Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands

62 kilometers cycled

(7 kilometers paddled)

Total Kilometers so far: 1,444

Day 20- June 24, 2015- Day off in Kota Bharu

The oldest mosque in Kota Bharu
The oldest mosque in Kota Bharu

Walking around the streets of Kota Bharu the next morning confirmed our presumption that Ramadan was a bigger deal than either of us had expected. We thought that finding a coffee shop and some breakfast in the provincial capital would be a simple task, but to our dismay we found all of the streets empty and the shops closed. We were lucky to find a Chinese man who made us some soup, but it just somehow wasn’t satisfying.

The Central Bazaar in Kota Bahru- note the many closed shops in the upstairs region
The Central Bazaar in Kota Bahru- note the many closed shops in the upstairs region

In the town center we found the semi-lively (half the stalls were closed) central bazaar that was a joyride for all of the senses – with the exception of taste. The aroma of sweet spices and seafood filled the market air as the women shuffled though the fruits and vegetables and the men chopped raw meat. Although we didn’t find any roasted goat or flattened bread as we had hoped, it was still a fun experience to see how the locals prepared for their evening feasts.

Looking down the wrong way of a one way street in Kota Bharu.
Looking down the wrong way of a one way street in Kota Bharu.

Later in the day we found a restaurant owned and run by a Syrian man who had moved to Malaysia to make pita sandwiches for hungry tourists like ourselves. He probably had a few other reasons for moving here.

Day 21- June 25, 2015- Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut to Perhentian Islands

62 kilometers

An incredibly confusing sign we saw daily in Malaysia. Still not totally sure what it's warning us about..
An incredibly confusing sign we saw daily in Malaysia. Still not totally sure what it’s warning us about..

Today was our day to test out the limits of the Malaysian back road network. We had read that this network was pretty limited and that we should be prepared to spend most of our time here on the highways. But we had a short day of cycling so we allowed ourselves to try smaller side roads and paths that looked promising that we had seen the night before on Google Maps. Many of them didn’t work out and we found ourselves always back tracking to the highway. One gave us a nice private bike path that took us through a thick forest for a few kilometers, another led us to a deserted white sandy beach where we took an hour snack break/swim, and the last attempt was a dead-end forcing us to walk our bikes across a weedy field to get to the road we wanted to be on.

We arrived in Kuala Besut around 4:00pm. We were planning on going to the Perhentian islands for a few days and figured that we would have to spend the night in town before we could find a boat to take us there. Instead we found a travel agency (Seven Seas) that had a boat leaving in 30 minutes so we found ourselves unpacking and repacking our bags on their floor and hastily jumping onto their boat still in our sweaty salty bike clothes. They were also accommodating with the bicycles and allowed us to store them in their shop until we came back from the islands.

July 26 and 27- Perhentian Island Side Trip:

Arriving at Coral Bay in the late afternoon
Arriving at Coral Bay in the late afternoon

We jumped on a boat from Kuala Besut only 30 minutes after arriving in the small town that is the launching point for all trips to the two small yet beautiful Perhentian Islands. We hadn’t made reservations at any hotel or guesthouse so when the boats driver asked us where we were going we kind of stared blankly at him. He probably understood that look and gave us a choice “big island or small island”. Small. And then we named one of the many beaches at random- Coral Bay- where Kiri had read there were many budget options.

We arrived in the early evening, took of our shoes, shouldered our panniers, and set off across the beach to find a place to sleep. We ended up finding Mayas where we got a good priced “chalet” (bare bones wood cabin) with a fan and a mosquito net so we were thrilled.

Sunset on the island!
Sunset on the island!

Now that we were settled in at a beautiful tropical beach, we tried to go swimming only to find that the sea floor around this beach was carpeted with dead coral and squishy sea cucumbers – hence it’s name “Coral Bay”. We walked lightly trying not to stub our toes or squish a cucumber, Mike got bit by a fish, and after walking away from the shore for a few minutes the water was still only up to our knees. We may not have picked the most swimmable beach of them all, but the sunset was still beautiful.

The mosquitoes here all seem to be dosed up on some special mosquito steroid because they were massive and everywhere. When you sleep you can either marinate in your sweaty closed room and mosquito net and only get bit a little bit or you can try to sleep in a hammock outside and get eaten alive. We chose the mosquito net.

Kiri loving getting paddled around!
Kiri loving getting paddled around!

The next day we woke up and ate breakfast- something we didn’t think we’d be enjoying during Ramadan. Turns out you can avoid Ramadan by going to any of the big tourist spots! We rented a kayak from our guesthouse and paddled to the northern tip of the island, stopping off at small relatively abandoned beaches along the way to swim or nap or just sit in the water and cool off.

The day after we did the classic Perhentian full day 6-stop snorkeling trip for only $10 each! We saw reef sharks and a single sea turtle and schools of fish and even real clown fish living in real anemones just like Nemo!

When we arrived we heard about a woman who had shown up at the guest house and had stayed for three months. A woman we met there had been there for two weeks already and had no intention of leaving. So this place obviously has the power to suck you into the crystal clear water with the rest of the scuba divers and snorklers. But we resisted, as we had two bikes waiting for us on the mainland!



    Boat ride from Kuala Besut- 70rm each (round trip ticket)

  • Room- 55rm per night at Maya’s Guest House
  • Meals- ranged from 40rm-60rm for two people
  • Kayaking- 20rm for a full day rental from Mayas
  • Snorkling- 30rm each for a full day 6-stop trip


Fishy feeding frenzy



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