If you want to go overland, it would be: Phuket --> Hat Yai --> Kota Bharu --> Perhentians. The border crossing is fine.
From KL it's also a fair amount of time overland to get there.... About 8 hours to the ferry town by public transit. You could also fly to Kuala Lumpur then fly to Kota Bahru -- from there it's only an hour or so to the ferry point. AirAsia flies both routes.
I am doing the same thing in August - we werent sure about using the Sungai Kolok/Rantau Panjang border as it still seems that area is experiencing a lot of unrest.
However we will be travlling from Surat Thani (having come back from Ko Pha-Nagn) and going to the Perhentian Islands.
Has anyone has made this trip or any ideas on how to make it and long long it would take?
My advice is if you re coming from Thailand, the best way to Perhentian is to go to Kota Bharu and then from there to the Kuala Besut jetty. The Journey will take about 45mins. There is another jetty called Tok Bali which offer boat services to Perhentian but not very popular due to very few boat are operating there.
You will save lot in time compared if you re flying from Thailand to KL and then to Kota Bharu. The jouney from KL to Kota Bharu by bus will take bout 8hrs and if by Plane bout 30min to 45mins. You can check with air asia on that.
I done like that last year. I fly to Kota Bharu by air asia and stayed at cerana Guest House in Kota Bharu and the next day i take a cab to Kuala Besut Jetty and then to Perhentian. It was fully booked when i reached there coz of holiday. I bought my boat ticket at the Guest House and they also hepl me to arrange the cab to the Jetty. It cost me about RM40.00. If you can find other fellow traveller to the island you can share the costs.
About the border situation, i think it is quit safe now coz i never heard any news from that site for the past few months. Its only in Bangkok. Sungai Golok/Rantau Panjang border seems ok at the moment.
Catherine when you will be arriving at Kota Bharu? I have a plan to Kota Bharu this August and may be to Perhentian but the date not sure yet. May be we can meet up on our way to Perhentian.