Tuesday, 23 September 2008

25 days in Perhentian Paradise.


The Perhentian Islands: Paradise, Perfect, Picturesque. These are just a few of the words that spring to mind when I think of the last month of my life. Perhentian Kecil is a textbook tropical island paradise. It has sublime turquoise seas. Blindingly white beaches. Dense impenetrable jungle. Abundant coral and aquatic life. Palm trees, hammocks and all the other trappings of paradise.

The Perhentians actually consist of two diminutive islands off peninsular Malaysia's NE coast. Namely Perhentian Besar (big) and Perhentian Kecil (small). Perhentian means stop in Malay (bus stop = bas perhentian) and fishing boats traditionally stop here on journeys between Malaysia and Thailand.

I stayed at the isolated D'Lagoon resort in the NE of the small island. One of the reasons for my lack of blog action recently were the extortionate internet prices. Standby for a lengthy post - I apologise in advance since I had a pretty action-packed time out there.


On arrival I went to find my Austrian friend Armin on Coral beach. From Turtle beach I followed the west coast rocks south. This 2km journey took 2hrs. At times I was clinging to sheer rock faces above the surf - very dangerous but good for an adrenalin rush. Exhausted, I found Armin sipping a beer in a hammock on his balcony overlooking a gorgeous sunset.

I didn't know the way back to my digs since this was still my first day. Using Armin's directions (he'd been here 12 days) I started back through the jungle. As it became darker I began to lose my bearings. I had no torch and being lost in the jungle at night is like being adrift at sea. I started panicking but quickly regained my composure. I made my way to a secluded beach and decided to get my head down there until sunrise.

However, I inadvertently stumbled across some workmen who offered me a boat ride back to D'Lagoon! What a stroke of luck. They gave me water to slake a maddening thirst. I explained where I'd been and they informed me that I'd missed a junction. This is the junction I missed twice. I hiked two massive circles in darkness as a result! This photo was the next morning. It looks pretty obvious now but when it's dark and you're stumbling around with your hands out in front of you it's very easy to miss!


Walking through the jungle incurs many scrapes. This is my leg after a typical stroll. Note to oneself: Wear long trousers! You should really have a machete too.

I also lost a huge chunk of skin from my right foot. There was a Tarza rope hanging from a tree and I was explaining that when I was in Royal Navy basic training we had to climb ropes in the gym. Someone goaded "Go on then" and I accepted the challenge. I skillfully ascended the rope, however, the descent was a different story. I slid down the rope using my feet as brakes and by the time I hit the ground the top of my right foot was smoking. I had friction-burned all my skin off! I then remembered how we used to wear training shoes in the RN! Idiot!

However, that agony pales into insignificance compared to my coral escapade. This gouge went to the bone. I was snorkelling and took a break on some rocks. As I jumped back into the sea I landed on one of the sharpest shellfish known to man. It relieved me of a considerable amount of my anatomy as you can see. The sea around me turned a sickly red as the blood pissed out like something from a JAWS movie. I had a painful 20min swim with a red-coloured wake back to the digs.

Now, I admit I'm no medical expert - even Holby City makes me squeamish - but this masking tape bandage looks woefully inadequate. However, it's a stark reminder that there are no hospitals in paradise. I was very grateful just to have this on my foot!

There was a Portuguese nurse at the beach who regarded me as a bit of a pussy for wincing as I hobbled around. I could see my friggin bone man! She also said this injury would heal in 3 days. This pic is 22 days later! And it was still knacking when I walked!


Since my foot needed rest I dreamed up other activities that didn't require much legwork. I read many books laying in a hammock in the shade of palm trees. Not the worst recovery room I've had. I shimmied along this palm tree when I felt lazy. Exercise tropics style!


I had an interesting day circumnavigating Perhentian Kecil in a kayak. The sun was dazzling and allowed me to gaze into the depths below. A shoal of yellow fin tuna passed beneath the kayak - mint! I stopped in the village for a snack and then rowed to Perhentian Island Resort on the Big Island to swim with some turtles.

I donned swimming goggles and a snorkel I'd found on the seabed. I swam out to some sea grass and snorkelled for a while hoping to catch a glimpse of these graceful creatures. I didn't wait long. A Hawksbill Sea Turtle glided along the seabed as I floated above. Eventually it surfaced for a breath right next to me! It swam back down and I took a deep breath and followed. From behind and slightly above I grabbed the edges of its shell and was dragged along for a while in a magical aquatic encounter.

I rowed 4km back to D'Lagoon battling through strong winds and rough seas that had suddenly materialised. That night my muscles ached. 5hrs and 15km in a small kayak isn't the best thing for your body!


Other activities that weren't too hard on the plates-of-meat were swimming and snorkelling. I swam from Small Island to Big Island and back which is quite hairy as you have to avoid the boats racing through the channel. I only did this because Armin had done it! People were more impressed that I swam from D'Lagoon to Long Beach saving myself a 10RM taxi-boat fare.

Snorkelling was amazing. I went to Turtle beach in the hope of spotting the beach's placid namesakes - turtles. However, as I was snorkelling along the shallow reefs close to shore, two Black Tip Reef Sharks swam underneath me!

The ones I saw were about 1.5m long. This pic is from the web as my camera isn't water proof and even if it was I couldn't have taken a shot since I was concentrating on not shitting myself. I'd never seen a shark in the wild before. My first instinct was to get away fast. I thrashed back to shore in a panic. I hit dry land and relayed the news to a German lad. He seemed very excited and rushed in to see if he could see one. He assured me that they're completely harmless so I followed him apprehensively.

Again, they came out of nowhere. It's spooky how they suddenly appear out of the blue depths, allowing you a brief glimpse before vanishing just as quickly. They are definitely the Lords of their layer! As I gained confidence I became bolder. I floated motionless in the water as a shark came by and scoped me out. For a second man and beast were one, engaged in a moment of mutual curiousity. Unimpressed, the shark shrugged and shot off back into the blue depths. Quite an experience!

They call coral reefs The rainforests of the Oceans. It's true. There's a bewildering amount of life down there. Even a splodge in the warm clear shallows will reward you with a myriad of small fish swimming around your feet. I saw loads of stuff down there but sharks, turtles, manta rays, groupers, bumphead parrotfish, schools of tuna, barricuda and dorados were the most impressive for size. Too many small things to list. The corals themselves were spectacular - it's like floating around a submarine paradise.


I spent much time fishing these exquisite waters. I used a range of equipment from modern fishing rods, to bamboo and string.

I fished with Andy, a lad from Manchester who had moved to Australia. Together we caught a lot of squid. The staff cooked it for us in the evenings - cool!

I also moved in high society circles here. I fished with Mike, a German lad who's currently studying genetics at Oxford University. He did an internship in Singapore where he engineered luminous frogs! Why create luminous frogs? I'm not sure I understood the technicalities involved - something to do with Crick and Watson I think. We had a laugh fishing together and this was his rod.


As you can see from my attire I became the leading light in seasonal beachwear. I found the old battered hat floating in the sea while kayaking. It had a rip where I could keep money in the gap between the hat and lining.

The shorts were originally longer but I cut the legs to above the knee for improved mobility. Razak, the manager of D'Lagoon only had a huge machete so I hacked them back with that!


We had a laugh one night during dinner. I've been milky white for most of my time in Asia despite being in the tropics for much of it. I endeavoured to get a tan here and I had no excuse since my foot forced me to rest. As you can see I became quite brown.

It was during an evening meal of squid (there's no feeling like eating the stuff you've caught) that people started comparing their tans with mine. As Mike lined his arm against mine I said:

"I can't believe I'm being used as the tanning benchmark"

This led to a whole slew of possible movie titles about tanning:

How I became the tanning benchmark

Chasing the tan

Fear the tan

Tanning. The Story.


I just can't sit sunbathing all day. I'd read almost all the English books available. I had to do something active so I decided to hike around the entire island despite my ailments. I slowly hobbled through the jungle regretting my decision as the pain became pretty bad. I stopped for a break in the village and ate a loaf of bread with a can of tuna.

I would've liked something cooked but I was experiencing the full force of Ramadan. This is a Muslim thing where adherents can't eat between dawn and dusk. In D'Lagoon they shut the kitchen between 1600-2000. At 1900 the staff would eat a feast as the sun finally set. This madness lasts the whole of September. You can get food in other places on the island but in Kota Bharu you have to find Chinese run establishments.


It's not all rich foreigners here. I met two Malay couples on honeymoons. Their wedding outfits looked amazing.


Although the sea is packed with life the land boasts much fauna too. Turtles sometimes crawl onto this very beach to lay eggs at night. I was here at the right time but wasn't lucky enough to witness this. I had the chance to handle baby turtles though:

D'Lagoon had a couple of chained up monkeys. They would climb on you if you went close enough. I lay in a hammock watching them for hours at a time.

At school I remember learning the French for: The monkey is on the table. When would anyone ever use that? Well, there was a small concrete table nearby that the monkey sometimes sat on. It was with irony that I proudly remarked to a Frenchman:

"Le sanje est sur la table"

These monitor lizards crawl all over the island. As big as a man from head to tail they can get up close and personal. I was sitting as one crawled by before suddenly whipping its tail and catching me across the chest. My chest stung for a while and it shows how you should observe caution at all times around wild animals. Just ask Steve Irwin!

I would go for walks and sit on rocks watching Sea Eagles soaring above. They were very common and could sometimes be seen resting on the beach. Very impressive. I saw a couple of small snakes which added a bit of spice to jungle treks. There were a lot of rats and squirrels. I even saw a black and white possum.

There were huge fruit bats. Every night we would share our dinner with small bats whizzing around the restaurant. You ducked as they flew by. I presume their echo sounders were working correctly as they never bumped into anything!

Birth and Death

The birth of Malaysia occurred 51 years ago when they gained independence from Britain. We watched the anniversary celebrations on TV and I asked a young Malay lass if she knew who Malaysia gained independence from. Answer? Japan! Did she even go to school?

This particular lass was responsible for another Asian phenomenon, namely: The morning sweeping frenzy. If the cockerels don't wake you then the morning sweeping frenzy will. Every morning you hear the sound of broom on ground as a woman will sweep everything in sight. It's very noisy and seems to take ages

While I was here we had a spate of theft. Some guy would hide in the beach side jungle while people snorkelled. He would sneak out and steal valuables left on the beach. One day a German girl caught him and got her camera back but he was a constant thorn in Razak's business.

I discussed the possibility of setting a trap with Razak and he was all for it. We would send a lass swimming, leave tempting items on the beach, while we also hid ready to pounce on the thieving bastard.

"What'll we do if we catch him? Call the police?" I asked Razak.

"No, I'll kill him." he replied in a calm, serious tone looking straight into my eyes.

"What? We can't kill him." I was horrified.

"Why not? I killed communists when I was in the Army."

"Because this is 2008 and you can't just kill people, not even in Asia. We have human rights now yada yada yada."

Razak seemed genuinely disappointed. He was in the Malay Army for 22 years fighting communist guerrillas. I was thinking 'Jeez, this guy is serious. I know this is harming your business mate but murder??'

In any event the trap didn't work. Perhaps the thief caught wind as the thefts abruptly stopped! Freaked me out though - my landlord had no compunctions about wasting somebody!

Renewable Energy

The island has two wind turbines and a solar power plant. I was pleased to see clean, green renewables being used out here after studying a MSc in Renewable Energy Engineering at Newcastle University.

Here's a bit of Malay for you. Love the spelling. I encountered this sign as I hiked to the hilltop to get a closer look at the turbines. You can feel the blades cutting through the air with ominous resonance.

This clean energy is supplementing the small fishing village's power. The resorts rely on diesel generators for their power causing noise, filth and air pollution.

There are temporary supply tracks from the boat below.

Distributed Energy Systems Corp. installed and commissioned the two 100kW wind turbines and a 100kW photovoltaic energy system. These installations are integrated with the island's existing isolated diesel grid. This wind-and-solar project reflects the development of renewable energy under the Malaysian government's fuel diversification policy - nice!

Here's a couple of blokes building a staircase from the jetty to the top of the hill. I envisage school trips here where kids can do projects on green energy. I hung out with these lads quite a bit. I spoke with the Chinese supervisor about the system. Very interesting for a geek like me.

This is the PV system. These photovoltaic cells supply a battery capable of storing 480kWh of power. Plenty of sun for them too!

SCUBA Diving

I've finally done it. The 4 day Open Water Diver course. I'm now a qualified SCUBA diver! Qualified to dive down to 18m.

I did the course with Ramon, 34 from Madrid. He took time off from cycling around Asia. We were the only students. Luckily for him, our instructor was Guio (pronounced Gee-o), 28 from Alicante. They often cleared up Ramon's diving concerns in Spanish which was bugger all use to me. The course consisted of videos, reading, review quizzes, exams and of course four practical dives in the sea.

Even better than snorkelling, the undersea environment looks amazing from this perspective. We both have 4hrs of dives logged. You experience something close to what astronauts must feel as they float weightlessly.

There were 50 questions in the exam and I got 49 correct. My one error was a question about J-valves! 49/50 may sound impressive but the questions were like:

Q1. To breath under water you need a:

A. Cabbage

B. Steering wheel

C. Regulator/Air cylinder

D. Spanner

Not exactly rocket science I think you'll agree.

Under water we had to successfully complete practical tasks such as: remove/replace the mask and ascend 9m to the surface only exhaling. Once you've completed enough PADI courses you can be a Dive Master. Is a Dive Master better than a Web Master?


Teelo from Austria on the left. He was great crack. He gave me many tips for travelling through the dangerous southern provinces of Thailand. These predominantly Muslim provinces have separatist ambitions which are causing some difficulties in Thailand.

Hedd on the right is fluent in Welsh. He's only 18 and dreams of becoming a music/songwriter. One night he sung a song he'd written and we were all very impressed. I'm guessing he has a bright future and we may hear more from him.

Some nights the staff of D'Lagoon would get their instruments and bash out Malay music. This was very cool. I normally lay in bed reading while listening to these melodies.

One night they invited me to play this little gong-type-thing! The staff were a laugh. I was surprised to learn that three of them were Thai. One lad taught me naughty Malay words and every time we were around foreigners we'd shout Kopek Besar to each other which is Malay for Big Tits. Very juvenile but we'd crease up nonetheless.

This is Eddie or Mr Beard. He is Chinese-Malaysian and I practiced Mandarin with him. He's a total beach bum and lived in a tree-house.


Remember the camera I bought in Penang? Well I f*cked it. Not even two weeks old. I was in a bad mood about my foot and lack of mobility when I hobbled into the sea forgetting the phone was in my pocket. Aaaaaaaahhhhhh shit! I attempted to dry it out and slowly but surely, bit by bit, various pieces started to work. After two weeks everything but the camera worked. I've tried to get a replacement in Kota Bharu but they're expensive. I'll wait until Thailand where the part might be cheaper. Until then the phone works but I can't take pics.

Kota Bharu

I'm now in Kota Bharu where I'll shortly be walking to the Thai Consulate to collect a two month tourist visa. Yesterday, on the local bus from Kuala Besut I was sitting behind the driver and astonished to see that the speedometer was actually working! I think this is the first time I've seen this on a bus in SE Asia! I stumbled upon a snooker hall and decided 1hr of potting balls would be the perfect way to readjust to the real world again. I've spent the rest of the time writing this blog. I'm thinking of hitting Sungei Kolok in Thailand tomorrow. I fancy a binge after two months of abstinence.


You don't need to be rich to experience a tropical paradise. I've been in Malaysia for 50 days and I've spent a total of 3400RM (£540).

You can take off 800RM (£130 - diving), 540RM (£85 - phone) and 110RM (£18 - Thai visa) since these aren't regular things you buy.

So for a smidgen over £300 you could have 50 days in beautiful Malaysia. This means no smoking, drinking and sleeping in dorms like this. That's £6/day. Not bad. That wouldn't buy you a pack of tabs in the Blighty! I'm off to Thailand where I intend to start boozing so I can expect to see this figure rise! 

Monyet diatas meja = The monkey is on the table

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