Found Nemo

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
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Trip End Jul 29, 2010


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Flag of Malaysia  , Terengganu,
Saturday, July 17, 2010

Taking the night bus from Penang to Kuala Besut on the East coast seemed the best way for us to reach the Perhentian Islands – it would take us directly there with no need to change in Khota Bharu and it would connect directly with the boats that make the 30 minute crossing over to the islands each morning, and in hindsight this is all still true – but nothing is ever as easy as it sounds when somebody sells you some tickets.

The bus left at 10 o'clock at night, so after spending the day carefully not getting hot and sweaty we passed the last couple of hours with a gin and tonic in the Shangri-La bar, just round the corner from the bus station and then found our bus just before departure. 10 minutes later we were on our way, and I was reminiscing fondly about night buses in China – some of them had flat beds, at the very least they had a sort of hammock contraption – we were consigned to a night going up and down the central mountains of Malaysia in reclining chairs. Comfort was further discouraged by the freezing air-con and the driver’s liking for terrible music. If I was down with the kids I’d know how to describe it, but I was woken at about 3:30 by a tune that had sampled the Knight Rider theme and Liz heard one from the A-Team. In some ways it was a relief that the bus arrived before its scheduled 6:30 drop off and we were thrown out of the bus in Kuala Besut at about 5 a.m. – and the first boat wasn’t till 7.

It seemed surprising that there was a café open at that time of day, but as we sat there a few more buses disgorged bleary eyed travellers and we realised that the owner had a pretty much captive breakfast market of foreign travellers and the boat ticket sellers who gathered to greet them each day. Having tracked down the right man to claim our tickets from we were then shepherded from café to office to jetty for the 7 a.m. boat flotilla that would actually leave, en masse and uniformly late at 8.

After a quick speed over the water we were dropped on Perhentian Kecil at Coral Bay while the remainder of the passengers went round to the busier part of the island Long Beach. We were reliably informed a few weeks ago that the Shari-La Resort on Coral Bay is really good and discounts heavily on their advertised prices – so had opted for this as our starting point for where to stay. Sadly the staff on reception hadn’t been told the same thing, so I guarded the bags and Liz set off down the beach to scout out the alternatives – turns out that the price for a fleapit flophouse on a tropical island increases in July, and Liz found one over-priced room with a fan and one over-priced room without a fan. With these options in mind I set off for the longer walk over the island to Long Beach to see what they had to offer – and aside from the over-priced room with air-con the choices were pretty much the same. By the time I got back with my bad news however, Liz had used her feminine wiles of a minor strop and blocking the gangway of the jetty and met a couple of holiday rep type people from the Shari-La, and they did know that the prices were negotiable – so here we are. Private beach, air-con, nice room with bathroom and hot water – all for only a couple of pounds more than the best of the bad bunch we had found before.

As desert islands go I imagine there are worse ones to be stuck on. There isn’t a great deal to do at the resort beyond sit on the beach, snorkel and go diving – and since we’re not diving that leaves us with the first two options. Liz has been very pleased that we have finally found Nemo, hiding amongst the anemone that gather on the reef by our hotel – in fact, we’ve found Nemo, his father, mother and entire extended family by the look of it – along with a collection of other tropical sea life that has included a shoal of large parrot fish and a possible sighting of a shark that Liz saw swim past me very quickly and that I missed entirely because I was distracted by a rock. Since then Liz has spotted another one whilst out snorkelling on her own – my trips into the water have been slightly curtailed by a touch of sunburn on the back of my knees that I didn’t want to exacerbate to the point of being unable to walk to the boat tomorrow morning.

The most exciting incident of our first day’s snorkelling actually occurred when I had left the beach to return the snorkels and Liz encountered a large monitor lizard – not that unusual for this island, but this one appeared from the palm tree above her as it fell from its perch and landed, slightly winded, on the beach by her side. I’m not sure who was more surprised – Liz that a 3 foot lizard appeared from the sky or the lizard that he was now 30 foot lower than he started the day.

Although the Perhentian Islands were described to us as the Malaysian version of the Gili Islands, they are far more developed than the previous desert island we spent a week on. Each night there is a choice of barbecue to attend at the various hotels and cafes along the beach, and there certainly isn’t the sense of remoteness that we had while we stayed on Gili Meno. Having said that, after the last 6 weeks travelling across Borneo and the rest of Malaysia, a few days relaxing on the beach have been very welcome. Our next challenge will be to get off the island – despite having return tickets we’ve yet to figure out how the return crossing works – although departure time is allegedly at 8 am, we’ve yet to see anybody actually leave. Maybe it isn’t fish on the BBQ each night?
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