I didn’t have a plan or itinerary. I knew I wanted to island hop and was keen to visit Penang, particularly Georgetown. I’ll explain why later on. Earlier this year, in China I met Myra, who’s from Malaysia. We kept in contact and I gained some local knowledge from her and she recommended an itinerary for island hopping based on what I told her.
I was operating on a budget and so far food and travel had been relatively cheap. And to keep costs down further, I booked a night bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut with Myra’s help. I was due to catch an early morning boat to the Perhentian Islands. An idyllic place from what Google showed. Boarding the bus wasn’t straightforward. The signs were misleading and the station staff weren’t exactly helpful. I followed a crowd of equally puzzled Westerners and found my bus. I had no expectations, given past experiences but I was pleasantly surprised. The bus contained wifi, leather seats and was extremely comfortable. You usually get what you pay for in Asia.
After around six hours we arrived at Kuala Besut. It was around 5am and pitch black. An elderly woman was the only sign of life in a derelict car park. She told me to follow her for the boat. I was initially hesitant. There was no one around and the other passengers had caught connecting buses. I was alone, but I gave her the benefit of doubt and followed her through some empty market streets. She led me to a bench. To my relief it had other tourists waiting. They were all asleep though, laid out with their backpacks and I could see market traders slowly starting to set up shop. I was so tired because I only slept for a few hours on the bus.
As the sun rose I hopped onto an old boat. The elderly lady instructed the driver that I was to be dropped off at Coral Beach for Pulau Perhentian Kecil. I followed the journey on my offline map and it was clear the driver had other ideas. We’d reached the last stop and the driver said he’d already passed my stop. He was lying. But I had no option but to jump off onto Long Beach – the party island. The place was deserted and trashed with beer bottles and all sorts. I looked at my map and it showed that I was on the opposite side to where I needed to be. And there was a jungle separating me from where I needed to be.
For some reason, probably because I had limited options, I plucked up some courage and followed a jungle trail to a nearby lodge away from the beach. I was hoping someone could help. I found a cleaner who told me in limited English to go straight for a bit and then chuck a right. So I continued on the jungle trail with my backpack and Havaianas on. I felt every twig with each step. Soon, there was no trail. I was getting deeper into the jungle and the noises became more foreign. I started to see some lizards in the trees and I had a flashback of YouTube videos with giant monitor lizards chasing people in the jungle. All of my own doing and I was starting to get a little nervous. I needed to make a decision fast. So I retreated back in the direction I came from and hoped I’d find the beach I came from. Gladly, I found my way back and asked a fisherman to take me to Coral Beach at any cost. It took about 30 minutes and I was relieved to say the least.
There were two nice secluded beaches at Coral Beach, complete with hammocks. I dropped my bags in my room and decided to laze in a hammock all day. I had no interest in revisiting the party island. I needed a rest and read a back. I lay in my hammock and observed the cheeky lizards that were running freely above my head. I sat on the sand and watched the sunset and listened to the calming waves. Coral Beach was a family friendly and couples spot, much cleaner than Long Beach. I repeated the same feat of doing absolutely nothing the following day! There was only a handful of people around and I think this was due to Merdeka Day – Malaysian Independence Day.
Redang Island was my next stop and it meant another early and bumpy boat ride. I was looking for Pulau Laguna Redang after I reached the port. I took the Havaianas off, let my feet hit the fluffy white sand and my jaw dropped when I turned the corner. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I’d seen, no exaggeration. I shared the moment, not to gloat but because I felt very lucky to discover such a place. I snapped some videos to my nearest and dearest for them to bear witness to the beauty of Redang.
With the volume of Chinese tourists, it was obvious I wasn’t going to get much conversation but that was ok with me. I dived into the sea for a splash, basked in the sunshine with a coconut in hand and played beach football with strangers – English wasn’t required. I watched sea turtles being released back into the sea at sunset. They’re not the quickest chaps.
That evening I read that police had unfoiled an IS grenade attack in Kuala Lumpur on Merdeka Day. It was quite alarming and also added to the narrative that anything can happen anywhere. I felt thankful that my family had arrived back home safely and also that no one was hurt.
I mentioned roti canai in my last post and in Redang I discovered the delicious roti Milo. The same type of roti but this was filled with chocolate. I swam and walked from one end of the beach to the other for consecutive days. The beach couldn’t have been more secluded. Words don’t do it justice. I was just so happy to be here and sad to be leaving after a few days. Seeing is believing.
A short ferry ride took me from Redang to Kuala Terengganu. Lying in wait were a group of taxi drivers, tour guides and chancers. I decided to opt for a local driver to take me to the airport. He tried to offer me a tour, but I had a flight to Penang to catch. As he drove, I noticed a baseball bat in the passenger seat.I guess it was for his own protection and not for me. We passed the Crystal Mosque (Masjid Kristal) and I was in awe. I couldn’t get a good picture from a moving car sadly but a spectacular sight made from steel, glass and crystal. I arrived at the airport unscathed and the bat wasn’t used.
Why was I heading to Penang? Well, I’ve been a keen viewer of the C4 drama Indian Summers for a few years. The drama is set in colonial India, but shot in Georgetown, Penang. I really liked the location and setting of the show – the colonial architecture, impressive green hills and vast tea plantations. It seemed like a really buzzing and lively place. The other aspect is that Penang is the foodie haven of Malaysia and I love my food. I read that Penang is very chilled and everyone was on island time. I was looking forward to the days ahead.