The perfect trip: Singapore and Malaysia
Where to stay
The beautifully restored Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (or the Blue Mansion as it is often called), is one of Georgetown's most instantly identifiable heritage buildings. The mansion is over 125 years old and serves not merely as a classic hotel with individually decorated rooms, but also as a focal point for tour groups, heritage buffs and students of Asian architecture (from £60; cheongfattzemansion.com).
Perhentian Besar and Kecil: Best for islands
The speedboat from the Kuala Besut ferry pier rides high on the waves, skipping along the water like a flat stone flung by a petulant giant. From the deck of the boat, the two Perhentian islands - Besar and Kecil - appear as a mirage shrouded by clouds.
The word Perhentian is Malay for 'stop' - not as in cease, but as in 'rest before continuing onward'. Highly appropriate, as relaxation is the order of the day for guests and locals alike.
On Perhentian Besar - the larger of the two islands - the main hub of activity ('activity' consisting primarily of lounging on the beach, swimming and watching fishing boats roll by) is a quarter-mile stretch of beach between Abdhul's Chalets and Tuna Bay Island Resort. Past these points on the island, it's a hike around rocky cliffs and through jungle paths to more secluded beaches, including Shark Point to the south and the beautifully isolated Turtle Beach to the north.
The remoteness of Turtle Beach is good for more than just people. It is also a prime hatching ground for green turtles, after whom the beach is named. The hatchery is watched over by a local elder called Pakdin, whose function here is probably best described as turtle midwife.
Pakdin lives in a tree-shaded hut not far from the water's edge. Between his hut and a sign reading 'Please stay off the beach between 3pm and 7am' is a patch of sand containing around 80 numbered wooden markers. The numbers represent the eggs of specific turtles, dug up elsewhere by the Terengganu Department of Fisheries and reburied on the quiet beach. But the sign doesn't deter everyone.
'People are curious to see the turtles hatch,' says Pakdin. 'Sometimes I have to remind them not to get too close.'
Pakdin couldn't guess how many turtles he's midwifed: 'This year alone we're up to 247 clutches of between 80 to 100 eggs. It's been a good year for the turtles.'
Though seeing a newborn turtle make its way to the ocean is unlikely ('They mostly hatch at night,' says Pakdin), swimmers may see a full-grown green turtle travel across the seabed. The closeness of the main coral beds to the shores, combined with the water's float-friendly salinity, make the sea around Perhentian Besar and nearby Kecil excellent for snorkelling. Strap on a mask and fins, and share the sea with schools of trumpet fish, black and white sergeant fish, small sharks and, of course, green turtles.
One thing is clear: if this place isn't paradise, it's surely something close.
- General Information about Perhentian can be found at myoutdoor.com/perhentian
- Operating from a small shack next to Marine Park Ferry Pier, Captain Halim knows all the best spots for snorkelling and turtle-watching.
Where to eat
Watercolours restaurant's handwritten menu includes delicious seafood dishes such as spicy garlic-fried prawns and grilled red snapper. Beachside seating offers spectacular views of the setting sun over the small island to the west (from £2; south side of Perhentian Kecil).
Where to stay
With comfortable cabanas, the Tuna Bay resort makes a great base. Its breezy open-air restaurant/ bar serves both Asian and Western meals. Set on a strip of sand between the jungle and sea, guests are only ever a few steps away from the water (from £52; tunabay.com.my).
Joshua Samuel Brown is an expert on Southeast Asia, having travelled widely in this area. He is co-author of Lonely Planet's Singapore City Guide.