Hello Singapore! Goodbye Singapore!
Subtitle: Living the Good Life on Penhentian Island, Malaysia
September 7, 2016
We left Cebu, Philippines by plane on September 7, reaching Singapore at 6:55PM. It was our intention to stay in Singapore a few days, but there was only a small window of opportunity for a reservation on Perhentian Island, Malaysia. Penhentian is rumored to be some of the best diving in Malaysia. The three-day Islamic E’id al Adha, which is observed throughout Muslim Malaysia, AND the long weekend celebrating Malaysian Independence Day had packed the hotels. What this meant was we needed to leave Singapore the next morning to fly to Kuala Lumpur (the capital of Malaysia) at 6:40 AM. *Aside* Translation: we had time to walk down the street in Singapore, eat a bowl of very good sliced fish soup, grab about 28 ½ winks (there certainly wasn’t time for 40 winks) and greet our 3:15 AM wake-up call. This is technically an international flight from Singapore to Malaysia so it’s early check-in.
Okay; I need to back up just a minute. The first thing we noticed as we landed in Singapore was the huge palm tree farms. *Economics lesson* Malaysia is the second largest producer of palm oil (Indonesia is number one). The palm oil palm tree is different from the coconut palm tree in that it only has palm leaves or fronds and fruit but no trunk or stem. It may take 3 to 5 years for a palm oil tree to reach production age but may live a productive 25 years. Malaysia has allowed clear cutting of acres and acres of jungle to plant palms for oil, providing about 46% of the world’s palm oil. At this point in time the Malaysian government has pledged to limit further clear cutting development by the palm oil industry. Back in Singapore: we’ve returned to the airport. We ate “breakfast” in the Singapore airport: a hot stone bowl of bibimbop. It was certainly not a
traditional American breakfast treat, but seemingly appropriate in Asia: very filling and delicious. Our connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur delivered us Kota Bharu. We were able to book a taxi in the airport which took us to the pier for transport on a fast ferry to Perhentian Island - the big island. There is also a small island but that wasn’t on the agenda for this trip.
*Aside* When I think of a ferry I think of a very large vessel that moves people and often vehicles from one place to another. In Asia it is often just a small boat that is a people mover. This ferry was a people ferry and it transported about 12 people and their luggage from the pier in Kota Bharu to Perhentian Island, making several stops at different docks for different resorts around the two islands (little and big). This costs us about $15.00 per person (taxi and ferry) with an additional Marine Conservation fee of $1.25 each. The two 200 horsepower engines made it a fast ride. Luckily the water was calm or it also would have been a very bouncy ride!
As we approach The Barat Resort, where we will stay, it looks great: long beach that I can walk and lots of places to sit in the shade. We check into our cabin, unpack our bags, take a walk to check out restaurant offerings, then have linner (that would be lunch and dinner put together). *Aside* While we enjoy dinner we realize that the mountain on the “small” island across from us effectively blocks the view of the sunset. This also means that the sunrise is on the opposite of our island, so in order to see either one we would have to take a trek, so probably no amazing sunsets or sunrises during this portion of the trip. We call it an early night in as much as we are worn out from the two days of travel and Tom will dive in the morning. *Aside* This is a no-motorized vehicle beach as in Malapascua, so the only jarring noise comes from screaming children. Since this is a big family holiday time, there are plenty of them, bless their little hearts. The dive shop at Barat is mainly doing scuba diving classes so the “fun dives” they are offering, aka the dives Tom wants to do, are few and far between. Tom decides to wander down the beach to see if he can find a better dive operation. Down the beach we go, rounding the tip of the island, admiring the other resorts on the way. The Pro Dive Shop at Coral View offers him good rates and better dives, so Tom makes arrangements to move his diving there. Since we are by nature curious, we decide to check on the prices of the other resorts along this beach. The Perhentian Island Resort is a palatial spread with high prices - about $130 for the lowest priced room - more than double what we are paying now. Coral View Island Resort is more reasonable: about $90 for an ocean view room. They show us on a map where it would be. It’s not just ocean view, it’s right on the beach. They have just two days available (Tuesday and Wednesday) that we could book to extend our stay after Barat. Book ‘em Dano! I mean Tom. Done! We don’t get a tour of the room but the Coral View Chalet looks larger than what we have at Barat.
*Aside* Our room at Barat is adequate, but definitely not large. The bathroom is small with the shower in one corner. The drain for the shower is in the opposite corner by the hand basin. This means that whenever the shower is used, the bathroom floor stays wet for hours. But we’re near the beach and the view of the small island with its huge mosque across the strait is lovely. We enjoy good food at Barat and the two small restaurants between Barat and Coral View, Belinda’s Café and Blue Paradise. We really like the mango sticky rice with cream. We eat the best fresh fish we’ve had on this trip for dinner on our last night at Barat. They fire up the BBQ in the evening at 7:00 pm. You choose your meats (lamb, chicken, several varieties of whole fish, prawns, and squid). The price determined by the weight of what you choose. Then they grill them for you, completing the plate with rice and salad.
*Aside* It’s not that we haven’t had good fish in Asia. The fish is good, but the preparation has been lacking. In the Philippines everything is overcooked even if you order it rare. In my opinion overcooking is a mean thing to do to a great piece of fish, but short of ordering it raw - wait that’s sushi - you can’t get it any way but overcooked. Even ordering it rare often doesn’t do much good. The fish and the shrimp are perfectly done and so delicious. We practically gnawed the bones and licked the shells. We capped it off with mango sticky rice from Belinda’s Café and called it a day.
Next morning we moved to Coral View. There is about $30 difference in the accommodations but a world of difference in the quality. We have a private veranda with a choice of seating (chaise lounge or chair), a full living room and a BIG bedroom with a much more comfortable bed and even a chandelier over the bed! Even the bathroom is much bigger and although the shower is still open, it’s more separated with a drain under the shower head. We feel as though we have moved into pure luxury, from the rugs on the floor to the quality (and quantity) of the furnishings. Oh! And we can HEAR the waves on the beach from our room. It’s freakin’ AWESOME! Now we’ll just sit and wait for the monkey parade. *Aside* What? What monkey parade you ask?
There is a troop of at least thirteen Langur Leaf Monkeys that live at Coral View. In the afternoon they make their way across the property, literally over the chalet porches and roofs along the beach and through the dive shop to climb up the banisters, over to Penhentian Island Resort. There are other kinds of animals running around on this island: giant fruit bats (they have a wing span of nearly three feet), monitor lizards and flying squirrels. We saw a man with a pet pigeon that was cooing to him, nipping at the man’s toes. There are pet cats here to, clean, well loved and friendly.
On our last night on the island we enjoy the BBQ fish again. I fear that it will be hard to beat this meal. Then the wind comes up and it starts storming. Tom and I return to our chalet to sit on our veranda watching the storm, wishing that it would be so bad that the next people couldn’t make their reservation and we’d need to stay another day or so.
But that didn’t happen. Next morning we packed up and headed back to Kota Bharu. We booked a cab to the train station in Wakaf Bharu, about 2 hours away. *Aside* Sounds expensive doesn’t it? However it only costs about $25.00. We’re going to take the so called “Jungle Train” to Kuala Lumpur. We arrive to discover that there will be no train until tomorrow so we buy a ticket, then find a room close by in the White House Cubical Hotel. *Aside* We tried to book the train on-line but had no success in navigating the train website, or even determining when the train would run so this hiccup was not unexpected. We’re past ready for dinner when it starts pouring rain. The restaurant downstairs is closed for an E’id event so the hotel loaned us umbrellas to walk down the street for dinner. Finding a restaurant, there are several things that look good on the menu, but we quickly discover that there is only one choice: fried rice. Okay then fried rice it will be. Next morning we wander the other direction to find another restaurant serving breakfast. We find one serving lots of different things, of which none look like a normal American breakfast, but all look good. We watch for a few minutes as people come up and order. The women behind the counter expertly fold a piece of wax coated paper inside a newspaper, fill it with rice and the chosen food, roll it up, secure it with a rubber band and send the patron on their way. We choose a sampler plate: sticky rice with shredded fresh coconut on the side; slightly sweet white rice with cooked with wild rice; noodle pilaf; curry chicken; and curry fish. Thai milk tea comes with breakfast. The food is delicious! *Aside* I’ve had Thai tea in America and never liked it, but this Thai tea was perfect. I could have drunk ten cups, if it wasn’t loaded with caffeine. We are enchanted with the establishment and apparently they are enchanted with us, asking to have a picture with us before we leave.
We wander all the way through the open market on the hunt for sim cards for our phones, but the language gap gets in our way. Most of these people just don’t speak or understand much English. We decide to just wait until Kuala Lumpur, but find no end of interesting merchandise in the market. *Aside* In Wakaf Bharu I have become “Auntie” as in, “Auntie, please look at the lovely selection of bedding mats and pillows I have for you.” Returning to the hotel, we pack our bags, going to park ourselves in the train terminal to wait for 6:00 PM and the Jungle Train. We have lower berths on the overnight train.
Tune in soon for the further adventures of Tom and Rebecca in Asia!!