My friends suggested going to the Perhentian Island. These are islands on the east coast side of Malaysia and is the perfect time to go during June. This is the total opposite to monsoon seasons for Thailand which normally have wet seasons during our Summer months (English Summer). I’d seen pictures of these islands and was super excited as images show crystal clear waters and due to Malaysia not being an extremely popular destination, the beaches are supposed to be quiet and secluded. Most travelers come to Malaysia and see KL, Malacca, Cameron Highlands and Penang, with maybe a trip to Langkawi. However, I recommend to see the East side beaches and then fly on over to Borneo to explore a wilder side of Malaysia.
How to get to the Perhentian Island from Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Besut is the small town you need to get to, if you wish to visit the Perhentian Island. A bus will take you near to the jetty. From there you can then take the boat to the island. Before heading off, I recommend getting enough cash for your entire trip, as the islands have no ATMs.
Perhentian on a public holiday
Of course, it was not to be so simple for us. A public holiday fell on the dates of our plans and all bus tickets to Kuala Besut were sold out. The alternative was to catch a bus to Kuala Terranganu. We arrived there extremely early in the morning, and read online that we would be able to find a taxi to take us to Kuala Besut for 120RM. Lucky for us, there was a taxi looking for tourists. It was an incredibly old banger of a car but it did get us there after an hour and a half journey. We made it in time for the first boat to the islands, which is 7am. Last chance to get cash form an ATM!!!
Boat ride to Perhentian Island
I recommend getting the first boat. Sit at the front, as you will be treated to a breath taking sunrise. As we approached the large island, we could see the orange sun blazing over the rock. Pretty amazing start to the trip. The boat ride was 40 minutes, costing 70RM return. As you get to the jetty, staff try to get you to queue and pay the conservation fee, which is clearly a tourist scam. A boat man called us through to the boat, so we did not hesitate to pass the groups of queuing tourists and managed to skip this fee. Walk through with confidence to avoid this charge!
(UPDATE – you will be approached by a lady as soon as you get off the bus in the early morning. Buy a ticket from her and get the first boat. You will be guided through and not have to pay the conservation fee.)
As we got closer to shore and shallower waters, we could see how clear and blue the water really was. At the time, it was the clearest water I’d seen in my entire life.
Perhentian has 2 islands, Kecil and Besar (Small and Big). We chose Kecil as it was supposed to be cheaper, and more suited towards a younger crowd. I would recommend this for backpackers.
Accommodation on Perhentian Island
We decided to wing it and arrive on the first boat to the island. From there, the plan was to rush around and seek the best accommodation. There is limited accommodation online and if you book in advance, you are at a massive risk of getting somewhere sub-standard.
We dragged our backpacks around with us, searching for quality guesthouses, which became exhausting.
Our first stop was Tropicana Inn. We had read about it on the internet where some people said it was good and some not so good. We thought we would stop by to decide for ourselves. The guesthouse was not on the beach front, but in the middle of the island, 5-10 minutes from long beach, which isn’t ideal. But what really put us off was the dirty rooms and the owner who was extremely rude. We also heard from people that the accommodation had bed bugs.
We decided to move onto the less busy Coral Bay, which is on the other side to where the boat drops you. In my opinion Coral Bay is a much nicer beach. More secluded, a smaller beach but the water looked even clearer. We looked at some other accommodation huts which weren’t bad, you can also sleep in a tent which is cheaper too. We eventually got to the end of the beach and saw some stilted huts on the beach front. This sounds luxury but in fact they are basic. As you would expect from an island beach hut, they come with no air-con and cold showers. However, the location was amazing and we could see the crystal turquoise water from our huts. They cost us 140RM/night between two persons.
By the way…
It’s definitely 100% worth staying on the beach front, the island is amazing, and the convenience of being on the water’s edge is priceless. My advice, pay the extra cost. The huts we stayed in were at the Senja Guesthouses. They had the best spot on the beach, quiet and on a part of the beach that offers excellent snorkelling. They also have a restaurant/café serving food and drinks all day/night. The standard was ok, what you would expect from an Asian beach café/restaurant, but service was quite poor. They would forget and bring the wrong thing at least once a day for us. Service was also extremely slow.
We still went back there each day though, as they had excellent Oreo shakes and showed a movie every night. Of course, the views were unrivalled too.
Things to do on Perhentian Island
The Perhentian Island is beautiful, that you could simply enjoy just by being there and relaxing. However if you want to get out there and see what this island has to offer, I recommend hiring a snorkel and fins. The water is very calm and the marine life is so diverse. You don’t even need to go far out. We saw a Black Tip shark right near the beach, which was a little scary but super exciting. Blue Spotted Rays are all around the nooks and crannies at the sea bed. Just dive down and keep your eyes peeled. If you’re lucky you may spot some huge groupers, and we even spotted an Eagle Ray. We snorkelled for hours until exhausted.
Snorkeling tour or not…
You can sign up for a tour too, where the boat takes you to 5 different snorkelling spots. It’s a cheap price, but the snorkelling spots were average and over visited, with many other tourists all going to the same spots. If you do opt to do it though, ensure the tour operator gives fins, as our one promised to, but had none on the day, making snorkelling much harder.
My tip would be hire a kayak for a day and paddle to different spots. You can leave your kayak on the nearest beach and snorkel from there. The sense of freedom when you are out on the water, is amazing. All I could hear was the water, life doesn’t get much better than that. We stopped at many of the beaches on our circuit around the island, to recoup our strength and to snorkel the area. Don’t underestimate how much energy it takes when paddling the kayak for a long distance. It’s a real workout and our arms were sore the day after.
Discover Scuba Diving
Discover Diving – my friend and I wanted to try diving so we took a Discover Scuba Diving session which gives us a taster of what it would be like, without having to commit to the Open Water PADI course. We did this with the Anti-Gravity dive school, as they were genuine, unpretentious and seemed interested in us, rather than trying to hard sell everything they had to offer. The instructor gave us some basic theory and soon we strapped up and ready to go. I can’t believe how heavy the gear was. Walking with it into the water is taxing if you were not expecting it.
Once submerged into the water though, the equipment becomes weightless. The instructor taught us some of the techniques that you would learn in your open water certification, e.g. mouth piece retrieval, cleaning of the air supply, clearing he mask, assisting your partner’s air supply etc. Afterwards we went underwater to try it for real. They say you will never forget your first experience breathing underwater and it is truly an amazing one.
It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, where you need to control your breathing with skill and patience to maintain a level of buoyancy. Marine life underwater was fascinating. I describe it to people as a different planet because if you’ve never been down there before, then you won’t know what it’s like. By the end of the session, we were under water for around 40 minutes and saw 3 Black Tip Sharks. I can recommend trying scuba here or even getting your Open Water here. It’s about as cheap to get your cert here as anywhere, for around 1000RM.
Play some volley ball. There is a volleyball net on coral bay. Gather some locals, and have a game. We played against a couple of Malaysians who had clearly played before as their technique was on point. Whereas my friend and I, though not awful, didn’t have the same level of technique. It was an insanely close game, and many people watched us play and wanted to get involved after the game concluded.
Top Tips for Perhentian Island
- Arrive early and search for accommodation
- Get a beach front hut on Coral Bay
- Negotiate prices if you are staying multiple nights, ideally more than 3. (We stayed for a week after extending by 3 nights)
- Internet Cafe – there’s no phone signal on the island and wi-fi although advertised is so poor it may as well be non-existent. There is one internet joint that actually works. Pay a small fee.
- Get a kayak to find snorkeling spots
- Take a walk around the edge of the island, just follow it round
- Draw enough cash for the trip before you arrive
- Go with friends – although an amazing island, it’s not a popular backpacker spot to meet others, there are no hostels, so having some friends to share the experience with, really made my trip unforgettable and still one of my favorite trips.
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