Waiting for the Monsoon

A Visit to the Timeless Perhentian Islands
  |  Gorp.com

An old friend of mine had recommended I pay a visit to the Perhentian Islands, along Malaysia's eastern seaboard, as I progressed north through the peninsula. His name is Rob Greyber, poet and journeyman, and he was helping me plan my Asian trip back in early June. We were at my kitchen table when he sketched a map of the islands. He indicated a beach, "Long Beach," on the smaller of the two, scrawling an "X" at its north end. "The Moonlight Chalet," he said with a smile. "That's the place to stay."

Though the monsoon season was imminent as we departed Singapore, I was determined to follow up on his tip. The description was all too enticing: "There are certain places where people say, 'You should have been here ten years ago, when it was really nice'—they'll be saying that in the Perhentians in ten years."

The two Perhentians are off Malaysia's northeast coast, just south of the Thai border and about an hour by slow boat from the mainland. 'Big Island' is government-owned. 'Small Island' has a fishing village and modest hotels and restaurants for visitors. As yet there is no sign of development or the big resorts that plague the once-idyllic islands to the north. And the islanders hope it will stay that way.

I'll spare you the cliche description of white, pristine beaches, crystal blue water and swaying palms. Imagine a perfect beach and you'll have the picture. Thatch-roofed bungalows furnish the lodgings, nightly barbecues complement the food, and hawked-billed turtles are typical swimming companions in the lagoon. The Perhentians are one of those places people come to visit for days but end up staying for months. There's a Japanese guy who ran out of money a few months back and took to cleaning toilets in exchange for food and lodging.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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