Staycays are the new vacays Pt 1

After the crushing disappointment of not being allowed to travel out of the country to go home, thankfully inter state borders opened and saved our mental health and sanity. After much confusion about what activities were and were not allowed and whether flights and buses were running we decided to just risk it and booked our East Coast Islands getaway.We started by flying to Kota Bharu (yes flying can you believe it?!) and our flight was one of the only ones going out of Penang. We didn’t know what to expect but it was normal apart from masks on. We got free masks and hand san- winner. We stayed in Kota Bharu overnight and then cruised on down to get the ferry to Perhentian Kecil.Last time I went to the Perhentian Islands was 2017 and I remember searching for WiFi to message Jerry and sending him photos of cats and beaches so I went back through my WhatsApp messages with him to revisit that. It’s always strange to return to a place after so much has changed.Perhentian Kecil is beautiful with white sand beaches, clear water and no sand flies. Over by Mimpi hotel there is a great coral reef with lots and lots of fish. The Perhentians is pretty expensive in comparison to elsewhere especially alcohol (Rm15 for a Tiger). We stayed away from the resorts and Alice recognised the man behind the desk as a guy she “acquired” a hat from a few years ago. Now her fave hat. He looked at her like something had triggered inside him but this was not discussed. Long live the stolen hat.We spent most of our time in the Perhentians discussing how arriving on the island had helped us to finally relax and let go of some of the stresses of the past few months. We spent our days lying on bean bags, snorkeling and trying to make a hand stand heart. We also watched many, many cringe photo shoots of people wearing full make up and glamorous outfits whilst we sat around looking like drowned rats saved from a tsunami. People go to the beach for strange reasons.With cases in Malaysia being so low it really felt like we had left corona behind and that was a wonderful, wonderful feeling.One sad thing to note about the Perhentians is I don’t feel they’ve moved forward at all with their mindfulness about the environment. There were still so many people feeding fish, standing on coral and crowding turtles to name a few. One evening a turtle appeared on the beach. I can only assume it was confused and didn’t actually mean to be there. A waiter shouted “TURTLE” and everyone immediately ran towards this poor turtle flashing their cameras in its face and just being generally ridiculous. I assume it retreated into the sea again because the crowd dispersed after a while but this experience made me really sad.After a few days we moved down the coast to Pulau Kapas and met up with Andrea. We had a wonderful, friendly taxi driver who sang malay songs with us and was super enthusiastic about our malay speaking (which is somewhat lacking after the MCO). Pulau Kapas is really small and really basic but beautiful. We stayed at Qimi chalet and fell in love with the owner Rose and her seven cats. Mr Rose, we don’t know his real name, and the men who worked there were also lovely and it had such a chilled out vibe. Kapas is not the place to be on the weekends as we quickly found out because masses of boats arrive filled with local families who crowd onto the tiny island. Come Sunday they had dispersed and we saw very few people. Kapas has a few resorts and a couple of restaurants and that’s it. No shops. There is some nice coral and lots of fish including sharks but some areas were dead. I think there’s too many boats ruining it sadly. One heart stopping moment was when the biggest reef shark I’ve ever seen just appeared from behind me and swam right next to me. I had no idea it was coming and that creeped me out but I also loved it. This led to some googling about whether they can attack you and turns out they sometimes do.Kapas has an interesting landscape because it’s very rocky and that was a change from the other islands we have been to. I was disappointed that none of the caves held any secrets and the only great looking one was boarded off. Andrea and I went on a very slippery, near vertical hike when it had been heavily raining (so clever) and that was the only time we diverted from reading books and swimming.There are some incredible curries to be had on Kapas at Qimi and Koko. If you want a beer there’s one place right near the end of the beach before the light house where you can achieve that. We loved how beautiful Kapas was and we disliked the mutant mosquitoes and the cold salt water showers. It’s a basic kinda place.After 5 nights in Kapas we took a long old bus over to Mersing and made our way to our fave island, Tioman. Tioman is a very special place. We’re so fortunate that Alice’s school friend Rosie has a dive school there and so we were able to enjoy lots of things we wouldn’t have done if we were on our own. We saw turtles, sharks, the most amazing coral, hundreds and hundreds of fish, sea slugs and just had the absolute best time. We appreciate everything you did for us so much Rosie!We had our first experience of night snorkeling which I was really nervous about because darkness but it was actually not scary and just really fun but cold. The coral looks completely different at night because it feeds and different sea life makes an appearance. We saw lobster, squid and creepy looking things. I spent a lot of my time thinking about potential horror movie plot lines that could occur from the current situation.Coral reef by torch light was creepy and like an alien world. Coral opens at night and grows furry tentacle like things.One day we kayaked down a river and that was all fun and games until a spider ran down my leg and traumatised me into almost capsizing the kayak. That was the end of my enjoyment because the spider kept reappearing or it was several spiders I don’t know. We met a beautiful rescue dog Georgie who came along for the fun and chatted to great Yorkshire folk who have found their paradise in Tioman.One morning we got ourselves a paddle board and I discovered that I’ve got better at it so that was a pleasant discovery. I can only turn in one direction but that’s fine.Oh the water colour and visibility. We took many boat trips, one to a water fall which we swam in and under neath and tried to take slow mo videos of ourselves frolicking around with limited success.Our final day was spent on and around Coral Island. The coral here was out of this world. I was really emotional about it. We saw a curious black tipped reef shark which turned and started coming up towards us. This is not what they usually do as they usually just swim around below you. It gave me the heebie jeebs and Alice and I just froze and pretended to be dead or some tactic like that until it swam off. Alice maintained eye contact whereas my reaction was to not look at it at all. We also found the coral off of Berjaya beach amazing and Alice saw an Eagle Ray which is pretty rare. I missed it because I was engrossed in coral life somewhere else and we tried to find it again but we could not. I’d always rather encounter animals by chance in the wild than in any other way so sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. A whale shark had been seen 2 days before just near to Coral Island but we sadly didn’t spot it.Coral Island beach is heaven on earth. For some reason we didn’t suffer with sandflies at all this holiday either!One morning we spent our time swimming in the sea with Gina, a dog left behind by some heartless person and now thankfully looked after by other people. Gina had the best time of her life and so did I.We had a dreamy 2.5 weeks and it really did make up for the heart break of not seeing our families. I read 12 books, swam every day, ate good food, laughed a lot and didn’t worry about the future quite so much. We still talked about our families every day and how much we miss them but I’m so lucky to live in Malaysia with these islands a few hours away. We have decided that everything went so smoothly because we did what we were supposed to and stayed inside for 3 months, dealt with being stuck away from family and kept our lives together. Lots of other things probably happened and I’ve said to myself before to write notes but I never do and no one wants to read a long blog anyway. Tioman, we’ll be back. Next stop: jungle.

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