When I lived abroad to teach in South Korea, I experienced the beauty and magnitude of the world. There I was, an average Midwestern girl with “Southern” values and patriotic pride – but loving the experience of this new culture, tasting ethnic foods, and seeing the scales of ethnocentrism broken. In my family, I’m the first of a long lineage to 1. have a passport and 2. use it.
I embarked on this trip with eight friends, and we had the opportunity to travel to even further scopes of Earth and absorb a multitude of cultures. We saw China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, and more, but I can say, without a doubt, my favorite spot was Malaysia. No, it was not because spring break finally arrived and I got to escape the classroom and silly students. It was the fact that the country was so beautiful. In particular, the Perhentian Islands were so serene and calm, and – as cliché as it sounds – breathtakingly beautiful.
My friends and I packed our tote bags and arrived at a hostel above McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. Immediately taken aback, but much to our surprise, it was well run, clean, and filled with many other foreigners. In just a few days, we saw many sites like the KL Twin Towers, Menara KL Tower, and Batu Caves, just to name a few.
But the peak of the vacation was yet to come: We loaded into a train, traveled overnight, hopped in a cab, and bought boat tickets to head to Perhentian Kecil Island, also known as Small Perhentian.
The island is a 20-30 minute boat ride from the main land, but as you get close, the water becomes crystal-clear blue with beautiful sand and trees in the background. Vacation mode set in, and in the peaceful surroundings, I felt like a celebrity. I was on a secluded beach with no streets, no fast food restaurants, no cable, and very few people. For five days straight, my agenda was to sit on a beach, hassle-free, with friends, morning until night.
There were a few bumps in the road. My friends and I were unaware of the lack of sidewalks. When the boat docked, we dragged our roller suitcases about a half mile through the sand to our resort – note that we did not pack lightly!
Our room was quaint, but much to our surprise, there were many bugs – but what did we expect? It’s an island. Also, the sun is not like it is in the United States. Malaysia is just north of the equator, so the sun is blistering hot — literally. I loaded on sunscreen, but not too much because I naturally tan easily. That was a mistake I still regret. The top of my right foot burned so badly that it not only blistered, but swelled and made the following days somewhat uncomfortable.
The island has two sides, which are connected by a path that takes about 30 minutes to walk. Our resort was located on the “family side,” so one night our group hiked to the other side. It was a bit rough, but we made it successfully. After scoping out a few of the spots, we wanted to head back to our side before it got too dark. Being that we were all fans of the show Lost, we did not want to take any chances of walking without light.
Nightly, our resort played movies in dining area, which ended up being a hit game among our group. Each person attempted to guess the feature – no one was ever was correct.
Days full of hot sun, clear water, no hassle, pure relaxation, and movie nights with the water at my back made a spring vacation that I will never forget. There were many laughs, especially when we had to lug everything back to the dock to leave. I made memories I’ll never forget. We rode the boat back to the mainland, hopped on a plane, and resumed our daily lives in South Korea. But this time, we were teaching with better tans!