fishes. I should do a study on fish names so I can at least name some. A campsite volunteer told me she hadn’t gone on a snorkeling trip yet but she had snorkeled around the island and it was great.

Anyway, in this snorkeling trip, we stopped by seven areas and saw not just fishes, but also turtles and manta rays. There’s also a place called Shark Point where you can see sharks. I didn’t see one because I didn’t snorkel far enough, thinking it’s one of those places called Turtle Bay but has only one to no turtles. The other tourists in the boat told me otherwise.

Selfie in Romantic Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Romantic Beach.

We stopped last at Romantic Beach. Again, I was blown away. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’d seen, and you know how I pride myself for traveling to the best ones in the Philippines. White sand, clear water, schools of fishes near the shore.

The dinner back at the campsite that night was even better, if you can imagine. There’s rice and barbecued chicken and sausage, plus vegetables. Some of the foreign guests made batches of pizza from the clay oven (which I initially thought was a pet house for the cats) and another one from Europe made a dessert of sticky rice with cinnamon. Another music session with an improvised drum and guitars. Ping stared at the guitar player and clawed his way inside the guitar cover to sleep.

Ping, the cat in Orang Hutan campsite
Ping, the jungle cat.

In my last day, I was lucky to get on an island hopping tour. There were only 3 of us guests who signed up, but the boatman found other guests in another beach to fill in the slots. The island hopping tour is a favorite even though it’s shorter (only around 4 hours) because there are fewer people. We snorkeled in Serengeh Island, swam in Tukung Burung Island — which has, again, a clear light blue that cannot be justified by photographs and is somehow similar to Maldivian waters — and floated away in Rawa Island.

Tukung Burung Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Tukung Burung Island.
Katherine in Tukung Burung Island
Tukung Burung Island.
Rawa Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Rawa Island.

I’m pleased with this experience. I didn’t know that I’d be able to see so many beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia.

I have a few takeaways in this trip to Perhentian Islands.

One is to be more willing to listen to my gut feel. On the day that I’d invited my friend to come as well, I felt a pull to immediately book the bus tickets but I didn’t. Hiccups are common in traveling, but I think I’d experience less of it if I just trust my gut.

Another one is the necessity to be aware of and change my mental track to be more positive. I tend to focus on the “interesting parts” and mishaps because these make up a worthwhile story, which I can bring home to tell to others. It’s my writer instinct kicking in. But I suppose it’s always possible to write about good things happening too. Perhaps the world needs more of that.

The last one is to be more open minded. I didn’t expect for Perhentian Islands to be beautiful because Malaysia isn’t exactly where you’d go to see good beaches, but honestly, what do I know? I’d been in Kuala Lumpur mostly. Maybe the other islands on the eastern cost of peninsular Malaysia will surprise too.

So anyway, this is my last trip in Malaysia. I’m coming home to the Philippines soon.


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