The Perhentian Islands were top of my list when I knew that we were travelling through Malaysia to fly out of Singapore. Apparently these tiny paradise islands are well known on the backpacker trail but I’d only heard of them from an old work colleague, otherwise I might have skipped over the tiny section in the Rough Guide.
Despite its popularity, we didn’t run into any other backpackers heading that way or who had been. So I’m very glad I was sold before leaving the UK.
Think pristine, picture-perfect white sand beaches, turquoise waters, ramshackle huts, fire shows, shisha pipes, impeccable snorkelling and diving conditions plus everything cheap as chips… The ultimate backpacker paradise!
~ Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Perhentian Kecil vs Perhentian Besar
The Perhentian Islands are made up of two islands; Perhentian Kecil, the small island and Perhentian Besar, the big island. Some of the research we did before heading there told us that Kecil was more of the backpacker destination and Besar was more suited to families and couples. So guess which one we went for? Perhentian Kecil of course, we’re not that old.. yet!
There are two main beaches on Perhentian Kecil: Coral Bay and Long beach. We chose Long Beach, which turned out to be perfectly lively and the better beach out of the two.
How to get to the Perhentian Islands
We got the overnight bus from Bandar Tasik Selatanto station (BTS) in Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut, which is the port town to reach the Perhentian Islands. The bus cost 40 Ringgit (£6) each. Once we got off the bus there were people ushering us to the port where you can buy tickets and let them know which beach you want to get to.
The boat costs 70 Ringgit (£10) return and you need to keep your ticket safe for the journey coming back. The big speed boat can’t pull into the shore so little taxi boats meet you to transfer to the beach. The boat journey took about 40 mins overall.
There is an airport at Kota Bharu, one hour away from Kuala Besut. We considered this as it would have made things much easier but the cost to fly from Surat Thani in Thailand was way too expensive. It was much cheaper to fly to KL, have a couple of days there and then get the bus!
Accommodation on Perhentian Kecil
The accommodation on Coral Bay comprises mostly of small dive resorts, plus a few shacks (or tents!), so if you’re splashing out you can book ahead at a resort.
Otherwise, you’re best arriving early, and especially if you want to score a good deal at one of the beach huts or one of the dorms on Long Beach. We arrived on Long Beach at 8am and there was NOTHING available. Apparently because it was the weekend.
A nice guy let us leave our backpacks at the first place we tried, before we went on the hunt for somewhere with availability. We tried everywhere on Long Beach before hiking over to Coral Bay. There was only one place available in between the two and in the middle of the island.
I trusted my instinct and thought we should go back and try Long Beach one more time. Luckily there was a place at the end of the beach we’d missed previously and they had a hut available. We snapped up a super basic but clean hut with shared bathroom for 80 Ringgit (£12) a night.
~ Our accommodation at Lemon Grass and the view of Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil
Wifi is advertised at some places but it barely works so this is the time to put away your laptop, phones etc and just enjoy paradise. You can pay for one of the better wifi services at the main shop on Long Beach if need be!
There are no ATMs so you need to be prepared and bring enough cash. There are also no roads on the island, just a small track over the jungle in between the two beaches.
~ Days are spent lounging on the beach, soaking up the sun
Everything is back to basics on the Perhentian Islands and you’re reminded you’re in a Muslim country when there’s no alcohol served at the few restaurants. There are a couple of ramshackle bars on Long beach that serve either beer or small bottles of whiskey and coke.
There’s an awesome beach party vibe in the sense of lounge cushions, fire shows and shisha pipes. A couple of places also put on small events but by no means is it anything on the scale of the Thai islands. Though it’s sad development might be heading that way as there was a lot of construction going on whilst we were there.
~ Beer and beach burgers
On a barely audible, let alone visual skype call with my parents I remember telling them this was the clearest sea I had ever seen. Which I probably have a habit of saying throughout my travels. But seriously, the sea around the Perhentian Islands is the most crystal clear I have ever feast my eyes upon and had the pleasure of swimming in!
You can book snorkel trips with any of the places along the beach or at your own accommodation. They took us around Perhentian Kecil, where you stop at a small fishing village and have lunch with the only permanent residents on the islands, and also around Perhentian Besar. The Perhentian Islands are part of the Pulau Redang National Marine Park so the marine life is incredible with lots of species of tropical fish and beautiful coral.
~ Embracing the miss-matched flippers and hello curious fish
Despite being an absolute mermaid and being promised that black tip reef sharks and turtle sightings were guaranteed, we didn’t see either! Not here, nor the Gili Islands in Indonesia…
But that’s ok, another reason to go back, right?! The Perhentian Islands were up there as some of the most stunning beaches I have seen on my travels and I would urge anyone heading to Malaysia to give them a visit.
When to go?
Unlike with the Thai Islands, we found ourselves here in the ‘best’ season. The perfect time to visit is between March and November, before and after the monsoons. I was counting my lucky stars as we hadn’t read about that until we got to Malaysia. Any other time and it’s likely the boats won’t be running.
Would you visit the Perhentian Islands? What’s been your favourite island experience?