Sunday, August 8, 2010

Indie Guide to Malaysia: Perhentian Island's Long Beach

Guide to the Guide Book Fail


 Contents
1. Intro
2. Lodging
Nightmare Story 
Tips
3. Eating
Where not to Eat
Tips
4. Partying
Tips
5. Practical Info
Getting There
Getting to Langkawi

1. Intro
In my opinion the guidebooks and forums hype this place up way too much. Upon arrival to Long Beach (the supposedly backpacker party spot of all the beaches) I found it ridiculously beautiful but completely lacking ambiance and the pristine water was littered with speed boats parked all along the beach. The cost of living was way too expensive (all the guidebooks mislead you on the prices) and finding lodging was a complete catastrophe almost leaving us stranded to spend a night like washed up seaweed on the beach (see Lodging Nightmare below).

On the other hand, the crystal clear water truly is something that is worth seeing. I haven’t seen anything as refreshing and glass like as I have here. The sands are so white you think it could be manufactured and the palm trees and bright green jungles along the hills encircling you might make you think you’re in paradise. Snorkeling is to die for and if you’re into that calm, tranquil sort of fun and your budget is not scraping rock bottom you can probably have a great time. As for my amour and I on our last trip together before we hit the LDR mode again, we were looking for cheap and crazy ass party times and we were sorely disappointed. The Lonely Planet 2010 edition is pretty accurate, but the forums describing Perhentian as the backpacking and budget hotspot of Malaysia can eat it.



2. Lodging 

Symphony Huts: Extremely basic rooms with mosquito nets, bathroom outside and fan. They don’t give you sheets so you have to ask for it. Cheapest room 45 RM, more expensive 75 RM. If you’re desperate these are such nice people they will let you sleep in their kitchen if you have nowhere else to go. Also, can rent snorkeling stuff for 5 RM.

Moonlight Café/Huts: Wifi internet here and rooms looked like a step up from Symphony. Cheapest room 45 RM but will be very hard to find.


Rock Garden Lodge: On the hill of the right side of the beach. Beautiful view. Cheapest room 45 RM.

2.1 Nightmare Story

Nearly Homeless on Long Beach
ARRIVE EARLY OR BOOK IN ADVANCE IF POSSIBLE. I cannot stress how important this is for your chances of getting a place to stay while on Kecil (small island, the supposedly cheaper of the islands). We had arrived around 11:30 am on Long Beach, sat down for lunch and by the time we started nonchalantly asking around at the multitude of hostels lining the beach we found out that not one single damn place had a bed to spare for the night. Double you tee eff. We were told to head to Coral Beach, 10-minute walk to the other less beautiful side of the island, but even there our hopes died in the receding surf. Everything was booked, we were burdened with much too much luggage, the sun and our sweat added a multiplier of 10 boo-feelings and after doing the night bus from Kuala Lumpur all we wanted to do was RELAX. It’s a weird thing to start to consider your bum options. I had a mosquito net with me and Dog Blanket (name of my clutch travel blanket) and I figured that maybe we’d have to spend a night with the crabs. Desperate, we finally showed up at Symphony Huts on the left side of the beach and after their expected rejection I say forlornly, “But…we have no where else to go..” The guy examines us for a second before saying like a dubious angel he was,

“Well, we may have something. But you should take a look first.” Curiosity spiked and desperation factor x 1 billion I was eager to see what possible lodging could save us from a sand stormy night on the beach. The assistant took us along the row of hobbit like huts and laughing all the while like we were bunch of buffoons but the joke was on us. Finally we stop at something that I thought was an unfinished tool shed. The door is hanging off to the side, chillin like a cocky champ against the wall and I peer into what might be my quarters. Inside there is this ratty, brown stained misshaped thing, about a centimeter thick that was obnoxiously trying to pass as a mattress. There was no electricity, so.. No fan, and the walls were lined with the tools and supplies of the workers. The ground was just dirt and to my good luck just outside a frackin' dragon lizard the size of my arm walks by to welcome us to the hood. Prick.

The dude must have seen Mr. Dismay and Mrs. Horror make babies on my face because his laughter got harder. Trying to be a bad ass I start laughing too but inside I’m thinking that there is no way in Hades that I will spend the night in this hole. We leave saying that we’ll be back if we don’t find anything and the bitch of it all was that someone was so desperate that they ended up taking it while we were away. This shed was prime property now and boy was I pissed that we didn’t take it. So low had my standards sunk on this romantic island because we couldn’t find lodging. In the end we spent the night there and it really wasn’t that bad. Thanks to Symphony huts we had a roof over our heads and one chillin’ door we shoved over barely covering the entrance. Moral of the story, don’t dick around when it comes to lodging on Kecil in high season.


2.2 Lodging Tips
  • Early bird gets the worm. If you’ve spent the night on the beach or in the shed, wake up early and wait at the huts around 8 am, that’s when many people check out. The next phase is at 11 am. Rooms usually open up around then and people will be waiting in line to snatch the best stuff up.

  • Coral Beach is supposed to be cheaper. Didn’t check myself but that’s the word on the sand. It is not far at all from Long Beach so it is prob worth checkin’ out. Although the beach is less appealing because of all the dead coral on the shore and hard rocks, the ambiance is definitely cozier, and eating over there is much better quality and cheaper. We had a sunset bbq seafood dinner there for 18 RM.

  • Ask for unfinished huts. To my surprise, the Chinese couple we took the boat with also slept in a shed. With his poor English he managed to say that he doesn’t need a room just a roof and him and his wife paid 15 RM/person to stay in an unfinished hut.

  • Don't plan your trip around the guidebooks: You’ll read that you can get rooms for 20 RM on Long Beach. Bullshoi. The cheapest I found was 45 RM. If you want a dorm though of course it’s cheaper.

3. Eating
It's not that special compared to the rest of Malaysia, but here is what stood out from the rest in terms of price and quality.
 
Mama’s Kitchen: On Coral Beach you should come here for great seafood dinner along the water and on the side of the island with sunset. For 18 RM you get bbq seafood with rice, potatoes, banana bread and your choice of sauce. I got the lobster that was amazing with garlic butter sauce and boyfriend took the prawn with black pepper sauce (not that great a sauce). The ambiance was nice with Shaggy playing the background and it was packed.

Sunset on less popular side of the Island, Coral Beach

Shari-La Hotel: Same deal on Coral Beach but 15 RM and on the hill overlooking the water!

Moonlight: Pretty good food, lots of Western food choices. Tried the chicken curry as well as beef fried rice for 10 RM or less. Also free wifi on Long beach.

3.1 Where NOT to go
Coffee Break: This place will entice you by its central location and chilled out set up in the sand along Long Beach. But don’t be tricked by convenience. After the long and tiring journey of an all night bus, we stopped here to eat our first meal. The green curry was bland, watery and barely had any chicken in it, also quite overpriced (8 RM). The cheeseburger could hardly be considered a burger at all with some weird, thin and pink patty in the middle. All the food is overpriced on this island but Coffee Break will steal both your money and joy of food.

"It feels so good not to be disappointed by what you order," -Boyfriend upon leaving the island

3.3 Tips
  • Avoid the Fried Noodles. This is just my personal opinion, but the fried noodles at multiple places on the island consisted of spaghetti like noodles doused in Soya sauce- not the usual glass noodles or rice noodles you can usually expect with Southeast Asian food. Maybe it is a real Malay dish, but I personally detested it when I tried it at Panaroma and saw similar noodles at Moonlight.

  • Eat at Coral Beach: As written for Mama’s Kitchen and Shari-La above, it is cheaper and you can get amazing bbq seafood deals. Also the ambiance is incredible with live violin music playing on one side of the beach to Shaggy’s Bathroom floor playing on the other.

4. Partying
The main reason we made a quick exodus off the island is because there really is not that much. With beers going at 10 RM (3.5 USD approx) it was impossible to party and have a good time without feeling you were going broke very fast. These high prices are reflected in the ambiance. Believe the Lonely planet in this instance when it says that you should not go with large expectations for nightlife. People here are mega chill.

A typical night out you will take a drink or two at one of the local bars, check out movie night at Panorama and maybe smoke some sheesha and listen to live acoustic guitar all night. It was surprising that even though it was high season and all the rooms were booked, it still was sort of lame for nightlife. On the bright side, come to Long Beach if you are looking to relax and have interesting conversations with various backpackers from around the world, not shake your bonbon as you would in Koh Phi Phi or even Koh Chang. You’ll learn so much and share many laughs with your fellow travelers.

4.1 Tips
  • Bring your own alcohol. The ones that were having the best and most affordable times were the ones who had brought a bottle of their own stuff, sometimes duty free from Langkawi. It really is the only way to be able to party here.

5. Practical Information

5.1 Getting there:

From Kuala Lumpur
Take a bus from Putra Bus Terminal leaving at 9:00 and 10:00 pm to Kuala Besut. Get there early though. We arrived around 9:30 looking to leave on the 10 pm bus only to find out that it was completely booked on a Wednesday night. Because it was booked we had to take an alternate route to Kuala Terengganu station on a bus that left at 11:00 pm (2 hours from Besut) then take another bus to Besut. Price was 40 RM (same as going directly to Besut).

From Terangganu Station
You will arrive from KL around 7 am. Take the ghetto looking bus to Kuala Besut around 7:30 am. It takes about 2 hours to arrive at the port. Price of the ticket is 12 RM

Kuala Besut to Perhentian
You will be dropped off at a travel agency where you will have to buy a ticket for the boat. The roundtrip ferry ticket is 70 RM. It is not a scam taking the roundtrip ticket because all the return boats accept the tickets at any time (in Koh Chang Thailand, the return ticket is often hard to use and often gets wasted). Your boat will drop you to any beach you like for no extra charge.

Other fees to watch out for:

Nature Fee: You have to pay some sort of national parks fee of 5 RM


Water Taxi: To get from your ferry to the shore they’ve cooked up some scheme to get you to land. You don’t have a choice though and the fee is fixed. 2 RM per person.

5.2 Leaving Perhentian Islands
Ferries to the main land depart at 8 am, 12 pm and 4 pm from Long Beach. Your ticket might say that you have to tell your hostel one day before but we found that that wasn’t the case and ended leaving the same day we decided to go. If you are on Long beach just meet at the centre of the beach 15 minutes before your desired peacin’ out time.

From Kuala Besut to Langkawi
After paying 10 RM/beer we decided we had enough of overpriced shiaza and we left for the west coast and to Langkawi from Perhentian. This itinerary should be pretty damn useful because the only thing the internet gave me was hella inefficient (travel backwards all the way to Terengganu station for 2 hours).

Take a taxi to Jerteh Town that is about 20 minutes away. The taxi ride should not cost you more than 20 RM, 30 RM max. From Jerteh there are buses leaving at 9, 10 and 11 pm towards Kuala Perlis (this is the port you need to take the ferry to Langkawi). If those buses are full or unavailable to can alternatively take a bus to Kuala Kedah which you can also take a ferry to Langkawi. We took the 11 pm bus (which was an 1 ½ late) which arrived at 8 am. Ticket was 49 RM (Note: Eat at the super amazing market next to the bus station while waiting. It is everything amazing, authentic and cheap that was impossible to find on Long Beach and made me remember why I love SE Asia.)


From Kuala Perlis take the ferry (starting at 8 am and goes every hour until 6 pm) to Langkawi. Ferry ticket = 18 RM. Taxi to any beach you want is fixed at 24 RM.

We headed to Pulau Cenang. Don’t know what it’s like yet… We’re here right now and excited to write about it in the next posts!

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2 comments:

  1. I need to see a picture of this half-built hut! It sounds fake. Also, $3.50 for beer sounds cheap to me, but that's 'cause I pay up to $7 for beer here. What's a good price for beer when you're overseas?

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  2. haha 3.50 beers is definitely not expensive in a north american bar perspective, but it shouldn't be the cheapest option available on an island in SE Asia! In thailand (koh chang if I remember correctly) beers are around 30 baht (1 dollar) in the bars, max 60 baht, and around 20 baht in the store.

    the hut is not as bad as that picture, i thought it was hilarious to imagine it was though when i saw that pic on google images. Unfortunately we had no electricity so i couldn't charge my camera in time to take a real photo before leaving. in reality it was an unfinished hut with no door and supplies in it. that wasn't an exaggeration. The mattress had a sheet on it at least, so I am very grateful i had somewhere to stay. :)

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