The People of the Perhentian Islands
Everybody said it to me before I left the UK to go travelling in February 2011 – ‘you are going to meet so many people.’
There are many fantastic things about travelling. The experience is similar to being a child again – you are trying new things all the time (food, language, accommodation, friendships, music, sights etc). There are hardly any responsibilities. You can indulge in your favourite creative pursuits, guilt-free (I love reading and writing, chatting and nature-spotting).
But after 6 months of travelling in South East Asia, the number one reason why I’m now a hopeless travel addict is because of the people. Locals and other backpackers. From countries as far apart as Canada and Taiwan, New Zealand and Denmark, Russia and the USA, China and Australia, to name but a few. It’s been the best multicultural education I’ve ever had. And the memories will last forever.
For example, I spent the month of July 2011 on the island of Pulau Perhentian Kecil in Malaysia. This is Coral Beach where I stayed.
Here’s a selection of people I met whilst cast away on the smaller of the Perhentian Islands – and 10 reasons why I think Pulau Perhentian Kecil is well worth a visit...
The Wrexham Three
Emily, Dave and Owens from Wrexham in Wales – they’re working for a season at Sharila Beach Resort on Coral Beach.
Emily is a natural people-person. Immediately you feel welcomed by her.
When it comes to social skills, Emily asks you a shed load of questions and she’s one of those rare people who listens fully to your answers.
Dave lives in his hammock on the beach with Tumpur the monkey by day. He plays guitar at night and Owens sings.
We came across Owens's twin brother on the island - Lars from Germany. Surely they were separated at birth?
Emily, Dave and Owens are very funny so I spent most of July laughing at them, I mean with them!
In fact, I lost my voice for a couple of days from laughing so much - and talking to Emily til 3 in the morning over a can of Diet Coke or two.
Tumpur the monkey
Ok, so Tumpur is a baby macaque monkey but she’s so like a little human that I thought I’d include her in the top people I met in the Perhentian Islands.
Really, I have Tumpur the monkey to thank for meeting the Wrexham Three. I was sitting near Dave in his hammock one day on the beach at Sharila Resort when I saw Tumpur sitting on Dave’s shoulder, looking for nits in his hair (Tumpur likes to groom humans before she falls asleep).
Tumpur's hands are soft and they curl around your fingers. Her nails are tiny and clean. Her bottom lip trembles when she's a bit scared.
She has the funniest monkey expressions. And she will wee on your head if you’re not careful.
It was through Emily, Dave and Owens that I also met many of the local workers (Malays) and some workers from Nepal and Bangladesh.
There was Rosie from Malaysia – expert barbecuer and all-round smily Miley at Sharila Beach Resort. We’re now Facebook friends – so I can keep tabs on the Further Adventures of Rosie.
Emily spent time teaching Rosie English words in exchange for Malaysian words. And Rosie just seemed to like hanging out with us when he wasn’t working. A very genuine guy.
If you ever go to Pulau Perhentian Kecil, go find Rosie at Sharila and ask him to cook you some barbecue chicken, kingfish, mackerel, barracuda or lobster – deeeeelicious!
Raju’s from Bangladesh and he cooked up fab burgers and noodles. He always had a big smile for me on Sharila’s private beach.
Then there was Bhim - he works in the restaurant at Sharila Beach Resort. Bhim has a beautiful ever-present smile.
Bhim is from Nepal. He has a wife called Niramala and two sons at home in Nepal, 11 year old Keshv and 6 year old Deepak.
And Bhim’s a journalist by trade – he worked for 5 years for the National News Agency in Kathmandu, based in the area of Banke.
In 2006, Bhim wrote articles about the conflict between the Maoists and the Nepalese government. Bhim was attacked with a knife for the articles he wrote. He was slashed across his right cheek. He was attacked from behind so the perpetrator has never been identified or caught. Bhim needed 14 stitches in his face.
Bhim says: ’13,000 people were killed in Nepal over 10 years of conflict. My aim was always to write the truth, to write for my people.’
Since the Maoists formed a coalition with the Nepalese government and gained official power, it has been impossible for Bhim to find work as a journalist at home.
In May 2010, Bhim had to make the very difficult decision to leave his family at home – to work for three years in Malaysia. Bhim sends 80% of his monthly salary home to his wife and family, whilst he lives on around £1 a day in Malaysia (accommodation and food is provided with his job).
Bhim says: ‘When I’m going to sleep at night, I remember my two sons and my wife in Nepal. When I get my salary each month, I call my wife and sons and they ask me when I come back. I am homesick like homesick. I married for 13 years. I have never left my wife before, there’s always a fear she might leave me.’
Bhim wants to return home to write about Nepal.
‘My dream is to return to Nepal and be a good journalist, write about poor and marginalised groups,’ Bhim says. ‘I love the high mountains in my country, we have the beautiful scenery of Everest, we have cool rivers that run fast and a national park home to a species of rhino found only in Nepal.’
Bhim’s story makes you sit down, take several deep breaths and question your understanding of words like ‘courage’ and ‘humility’.
Nick and Joey
From London and Texas respectively. Great guys to hang out with on the beach by day and by night. Joey is a doctor and Nick a tennis player. Very cool to find out about other people’s interesting lives and their reasons for travelling.
Great chick from North London. We found out a few days after meeting her that she was a very talented singer (she kept that one quiet). Freya did a duet of the Bob Dylan classic ‘Make You Feel My Love’ with Owens one night at Sharila. Beautiful. Freya travelled on to meet her boyfriend in Singapore, then went off to Indonesia. She was fab to have around.
Sandy and Nicola
We splashed in the bright blue sea and had barbecues on the beach. Sandy is a teacher from Wales and Nicola is a nurse from the UK who is thinking of retraining to become a doctor. Fun and interesting company.
10 reasons to visit Pulua Perhentian Kecil in Malaysia
1)Nature – a macaque monkey, crabs, stingrays, clown fish, sharks, turtles, giant monitor lizards, naughty kittens and lazy cats – just some of the wildlife you can see here and there are fantastic snorkelling trips you can do.
2)Fish barbecues on the beach for £3 - £5 / $5-$8. Choose between lobster, Spanish mackerel, kingfish, squid, giant prawns, barracuda, shark – with sauces such as garlic butter, black pepper, coconut, soy sauce – with rice, baked potatoes, coleslaw, pineapple, watermelon and banana bread. Bargain!
3)Great diving – I tried scuba for the first time in the Perhentian Islands – the lovely Anouk at Angel Divers took me out on a Discovery Dive for £30 / $50. An hour underwater whizzed by in ten minutes as I gawped at clownfish, pipefish, yellow spotty boxfish, corals, parrotfish, all sorts.
4)People – you get to know other backpackers, locals and seasonal workers very quickly on Pulau Perhentian Kecil – you can join in with Frisbee on the beach, volleyball, football, snorkelling trips, diving, nights out on Long Beach, cards on the beach....
5)Swimming – Long Beach on Pulua Perhentian Kecil was excellent for swimming. The water was bright turquoise and waist deep for about 50 metres or so, the sand underfoot was soft and rippled.
6)Walks – you can walk across rocks and through jungle to a number of private beaches and you can discover where the locals live (although I was too lazy to walk there!)
7)Beach hut life – there is nothing better than waking up in a little house on the beach to the sound of gentle waves. I stayed at Maya Beach Resort, run by a fantastic Malay family who couldn’t do enough for me.
8)No cars - not even a moped. Lush. Just sand, sea and chilling out on the beach.
9)Low cost living – I live very comfortably here on £20 / day. I could have lived comfortably here on £12 / day. People do it for less. You can get a dorm for 20 Ringgit per night (£4 / $6) at Sharila. My sea view beach hut at Maya was 70 Ringgit per night (£14 / $20).
10)Weather – great sunshine from March to November, fab thunderstorms that crack the sky open at night, the island pretty much closes down though between November and March when the monsoon rains come and the waves are too big.
PS Here's Tumpur with an iPhone - looks like an iPad, doesn't it?