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We took a bungalow with separate rooms at Paradise Beach Resort for 50 ringgits (US$13). I had a fan and private bath. I showered and went to Mamas Place for a good $1.50 noodle dinner.
As I curled into bed that night, I wondered… It has taken me five full days to get here from the time I left home. I remembered the couple Id met in Thailand the year before, who told me that they’d traveled the world for six months and the Perhention Islands were the closest thing they’d seen to paradise on earth. Except for the waves and the night sounds of nature, it was very quiet outside. I fell asleep wondering if the time and the hair-raising drive across Malaysia would all have been worth it.
I awoke to the crowing of roosters. I looked forward to exploring the island as I downed a quick cup of coffee and stepped outside Unbelievable! I stared at the clear green-blue water and soft white-sand beach. I was to learn that all the beaches on the island are beautiful.
The next day I took a seaside chalet at Mamas Place for the remainder of my stay. I wanted a small room, but they were all taken since I hadn’t made prior arrangements. It was a splurge at $22 for the double, but it was really nice, big and clean, with a fan and shower.
I sat on my porch as I wrote this, looking across the limpid waters of the strait to the small island of Kecil. My beach was lined with tropical palms. It was so peaceful no jetskis, beach vendors or para-sailors. All I heard was the quiet lapping of the waves. I spent a lot of time just swimming, reading and walking.
I did some fantastic diving in the China Sea while I was there. Water temperatures were at 80° and we had 40-foot visibility. I saw an amazing abundance and variety of coral and anemones, as well as whiptail rays, a giant moray eel, a white-eye moray, pumphead parrotfish, a hawksbill turtle, bamboo sharks, lionfish, sweetlips, scorpionfish, kingfish, tiara batfish, great barracuda, hingebeak shrimp, talang queenfish, yellow boxfish, panda clownfish, yellow-spotted trophy, rhino boxfish, longfin bannerfish, puffers, triggerfish, trevallys, clownfish, schools of herring and more!
There are four diveshops on the islands, small bungalow affairs and all PADI certified with good Divemasters. I have to rate the dives even better than the Cayman Islands. Although people come from all over the world to dive here, the islands are so remote that it was totally uncrowded. We tended to be the only divers in sight.
The Perhentian Islands are truly laid-back in atmosphere and lifestyle. There are only four or five groups of bungalows, most have their own kitchen/restaurant with plastic tables and chairs set right out on the sand. As dusk approaches, tablecloths are put on the tables and candles are lighted. There are no cars, because there are no roads.
It tends to be very quiet at night, with welcome breezes and lightening flashes far off in the distance. The bats come out, which may account for the fact that there’s very little problem with mosquitoes, and the geckos come out to sing their little songs. One guy said he saw an ape I don’t know about that, but I know there are monkeys.
While the islands are relatively inexpensive for most foreign visitors, they are expensive by Malaysian standards. You will eat well at the restaurants for about $2. Rooms and bungalows range from $10-$25.
I stayed in the Perhentians until the day my bungalow had been promised to another couple. I thought about finding another place, but decided to return to Thailand and do some diving off the island of Koh Samui on the southwest coast.
It was good to get back to Thailand where I feel quite at home and like the people so well. As I made my way south from the border I visited with interesting travelers and locals along the way, then stopped for a breather in the town of Suri-thani and found a terrific hotel.
The Wang Tai is impeccably clean, beautiful and very fancy, located on the river just outside of town. I felt like a millionaire after the basic island bungalows, even though my hotel room only cost $20 a night. I recommend this hotel very highly I wanted to get to Koh Samui but was tempted to stay another night because I liked the lovely ambiance of the hotel. The swimming pool is refreshing, there are restaurants, a quaint coffee shop, a big airy lobby and the people there are very gracious. They helped me get to the bus where I would catch a ferry to Koh Samui.
I sat on deck and watched the dolphins as we made our way to the island. At Songtao Dock I took a ferry to the Spa Resort, which was recommended in my guidebook. My $5 bungalow was tiny but all right. They offer Yoga classes on the beach and a good range of spa treatments for next to nothing. My two-night stay, including room, Thai herbal steambath, aloe-vera massage, clay-mask facial, oil massage, Yoga classes, two breakfasts and two excellent dinners came to $35! I gave them a $5 tip for which they were very grateful.
I decided to spend my last few nights at Sea-Side Bungalows on the south end of Chawang Beach on Koh Samui. I really scored when I found this place for only $16 a night including two twin beds and private bath. Its quiet but close enough to the action if I want it. Most of the bungalow places have their huts so close to each other, you can hardly see the beach, but I had a fantastic view down the beach and all the way to the tip of the island.
I bought an ice chest and filled it with drinks and yogurt, then went down to the beach where the hotel offers $4 one-hour massages to guests. I took a long walk and returned to the hotel restaurant for an incredible cashew-nut and shrimp dinner for $1.50.
I took advantage of the $4 massages every day. One day I rented a scooter and drove to an elephant-riding place. The handler let me sit on the elephants head instead of on a big seat-thing it was really too cool! We trekked into the jungle, past a beautiful waterfall, and the handler made a wreath of leaves to wear on my head. It was just the two of us and the elephant, so soothing and exotic.
One night I joined a New Moon party on the beach, where people danced and did Thai boxing over the water. The first one to fall into the water was the loser it was a good time.
I got to know the family that owns the bungalows quite well. The mom would call me in the morning, and she and her daughter would sit and chat with me and treat me to coconut-honey shakes. Sometimes I borrowed their scooter to do my errands.
There was a lot of companionship throughout the whole trip, with Danes, Scots, Germans and other people I met, and the Thais who are unusually warm and friendly. I did some diving on Koh Samui, and although it was certainly very good nothing could compare to the Perhentians. I sat on my porch and watched a splendid sunset, knowing that I would have to leave in the morning.
“Mom” got me up early in the morning and drove me to the airport for the flight to Bangkok. I spent the day shopping on Sukhumvit Road. I was hot and messy by the time I got back to the airport, and made yet another great discovery the Amari Hotel in the airport will let you take a shower at their healthclub for $5.
After a refreshing shower and change, I met the courier rep who gave me my plane tickets, and I was off to Tokyo where I was treated to a free overnight at the fabulous Nikko Narita Hotel. What an unbelievable trip! I’m ready to go again anytime.
Conitnued… 1 of 2
-By Leslie Monaco
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