Island Life

Thump! Thump! Thump!

Our fiberglass speedboat was spending more time in the air than in the water.

Fifteen of us passengers were holding on for dear life, the ones with suitcases looked scared out of their wits and the rest of us were smiling. Our driver had the throttle wide open and we were literally catching air and slamming hard back into the choppy sea. Above us the sky was gray and I prayed the rain would wait just a few more minutes.

I was on my way to the island of Perhentian Kecil from the mainland. After taking a sleeping pill to survive a long night bus from Kuala Lumpur, the insanely rough and vibrating boat ride was exactly what I needed to wake up.

One poor older woman sat in the front of the boat was being bounced out of her seat painfully, so we carefully changed positions. She must have thought I was mad for asking, but for the extortionist cost of the ticket (35RM), I at least wanted to get my money’s worth. It was the fastest and most violent ride I have ever had in a boat so far. The sea spray was salty and delicious but I’m pretty sure my spleen is now someplace it doesn’t belong!

Within a few hundred meters of the shore, we had to transfer to a smaller “taxi” boat and pay him again. A rotten surprise and I would have swam in if I didn’t have bags. Our new driver drove the small skiff all the way into the sand with a thump and we waded ashore in knee deep water.

The sand between my toes was ecstasy even though some of it was already getting lodged into my coral wounds.

I was greeted with palm trees, a sprawling beach, and loads of backpackers milling about.

Finding accommodation on this island turned out to be a nightmare. Perhentian is considered Malaysia’s “party” island, even though its in one of the most strict Muslim states. Though much lower key, this is their version of Thailand’s Ko Phangan, and I just hit it at peak season. There were scores of people wandering the wide beach wearing their rucksacks already looking for a room, so I knew finding a place was going to be tricky.

I spoke to one owner in my best splattering of Bhasa Malay/Indonesian and pretty much jumped the queue. He told me directly in front of other people to come back at 12:00 because some people were checking out. Speaking a tad of the local language paid off once again!

My bungalow at “Symphony Village” on Long Beach was squalid at best and $15 a night, but at least I had a bed unlike many people that I met later sleeping on the beach and in various receptions around the island. The first morning I walked out of my place, there was a giant 2 meter long Monitor lizard sitting directly in front of my steps tasting the air with a long, forked tongue. It was enough to give me a jolt, the things look nearly identical to Komodo Dragons and this one was longer and bigger around than I am! When I went for my camera he made a run for the jungle, so I’ll have to get him another time.

Immediately I could see that this is the most expensive place I have been on my trip so far. Food, water, internet, everything is actually more than the expected island price because of high season. But with water a pale turquoise, incredible visibility, and sand softer than ever – I was in love. Plus, not needing shoes or a shirt for an entire week is worth spending a few Ringet.

By day, people swim, snorkel, burn, and hide in the shade sipping on fruit shakes – just like any other island in Southeast Asia. At night, people gather in the huge Panorama bungalow restaurant for a movie then hit the bar just off of the beach. For some reason I met a huge group of young Scottish and English travelers and we made night after night of it talking and dancing, usually until 05:00am!

On the island I became friends with a French girl named Noelie and a French guy that did energy work. The three of us had an amazing connection and it was worth coming here just to talk about Celestine Prophecy without being branded an esoteric mushroom-eater. I learned a lot from her and it reminded me so much of my eerie meeting with a yoga teacher in Chengdu in 2007. I walk around the island vibrating with life and energy and once again I have been reminded that nothing happens on accident.

Its always good to have a few friends on an island, one of my greatest challenges of vagabonding alone is asking a stranger to put suncream on my already burned back….what a horrible pickup line!

Noelie told me about a “voodoo house” about 30 minutes of walking from the beach on the other side of the island. She told me about the strange feeling that she had there and advised me not to “step into the square”. Like a kid told not to do something, I immediately knew what I had to do tomorrow morning….

….step into the square! 🙂

I set off the next day on the 20 minute trail to Coral Beach and after crossing several small private beaches, I had to scramble around some sharp volcanic rocks to a private little patch of sand. I found the voodoo square looming in the shadows of the forest, but at first glance it looked like a joke put up for the tourists. Animal skulls, bones, bits of coral, and broken glass hung from strings all around the site and a flimsy bamboo lean-to formed a square.

I took a few pictures even though there was a sign saying not to do so, but when it came time to step into the square, I honestly couldn’t. I also had a strange feeling there, it felt as if someone very disturbed lived there and I would be walking into their living room. I’m not very superstitious, but I honestly did not feel well in the area. Besides, I was standing alone on a remote patch of sand, no one knew where I was, holding a $1500 camera in my hand, and there apparently was an insane voodoo man somewhere in the area. I decided to retreat.

The diving in Perhentian Kecil is superb and cheap (less than US $25 a dive). Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, my coral cuts from Indonesia are actually getting worse and I do not think that I will be doing any more diving on this trip. Unbelievable. For some reason, the infection is making skin die and fall apart on my feet, so the oozing wounds are actually growing.

There is definitely some marine bacteria alive in my feet that my body cannot get rid of (it has now been nearly 2 months) and with my skin literally falling off, putting on a pair of fins would probably mean finishing the rest of my trip on crutches. Oh well, everything happens for a reason….maybe there was a shark or bad tank that had my name on it out there.

While swimming one day I did spot a small 2 ft blacktip reef shark riding the waves as well as “Nemo” clownfish protecting their anemones and a big colorful trigger fish. The water is so clear you can spot things on the bottom like blue starfish in water way over your head – absolute paradise.

Unfortunately despite being the “dry season”, I am constantly seeing more and more proof of how much the world’s weather has changed. It rained 5 nights out of 8 that I spent on the island, but not all night, and the lightening shows over the South China Sea were well worth the inconvenience. The rain made the mozzies come out en masse and you have to stay constantly protected here. Any limb left hanging out of your mosquito net is open game and expect to be less a pint of blood by morning if you forget to close it.

I think a few more days of blowing money and not acting my age are exactly what the doctor ordered, so I’ll stick around and then head to the much more chilled out Tioman Island which is in the far south and close to Singapore. The island is duty free (no tax) so things are drastically cheaper….exactly what my bank account ordered. Then…bai nai? (Thai for “where?”)

Anyone that has been reading for the past few years can probably take a guess!

Before leaving Kuala Lumpur, I booked a very cheap (US $35) return flight to Bangkok to meet several new and old friends in Chiang Mai. I know, I know…its my third time to Thailand, but how can I get this close without getting a proper plate of Pad Thai and a Thai Redbull bucket just one more time? 🙂

Life is good.

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One Response to “Island Life”



  1. Good call on not stepping into the square. No needed to temp the local chi.

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