Paradise Found


There is a place in Malaysia where Paradise laps at the bungalow door. Just south of Thailand lie two oft-forgotten islands, Pulau Perhentian Besar (the big island) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (the small island). I think of them every summer, when the monsoon rains have ceased and the trickle of visitors begins. This time of year, sea turtles come ashore to make nests on empty beaches beneath the moon. You can watch this ritual; it simply requires a nighttime trek through the jungle. There are no roads on the Perhentians, only boats and trails. One day, my husband and I kayaked around the small island into a place called the Petani Beach Chalet, seeking refuge in a storm. No one was around, and for a long while we sat at the waterside café, watching high seas pummeling the shore. A handful of bungalows arced around a small lawn just a few feet from the water. There seemed to be no guests. Of course, we returned for a few nights' stay, sleeping beneath a mosquito net with the door wide open as waves broke against the shore. We eventually met Lan, the manager, who told us he had cooked in a London restaurant (he was vague). At the Petani, dinner entailed the daily catch. He made us crab in red curry, fish in green curry, and fresh vegetables from the market onshore. Meals were served on white tablecloths. We were indeed the only guests. One night Lan told us he had a party to attend at a beach up island. He invited us, but we opted instead to stay behind and prepare our own dinner. Lan offered his kitchen and all its contents, free of charge. We fried a couple of fish with onion and turmeric. We made chilled cucumber salad and sautéed beans, carrots, and cauliflower with a sprinkling of Parmesan. We had the entire chalet to ourselves that night, beneath the faint glow of the Southern Cross. And we didn't even have to do the dishes.

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