Cute rustic wooden cabins overlooking the beach on Perhentian Kecil, an island with no roads, no cars and no stress! The only traffic is a speedboat which drops off and picks up the few visitors straight onto the beach twice a day - that and the disco-coloured fish which teem round the bay. What's more, our own wooden cabin was around £15 a night - which left our meagre wallets just enough for the ridiculously fresh BBQ fish banquets each night on the beach. The huts also run a diving and snorkelling school. Perfect - still dream of it now when stuck in a florescently lit office in rainy Manchester.
When John Milton sat down, pen in hand, ready to put the final touches to Paradise Lost, he clearly hadn't made it here. Pulau Perhentian Kecil might prove a mouthful to pronounce and a mission to get to, but it'll prove worth every bit of effort you put in to find it.
That South East Asia is littered with beautiful islands is unquestionable, but many are well en route to being trashed by the carnage their economy depends upon. However, few that register on the backpacker's radar, remain as untouched and in rude health as this pint-sized paradise, located 50km off the Eastern Coast of northern Malaysia, a stone's through from the Thai border.
Though Malaysia is far from synonymous with beach life, whip out your weary-limbed backpacker's checklist upon arrival and you'll be able to tick off translucent, turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and abundant palm trees. There are shacks aplenty to house you, few of which it is even possible to find evidence of, let alone book, online. These range from the rather basic mattress in a beach hut to the more opulent mattress in a beach hut, with air con, electricity and an en suite bathroom. For an added luxury, the island folk have mastered the art of the flushing toilet, so you won't find yourself staring at your own emissions as you desperately try to sink them with a bucket like you will in Thailand. Prices range from around 20RM (£4) to 80RM (£16) a night making these eminently affordable and worth every penny thanks to the surrounding beauty.
Well-priced and friendly options include Panorama Huts, located centrally on Long Beach, and Moonlight Chalets, tucked away at the periphery, among the palm trees at the beach's edge. Both house their own restaurants, serving up sizeable portions of pan-Asian and western cuisine at great prices and offer a host of options when it comes to entertainment.
Rather unique to Kecil is the complete absence of roads linking the backpackers' paradise of Long Beach with anywhere else on the island. The only way to circumnavigate this drop in the ocean and its various enclaves is by boat or on foot. With some of the best priced and most stunning diving you'll find anywhere in the world ... or so the divers in my midst assured me, you'll be able to plunge to coral-addled depths, offering twenty-metre visibility, for as little as 60RM. For the uninitiated, the snorkelling trips offered around the island also prove mind-blowing in themselves. The prevalence of incredibly vibrant coral, makes for a psychedelic underwater experience for all, without the need to team up, tank up and drop to new depths. With sea turtles, sharks and sting-ray among the marine life promised to the average day tripper, these certainly prove a rewarding experience. But it doesn't end there. If you haven't heard one of more considered and more erudite of your party yelling “awww, look it's Nemo” before the end of the day, then your trip will not have been complete.
Kecil, as stated, means small, thus it should come as little surprise that the island is also rather quiet. Those seeking the kind of intensity of nightlife a full moon party can serve up need not apply. Neon pink body paint, glow sticks, Samsong buckets and hoards of beered up geezers grappling you in sweaty hugs couldn't be further your mind as you negotiate Long Beach's four bars, none of which ever seem to fill up. If a dancefloor does emerge, it invariably boasts little more than a few bar tenders busting a groove, a barely cognisant European guy or two with far more confidence than their ape-being-elecricuted-esque dance moves deserve and a couple of ladies who defences will inevitably be broken down by either/or before the night is out. For most, however, candlelight and a shisha become the order of the evening, accompanied by the odd slug on a bottle of the local rum. With relaxation the ambient vibe, it isn't long before most of the island's visitors slip away for a relatively early night in order to make the most of the next day on one of the continent's most stunning destinations. And whether they'll be found soaking up the sun, lost in a book, kicking a ball over a net with some uber-flexible locals or several metres under the ocean chasing a shark around a wreck, there can be little doubt they'll be having the time of their life. Perhentian Kecil is a mission to get to, it was even harder to get away from, but I for one will definitely be heading back.
Check out: www.perhentian.com.my
Go to: Putra bus station, Kuala Lumpur a short walk from the Putra World Trade Centre stop on Kuala Lumpur's efficient LRT network.
Here you can book a ticket to Kuala Besut, for a paltry sum.
The final leg: book yourself onto a speedboat at Kuala Best jetty for 70RM, open return.
Do go: between March and September.
Don't go: between October and February, when you'll find little other than some tropical storms, monsoon rain and the tiny collection of locals that brave them during the off-season.
Google map: tinyurl.com/355hvlk
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