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Idyllic beach and sea Pulau Perhentian

Our disappointment with the Safar Inn continued this morning when we went downstairs for our breakfast only to be told there was a problem and there was no breakfast. This was frustrating more than disappointing as we had asked last night if it was included in the room rate and were told it was. There was no attempt to even offer us a cup of tea. We got our bags and as we checked out another couple, who I think were Malaysian, were also given a story. I was waiting to see if food miraculously appeared for them but no.

We tried to ask the reception staff if there was still a train ticket office at the southern bus station but communication broke down. As we were trying to work out what to do next a single Welsh guy also came down for breakfast and was not impressed to find there was none. It turned out that he was Richard Watkins, the author of the Lonely Planet guide. He too was surprised at the standard of the hotel and said it was very different to when he came here before. I suspect it will not be included in the next edition of the book.

He is back here in Malaysia doing research for the next edition of the book which is due out in January next year. Contrary to the glamour impression you have of the travel journalists lifestyle he said it could get pretty boring traipsing around towns in the heat checking out the latest information. He is only here for eight weeks so it would be interesting to know how much information actually gets updated in each edition but the conversation took a different turn. He gave us his recommendation of where to stay on the Perhentian Islands, our destination for today.

Before hitting the islands we wanted to book our tickets for the Jungle Express train that will take us south. The hotel simply waved at a street when we asked them where we could get a taxi. We shouldered our packs and set off with no confidence at all of finding a taxi stand but we did wave one down in the street. The driver was very grumpy, gave us no help with our bags and seemed to be trying to get more money than the agreed fare when he dropped us at the Jalan Hamzah Bus Station.

The bus station is pretty small with just a collection of ticket offices and an open space where the buses pull in We went in search of ticket office number five which oddly is not next to number four or six but is on the other side of the coach park in a separate strip of buildings. There was a very friendly lady there and within about five minutes we left tickets in hand. Neither of us had expected it to be so straight forward so time will tell if we end up on the right train and in the right sort of seats.

From here we needed to get south to Kuala Besut from where you can get a boat across to the Perhentian Islands. Strangely for a bus station this one had no taxi rank and there were no taxis in sight. A chap, who had obviously been watching us, came up to Stef and offered to take us there for RM40, a reasonable price. He told us he had a very good car which turned out to be a total rust bucket. I could not work out whether the kangaroo hopping was due to his driving ability or the quality of the car. It did not bode well when he almost conked out at the first island and my suspicions grew deeper when we had to part pay in advance so that he could put petrol in the tank!

We made it out of Kota Bharu and Stef sat following where we were going on his map just to make sure we were not being ripped off and about to be dropped in the middle of nowhere. We passed through agricultural land which changed from rice to tobacco crops as we went south. Miraculously the car made it in one piece to Kuala Besut, although the driver did have to catch his door which flew open after one bump in the road. He tried to drop us off near to the jetty where no doubt he had an arrangement with a tout for a backhander. I had seen a tour agency recommended by Lonely Planet so we made him stop and we walked back to the agency.

Our experience of Perhentian Pelangi Travel & Tours was very good. They arranged our boat to the island, booked us into the hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet author and also said they would give us a lift to the train station when we got back from the islands. For the latter we will just have to pay for petrol as the agency owner has not been to Tanah Merah for a while and wants to catch up with people there, or at least that is the story we were told.

With tickets and park entrance fees paid for we were bundled onto a speedboat and whisked away across the twenty kilometre stretch of water to the islands. The further away from the mainland we got the more milky green the sea became turning to clear blue near the islands. The speedboats operate a sort of ferry service taking supplies as well as tourists to the island. We made one stop at Perhentian village to offload ice and bread before continuing to the middle of the Kercil island.

This area is prime backpacker territory and this is reflected by how you get from boat to water. I was really glad we were not staying there. Small motorised boats (which they called Tuk Tuk’s) came up along side the speedboat and those getting off had to pass their bags across and then climb across themselves. For most of the journey we had been in calm seas but here the waves were pretty high and the height distance between the boats changed quite significantly. It also looked like it was a wet landing when the taxi reached the beach.

Stunning sunset

We were staying on Besar, the other Perhentian Island, at the Tuna Bay Island Resort. I am happy to say that here they had a floating landing stage so there was no hopping from one boat to another. We arrived at low tide so had a dry landing but at high tide the ramp leading up to the floats is well and truly submerged.

Stef got a bit humpy when we checked in as they do not have a room with a sea view for tonight, but do for the other two nights we are staying here. We had not pre-booked so why he got the stops is beyond me as I was just happy that they had a room. It made for a tense hour or so this afternoon but soon the lapping of the waves on the beach calmed us down and we were friends again. The room we have is very clean and tastefully decorated, looking out onto a small garden.

We dumped our stuff and headed for the beach. The sand is very soft and fine, almost like flour, and, considering how hot it is, it was surprisingly cool underfoot. As you get closer to the water line the soft sand is replaced by shale and what looks like pieces of coral before becoming soft (and velvety according to Stef) again further on. We have hired snorkels and masks and spent some time just swimming around watching the fish below. Most were back and white striped like zebras but I also saw some that were blue bodied with gold fins and others that were white. Some of them were also inquisitive and came to investigate a new source of food - our legs.

The afternoon passed us by and we were both happy to simply chill out. The stretch of water in front of makes for interesting watching as there are fishermen, water taxis and boats full of people in scuba gear off for a dive somewhere. There always seemed to be one or two people snorkelling in the sea in front of the hotel but generally the whole place has a quiet, low season air about it.

Having not seen a good sunset for quite a while we were treated to a rare show this evening. We had the usual display of salmon and golden colours merging and extending across the sky but at one point a cloud must have been directly in front of the sun and it sent a beam of shadow across the sky. It was as if a searchlight had been switched on but the ray was shade not light. Neither of us has seen anything like that before and we think it was probably a rare treat.