By Shivya Nath
WE wait under the shade of a palm tree on the soft white sand gazing at the aqua blue waters as a young man arrives on a small boat to pick us up. We luckily managed to secure ourselves a boat for snorkelling late last night when all the bigger group boats had been booked out. We quickly leave behind the Perhentian Besar Island and find ourselves in the middle of the South China Sea, ready to snorkel in its waters. Truth be told, the water is so clear that you can easily see below the surface from the boat itself.
Our boatman gently sways the boat and yells turtle and we leap off our feet, into the water, and quietly watch the green-shelled creature float away in the sea. Smiling, we jump back on the boat with our snorkelling masks still on. We spend the next hour island hopping, spotting yellow, blue, white, golden and orange coloured fish, small marine creatures that we don’t quite identify, and losing ourselves in the magical world of vibrant coral reefs. From time to time we spot divers at the base of the sea among the reefs, and promise ourselves that this is where we shall return to after a course in diving. The Perhentian Islands are considered among the finest diving locations in Malaysia, together with neighbour Redang.
Exhausted from hours of swimming and yelling “look” into our snorkelling masks, we climb back on the boat to dry ourselves in the sun. We don’t know yet that the most thrilling part of this snorkelling adventure awaits us at Shark Point, where we run into all the other boats out for snorkelling this morning. We observe that most people are trying to spot sharks close to their boats and on the advice of our boatman swim towards the shore. After 10 minutes of futile splashing around she shows herself, a magnificent elongated creature swimming gracefully in the waters a few feet from me! These are black tip sharks, smaller in size and perhaps more handsome for it, though definitely no less daunting. We playfully swim alongside them until they turn around to chase us and with our hearts in our mouths we start swimming back to the boat. We’ll bask in the glory of this moment for many, many days to come.
On our way back to the island we ask our boatman if these sharks have ever attacked humans. He nods in a casual demeanour, promising that these sharks are not man-eaters because they have never tasted human blood.
Back on the island we decide to spend the day lounging by the beach shacks of Perhentian’s second island at Kecil, more popular with backpackers for its cheaper accommodations, and livelier with beach side cafes serving delicious meals and a range of milkshakes and beer. Instead of riding the boat again we choose to walk along the jungle trail that connects the two islands. On the way, we are distracted several times with komodo dragons, monitor lizards and monkeys, and glad to have the company of fellow walkers. Kecil welcomes us with beach umbrellas strewn all across the beach, and men & women tanning under the golden sun. I settle in with a Ferrero Rocher milkshake and while away time in the waves.
When the sunset paints the island and the sea with shades of red, the tide starts to recede and everyone gathers at a cluster of cafes serving dinner on the beach. Arabic music distracts the post-dinner conversations, as one of the cafes transforms into a shisha-and-drinks lounge. Cosy cushions and small tables are spread out around the beach, drinks are served, and the aroma of mint shishas refreshes the night. The moon appears from behind the clouds, casting a golden glow on the sea.
We forget where we are for the next few hours and indulge ourselves in the merry life of the island. By midnight, we are ready to head back to our resort on the other island, and ask around for a speedboat to drive us. The café owner agrees to lend us his boat and boatman, and off we go, in the dark of the night on the dark seas, lit only by the moon. The tide has receded far off our island, which means the boat can only drop us several feet before our island’s beach, and leave us to walk the wet surface of the shallow sea, among sea shells and fireflies. Adventure never deserts us on these beautiful islands, we laughingly agree as we manage to hop, skip and jump back to our resort.
Essential information: The Perhentian Islands are accessible by speed boats and ferries from the Kuala Besut Ferry Terminal, which is connected by land and air (the nearest airport is at Terengganu) from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The Perhentian Besar Island has a mix of medium and high budget resorts, while the Perhentian Kecil Island offers budget backpacker accommodations.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
Shivya Nath (India)
Shivya is a 20-something Indian girl with a penchant for unique travel experiences. Her articles have been published in various Indian & international publications, including The Huffington Post, CNNGo, The Times of India and The Hindu. She blogs at The Shooting Star, tweets @shivya, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.