East Coast – The Jewel of Malaysia PART 1: Kota Bharu and Perhentian Islands

When you mention you are heading to Malaysia, people tend to assume you mean Kuala Lumpur, maybe Penang and a few even get to the right side of the country with the Perhentians. When we decided to visit Malaysia, however, we decided to get over to the east to experience small, relaxed towns on the beach and cities that are usually bypassed altogether. We were looking to get away from the Usual Suspects (also commonly known as tourists…) and kick back with the country and it’s wonderful people and delightful culture.

Johor Bharu
Where we began this eastern odyssey! Kota Bharu is a place that is frequented by the overnighters who are eagerly awaiting the boat to the beautiful Perhentian Islands. We decided, with assistance from Mother Nature, to stay 2 nights, then 3 nights, then 4 while we waited for the waves to cease their abilities of being capable to capsize the little speed boats that ferry us off to beaches and all things relaxation. This meant we got to know KB rather well. And what better to do on a rainy day then, you guessed it, head to a museum! So off we trotted (ran) to the museum of WW2… At 60pence a pop, the entrance fee can’t really be scoffed at. A thoroughly interest museum which I highly reccommend if you’re interested in history and need to pass some time in less than glorious weather.
Unfortunately, Kota Bharu didn’t get that much more interesting, but that’s sort of why I liked it. It was a normal town where normal people lived, not full of backpackers or western restaurants. We ate awesome rotis (breads) and lots of milky iced tea. We took slow strolls and enjoyed people watching and appreciated seeing normality personified.

Perhentian Islands
Finally! The weather held up and we were able to hop on a dodgy looking speed boat and whip across to the Islands. Thanks to the previous few day’s weather, the sea was beyond choppy and it was quite some ride. Seeing land in the distance was rather a relief… And stepping off to see squeaky sand and clear waters was also rather nice.

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Following the journey a search for some accommodation persued and was somewhat unfruitful, and involved walking (complete with backpacks and a 25kg suitcase lifted in the air for Brad) to the end of the beach in search of the cheapest rooms to then turn around and head back to wear we began. Ho ho ho. We ended up in what can be described in the loosest sense of the word as a room. The sea view was ace, and far better than the view I was treated to in the morning of the owner’s 3 or so year old son squatting in front of my door in the sand and letting his bowels go, very loosely. All the while, he gave me a death stare and retreating into our mosquito and bug infested room was my only option. Good morning to you too pal.

We stayed on Kecil, the smaller of the two main islands and also the least ‘resorty’ and more budget friendly. Coral Bay is where the boat dropped us off and where we parked up for the night. The beach is lovely, but full of boats and pretty busy, so we wandered through the island over to Long Beach. An amazing beach with huge waves, walk a little and you will find a place all to yourselves! With a handful of beach-front restaurants it’s a lovely beach to spend a few hours chasing the waves.

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Back on coral bay, you will find lots of businesses (meaning random people) offering snorkelling trips for around £5 for half a day. We did it in the afternoon and had a little boat to ourselves with our ‘tour guide’. We saw some amazing fish and coral, a damn black-toothed shark (apparently harmless unless you get too close, I wasn’t taking any risks…) and best of all, an elusive turtle. That was one surreal moment and bloody awesome.
Though touristy, the Perhentians offer beach beauty that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Malasyaia.

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