I first heard of the Perhentian Islands some years ago and always promised myself I would visit and this year I finally made that promise to myself with a trip to Malaysia.
The Perhentian Islands lie around 10 miles off the east coast of West Malaysia or Peninsular Malaysia and despite not having much coverage in guide books they are very well known on the backpacker trail and were used as a stopping point for traders for hundreds of years.
The Perhentian Islands are now part of a National Marine Park and tourism has become their main source of income. This of course has the normal pros and cons although the islands have managed to escape too much over development. There are lots of simple huts and chalets to stay in and only a couple of higher class hotels.
The Perhentian Island’s actually relates to two islands Kecil (small) and Besar (big). Perhentian Kecil tends to draw the most people with a larger range of accommodation and places to eat on Coral Bay and Long Beach. The latter is popular for its late night beach parties and fire shows.
I however was in the Perhentian Islands for pure relaxation and to get close to nature so opted for Perhentian Besar. The island is more isolated but generally its accommodation is more expensive and there is nothing much to do in the evenings apart from have dinner, read a book and watch the storms happening on the horizon. I did visit Kecil and enjoyed the sunset at Coral Bay before a night on Long Beach. As expected this area was much busy with much more noise and sadly a lot of litter. It was still a fun night if you get bored on Besar though.
So here are some of the things I did whilst in the Perhentian Islands and some tips for you if you are thinking of going.
Should you visit
If you love tropical islands, white sandy beaches and snorkelling on coral reefs then yes, yes and yes. I spent a week on Perhentian Besar snorkelled every day, spent some time on deserted beaches and did a few jungle walks to see some local wildlife. I also read a lot of books too so if you like all-inclusive resorts with lots of activities or need to be entertained then this isn’t the place for you. It’s still worth a visit, just perhaps shorten your trip to two or three nights.
When to go
Peak season is from June to September however I was travelling in May and the weather was fine with just a couple of overnight rain storms. Generally speaking the Perhentian Islands are open from March to October. Come November the monsoon season starts and most places are closed until March. If the monsoon season doesn’t bother you then it’s possible to still travel to the Islands. The Perhentian Island Resort is open all year round
What did I get up to
I went snorkelling every day for hours and got to see a huge amount of marine life including green turtles. Most hotels or chalets will book you a snorkelling trip for a couple of hours that takes you to the most popular locations around the two islands.
There are plenty of water taxi’s too that can take you to deserted beaches or between the islands. I went over to Coral Bay one evening watched the sunset, walked to Long Beach and had dinner and some drinks. The return cost from Perhentian Besar was around £12 GBP which is $20 USD so not bad for a private taxi for the two of us. I also spent my birthday on Turtle Beach and we had the place to ourselves for quite a few hours. We arranged a pick up time with the boatman and he returned and charged us around £8 or $13. By no means expensive but not the cheapest either.
Other than that I chilled on the beach, had a beach BBQ every night and read books.
How to get there
In peak season ferries or smaller speedboats run several times a day from Kuala Besut, mainly to Long Beach or Coral Bay.
Kuala Besut can be reached easily via many forms of transport. Buses travel from Kuala Lumpur and Penang or if you get a good deal then you can fly into Kota Bharu which is around an hour from Kuala Besut.
My advice is to check all your options I got a flight from Penang to Kota Bharu for just 60 Malaysian Ringgit which is £11 or $19 which was basically the same price as the 9 hour bus journey for just a 1 hour flight.
Most will make their own way to the islands and find cheap accommodation on arrival as many of the chalets don’t have websites or take advance bookings. If you have booked into a hotel (I stayed at the Tuna Bay Resort and would throughly recommend a beach chalet) then they might have their own boat that goes straight to their hotel and can even arrange a driver to pick you up from Kota Bharu airport, making everything easy and painless for you to transfer to the Islands. It’s worth taking them up on this as the prices for the ferries or boats to the islands are pretty much ‘fixed-price’.
Food is actually quite similar wherever you go and a similar cost too. I’d advise eating in fresh fish BBQs or local dishes as these will be much better value and the fresh fish is much tastier than the beef that is brought to the islands. Coral Bay and Long Beach have the cheapest eats and a meal and drink can be as little as £2 ($3) per person. Where I stayed on Perhentian Besar there were only 3-4 restaurants within the vicinity of my hotel so the choice was limited. All of them did beach BBQs and an evening meal and a drink was around £7 ($12) per person.
Important Travel Tips
- There are no ATM’s on the islands so make sure you bring enough cash. If you are staying at one of the bigger resorts or hotels you can probably pay by card for your room but make sure you check before arriving.
- All of the islands electricity is pretty much from generators and smaller cheaper places wont have these running all the time. I’d advise making sure you have your own torch for your trip.
- There are some big mosquitos (it’s a tropical island after all!) so make sure you have repellant.
- Buy before you go – Prices for snacks or toiletries are, of course, expensive on the Islands if you need deodorant or want some crisps and cookies to eat in between meals then buy these before you arrive and take them with you.
For disclosure I want to make it clear that my whole trip to the Perhentian Islands was paid for in full by myself from the pennies I earn working hard in a full-time job. I’m proud to say: No sponsorship, no handouts, no freebies – my views are completely unbiased