Perhentian Kecil – Notes from a small island
We travelettes love a good island. Who doesn’t? That tropical mix of powder-soft sand, turquoise water and never-ending, glorious sunsets washed down with a cooling beverage is surely guaranteed to sound the alarm on even the most insensitive of bliss-ometers. But traveling around South East Asia can require a little bit of extra thought in order to avoid the monsoons and chase down that perfect slice of tropical island pie.
Cue Perhentian Kecil, a little island just off the north-east coast of Malaysia. Lying alongside its bigger cousin, Perhentian Besar, these little gems are a short, motor-boat ride away from the mainland and the perfect stopping off point to play out some of those Girl Friday fantasies.
Kecil (literally meaning ‘small’ in Malay) was the island for us due to its reputation as being the more backpacker friendly of the pair with cheaper accommodation and more of a late-night, beach bar scene. Make sure you hop on the early boat as it’s notoriously difficult to book rooms in advance due to the lack of phones and dodgy internet access. In this case, the earliest birds most definitely get the best digs and the poor, old late birdies have been known to end up getting the last boat back to the mainland, resulting in sad-face emoticons all round.
There are no cash-points on Kecil so come prepared with all the money you might need and budget more than you might think for accommodation in order to get the pick of the bunch. Bring a few notes in smaller denominations as the boat won’t bring you all the way in to the shore and a smaller, taxi-boat will chug out to get you for a teeny fee. You’ll be dropped off at Long Beach, a thick crescent of deliciously, soft sand where all Kecil’s action (and plenty of in-action) goes down. The quieter, Coral Beach also has some sleeping and diving options on the other side of a short, sweaty trek through the centre of the island but Long Beach is the more beaut of the two.
We stayed at Lemon Grass, a set of simple, no-frills, wooden huts a few short paces away from the sand with an outside shared toilet and shower block. Frankly, it was the closest thing to camping I’ll ever go for in jungly, tropical climes due to my debilitating fear of exotic, crawling creatures but I surprised myself by actually enjoying it and embracing the rustic, outdoor showers and laid-back living. Bear Grylls might not necessarily have been proud – the huts were clean and the grounds neatly trimmed and decorated with pretty, red hibiscus flowers, nodding cheerfully in the sea breeze – but I felt a sense of achievement as we watched monitor lizards lazily pace around our huts and little squirrels pop up in the window to say hello.
So, what is there to do when stranded in paradise? Straight up chilling. Laze those days away beside some of the clearest water in South East Asia. Rent a boat taxi or kayak to explore Kecil’s smaller and less accessible beaches. Explore the internal trails that offer viewpoints around the island. Snorkel your little heart out in the rocky, coral garden shallows where you can find Nemo and spot reef sharks and turtles at certain times of the year and for divers, there are a selection of schools to train you up and take you out. As the sun sets on a hard day of sunbathing and swimming, the beach bars start up their music and lay out mats and candles. Bring your own alcohol to the island if you want to avoid the slightly inflated price but you can pick up beers easily here or buy a bottle of vodka or Orangutan (light, sweet, vanilla flavoured rum) to mix up with cans of coke and 7up.
The cheapest eating spots are a trio of simple eateries with seating right on the sand and provide very similar fare – tasty Asian food and beach BBQs – and although they don’t serve booze , they are relaxed about bringing your own. Just keep it respectfully on the down-low. The music and beach buzzing continues into the early hours with a friendly, relaxed vibe and the obligatory fire-show entertainers spinning some shapes in the dark. And how dark it gets out here! With the lack of big, bright, city lights, the stars are a spectacle in themselves.
All too soon, the days start to meld into a Groundhog day fusion of Saturday nights and lazy Sunday afternoons, cutting out all that week-day crap and getting straight to the good stuff. Enjoy every minute.
Pics by Alex