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Andy’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 13 Aug 2006

Location: Perhentian Islands, Malaysia


What is it with Malaysian drivers? It seems to be a national pastime out here to see how close one can get to the car in front and then on a blind corner (and only then) to try and overtake. For miles of straight road on my three bus journeys from Taman Negara to the Perhentian Islands we would sit right up the arse of some lorry, the moment we approached a bend the driver would make the highly rational decision to pull out in tyhe face of oncoming vehicles. A relaxing seven hour journey!

From there i hopped onto yet another form of transportation, this time a boat. Instead of the large boat i was supposed to get some of our group were herded onto a small speedboat and set off at high speed to my next stop; nervous at how high we were speeding over the waves and being gradually drenched by the resulting sea spray, but this troubled us not as we spotted our destination and saw the beauty.

The Perhentian are two islands off the East coast of Malaysia. Paradise is a term used too liberally nowadays but i can say with no hesitation that it is an apt description of the place i found myself in. (A quick thanks to Chris and Emma for recommending the place). Approaching the islands on the boat the water soon became incredibly clear. Usually on a speedboat the water appears to have an opaque film on its surface, but this water was so clean and unpolluted that it was possible to see the coral and seabed below, sort of like x-ray vision. It was amazing! I’ve never seen seawater like it.

Stayed on Long Beach on the smaller island which is the younger, less family orientated of the two. First impressions were very favourable. The beach is a slight curve between two headlands covered in palm tress and large granite boulders above which is more dense rainforest. The sand was golden white, the sea warm and sparkling. The smaller island is undeveloped. There are no high rises on the island, long beach is just a row of small huts, a few basic shops and some rustic wooden restaurants. The other main beach is even less spoilt. The island has no roads and so no cars or traffic. It was bliss.

Most of my days were spent on the beach with Mark and Jon (from Taman Negara), Brechia from Holland, Lisa from England and Andy from England. We snorkelled in the waters (saw barracudda, fish from Finding Nemo, coral and, unfortunately a shark! Only about a foot long but that was enough to send me into panic and back to shore) had sand fights on the beach, played cards (i am now a pro at Shithead, Cheat and some form of Poker), sunbathed and chilled. One of the days was the scene of the Beach Olympics 2006 which involved numerous events; sandcastle skyscraper (i won!), breath-holding (Mark one) and the highly contentious water running (scandalous - repeat of the 1986 fiasco). Mark won gold, i won silver (i know - shocking considering my athletic abilities) and Jon won bronze.

In the evening we went for meals at various restaurants all serving barbecued fish, caught fresh that day and then later headed to the only bar where we drank, met even more people and danced the night away to bad pop music.

Total and utter contentment.

We did make it one evening to Coral Bay on the other side of the island. Bit of a trek through the forest but me, Mark and Jon thought we could handle it (Torch? Forget it! Shoes? Flip-flops are fine! Bug repellant? For wimps!). Lisa and Claudin decided to tag along and after a farcical dinner in which we had to ask 6 times for some roti channai, where three people ordered different fish and all got the same and it lasted nearly 4 hours we began the journey home…in the dark. Thank god the girls came with provisions. Apparently they only came to see my reaction to the walk home. I didn’t think i was that bad. I only screamed a few times when i thought a monkey was behind me and when i mistook fireflies for the eyes of large feline prey crounching in the bushes. Enough of that though.

The Perhentians mark my four month mark! It’s gone so fast.


Favourite food of the moment:
Roti Chanai. Can be had for breakfast, lunch, a side order or just a snack. A bit like Naan bread but flaky and buttery. Totally addicated to this stuff. If you go to a good restaurant they cook the dough right in front of you on a sizzling, metal, flat wok. I know this is highly uninteresting but food is a big part of travelling!

Book i’ve just finished reading:
I love travelling but because of the tight budget you have to swap books or buy them second hand from book-stalls. I have never seen (and never want to see) so many Dan Brown novels! Or books by McNab, Forsyth (not Bruce), Cookson and Mills and Boon.

Luckily i managed to procur a Bill Bryson title i haven’t read - ‘A Walk in the Woods’ - during which he explains how he stumbled across an article in a local American paper explainig how the Tennessee state legislature was about to bring back the law banning the teaching of evolution in schools (which was only overturned in 1967!), which in his opinion (and mine) proves “conclusively that the danger for Tennesseans isn’t so much that they may be descended from apes as that they may be overtaken by them.” Here here! What a strange place the bible belt is.