Romantic getaways need not be clichéd affairs in plush resorts and posh restaurants. Take the road less travelled to the East Coast of Malaysia and experience romance of a different kind.
Pulau Perhentian - located off the coast of Terengganu - is a marine park divided into two islands, Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Pulau Perhentian Besar around which menagerie of aquatic life thrives.
Diving or snorkelling hand-in-hand with your loved one is a wonderful way to explore the colorful marine life. If you start off at D'Lagoon to the north of Perhentian Kecil, the currents will take you along a haven of soft and hard corals, large angelfish, parrotfish and blackspotted snappers flitting in and out of corals. Green turtles and manta rays also make occasional appearances here.
Off the west end of Perhentian Besar is another dive site for coral connoisseurs. Known as Tanjung Besi, or Iron Cape, large tracts of staghorn corals play home to shoals of gaint groupers. Humphead parrotfish frequently stop at the reef to snack on shrimps while the crevices between the corals are inhabited by large moray eels.
The famed Long Beach at the north end of Perhentian Kecil is great for a leisurely night shore dive. Look out for blue-spotted stingrays, cuttlefish and plenty of reef fish. Also renowned for its buzzing nightlife, Perhentian Kecil has many cafes and watering holes that are open till late.
Tropical Reef Chalet: Located on Perhentian Besar, it is the perfect place for peace and calm. Prices from RM 40. http://www.pulauperhentian.com.my/
Petani Beach Chalet: This waterfront chalet offers gorgeous views. Prices from RM 90. http://www.pulauperhentian.com.my/
The only way to reach Perhentian is by sea from the Kuala Besut jetty in Terengganu. Get there by
- Road: Drive or take a bus from Singapore to Kuala Terengganu.
- Plane: Fly to the Kota Bharu airport in Kelantan.
- Rail: Take the railway train to the Tanah Merah train station in Kelantan.
It's Malaysia's premier nature park which has been in existence since dinosaurs walked the earth some 130 million years ago. Lush and expansive at 434,300 hectares and stretching across three states - Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, it will take weeks to explore the country's largest national park comprising a cornucopia of primary forests.
And what better way to embark on this grand adventure at Taman Negara than with a loved one? Take a walk through the lowlands, carpeted by verdant riverine vegetation, flanked by lush ferns and rare species of orchids. Move upland onto the intermediate slopes and find oaks and laurels. Walk further upslope for a closer view of wide palm flora.
For a masterful acrobatic performance only nature can offer, watch out for showboating primates: macaques scampering across riverbanks and nippy leaf monkeys darting and leaping from branch to branch. Families of gibbons can also be found dwelling in the midst of the forest canopy, their presence made conspicuous by sporadic echoing sreeches.
Competing with the lush forestry is Gunung Tahan, Peninsular Malaysia's highest mountain. Standing 2,187m above sea level, scaling this imposing mass is possible, especially for couples who love the outdoors. Take a canoe out on Tasik Kenyir, or pack a picnic lunch and your swimsuits for some quiet time alone. This is the perfect setting to relax and appreciate each other's company.
With more than 250 species of birds in the park, this is the place to be for bird watching. Or head down to Lata Berkoh Cascades for a cooling swim in the deep pool below the falls before retreating to the rocky overhang for a picnic. Visit also the Orang Asli - indigenous people - settlement at Kampung Yong and the limestone cave at Gua Telinga. Carved by a stream, the cave is another fine examples of Mother Nature's art at Taman Negara.
Rainforest Resort Taman Negara: Located in Jerantut, Pahang, the resort offers packaged tours of the nature park; ranging from night jungle safari to rapid shootings; from white river rafting to cave explorations; and many more. Prices from RM 207. http://www.rainforest-tamannegara.com/
Tahan Guest House: An inn situated opposite the Taman Negara nature park headquarters in Kuala Tahan, Pahang, provides visitors with an affordable, yet comfortable stay. http://www.tahan.com.my/
The town of Kuala Tembeling in Pahang is the transit point into Taman Negara. You can access Kuala Tembeling via road and rail.
- Road: Drive from Kuala Lumpur to Jerantut in Pahang, then, travel 16km north to Kuala Tembeling.
- Board one of the Jerantut-bound taxis at the Pudu Raya Bus Terminal in Kuala Lumpur or take a bus from the Jalan Tun Razak Bus Station in Kuala Lumpur to Jerantut before switching to a bus or taxi bound for Kuala Tembeling.
- Rail: There is a direct railway from Singapore to Kuala Tembeling. Approximately nine hours of travel.
Humming with activity and oozing rural charm, Kota Bahru is the perfect backdrop for a back-to-basics romantic adventure. For a start, explore the State Museum and the Cultural Centre and relive history by walking through the many sites located around town.
The State Museum showcases an extensive range of exhibits and documents on Kelantan's arts, crafts and musical traditions. Locally referred to as Gelanggang Seni, the Cultural Centre is akin to a history book on Kelantan's illustrious cultural legacy.
Another not-to-be missed monument is the State Mosque or Masjid Al-Muhammadi. Named after the late Sultan Muhammad IV in recognition of his contributions to the state, the mosque features elegant arches and golden-colored domes.
Round off the Kota Bahru proceedings with a visit to the Siti Khadijah Market. In the mornings, locals throng the bazaar for fruits, vegetables, freshly ground spices, dried seafood, pickles, fish-cakes, delicacies, sweetmeat and a colorful assemblage of other goods. Interestingly, the majority of the traders at the market are women.
Check out the garishly colored fishing boats plying the rivers off the Pantai Sabak Fishing Village. The jetty is at its busiest around three in the afternoon when fishermen return with their day's catch. The beach is transformed into a marketplace, with spirited haggling of prices and fishermen sorting out their catch.
Lee Guesthouse: This hostel provides sightseeing services. Prices from RM 50. http://www.hostelworld.com/
Renaissance Kota Bharu Hotel: Pamper yourself in this hotel, located in Kota Bharu's commercial and shopping district. Prices from RM 399. http://www.marriott.com/
Kota Bahru is accessible by road and air.
- Road: Drive from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bahru via Pahang or take a Transnasional bus from Lavender Street in Singapore. It travels direct to Kota Bahru.
- Take a flight from Kuala Lumpur to the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport in Kelantan, then take a taxi to Kota Bahru.
- Although handshakes between men and women are acceptable, Muslim women may acknowledge introductions to men by nodding and smiling. Handshakes with men should only be initiated by the womenfolk.
- Permission should always be sought before taking any photographs at places of worship. More often than not, this is usually permitted.
- Refrain from openly displaying affection like kissing or embracing in public as personal propriety is closely observed in Malaysia. Stumble It!