Planet Boomer has travelled all over Southeast Asia for years in search of peaceful, pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. A combination that can prove surprisingly difficult to find. It certainly exists in Thailand but it can be crazy busy and expensive. It can be found on the Eastern coast of Vietnam as well with a range of accommodation and services for most every ones needs. But, it can be punishingly hot there in the summer, prone to vicious typhoons in the fall and rainy and dreary in the winter. Bali can deliver the above trio in some places, but with over 10 million tourists arriving a year, your Robinson Crusoe beach moment is shared with discarded plastic bottles and a bunch of hairy Russian guys. In truth, these are all viable destinations depending on the season, your budget and personal tastes. But, for our retiree audience the best news is that while nothing is perfect, there are always options to consider.
Since arriving on Penang Island 8 months ago we have been disappointed with the local beaches and waters. For a place with so much going for it, clear waters and pristine beaches completely fail to make the grade. We have found no beaches where the water is clean enough to swim; despite the pretty sunset shots of sand and surf we all take. However, our friends have been raving about another place in Malaysia just a 50-minute flight away. Powder white sand, crystal clear waters, gorgeous coral gardens, cheap accommodations and fresh caught Tiger Prawns grilled over charcoal. Count us in.
The Perhentians are off the east coast of Malaysia. The two islands are named Kecil and Besur but that really just means ‘ Big’ and ‘Small’. There are a variety of hotel properties, all 3-4 stars, one of the best being the ‘The Tuna Bay Resort’. Their cottages were fully booked so we choose ‘New Cocohut and Cozy Chalet’, a 5-minute walk down the beach. Our groups rooms are on the second floor of a small building over the beach; a bit Spartan but with a nice balcony, air conditioning and a very welcome mini fridge. Donning masks and snorkels we are immediately in the water. Nothing special but the good part is yet to come.
We have dinner at Tuna Bay, considerably depleting the Tiger Prawn population, and book a snorkeling trip for the next morning. With four different sites to visit over 6 hours, we begin at the aptly named Shark Point. The water is clear, the coral is nice and soon enough 7 Black Tip Reef Sharks who circle lazily 5-10 meters below us join us. Not at all dangerous to swimmers these boys do have a reputation for ankle biting people wading in the surf line. They do look the part though. Too much Discovery Channel Shark Week viewing does drive a couple of people back into the boat. Next up are the spectacular Coral Gardens with thousands and thousands of tropical fish. The coral is healthy, the colours fantastic and we hate to leave. After a beach lunch we then move on to Tuna Bay (down the coast from the resort) where we swim with loggerhead turtles the size of coffee tables that glide gracefully across the sandy bottom.
Our last stop finally fulfills our Robinson Crusoe beach quest. Around the headland from Turtle Bay is Turtle Beach. White powder sand runs 10-15 meters from the surf stopping abruptly at a wall of green jungle. As the hot sand fries our toes we look left and right for hundreds of meters and there is nothing. No people, no boats but out own. The water is crystal clear, the bottom the same white sand as the beach. It is late afternoon, our backs and legs are fried from snorkeling and there is no man Friday to bring us cold drinks and a grilled Tiger Prawn on a stick. Reluctantly, we head back in search of shade and a cold beer.
We are fortunate that our Canadian friends in Penang shared this special place with us. There are other islands with 5 star resorts further south like Tioman Island or Redang Island, but I wonder if they have the rustic charms of the Perhentians. We will just have to go and find out. Our three day island weekend for two cost us just over $450 USD all in for flights, taxis, speedboat to the island, accommodation, food and our snorkeling trip. Firefly Airlines flies to Kota Bahru Airport from Penang and from Singapore direct as well. The island weather cooperates from June to October but both islands shut down almost entirely to tourists due to monsoon November to May.