[top photo: A diver goes underwater in the clear turquoise waters of Pulau Perhentian, an island in Malaysia.]
By Cheryl Tan
WILD AT SEA AND ON LAND
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
On the north-eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia lies the Perhentian islands, which have idyllic beaches and unspoilt wilderness.
Both the bigger Pulau Perhentian Besar and smaller Pulau Perhentian Kecil boast gorgeous turquoise waters and chalk-white sandy shores. The islands are a refreshing and quieter change from the tourist-infested waters of the more popular island Redang.
But watch out for strong currents as you admire clownfish dart in and out of sea anemone. The islands are not protected by a bay and lead directly to the open sea.
Go during the monsoon season from November to January when the winds are stronger if you are into windsurfing or sailing. Tourism Malaysia's marketing executive Diyana Jumat, 27, says the strong winds guarantee a good run in the water.
She also recommends that travellers go on trekking tours through the largely unexplored and pristine forest on the hilly islands where there is wildlife such as monitor lizards, monkeys and flying squirrels.
Both islands have no-frills, chalet-type accommodation, although Perhentian Besar has more options. Carry cash as few places accept credit cards.
Getting there: Fly to Kuala Lumpur via Singapore Airlines ($332), then transfer to a 55-minute Air Asia flight (RM191 or S$79) to Kota Baru in Kelantan. Hop onto a taxi for an hour's ride to Kota Besut jetty (RM50, a two-way ride). Take a half-hour boat ride (RM60) to Perhentian Island.
Where to stay: Bubu Long Beach Resort (from RM250 a night) is the only deluxe resort hotel on Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Rooms are air-conditioned and come with attached bathroom and 24-hour power supply.
Coral View Island Resort (from RM100 a night) on Pulau Perhentian Besar is on one of the best beaches in the area. Rooms are basic but come with attached bathrooms. Electricity is available for only 18 hours daily.
Cost: About $516.50 per person
Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia
The Pangkor islands are a group of nine atolls on the western coast of Perak.
But only two, Pulau Pangkor and the adjacent smaller Pangkor Laut island, are inhabited. The rest are just sandy beaches and rocks.
Like the Perhentian islands, they are not overcrowded due to a lack of publicity. Even better, the friendly locals there will put you right at home.
Dotted with temples and historical monuments, the place will give you a beach holiday with a touch of local heritage. If you do visit, you must buy salted fish, ikan bilis, dried shrimps and shrimp paste, all of which the islands are famous for.
Golfers, bring along your clubs for a swing at the Damai Laut Golf & Country Club or Teluk Rubiah. These two international-standard golf courses are just 20 minutes away.
Marketing executive Nicholas Sarasta, who vacationed there last month, recommends the islands as a honeymoon destination.
He says: "It's a great place to just relax and read a book."
Getting there: Take a Singapore Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur, followed by a three-hour bus ride (RM18.70) from Hentian Puduraya main bus terminal to Lumut, where the ferry ride (RM19, return trip) to Pulau Pangkor takes 40 minutes.
Where to stay: Vikri Beach Resort has beach-facing chalets (from RM95 a night) with air-conditioning, cable TV and hot showers.
The cosy Nipah Bay Villa is located a two-minute walk from the beach. The chalets (from RM80 a night) are great for families and couples alike. Air-conditioning, attached bathrooms and satellite television are available.
Cost: About $397.10 a person
This article was first published in The Straits Times.