|It is not until you start travelling around a country - with the hours spent at bus stations, waiting for ferry connections etc - that you really get to know it. The journey from KL to its best beaches on the Perhentian Islands was relatively harmless. Even though Malaysia (well the peninsula bit at least) is so small, all the buses insist on travelling at night. The combination of no traffic and no distance means that you inevitably arrive at about 4am. Still, there always seems to be some helpful taxi driver around at any hour of the morning to get you where you want to be. Crossing Malaysia by bus also enabled me to learn two vital phrases in Malay: Dilirang Merokok (No Smoking); and Kaunter Tiket (Ticket Counter). A woman in a shop taught me how to say "Thank you" but I have forgotten that already!
Everyone who has been to Malaysia says "you must go the Perhentians" and that they rival the beaches of southern Thailand. In order for N to rest her leg and as we had already decided to skip through southern Thailand on the grounds that both of us had been there before, a bit of beach time seemed ideal.
Long beach on the Small Island (as it is known amongst the local boatmen) is very beautiful with the white sand and turquoise sea of which classic postcards are made. We had a good time there for a few days relaxing on the beach and eating the great barbequed fish. I also found time to do some diving at the islands two best sights and saw all the usual suspects as well as an awful lot of barracuda, some very big puffer fish and the worst excuse of a shark I have ever seen. A bamboo shark is not worth getting of bed for at roughly the size of a trout and about as threatening as a teddy bear! The island also seemed to contain the highest concentration of guitar players in Asia. This would not be a problem in itself save for the fact that the only song any of them know how to play is Guns n' Roses "Sweet Child of Mine" which, after the 180th rendition, gets a bit repetitive.
The Perhentians have definately changed since they were first part of the "backpackers circuit". There is no doubt that they are still changing and at quite a rate. The locals have worked out that you can fit in more wooden beach front bungalows if you put them perpendicular to the beach than if you put then parrellel to it. Whilst this is true, it no longer makes them beach front! Concrete is slowly replacing wood as the construction material of choice and the island's first 5 star hotel cannot be far away.
We walked across the island one day to the quieter Coral Bay and Romantic Beach which was a nice change. Unfortunately some idiot had warned N to "watch out for the Monitor Lizards". As a result she was petrified the whole way. In fact we did see two of them on our 15 minute walk and they were not all that small!
After leaving the islands our journey to Penang required us to catch a bus in Kota Bharu - the most islamic of Malaysia's cities. All the women here wore the hijab and, unlike the rest of Malaysia, there were very few Chinese people around. With 8 hours to wait for the bus we decided that an air-conditioned shopping centre would be the best place to experience some Islamic culture! Although it didn't have a cinema (it must be haraam or something) its one redeeming feature was its bowling alley! N is blaming her knee for her poor performance and my AC Milanesque victory!