One place for a nice local break is the Tuna Bay Island Resort on the scenic Perhentian Islands located a few miles off the Terengganu coast on the eastern side of Peninsula Malaysia.
To get there, you can fly AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu. It is the sort of hassle-free flight you will enjoy.
With no passport control to worry about, you just pass through the security check directly into the departure lounge. A short wait for your flight to be called, then stroll out to the plane for the 50-minute flight.
On arrival at Kota Bharu, you walk straight out into the greeting area where Tuna Bay’s representative awaits.
Then comes an hour’s mini-bus transfer through interesting kampungs and the rural scenery of Kelantan and Terengganu to the boat jetty at Kuala Besut.
You board Tuna Bay’s speed boat out to the islands, a journey which takes a further 45 minutes.
You will be staying on Perhentian Besar from where you have a good view of the smaller island. The Tuna Bay resort comprises 40 wooden chalets, fairly basic, but clean and comfortable enough with hot water and air-conditioning.
The resort runs an end-of-season promotion so the rates will be reasonable between November and March.
The east coast of Malaysia is affected by the north-east monsoon, causing rough seas and making the islands almost inaccessible by sea. Most resorts close for a few months.
The resort is built on a stretch of soft white sand overlooking clear turquoise water. Snorkelling is possible right in front of the resort.
At low tide you can just walk out to the coral. The abundant fish are friendly and inquisitive, probably accustomed to being fed pieces of bread from the hotel’s breakfast buffet.
The Perhentians are a protected area under the watchful eye of the Marine Parks Department. Their list of good practices includes no fins for snorkelers to prevent people from standing on coral or breaking bits off with their fin tips.
Despite the Marine Parks Department’s best efforts, the coral in front of the resort has inevitably degraded so to see pristine coral you need to take a boat ride out to Turtle Bay and the D’Lagoon bay on the north east tip of Perhentian Kecil.
You can see some baby Turtle hatchlings in a pond at the D’Lagoon hotel and there is rich coral life and plenty of colourful fish in the deep clear water.
From the boat you can see various chalet developments dotting the beaches, some scruffy, mostly basic and none particularly luxurious.
There is some small scale development going on along the shoreline but the hilly interior of the islands remains largely untouched, coated in thick impenetrable-looking forest.
The Perhentians are not quite the unspoilt island paradise that some websites would have you believe but if you are looking for a relaxing no-frills holiday or you want to get your kids away from TV and computer games this could be just the place for you.
This article first appeared in http://thriftytraveller.wordpress.com