Pulau Perenthians, Malaysia

As the last stop of our 17-month adventure, Perenthian Islands were an emotional, bittersweet ending to the best 1.5 years of our lives. Idyllic and easygoing, the islands are an easy place to wile away the days, and our 10 days here drifted by at a dreamy pace, filled with beautiful clear turquoise sea, soft white sand, jungle trekking, diving, and LOTS of eating.

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We stayed at Maya’s – a chilled collection of bungalows on the beach, run by friendly hippy Zani, and we split our time between a beach-front bungalow and, when that was booked, a room in the main building of the hostel. It was a really great place, with Zani generously offering up coconuts and papayas to all the guests (or whatever else he was growing!), as well as perks like free coffee, a big communal area with hammocks and an all-round sunny relaxed disposition.

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We allowed several days to drift by as we swung in hammocks, read books on our porch, took regular dips into the clear warm sea, and walked 10 minutes up the beach to our favourite restaurant, Ewan’s, where we’d gorge on delicious curry noodle soups, fresh fruits, calamari and chips (amongst other indulgences!). We slowed ourselves down, truly appreciating every hour, drinking in the beauty of the surroundings, and enjoying our beach-front location, free to run into the sea just moments from our hut.

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After a few days of relaxation, we got a bit more active and did a couple of dives for a bargain £13 each – including our first wreck dive! The first site, Temple, was hyped as the best site in the area, but we weren’t all that impressed, aside from seeing some moray eels and triggerfish, it was pretty murky and the coral was almost entirely dead! We felt grateful for our recent diving in Indonesia and the Philippines as we’d seen so many better sites!

The second site however, was pretty impressive. Sugar Wreck is a sugar cargo boat from the ’90s, so it’s largely intact which makes it a cool wreck to dive – you can see almost everything, from the propeller on the back to the walkway rails, to the windows. There was some cool marinelife calling the wreck its home, like a family of lionfish living on the propeller at the back, and a pufferfish inside one of the windows!

Technically we weren’t allowed to penetrate the wreck (as we only have Open Water, not Advanced certificates) but Sam and I ended up being the last divers down (our breathing had greatly improved over our 20 dives) so the divemaster sneakily allowed us to swim inside at the most open end of the wreck, which was pretty thrilling! We took it in turns swimming through gaps, to make sure we didn’t knock our air. From this point onwards I’ve been a bit obsessed with finding another wreck to dive. It was also pretty emotional as I knew it was to be our last wreck, so towards the end I was feeling pretty sad about it all and trying to take every last detail of every last fish into my memory!

We also spent an active afternoon trekking around the island, on a jungle path that goes all around its circumference. Between Maya’s, on Coral Bay, we walked through dense jungle teaming with big monitor lizards, through almost deserted beaches with attached campsites, or small bungalow resorts, to the ‘Fisherman’s Village’ – the closest to a normal town you can find on the smaller of the Perenthian Islands, Perenthian Kecil. The village was fun, and we stopped for some lunch and kopi, watching local kids and families playing on the little beach there, and got our fill of food at more regular prices than back on touristy Coral Bay.

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The walk was boiling hot and sweaty, so on the way back, despite not having my bikini, we went for a swim in the sea at several of the deserted beaches. It was great being on some less busy beaches as Coral Bay was a bit congested with boats, and we liked it so much we went back to one of the beaches – Rainforest Beach – for a Robinson Crusoe-like last day on the islands, and had the beach to ourselves!

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Another day we took a half-day snorkelling tour, which was ok but not brilliant. We stopped to see turtles but there were so many boats the poor turtles were getting completely harassed by tourists, who had unfortunately not been educated about any ground-rules for snorkelling, like not putting your fins on the coral and remaining a respectable distance from the wildlife!

We went to some nice sites and saw some cool fish, but the coral had been seriously broken by fins which was sad, and I ended up losing my shit a bit with a tour guide who was encouring a group of kids to actively stand on the coral. Not cool! On our last stop we saw some black-tip sharks swimming around not too far below us which was nice, but the current was really strong so it made for big waves and a slightly stressful snorkel. The next day we actually saw some baby black-tip sharks swimming just in Coral Bay to the West side, which was pretty exciting! One of our mates reported seeing one bigger than him, but I was too scared to go and see for myself.

Whilst we had some amazing sunny days in Perenthians, we also had some crazy tropical storms which were pretty thrilling! On some nights, the storm almost ripped off the corrugated iron hut roofs at Maya’s, and it totally destroyed all the tents where people were camping! One night the flooding was so bad we had to bag up all our stuff, unplug the electricals and prop our bed up against the wall so it didn’t get saturated! The drama and tropical vibe of the storms was pretty exciting, and we ended up just walking out in it without shoes, to get to Ewan’s for dinner! It felt amazing being out with the big fork lightning and nothing to hold us back from just running around in it!

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After an amazing relaxing week, we managed to tear ourselves away from the islands just in time for one last night in KL before embarking on the journey home. Apprehensive, excited, sad, thrilled, scared and joyous in equal measure, we started on the (surprisingly short!) 16 hour flight home, where we’d rejoin our friends and family in our ‘normal lives’ in London…!

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Sarawak, Borneo

Our first impressions of Kuching, Sarawak’s capital, were extremely positive. A friendly local helped us catch a bus into town, where we were greeted by a group of teens running a charity marathon who all shouted ‘Good morning!’ to us. This hospitality was extended by everyone we met, and we found Kuching (and Sarawak) to be far friendly, and more Malay in vibe, than Sabah. Although our week there wasn’t the most eventful, we had a lot of fun – namely because we were hanging out with our new buddies, Nichola and Jack that we met back in Uncle Tan’s Jungle Lodge.

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Town itself is very cute – all Chinese shophouses, Buddhist temples, old Dutch buildings and a pretty waterfront adorned with a golden assembly building that looks like a spray-painted sister of the Sydney Opera House. After soulless Brunei, it felt like a place rooted in real history and culture, and you could see the melange of immigrant groups that we’d come to love in Malaysia – from ‘Jalan India’ with its tasty restaurants serving hot roti canai, to the hawker centres of Chinatown.

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We spent much of our time in town food touring the local markets, trying delicacies like punchy noodle soup Sarawak Laksa, and tasty beef noodles. Everyone we met was so friendly – from restaurateurs that remembered us and gave us discounts for our repeated visits, to shopkeepers who told us about hidden sights, to our hotel staff who plied us with cheap booze (a rarity in Borneo!) and endless hospitality. A much less religious, and more informal culture, we found the locals here to be far more easy going than in neighbouring Sabah, and consequently everything felt far more relaxed.

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In our time in town we checked out a few great sights, like the Chinese Museum (small, but modern and well curated), and the ‘hidden mosque’ which sits within a labyrinth of lanes in the centre of town. We also spent a few hours in the fantastic Sarawak Museum – an ethnographic museum documenting Sarawak’s culture, containing such delights as bad taxidermy monkeys, photos of the Queen visiting Kuching, a life-size model of a longhouse, complete with interior, and many displays of tribalwear.

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In the evenings, we often hung out with Nicola and Jack at their homely hostel, where we drank a lot of spirits, chatted, laughed, met their mates and hostel buddies, and spent subsequent days idling around town eating lots of curries and noodles. It was pretty dreamy! They even had a TV room and DVD player at their hostel, so we spent a cosy evening watching films together which was super nice, and felt like home! Plus, we watched Django Unchained. What a FILM!

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We even took a trip out of town together, to nearby Bako National Park, which was pretty fun as we made a great four, with plenty of lols to fill the days! Sadly though, Bako itself was a bit disappointing, as we failed to see the park’s most famous inhabitant, the penis-nosed probiscus monkey! Unfortunately we were also there in jellyfish season, meaning we couldn’t swim in the sea, but we did get the chance to see some massive jellyfish washed up on the shore which was pretty cool!

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Despite this, we spent a fun couple of days there, trekking through challenging jungle and mangrove, boating around the coast to see the famous jutting bits of peninsula (meh), and monkey-spotting near our chalet. The park was also lousy with these huge wild boar things that were pretty fun to watch. They looked like something out of the Lion King!

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The staff at the park were pretty terrible, and not very helpful, (apart from treating Jack when he impaled his foot on a spike.. the medical staff were pretty good!) and the dining room took the piss with the cost of the (terrible) food, so we rebelled by hiding high-value food (like chicken nuggets) under piles of low-value foods (like noodles). A life of serious crime awaits! We also had some spotty weather, with a bit of rain in the afternoon, but we passed the hours exchanging travel tales, eating biscuits and loudly bitching about some of the ‘Spring Break’ tourists also at the Park. After a couple of days we were done with the park, and after a quick look around the ‘museum’ and some honest customer feedback (Nichola wrote that the staff needed to be friendlier… only to be scowled at on our way out! FFS!) we left the park and headed back to Kuching for one last booze-up.

After our buddies had left we had a couple of days to kill before our flight, where I’m sad to say we didn’t do much apart from eating and lazing around, but given we only had 14 days left of our travel, we were lapping up the freedom and just enjoying it!

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Then, to our next stop – back to the Malay Peninsula, and after a brief (necessary) stop in KL – onto the Perenthian Islands!