Paradise in Malaysia: Pillow-white Sand, Wheelbarrow Taxis, Fire Dancers, and Snorkeling like Sex

Pulau Perhentian. In the turquoise waters of Malaysia’s northeastern coast, these tiny islands are postcard paradise. Awash with pillow white sand and dotted with swaying palms, Malaysia’s hidden gem shines bright in the tropical sun.
Now remember. It wasn’t exactly a breeze to get here. No. It was not.

Take a gander here if you need a reminder, but otherwise suffice it to know that we are exhausted, and quite comically delirious after our 5am wake-up call on the overnight bus from Johor Bahtu. We’re hungry. We don’t exactly look hot. I, for one, haven’t brushed my teeth in two days. We’re still wearing the same clothes we were wearing with the animals at the Singapore Zoo. And we’re probably very, very smelly.

And now imagine this:

Yes, we’re stinky. And yes we have extraordinarily awful breath. But we’re here. And that, my friend, is a very wonderful thing.

We walked around to find a place to stay with our new Chinese friends by the incredibly awesome names of Wee Wee, Kit, and Jelly (I told you they were awesome ;) ). Eventually the 6 of us settled on the Lemongrass bungalows by the beach.

I spent a couple of extremely relaxing (some might say lazy) mornings in our hammock on the front porch, doing absolutely nothing… the sun peeking through the leafy palm at our doorstep, looking out on the grassy lawn where we played a bit of kick-around soccer with the locals. Our bungalow had a mosquito net – and call me ridiculous, but – I’ve always wanted to sleep under one of those! We also walked to Coral Bay on the other side of the island – it took us 15 minutes to cross at the narrowest part of the island, and when we got there it was pretty much exactly like our side of the island, only way-less awesome. ;) We bought postcards, Andy broke a chair, and we moved on.

As the sun set, little wooden tables, a foot off the sand and surrounded by palm-woven mats, emerged on the beach, interspersed with fire lamps as island music blew across the darkening sand. As the moon rose (you’ll have to ask Melissa about this, she swears on her life she saw the most incredible “Moon Rise” that night, whatever that is – for the record I don’t believe her), the fire dancers came out. So we took a seat at one of the minature tables, ordered a few Tiger lagers, watched the dancers and shot the breeze with some incredible strangers who were soon to become great friends.

One of these new friends, Daniel from Salzburg, has been living and working on this island as a dive instructor for over a year. His family back home thinks he has been possessed by demons – the only “reasonable explanation” for why he has found new life on this remote island of peninsular Malaysia. Hearing these stories made me appreciate how lucky I am to have family and friends who think what I’m doing is wonderful – and not the work of some satanic forces. ;)

On our last night on the island, after a late dinner at a small beachside restaurant, we clambered down from a treetop hut onto a sand trail, and running down the path pushing a wheelbarrow, this smiling Malaysian man looks at us and asks, “Taxi?”, innately serious and without breaking his stride. It was so perfectly out of context that we all broke into spontaneous laughter.

We also shared what was mine and Jo’s first “Thai bucket”… of monkey juice. Needless to say, we were far from bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed the next morning. ;)

When we finally left the island, it was by boat that we arrived in Kuala Besut – a small port town on the east coast of Malaysia. It was here that we met some of the most memorable locals of our journey thus far: It was after 8pm and we were walking down the side of the dark road in search of some snacks for our upcoming overnight bus. These two little Malaysian girls came out onto their doorstep and waved at us as we passed their home. We stopped to say hello and they told us they were 7 years old (fairly decent level of English, if you ask me!). Their mother? older sister? was perched on the curb under an umbrella, cooking something on a tiny stove outside what must have been their front door. It was raining, and she beckoned for us to come over. She then offered us some of what she was cooking – it was incredible! Squid, seasoned to absolute perfection.And then the boy, a little, round-faced and smiley thing, asked, “May I please have your facebook address?” How cute, right? You can’t make this stuff up.

And as we left, the girls stood there, on their tip-toes, extending their little arms to their lips and blowing us big kisses, “Mmmwah!”

I still smile every time I think of this wonderful happy family.

It’s the little things, isn’t it? :)