13.5. Pulau Perhentian Besar

The much-hyped new Kuala Lumpur International Airport looks like, um, a new airport. It's clean, modern, and obviously operating well under capacity. One little wart: there are no banking facilities on the "inside" (past-security) bit of the airport, I had to exit through the baggage claim and go back through the domestic security check in order to get some ringgit. (A wise move, as it turned out, as exchanging travelers' checks in Kota Bharu would've been a bit of an adventure...)

I met Sam (as in Samantha) and Martin from the UK, albeit on their way back from New Zealand, at the gate to the Kota Bharu plane -- which, incidentally, probably had more passengers than the flight from Frankfurt. All of us were Perhentian virgins, so we joined forces for the trip out. Kota Bharu airport was much more third-worldly; I did find a luggage storage room and purchased my Air Asia flight back, but there wasn't even an ATM on site, never mind air-conditioning (although thankfully it was only 9 AM).

After an hour's taxi ride we clambered aboard a "ferry" (read: undersized rowboat with oversized engines) for the half-hour trip to the Perhentians, a wet, wild and tushy-tenderizing ride across the open sea -- which, incidentally, was relatively calm, with the wind less than 5 m/s. I have a bit of a tendency to seasickness, but there were no worries this time, as I was too busy hanging on and trying to squint through the salt water spray. (Hint: expect to change clothes after the ride.)

And as for the Perhentians themselves... damn! On the plus side:

Not that there aren't a few minor negatives to paradise: But after over 24 hours of non-stop travel I was pretty pooped, so after almost dozing off in the hammock I crashed into bed at 8. And much to my amazement the combination of mosquito coil (thanks Martin!) and fan kept all the mozzies away...

14.5. Pulau Perhentian Besar

A massive thunderstorm rumbled through at midnight, baruum crash bang, with the accompanying torrential rains. I was snug in my chalet though, and in the morning the temperature was thankfully much more tolerable again. I woke up around 11 (whoops! so much for that morning dive...) and had mee goreng for brunch. It was sufficienly good that I prompted lost my sanity and ordered some iced tea, which turned out to be iced chai. Tropical food safety checklist: Despite forebodings of doom from drinking half the concoction -- it wasn't even particularly good, but in the end I survived -- I headed out to find a dive shop, and after meeting fellow Finn divemaster Taina at Turtle Bay Divers (a shop I'd heard good things about before arrival at that) my choice was obvious. So in the afternoon it was time to dive again!

Dive Log 13

One unwelcome side effect from the rain is that mosquitoes are out in force again, the only way to avoid the onslaught is to stick to the beach strip. So I spent the evening hunting for shells and taking pictures. Dinner was barramundi in lemon grass sauce grilled in a banana leaf, amazingly delicious!

Some approximate costs for life on Perhentian Besar:

Can of soda: RM 2
Mee/nasi goreng for lunch: RM 5
Fish dinner with the works: RM 20
Ferry to mainland: RM 30
Chalet for 2-3 with fan, shower, toilet: RM 50
SCUBA dive with rental gear: RM 70

$1 is RM 3.75 at time of writing (and for the foreseeable future as the ringgit is controlled by a currency board). Prices in the off-season and on more heavily competed Kecil may be lower.

15.5. Pulau Perhentian Besar

Started the day with a dive... straight into a jellyfish. Ouch. Not too spectacular a show, the rain had stirred up the bottom and visibility was poor.

Dive Log 14

After more flied lice it was time to head across the jungle to Flora Bay, and I promptly discovered that yes, tropical jungles are hot, humid and full of strange bugs. I also discovered that jungle trails are especially fun to walk barefoot, although I didn't encounter anything particularly nasty; coral on the beach ended up being the ouchy-ouchiest bit to cross. Plenty of exotic animals in them thar woods though, I spotted monkeys, gigantic monitor lizards and flying squirrels along my way. Alas, I never found the connecting path from the 3rd island to Flora Bay, so I had to abort my mission. More surprisingly yes, I seem to have managed to avoid getting sunburned!

Speaking of being stuck in tropical jungles, it does seem a bit petty to complain about flaky mobile phone service in a place like this -- but dammit, if you're going to go to the trouble of building a repeater here, can't you add more than one line to it? 80% of my calling attempts fail with a "Network busy" error!

It's sometimes hard to remember that Malaysia is an Islamic country and that the state of Terengganu is more so than most, especially when you stumble into a topless beach on your jungle trek. Still, all the local (non-Chinese) women are decently headscarved, and the faint call to prayer from Kecil's mosque is an even better reminder. Compared to the mainland there's a distinct shortage of signs in Jawi (the local Arabic script) though.

Opinion of the day: Mosquito coils kick arse. In a sadistic way it's fun to watch the poor fool mosquitos that sneak in: they immediately get drugged by the smoke and fall to the ground, hopping around pathetically, unable to fly and all too easy to put out of their misery.

Tomorrow KL! (Wakey-wakey at 7 AM at that...)

16.5. Lapangan Terbang (Airport) Kota Bharu

Conventional wisdom seemed to disagree about whether morning or afternoon is the best time to cross between the Perhentians and the mainland -- having now tested both, I'll add my two sen to afternoon. Yeah, I did get "soaked" on the crossing the other way as well, but this time I really got soaked, even my passport (in a plastic cover in a plastic bag in my money belt in my pants and under my shirt!) got a bit wet at the edges, just enough to blur a few stamps. Fortunately I had a spare shirt, but my pants still look like I've had another kind of accident.

It was a hectic morning in other ways as well:

07:00 Wake up
08:00 Ferry should arrive
08:20 Ferry does arrive
08:40 Ferry finishes picking up people
09:20 Ferry docks at Kuala Besut
09:30 Share taxi to airport arranged (along with 3 others going to Kota Bharu)
10:20 Arrival at airport
10:30 Check-in closes

My luggage was intact (the only bag in storage at that!), and I even got an SMS message from work saying that the software patch I'd rushed out before leaving worked in production. Phew! Looks like I'm all set for Kuala Lumpur and Japan...

I was a bit snippy about this "third-world" airport earlier, but now the air conditioning in the terminal feels like obscene luxury. The taxi ride was also interesting, with a bit more of an eye as to what was going on I spotted the state border between Terengganu and even more strictly Islamic Kelantan. The result: roads got ever so slightly worse and signage almost disappeared, with the very notable exception of those proclaiming "Allahu Akbar" in Jawi.

Note to self: How come I never remember that grape soda is always hideous?

Air Asia delivered what they promised, a no-frills ride from Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur, albeit this time to the old Subang airport (which will evidently be closed by the time you read this). One cute touch: instead of playing the usual easy listening music during descent, they played Bob Marley, which is a really great idea! Most people associate easy listening with vaguely unpleasant places like dentist offices, but it's impossible to associate reggae with anything other than really mellow Rastas hanging out on the beach. Song choices were a bit weird though: nothing wrong with "One Love", but "I Shot the Sheriff"...?