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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Kecil, long term travel, Malaysia, Perhentian, Southeast Asia, Travel

Pulau Perhentian Kecil


The rest of my time in Peninsular Malaysia was spent in the Perhentian Islands. I thought Langkawi sucked me in, but the Perhentians really sucked me in. I arrived with the intention of spending four nights here, and ended up staying for 10.

The Perhentian Islands sit off the northeast coast of Peninsular Malaysia. There are two islands, Kecil and Besar (small and big). The small island has the reputation of being lesser-developed and more rustic, while the big island is dotted with resorts and more tourists. I opted for the smaller.

The high season hadn’t technically begun yet. In fact many travel agents tried to dissuade us from going due to the fact that many places wouldn’t be open yet, but it couldn’t have been a more perfect time to go. When we arrived on the island, it was almost like we had the whole beach to ourselves. We were able to book into ocean front accommodation for R20 a night (about $6). As Chinese New Year approached, it did get a little busier, but I think I enjoyed the island so much because it was so deserted.

There are two main beaches on the island. Coral Beach faces west, and is the quieter beach, with just a few guesthouses and restaurants, as well as a dive shop. The beach is protected from the wind, and there are hardly waves to speak of. A short trek through the jungle takes you to Long Beach, which is a much busier beach, with many dive shops and inns. The waves are big enough to surf on this side, so you truly have the best of both worlds on this island.

We stayed on Coral Beach at Maya Inn. We arrived early in the morning after a very bumpy boat ride through a rainstorm. We were hitting the waves so hard that the boat was getting air. We were all having a laugh at this Japanese girl who was laughing so loudly each time we sailed through the air, but then we realized the poor girl was screaming in sheer panic!

Aside from that one rainstorm, the weather seemed to improve daily, and we had some beautiful sunsets enjoyed from the porch each night. These days were definitely some of the laziest. It was great to not have a lot to do. Power only ran from 7pm-7am, and there was a dodgy internet connection, no TV and no booze either…luckily we had hit up the duty free shop in Langkawi, so we could have happy hour each evening.

Aside from venturing over to Long Beach and taking a hike over to the local fishing village, most of the days were spent in the water, throwing the Frisbee, playing volleyball, and getting to know the family that runs Maya Inn. We did book a day of snorkeling and visited four spots around the island, where we managed to see green turtles, black tip reef sharks, and amazing coral and marine life. It was almost as good as some scuba diving I have done.
What made the stay even more special were the people we met, especially the family at Maya Inn. Lorne (from Langkawi) had recommended we stay here and put us in touch with Matt, one of the family members, but it turned out that shortly after we arrived, he had to go to the mainland so his wife could deliver their baby.

Still, it didn’t take long before we had met the rest of the family and the people working at the Inn. On the first day, we met Kareemah and Kash, who run the place, and we sat with Kareemah over lunch, while we watched one of her five children tear around the beach. She told us about her husband, her children, Muslim beliefs on marriage (apparently, a Muslim man can have up to four wives at one time), her past marriage and her life before going back to the island to run the inn.

Over the next couple of days, we would see Kareemah and share a few moments with her each day. She is one of those people who in just a few moments, you feel so comfortable around. She has this calming presence about her. She’s always wearing a smile and never loses her cool, all the while taking care of her five children and running Maya. She is a kind woman, one who I will not forget.

Her little girl Ilia (short for Camilia) is the center of attention at all times and is possibly the most beautiful and content baby in all of Southeast Asia. Everybody here- family, staff and guests dote over her constantly, especially her four older brothers, Achmal, Waddy, Jerry and Aris.

Everyone else at the Inn made the time there so enjoyable. At every meal, we got a language lesson, and we had the advantage of making special requests for the BBQ fish every night! By the end of our stay, Tija, one of the young girls working in the kitchen, was teaching us how to say, “See you next year” in Malay.

When we left, we spent about 30 minutes saying goodbye to everyone. All the boys walked with us down the beach and waved goodbye as we boarded the boat bound for the mainland. I don’t think I’ve ever been so reluctant to leave anywhere on my travels. What made it more difficult to leave was that I didn’t really have anywhere I needed to be or anything booked.

Kash had helped us organize transport on the mainland. We had to make a run to the airport and then I needed to get to the bus station. Kash’s uncle was going to take us, but then we received a phonecall from Matt. His wife had just had her baby that morning, but he was adamant that he was going to take us where we needed to go, so his uncle dropped us at the hospital.

Matt, accompanied by his dad, took us to the airport and then helped me arrange my bus ticket to South Malaysia. The bus didn’t leave for a few hours, so I offered to buy them both lunch and waited with them while they went to the mosque to pray. They dropped me off that evening at the bus station, and I had some time to sit back and reflect on the past 10 days. Matt and his family went out of their way to make our time on the island amazing, but it felt more like we had been adopted into their family, as opposed to just staying at their Inn.

Experiences like these can’t be created and are so unexpected, and they make a journey like this so meaningful and unforgettable. These experiences can’t be matched.
I selfishly wish I still had this part of my trip to look forward to, because it was such a highlight, but that’s the beauty of backpacking… you never know what adventure the next day or the next city holds…