Paradise Found: Idyllic Isles Off Malaysia’s East Coast

A mere half hour speedboat ride from the shores of the Eastern coastal state of Terengganu, Malaysia are two islands you’ve never heard of. They’re a likely pair; a charming familial duo, if you will, engaged in a 55 mile-wide sibling rivalry.

Kapas, the smaller and more reserved of the two, has little to prove. Its transparent waters, empty beaches, and gently swaying coconut trees make the need for further material indulgences or activities nearly obsolete. In fact, the lean-to huts advertising snorkeling, fishing, or boat trips are largely unmanned, providing a distinct authenticity to the term “deserted island.” Don’t count on satisfying hunger pains on Kapas on a whim–the few restaurants on the island serve what they’ve got, when they feel like it. Kapas isn’t an island for the restless, or for those looking to see or be seen. Rather, this island welcomes travelers with nothing but a book in hand, and a knife for cracking open a newly fallen coconut. If you don’t wear a watch to Kapas Island, it’s easy to lose track of time. And even if you did, after a mere few hours you’ll surely be tempted to cast it off. Each day, the last speedboat from the island leaves at 5:30pm, but the impending sunset might just tempt you to check into a rustic beachfront chalet and call it a night.

Perhentian Island is Kapas’ strikingly beautiful older sister whose tranquil façade masks a rebellious coquette who just likes to have a good time. By day, Perhentian’s dazzling blue waters will actually render you speechless. But the novelty doesn’t stop at being able to see your toes through neck-high waters; nearby coral and schools of fish make snorkeling and diving trips the real treat of visiting Perhentian. On this island, you’ll share the shores and the coral-filled coves with plenty of other visitors–Perhentian’s beauty is no secret to tourists. While the crowds may be a bit of a drag by day, after the sun sets you’ll be happy to have some company. Unlike on Kapas, Perhentian offers a reason to order that second cocktail at dinner, and stroll down to the waterfront afterward instead of back to your bungalow. Perhaps because of the larger tourist draw and an established community of diving bums, beach parties are a nightly feature on this paradisaical island. Once the tiki torches are lit, the Orang Utan juice begins flowing freely, and the euro-tech starts pounding, a moonlit Perhentian simply hypnotizes.

It may not be worth traveling halfway around the world for the sole purpose of digging your toes into Kapas or Perhentian’s velvet sands. But if you find yourself wondering how to while away a long weekend on the South China Sea, these two coastal island gems may be the perfect getaway.

Meredyth Haas

Meredyth has spent the last two decades living, playing, and eating her way through her beloved hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. After finishing graduate school, however, she traded her SUV and fleece jacket for a scooter and sunglasses and moved to Malaysia in January to teach English. In Malaysia, you can find Meredyth jogging in the jungle or bargaining for mangoes at the local market. Back in the States, she prefers Saturday morning yard sales and nibbling chocolate over NPR podcasts. Meredyth is perpetually in search of new toppings for pizza, and believes every morning should start with a spoonful of Nutella.

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