Because we did not want to leave the east coast of Malaysia too quickly, we decided to go to the Perhentians islands that we knew only by their name. We took a local bus to travel the 100 km between Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Besut. Imagine an old bus without air conditioning and ventilation, driving all doors and windows open, with a retro Malay and Arabic music, a breathtaking sunset all pink, purple and yellow, on a road along the sea in a rural Malaysia we had never seen. That was a moment out of time.
After 3 hours of travel, we arrived in Kuala Besut at night. We had not planned any accomodation so we started to knock on doors of hotels to find a cheap room. After a few rooms at 100 RM (25 USD, expensive for us backpackers!) and tenants unwilling to negotiate, we find a room in a hotel qualified as the worst of Kuala Besut on Trip Advisor, but at 25 RM (7 USD) the room, we could not resist! Hopefully we had our light cover sheets from Decathlon that allow us to sleep in not so clean sheets, and the hotel was not as degraded as what the reviews suggested. It was just noisy in a harmonious blend of loud TV sound, the manager playing romantic chords on his guitar, and honking buses (we were above the bus station of the city). Surprisingly, we were able to get a good sleep and be ready the next day at 8am to catch the boat to the Perhentians islands!
The crossing takes about 45 minutes, the boat leaves every passenger on the island and outside the hotel they want (there are two islands : Kecil and Besar). For a hotel in particular, some passengers are disembarked on a small floating platform of 10 m², a hundred meters from the beach, and they have to wait for the hotel to get them. They report their presence by ringing a bell and then pray to be noticed! We asked to be disembarked in Besar, the largest island which has a reputation for being the quietest, and chose South Beach to look for housing. We were hoping our backpackers budget would not suffer too much, and after negotiations we found a beach bungalow at 60 RM (15 USD), with small terrace and sea view, this was perfect!
We spent two days on the beach and Alex enjoyed good internet connection to work.
However, the memory of Pulau Kapas could not be overwritten by the Perhentians islands, so after 2 days we wanted to continue our journey, eager to discover our next destination: Penang on the West coast!
Overall, we felt the West coast and East coast are two very different sides of Malaysia. The West coast is bursting with big cities like Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and are more multicultural than the East coast cities. We saw a lot of Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians on the West coast, whereas in all Malaysia, they represent a minority compared to the 65% of the population that are Malays (see our article on Malacca). In the East coast, you can feel that you are in a Muslim country. In Kuala Besut, we even saw a big sign on the street asking tourists, especially women, to respect the Muslim precepts by not wearing short sleeves and short pants.
The East coast is also much more quiet and rural. During colonisation, Chinese and Indian migrants came to Malaysia, they came to make business. The West coast was rapidly growing through the important international ports of the Malacca Strait like Penang, Malacca and Singapore, whereas the East coast was in the middle of the China Sea where all the commercial ships were rushing to China. If you were a migrant, where would you go to make a fortune?
To be continued with our next article on Penang, our favorite discovery in Malaysia!