The Perhentian Islands: It's Just A Drop In The Ocean

The Perhentian Islands ... never heard of them? That's because they haven't succumbed to mass tourism, says Jack Barker. Bliss!

At Colours Bar, our waiter, Mr Wu, was most disturbed. "Every room on the island is taken," he tutted. "It's never happened before. What about the people without a reservation?"

Presumably, they'd have to take a speedboat back to mainland Malaysia. But as 20-month-old Wilf paddled in the shallows and Lucy, six, chatted manically to the barman from her perch in a threadbare hammock, I was feeling too smugly settled to share Mr Wu's concern.

The sudden rush to the Perhentians might have been caused by trouble in Thailand, struggling with an election a few miles to the north. More probably, it could be explained simply by the fact that the Perhentian Islands are such a nice place to be: the pellucid waters of the South China Sea fringing two jungled islands, ringed by beaches with small, friendly lodges hidden in the trees. No roads, no mass-market tourism - bliss.

The biggest wrench was leaving the security bubble of our self-drive car, its boot filled with the presumed necessities of travel with toddlers, which we left at the port. The ferry waived their charge for Lucy, so we bounced, cheaply and happily, across smooth waters to the two Perhentian Islands.

I had no idea where we were going to stay but my plan was to head for Long Beach, which seemed, on the map, to have the greatest concentration of lodges, and stroll along the shore to see which was best. From the speeding ferry my wife had scoped out some alternatives, so when we arrived at Long Beach in a taxi-shuttle canoe and spotted plastic chairs, she refused to disembark.

Some quick negotiation with the skipper followed and we zipped across the straights to Coral View Island Resort, a gentle growth of blue-painted roofs set on a small peninsula, sheltering a beautiful cove on one side and a broad expanse of sand on the other.

We had happened upon what must be one of the very best lodges on the Perhentians, perfectly combining character and charm. It was full, but not completely: we might have to move rooms, but for that night at least we could stay. They had a child-cot, a hand-crafted Wilf-cage, and they took Visa.

Checking into a beachfront villa, we quickly escaped from the heat into the sea. Tropical fish packed the waters and Lucy, though she could barely swim, took to snorkelling like a duck to water. Within minutes she doggy-paddled to the surface, hugely excited. "I've found Nemo!" she cried.

Wilf loved the shallows, painstakingly returning small branches of coral from the beach to the sea. While we discovered the spicy delights of Malaysian cuisine, the children never tired of fish and chips, always fresh from the sea. And if I was disconcerted by a drinks menu listing nothing stronger than mocktails, Colours Bar, serving alcohol, was within even Wilf's strolling distance.

Every morning I'd go to reception and talk to the manageress, charming and efficient under a white Islamic scarf, to find out which room had fallen vacant. Best was the executive suite, looking out over two beautiful beaches.

Nothing lasts for ever, and eventually we had to return to the mainland. Wilf was probably ready to go, as he scratched at mosquito bites, but Lucy was inconsolable. "Can we go back?" she keeps asking, only to be reminded Malaysia is very far away. But she can find it on a map and keeps looking it up. "Let's compromise," she says. "We'll go back when I'm nine."

Unusually for the Perhentians, Coral View Island Resort takes reservations, with family rooms starting at about £30 a night (00 60 9 6974276). Jack Barker travelled with Kuoni Travel (01306 740 500; kuoni.co.uk), which offers a week from £740 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights. He continued on to the Perhentians by car hire. The nearest airport is Kota Baru, from which a £10 taxi reaches the port of Kuala Besut, where three ferries a day head to the islands, from £6 return. From November to January most lodges shut and it pours with rain. For further information about visiting Malaysia see www.malaysiatrulyasia.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea