Two great island escapes
The two Perhentian Islands, along with a scattering of uninhabited islets, lie off the northeast coast of Peninsular Malaysia. They’ve long been renowned for their coral reefs and clear waters, snorkelling, diving, attractive beaches and remote, semi-untouched feel and appearance. Go there today rather than tomorrow.
Both islands are known for their snorkelling, diving and beaches. While the accommodation is no great shakes, the islands are home to some lovely beaches and making the effort to walk to a less-developed beach, can really pay off. The islands lack the heaving party scene of some of the Thai islands, making the Perhentians a good choice for families and those looking for a low key stay.
The diving is some of the cheapest in Southeast Asia and while it can get very busy underwater, this is generally a good place to learn or notch up a lot of dives without spending the earth. Through a combination of bleaching and development problems such as freshwater run off, the coral has suffered on most of the developed island beaches. Sites further afield are in a better state and, as the diving effectively only operates for half the year, at least the reefs have a chance for a quick gasp to recover to a certain extent.
Most resorts open from late February through April until well into October—perhaps even early November, depending on the weather. The peak tourist season is July and August, not only because of weather but also holiday schedules—especially European summer holidays.
The annual monsoon that hits the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia peaks between November and February and many resorts close roughly across this period. Some though, especially the larger places on Perhentian Kecil, now remain open year round. Food options at this time will be rather limited and the boat service irregular. Large seas make diving unworkable and snorkelling not all that pleasant, so most dive shops are closed across this period. If all you want to do is lay on the beach though, you will get the occasional day of great sunshine through wet season.
There is a significant local tourism scene on the Perhentians and the weekends, especially holiday weekends such as the May Day weekend, can be extremely busy. Weekends in general across season are busier and most resorts and guesthouses may have a slightly higher rate for weekends. Nevertheless, discounts for longer stays, say over a week, are not uncommon. Always ask!
The two inhabited islands, Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian) sit across a narrow body of water from one another and roughly 45 minutes from the mainland.
Broadly speaking, Perhentian Besar is the more family orientated island, with just about nothing in the way of nightlife, while Perhentian Kecil is the “party island” popular with younger backpackers and single travellers looking as much for a place to socialise and have party as somewhere to lay on the beach and relax.
Each has its pros and cons, and if time allows a stay on each of the islands can be worthwhile, if for no other reason than to explore more of the beaches. Both have been on the tourist radar for more than three decades, so an untouched paradise this is not. But for the traveller looking for some straight-up and unchallenging beach time, the Perhentians can be a comfortable rest stop as they work their way up or down Malaysia’s east coast.
While not as bad as it has been in the past, the garbage on both islands, but especially on Kecil, remains a problem, and petty crime, also especially on Kecil, is an ongoing issue—watch your stuff—and yourself in the evening.
There are NO ATMS on the Perhentians. Bring enough cash with you. Many, though not all resorts, do accept credit cards, but the cheapest guesthouses and certainly the barbecue corn vendor on Long Beach, do not. If you need more cash, the closest reliable ATM is in Jertih about a 20-minute taxi ride from Kuala Besut.
Internet and WiFi is available at some guesthouses, hotels, dive shops and restaurants. Standards of the service vary considerably. Celcom reportedly has the best coverage. Resorts often claim to offer WiFi but the signal is poor or only available in reception. If you require decent internet during your stay, enquire beforehand.
There is no active regular policing on either island. The closest real police station is Kuala Besut, with regional stations in both Kota Bharu and Kuala Terengganu. We were advised that serious complaints, especially regarding assaults, should also be passed to your diplomatic mission in Kuala Lumpur.
The closest hospital is in Jertih on the mainland.
Are the Perhentians safe?
The vast majority of travellers to the Perhentians will have no problems at all during their stay. Petty theft, especially from the cheaper bungalows and off the beach, is a problem. Solo travellers should watch their drinks at the Long Beach bars—drink spiking is not unheard of. The paved trail from Long Beach to Coral Bay is largely unlit. Walking along it at 03:00 hammered is not advisable.
On most beaches boats just throw extremely sharp anchors into the shallows. If you’re running along the beach, don’t see one of these and step on it, you’ll know all about it. Walk and run with care.
There are some simple ways to protect yourself during your stay. Always lock the windows and doors of your bungalow when going out. Don’t leave valuables laying around on the beach or your bungalow balcony. Watch your drinks at all times at the beach bars and stay in control. If you feel uncomfortable, leave—preferably not alone. Watch out for anchors on the beach. Don’t pick fights with locals and if you feel threatened, leave.
Do not be surprised when you’re offered drugs at the beach bars—dabblers should familiarise themselves with Malaysia’s drug laws—punishments for drug possession are extreme.
While Perhentian Kecil has the backpacker reputation, good cheap options are rare. Many budget travellers opt for dorms or one of a number of campsites on both islands. Bedbugs can be a problem. Generally speaking, accommodation is poor value for the standards across the board—much of it is grim, overpriced, or both.
Making a reservation in advance can be prudent, especially in July and August. Many places cannot be booked through online travel agents like Agoda.com—you will need to contact the resort. OTA rates are often higher than what you will pay direct.
Long Beach is Kecil’s best known beach and hosts a mix of backpacker shacks through to expensive resorts with little in between. The sand is a squeaky near-white and the water very clear and calm. In the evening, beach bars get going towards the southern end of the beach. An easy-to-follow trail leads from Long Beach over the hill to Coral Bay—beach to beach it takes about ten minutes—it is not well lit at night.
Set second to last at the northern end of Long Beach, Bubu Long Beach has smart hotel-style rooms in a three-storey, L-shaped building looking onto the beach and Long Beach’s pier beyond.
While not the most expensive lodging on Long Beach, Bubu Long Beach’s rates (Starting at 788 ringgit as a walk-in) remain very high for the standard—we assume you’re primarily paying for the location. A somewhat festy runoff between Bubu Long Beach and the massive Mimpi Resort (which sits on the northern end of Long Beach) taints what is otherwise a better part of the beach.
The rooms are of a good standard and the upper floor rooms have some decent views, but for some inexplicable reason, they’ve built the L so that half the rooms face towards the Mimpi and headland rather than looking down the beach, which we’d have thought would have been a better orientation. The other half, which do face the ocean, also catch a view of the pier. The resort has a large mid-priced restaurant and an attached diveshop, but no swimming pool—again making the rates a bit over the top. Bubu manages the villas behind World Cafe at the other end of the beach which are worth a look if you want to spend even more.
Check online for a more reasonable discounted rate. If you want something more resort style, with a small pool, shop online for a reduced rate at Mimpi which is right next door and is a typical large hotel with a moderately sized pool by the pier.
Wrapped around the headland at the far southern end of Long Beach, D’Rock Garden Resort offers some of the best elevated views over the ocean on Long Beach, but the rooms are variable.
Old style wooden bungalows (300 ringgit) are the closest to the restaurant and the beach, and set on a leafy rise with well tended gardens which enjoy the palm greens which they overlook. While solid, bungalows are dark inside thanks to not having enough windows, and are a little cramped thanks to a sofa but they do have a sliding door out onto the private deck. The bathroom in the bungalow we were shown was clean. Overall they’ll do at a pinch—especially if you are planning on spending little time in the room.
The better fare is out and along the ocean facing part of the resort where larger, newer and slightly more modern bungalows (275-375 ringgit) are located. These are worth considering if they fit with your budget, but bear in mind they are a long walk from the beach. While the views are all ocean rather than beach facing, they are still well impressive. The restaurant offers a large platform deck with views along Long Beach.
Staff can be pretty abrupt though not unfriendly. D’Rock Garden Resort tends to be one of the “cheaper” places that can be booked online through Agoda and Booking, but the reviews are often withering—we would say the place is not nearly as poor as some of the reviews suggest. If you want something fancier, the Aman dLaut is next door and starts at around the 500 ringgit mark—shop online for a discounted rate.
Matahari is set just back off the centre of Long Beach and does a good job serving up above average backpacker fare at a not unreasonable price point.
The falling apart but tall a-frames here have been “retired” and are used just for staff housing while paying guests are housed in a couple of two story apricot painted buildings a little further back. To be honest, being familiar with the old a-frames from a previous visit we didn’t have high expectations for the rooms but we were pleasantly surprised with the air-con room (170 ringgit) we were shown.
Rooms are of a good size and we’d say sparkling clean except the room we were shown was a bit too dark to actually sparkle. Each has a private veranda, in our case looking over a lush stand of trees, the bed had real linen and the bathroom had hot water—another surprise given the price of the room.
Reception is in another building, when we passed through it was staffed by a young and friendly guy strumming his guitar. Upstairs in a cafe area strung with a few hammocks and making for a good spot to escape the midday heat. Fan-cooled (120 ringgit) and dormitory accommodation (50 ringgit) is also available. For the money and the location, this is solid backpacker value. If they’re full, consider the nearby and new for 2019 Harrera (previously Bintang Star) which has simple wooden bungalows in share-bathroom (100 ringgit) and private-bathroom (200 ringgit) configurations, but we preferred Matahari.
Panorama Chalets is a bit of a backpacker haven with several room and chalet options set near the centre, though just back from the sand on Perhentian Kecil’s Long Beach.
On our mid 2019 visit the whole place felt a little run down, and with the ginormous Coco Hut Long Beach continuing to grow next door, this place does feel a bit like they’re just sitting on it waiting for a cashed up buyer. Neither the rooms nor the grounds are not as well kept as they could be, but, for the money, this isn’t an appalling proposition—though we would swing by Matahari first and only head here if Matahari was full.
Aside from the dorms (50 ringgit) the main fare here are fan cooled (180 ringgit) and air-con (230 ringgit) chalets. Decor is quite sparse, but each bungalow comes with individual verandas, complete with a small wooden table and chairs. They also offer a family room chalet with ensuite and air-con that come with two double beds and plenty of floor space (330 ringgit). Panorama’s onsite restaurant is popular and has a decent menu selection and movies are screened in the evening.
Set a short walk up the jungle path between Long Beach and Coral Bay, Tropicana Inn offers a raft of functional rooms at a not totally budget breaking price point.
After being gobsmacked by what many places were charging on Long Beach we actually expected Tropicana to be a good deal cheaper than it was, but once you adjust to Perhentian pricing, the rates (cheapest rooms start at 150 ringgit, more expensive rooms from 250 ringgit) are not outrageous. Rooms are functional rather than stylish, but are very clean and well kept and even boast some mod-cons like simple art and a bedside lamp. Bathrooms are likewise clean and well looked after.
The location is in the middle of the jungle and they’ve smartly kept a lot of the trees, so the place has an overall green feel to it, it is just a shame a bit more effort wasn’t made with regard to the style of the rooms, which are really just white cinderblocks. There is a large common area and restaurant area and we found the staff to be helpful and friendly. Check their website for packages, which include boat transfers and can be quite reasonable value.
Note that the jungle trail is not well lit at night—bring a torch and solo travellers should take care in the evening on the trail.
Lemon Grass Chalet
# Southern end of Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Set at the base of the stairs that lead up to D’Rock Garden, Lemon Grass has two rows of uber-basic, very old, wooden freestanding bungalows facing one another, running back from the beach.
Management are friendly enough (signage refers to a mandatory two-night stay, but they let us stay for a single), on the upside, Lemon Grass is cheap by Perhentian standards, especially given the location just a hop skip and a jump from the sand. Bungalows have a small veranda with string hammocks and are fan-cooled. Huts come in shared bathroom (60-70 ringgit) and private bathroom (120 ringgit) flavours. There is no WiFi—and no phone, web or email, the latter meaning Lemon Grass is walk-in only.
Overall, if you’re happy with very frugal lodgings, this will deliver the goods—noise from the nearby beach bars (which can run well into the early hours) can be an issue. If full, Chempaka Chalet is nextdoor and offers similar fare while up the beach, Symphony has grotty A-frames for 50 ringgit and somewhat better (though still basic—yes, squat loos) rooms for 100 ringgit.
Coral Bay is the largest beach along the west coast of Perhentian Kecil. It is quite built up, with resorts and restaurants from one end to the other, and has an unsightly pier running along about a third of its length. Snorkelling and swimming are best done elsewhere thanks to the volume of boat traffic, but if you want to just bake on the sand, the centre of the beach is pretty good. Snorkelling is better down to the south or north of Shari-La Resort. Sunsets here are great.
If you’re after a well-sized and well-equipped room and are not fussed about lacking a sea view, then Ombak Resort is a reasonable option.
Set in a brown three-storey (it feels towering by Perhentian standards) building with a large attached restaurant overlooking the water, and a dive shop, Ombak has a stack of rooms set in blocks named after various sea creatures running back from the beach. Rates (Standard 390 ringgit, Superior 490 ringgit, family room 690 ringgit) are high, but this is the Perhentians!
We were shown a couple of air-con rooms—both were spacious and very clean. The fit-out included proper beds, with decorative nets, decorative throws, flat screen TV and a desk. Bathrooms are clean and have hot water. Terraces are shared and as many face onto the common walkway through from Long Beach, they’re not really designed for lounging around and canoodling. If you’re after a hotel standard room on Coral Bay, this is a good option. Check their website for package details which can be reasonable value.
The beach out front isn’t the best here, cluttered with boats (do take care for the sharp anchors thrown willy nilly into the sand), cafes and shops. Walk a bit down the beach for a quieter stretch of sand. If Ombak is full but you’re set on Coral Bay, consider Senja at the other end of the beach.
Sprawling Senja Bay runs along the southern edge of Coral Bay, enjoying some of the best sunset views on this part of the island.
Rooms here come in a few of flavours, with the best offerings running up the hillside behind the beachfront restaurant. Most of the lodgings are priced according to how far back they are, with beachfront (290 ringgit) and second row (230 ringgit) coming with air-con and the third row being fan-cooled only (180 ringgit). They also have some larger rooms suitable for families or travelling groups (400-510 ringgit depending on the room). Be sure to shop around online to see what discounted rates you can find.
The rooms are well appointed and as they bear the full brunt of the late afternoon sun, even if you’re normally ok with just a fan room, opting for air-con might not be a bad idea. Rooms are dated but in reasonable condition, though some of the wooden walkways leave a little to be desired—be careful with young kids so they don’t take a tumble.
The elevated beachfront restaurant is ideally appointed for sundowners and is far better presented and looked after (as is the entire resort) when compared to Shari-La at the northern end of the bay. We found the staff to be friendly and helpful. They have a second restaurant midway along the beach if you prefer to have your toes in the sand when you eat and drink. The beach immediately out front is a bit rocky, but it just a few steps to clear sand (or one of the resort deckchairs.
About a 30 minute walk south of Coral Bay along a well tended pathway, Keranji beach delivers an idyllic setting, with yellow to white-ish sand, clear water. This is an isolated spot, so bear in mind most alternative eating options are quite a walk away.
Nestled in the jungle midway between Coral Bay and Keranji Beach, Crocodile Rock Villas offers a selection of superior wooden bungalows along with glamping, setting a new benchmark for upmarket Perhentian digs.
The afternoon we passed through Crocodile Rock was full so we were not able to see inside the rooms, but from outside they look just lovely. Oversized wooden bungalows sit on stilts running back up the hillside with a comfortable looking restaurant overhanging the west-coast island trail.
Options come in three flavours—glamping (250++ ringgit), Jungle and Seaview villas (295++ ringgit and 335++ ringgit respectively) and Grand Seaview (395 ringgit), so you’re paying a significant premium for the isolation and the standards. Bungalows are well-spaced and have large, fenced-in furnished decks ideal for whiling away the afternoon with no distractions other than the sounds of the jungle.
As mentioned, we were not able to see inside a room, but from the photos on their website, the rooms look to be well fitted out and comfortable with western style bathrooms and mosquito net shrouded beds. Water views are limited thanks to all the foliage which the resort has done a great job of retaining, but you’ll see more from the restaurant area.
Minimum stay is two nights and reservations, especially in season, are essential. If Crocodile Rock is out of your budget, consider Keranji Beach Resort which is a little further to the south. It lacks the jungle feel, but has a far superior beach front. Recommended.
We really liked Keranji Beach Resort and if you don’t mind simple accommodation and the isolation, a good 30 minute walk south from Coral Beach, then this is our top pick on Perhentian Kecil.
Keranji has a mix of older huts though to quite smart, bright and new wooden bungalows at a range of price points, some of which are ideally placed for long slow days swinging in a hammock watching the water glisten. The larger bungalows are the more solid and spacious with well appointed balconies and wooden doors with glass windows. Bathrooms can be surprisingly smart, beds are mosquito net shrouded and the decks are designed with lazing in mind. The older bungalows are more typical Perhentian fare, but the location, with a pretty, yellow sand beach and clear water offshore, certainly adds value. Bungalows with shared bathroom are the cheapest (140-170 ringgit), with the others ranging from 290 to 400 ringgit. A family bungalow (shared bathroom) fetches 450 ringgit.
The restaurant has an original menu—short and simple and is placed at the southern end of the beach. If you have your eve set on here, reservations in advance should be considered essential.
If you’d like something a step up, consider the new Crocodile Rock Villas with stylish and lovely lodgings going for 295 ringgit to 395 ringgit in a lush jungle setting a ten minute walk to the north of here. It is lovely.
This is the northernmost beach on Perhentian Kecil and it’s really just a small sliver of sand—the great beaches here are a short walk through to the west coast of the island—and they are glorious.
The northernmost of Perhentian Kecil’s developed beaches, the very long-running (almost 30 years) family-run D’Lagoon offers a range of options from dormitories to duplex bungalows to fancier deluxe bungalows.
The bungalows (110 ringgit) are named individually after sea creatures—we’ve had prawn and crab over the years—are, all in all, pretty ordinary and the bathrooms in particular are pretty ropey and in need of a revamp, but you don’t stay at D’Lagoon for the rooms—nor the restaurant in fact. The view from the bungalows circling the bay is superb. There is a dorm (50 ringgit) for those on a tighter budget.
Why you stay here used to be for the front bay snorkelling, with its baby reef sharks and the two back beaches, and while the front bay snorkelling has suffered considerably over the years, the back beaches (Turtle beach and Adam and Eve beach), are so gorgeous we’d go as far as to say they make a stay at D’Lagoon mandatory. Turtle Beach is a 10-minute walk away and Adam & Eve around 20 minutes, both along a rustic and hilly-in-places dirt trail, but they are absolutely pristine.
Back at the resort, electricity is available throughout the day, and WiFi is available evenings only (though the 4G signal was fine here). Snorkelling gear can be hired and there is also an attached dive shop. The friendly and super-welcoming family who were running the place when we first stayed here in 1997 are still running the show. Watch out for the massive monitor lizards or the gorgeous (but very cheeky) resident Burmese Cat.
You can hike from D’lagoon to Long Beach, but it is a long and strenuous walk that takes well over an hour while a boat taxi is 20 ringgit. Overall this remains, after all the years we’ve been visiting, one of our favourite places to stay on the Perhentians. Recommended.
This beach stretches from Coral View Island Resort south past The Reef, finishing off in front of Mama’s. Of the developed beaches on Perhentian Besar, this is just about the worst and the beach is gone in front of Mama’s, with the sea kept at bay by a retaining wall. Coral View has a beach both to the west and north, both of which are okay for swimming.
Last off the rank between The Barat and the southern bushwhacking trail to Tuna Bay sits Mama’s Chalet, a slightly more modern-looking version of the typical Perhentian budget chalet.
With a few decades in the business and under the watchful eye of some super–friendly staff, some of the most knowledgable and helpful guys we’ve met on the islands—Mama’s is a good spot for travellers willing to spend a little more for a seaside setting.
Rooms are basic but quite spacious and clean with attached cold water bathrooms. Beds have a base sheet and a throw over blanket and while the tinted glass side windows limit the light a bit, you won’t need a torch. Rooms also include a few sticks of IKEA style furniture and a table setting on the deck. The well-chilly air-con chalets (180 ringgit) take up the front row (along with some larger, slightly newer rooms good for families), while the back rows are fan-cooled (110 ringgit). The bungalows are in rows running parallel to the beach and note that some face away from the water. Fan rooms do not have a sea view. There is a laidback feel to this family-run spot and the rates are the lowest in the area, just undercutting the nearby The Reef Chalet.
There is no beach here. Instead a retaining wall protects the grounds which have sensibly been planted with shade trees and palms, with deckchairs underneath. The views across the water to the village at Perhentian Kecil are fabulous. Their on-site restaurant is relaxed and slow WiFi-equipped and at the far (southern) end of the grounds is an affiliated dive centre.
Overall, this is a good and very welcoming choice for families as well as budget travellers and you’re only a 10-minute walk to some excellent strips of sand. Recommended. If they’re full, consider The Reef Chalets, on the northern side of The Barat, which offers similar priced rooms in a cute half circle around a lovely old tree.
Coral View Island Resort straddles the headland that separates what is known as Main Beach (to the left when looking at the sea) and Turtle Bay or PIR Beach (to the right) and has a tonne of mid-range rooms running in all directions.
The resort has a staggering variety of rooms and pricepoints—so many that when they showed us the map we just took a photo of it so we wouldn’t have to summarise it. Offerings range from old-school blue-roofed chalets running up the hill behind (from 250 to 265 ringgit) through to what they call Suite Sea View rooms (400 ringgit), Family Suites (from 395 ringgit) and, over on the best bit of beach, very smart north–facing rooms in a very out of place two floor building, where the ground floor rooms boast private plunge pools (850 ringgit to 950 ringgit).
We were shown both a Suite Sea View (400 ringgit) and a Premium Pool Sea View room (950 ringgit) and both were huge. With separate lounge areas, modern fittings, comfortable beds with real linen (yes top sheets!), spotless hot water bathrooms, flat screen TVs and more. It seemed a waste having a private pool (and it isn’t really all that private) right by the sea, but the room, once you put aside the jawdropping price, was solid. The Suite Sea View struck us as far better value, still well oversized with again a separate lounge area and far superior to the offerings at say The Barat. The astroturf on the veranda was an interesting touch. Not all rooms have a real ocean view, but you’re never far from a stretch of sand and some crystal water to fall into. At the time of research (mid 2019) there was a small pool going in at the PIR end of the resort.
The large but dry restaurant looks to do a solid job catering to the guests in the 100-plus rooms. Popular, especially on weekends, and reservations are a very good idea, but do shop online for a discounted rate and also check their website for package deals. This is a good option for those who don’t want to go up to the spendy level of Perhentian Island Resort a short walk away.
Somewhat confusingly, New CocoHut Chalet & Cozy Chalet are actually two resorts, one on the hillside and the other on the beach. As they are handled through the same reception (and website) we’re treating them as one and the same.
Most of the bungalows here commence at the northern reach of the beach, tumbling down the hill where the walking track from the north comes through, some have spectacular views, but remember, generally the better the view, the more stairs involved in getting to enjoy it and here there are plenty of stairs.
The primary price division here is between on the hill and on the beach and we’d definitely be angling for on the sand to dodge all the stairs—there are not all that many beachfront rooms, so if you are set on one of those, reserve well in advance. Cozy Chalet refers to the rooms on the hill, with Deluxe and Seaview options (200 ringgit and 300 ringgit respectively). New Coconut Chalet are the huts on the sand and come in Deluxe (300 ringgit), Seaview and Beachfront (both 400 ringgit) flavours. Rooms all have an orangeish hue to them, each with its own deck (with table setting) and are clean (if well aged) within.
The real selling point here is the beach. It isn’t the biggest, nor the best, but the palm dotted sand is brilliantly white and there is good swimming offshore. At the southern end sits the sprawling restaurant where service (as in the entire resort) can be described as, well, extremely casual.
This wouldn’t be our favourite place on the island, but it is very popular, we assume due to the beach. If you’d like slightly plusher digs and are happy to spend an extra 100 ringgit or so, consider Tuna Bay Island Resort which is a little further to the south. In either case, shop around for discounted rates and check the resort websites for special deals. For those looking for a backpacker crashpad, consider Ayumni House—you’ll find it nestled behind the dive shop immediately to the south of Tuna Bay Island Resort.
Also referred to as Main beach and Government beach, Tuna Bay hosts a selection of midrange resorts spread across a couple of pleasant strips of sand. It is a very scenic area, with some coral offshore and a couple of pontoons to bake on or jump off.
Once a backpacker stalwart, Abdul’s Chalets old fan-cooled rooms went the way of the Dodo years ago and it’s firmly moved up into the flashpacker bracket.
Despite this (and the lazy staffer on reception), of the offerings along this strip, this was our favourite flashpacker option in this area—the chalets are spacious and come with air-con, good bathrooms, private balconies and, for the beachfront rooms, good beach frontage on a great stretch of sand.
Bungalows are wooden with peaked green roofs and decent verandas with deck settings out front. They’re largely glass fronted, though with curtains for privacy, so making for a welcome change from many of the darker bungalows on the islands. Deluxe Beachfront rooms (240 ringgit) are the priciest doubles on offer, with chalets back off the beach (180 ringgit) being a little cheaper. All are air-con. Their price list includes family rooms (280 ringgit) but the front desk staffer was too busy Facebooking on his phone to tell us anything about those rooms other than they were full.
The beach here is dotted with a mix of palm trees and deck chairs and there’s a good little pontoon offshore for your frolicking needs. The crowd, at least when we passed through, was near uniformly European with quite a few families in the mix. If you’re travelling with kids and this fits your budget, you could do worse! Reservations essential in high season.
Teluk Dalam is a long, southward facing beach with very fine off-white sands. There are quite a few places to stay along the beach, but the eastern stretch of the beach is undeveloped.
While primarily a dive lodge, non divers are welcome at Bayu Dive Lodge, and if you are looking for a few more creature comforts their smarter rooms are worth considering.
Rooms come in three primary classes—fan and standard chalets (120 ringgit and 215 ringgit respectively) and what they call cottages, which are available as beachfront (330 ringgit) and garden-view (270 ringgit). The important point to note that the fan cooled and standard rooms are not chalets but are rather in a longhouse running back from behind the restaurant—that isn’t to say they are not ok, the standard ones in particular are alright, but they are just rooms, and fairly small at that. The fan-cooled rooms are poor value compared to what else you can get on this beach.
The cottages (which are really chalets) are the better option, each with its own balcony and well kept and loved within, though note that the garden-view ones have no beach views whatsoever and most just face another room—upside you’ll get to know your neighbours. You’ll pay a premium to bag a room with beach views here.
The cute restaurant sits atop a retaining wall jutting out onto the beach which wraps around a big tree delivering oodles of shade—this is a good spot to escape the midday heat. Free WiFi is available in the restaurant but apparently the signal doesn’t stretch to all of the rooms. We found the resort and restaurant staff to be friendly and obliging.
Flora Bay sits towards the western end of Teluk Dalam, overlooking a fine stretch of sand, even if most of the rooms can barely see it.
Freestanding a-frame bungalows (185 ringgit to 225 ringgit) are typical for the Perhentians, with steep roofs and small verandas, kind of like a cross-breed between an a-frame and a chalet, along with some larger, more typically chalet-style rooms (245 ringgit to 355 ringgit). The grounds are large, and there are a tonne of rooms, but the way the resort has been laid out, very few get to enjoy a beach view despite the considerable beach frontage. Other rooms include family rooms (from 280 ringgit) and out the back rooms in a longhouse style set-up (105 ringgit). See their website for more options—there are quite a few to choose from.
This is a very popular hotel, especially on weekends when it can be jammed with domestic tourists, and the restaurant can be absolutely heaving at these times. The rooms are worn—we were shown two (an a-frame and a chalet)—and both had clearly seen more than their fair share of guests. Beds, and floors, are somewhat bouncy and one bathroom we saw could have done with a very good scrub. As is the case in many very busy hotels, we found the staff to be a bit frazzled, though not unfriendly.
The pleasantly shaded beachfront area here includes a small floating pontoon pier, so there is a bit of speedboat traffic picking up and dropping off people. Sand is uber-fine and if you’ve got a lilo, exit the resort, turn right, walk 20 metres, throw the lilo in and float all afternoon—you’re on holiday right?
Overall, if it fits with your budget and you’re not fussed about not having a clear beach view, then this is a reasonable choice, though we’re probably a bit more partial to Samudra up the beach, which doesn’t seem to get quite so hectic. If you’d like to save a bit of money, right next door is Fauna, which has more rooms that have a beach outlook, but expect a big drop in the quality of the room—the bathrooms in particular are pretty iffy—though to be fair, prices are lower too.
Last off the rank on Teluk Dalam, Samudra offers a range of rooms and chalets overlooking a decent stretch of sand.
As with most of the places on this beach, the wooden chalets (which sit on the beachfront and are scattered back through the grounds) are well aged, with bouncy floors and not the best bathrooms we’ve ever seen, but for the price (208 ringgit) they are not to be sneezed at and the beachfront outlook is arguably the best on the beach.
The newer rooms here are in a two floor concrete building which sits a little back from the beach and has no sea views save that from the upstairs shared veranda. The rooms however, while unimaginative and more functional than fashionable are nevertheless of a good standard and are immaculate. Bathrooms are cold water only, but the air-con is chilled and the one large window lets enough light in. On the downside, there is no deck, nor outdoor furniture, so you’ll need to relax either on the beach or in the sparse and seemingly never busy restaurant. Rooms come in air-con (148 ringgit) and fan-cooled (105 ringgit) but are the same room—paying for air-con just gets you the remote.
For budget travellers who don’t want to drop to camping or B’First standards, this is about the best option on the beach. If you would prefer to pay less, B’First has fan-cooled (50 ringgit) and air-con (100 ringgit) rooms running back from the same named restaurant, but they are no great shakes—you’ll find then on the far side of Bayu Dive Lodge.
This is the most remote developed beach on Perhentian Besar and can only be reached by boat. Home to a single dive-orientated resort, the beach is quite lovely and very quiet. There is an active turtle hatchery on the beach.
We really wanted to love Bubbles Dive Resort, but the rooms are not the best value, perhaps it is the isolation and the splendid strip of sand you are paying for.
Although badged as a diving resort, what they could really be trumpeting is their work as a turtle hatchery. You can’t miss the hatchery—it is on your left as you walk up from the lovely beach here to the restaurant and reception area. This is one of the few beaches in the Perhentians where turtles still return to lay their eggs and the staff and volunteers work hard to protect the eggs from poachers and transfer them to the hatchery after they have been laid. They’re doing an admirable job!
The rooms (400 ringgit) on the other hand are a bit concrete bunkerish in appearance and really, at least to us, are a bit incongruous with the work they do. The rooms are decent—very clean with good bedding, solid bathrooms and plenty of space, so a good option for families as an extra bed easily slides in for the kids. We just wish that the cement bungalows had been built with a bit more consideration for the surrounds, because the surrounds are lovely: a totally deserted beach, crystal clear waters (with very good snorkelling we were told) and great staff.
On a past visit the staffer who showed us around confided that he came here first as a guest and loved it so much he came back to help it out—it is easy to see why. You are quite isolated here and it’s a 10 ringgit boat ride to “civilisation” (Teluk Dalam). There’s scope for a bit of hiking, but this is a real hang out, so do some diving perhaps and just savour the isolation. Overall prices are high for the room standard but this was one of the more untouched beaches we saw on either of the Perhentians, so perhaps there is a premium wrapped up in that.
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Food on offer ranges from simple Malay and Thai food through to pizzas and seafood barbecues. Compared to the mainland, prices are high, with even a plate of fried rice often setting you back 10 to 15 ringgit. Alcohol, while expensive, is still affordable with cans of beer going for around 10 ringgit a can on the beach.
Just to the left of the beachside entry to Aina Mohsin Chalet is The World Cafe, a large open-air venue serving up breakfast, smoothies, pizza and other smart snacks throughout the day. They also do the best attempts at fancier presented cuisine across either of the islands and the standards and prices are pretty fair.
Surrounding World Cafe you’ll find a bunch of beach shacks doing simple snacks and beach-fare like barbecued corn and roti canai at very reasonable prices, though these places don’t really get going till the afternoon and into the evening.
Further north seaside is a series of eateries all serving basically the same cuisine of Thai, Malay and Western—consider all the dishes to be very broad interpretations. We didn’t have a single memorable dish at any of these, but if you just want to fill a hole, they’ll do the job.
A little further along still is the trail leading to Panorama Restaurant, which screens movies nightly and has free WiFi—both of these seem to be greater drawcards than the food, which comes from one of those all-encompassing comfort menus.
Moving on from Panorama, walk past Turtle Bay Divers and Symphony, continue on a bit further, and you’ll reach Chill Out Cafe, which lives up to its name, being an ideal place to chill out in the afternoon. They can also help with details on the nearby campsite.
From Chill Out, standards jump considerably when you reach BuBu Restaurant, which delivers solid food at solid prices. This is really hotel dining on the sand and prices are high, but if you can’t face more faux Malay or Thai food and need a decent repast, this could be your revival point.
Once the sun sets, the bars at the southern end of Long Beach really get going—and going—and going. While they can be a good place for a couple of sundowners, drinkers should exercise considerable care regarding unattended drinks. Drugs are all over the shop and dabblers should familiarise themselves with Malaysia’s tough laws regarding the possession of drugs.
Crossing Perhentian Kecil via the Long beach to Coral Bay path, you will run slap dab into Ewan’s Cafe. This popular budget eatery has a sizeable wooden deck, free WiFi, and serves breakfasts, sandwiches, salads and the like from early morning till late. They also screen everything from kids TV to football games, which can make for a pretty crowded and raucous scene. Food is typical for the islands.
From Ewan’s the path leads through Ombak Resort and you’ll see their restaurant on your right. Prices are moderate for the standard, but we thought the eating was better (and more affordable) on the beach.
Once you’re on the beach, turn left and you’ll see (among others) Amelia’s which does all the standards plus evening seafood barbecue. The food can be a bit hit and miss but the sunsets always deliver. If you’d prefer not to eat with your feet in the sand, continue down to the raised restaurant at Senja, where friendly staff keep the food coming fast and the sunset views are not obscured by the pier.
Heading south from Coral Bay along the jungle trail we spied a pretty tempting menu at Crocodile Rock but the restaurant was closed (it opened at 18:00 and we were walking through mid-afternoon) so we didn’t get around to trying it—the setting looked lovely though (as are the rooms) so do investigate here if you’re in the area.
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Amelia’s Northern end, Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil
BuBu Restaurant Northern end of Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil.
Chill Out Cafe Centre of Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil.
Crocodile Rock South of Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil
Ewan’s Cafe Cross island trail, Perhentian Kecil
Ombak Resort Northern end, Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil
Panorama Restaurant Centre of Long Beach, off the beach, Perhentian Kecil.
Senja Southern end Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil
The World Cafe Long Beach, south end, Perhertian Kecil.
For a cold beer under shady trees, Belinda Restaurant is especially inviting, doing a smattering of Thai, Malaysian and Western dishes. The venue is very no frills and the service a bit all over the place, but they’re friendly and it is a pretty spot.
Further south again are two more dry restaurants, the very popular Barat which we didn’t try, and the very friendly Mama’s Chalets restaurant. All the main bases are covered, with evening seafood barbecues a nightly event.
Restaurants along Tuna Bay are mainly in the resorts, but all have great seaside views, with prices in correlation to the resort’s room prices. New Cocohut Chalet Restaurant, Tuna Cafe at Tuna Bay Island Resort and Abdul’s offer typical beach resort fare from typical tourist menus. None struck us as particularly memorable settings.
Teluk KK Cafe is the only eatery on this beach. Simple Malaysian dishes and cold drinks are served all day, on most days, especially if there are campers staying nearby. Service is slow—slow as in hell may well freeze over before you get service.
Past Flora and Fauna (both of which have typical resort restaurants, neither of which we tried), the small cafe at B-First is an unpretentious and welcoming choice for tasty and inexpensive Malaysian, Thai and Western. Cold beers are on hand in the evening and the seafood barbecue we had here was the business.
Next door to B-First is Bayu Dive Lodge and their restaurant is pretty good, doing a mix of Western and Asian dishes. Service is friendly and the beers cold.
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Abdul’s Main Beach, Perhentian Besar
B-First Centre of Teluk Dalam, Perhentian Besar
Bayu Dive Lodge Centre of Teluk Dalam, Perhentian Besar
Belinda Restaurant West Beach, Perhentian Besar
Mama’s Chalets West Beach, Perhentian Besar
New Cocohut Chalet Restaurant Main Beach, Perhentian Besar
The Barat West Beach, Perhentian Besar
Tuna Cafe Main Beach, Perhentian Besar
This is a simple question with a complicated answer. The Perhentian Islands may only be separated by a small body of water that is easily crossed by speedboat, but they’re a world apart in vibe. For many, the question of how long to spend on the Perhentians is best answered with another question: how long have you got?
You can’t talk about how long to spend on the Perhentians without talking about what the islands are like and, importantly, how they are different. You can snorkel from both. You can dive from both. You can hike and be chased into the ocean by monkeys on both (we’ve tested this personally on Kecil). At risk of wielding too broad a brush, Perhentian Kecil (the more northern, smaller island) is a party island, and Perhentian Besar, the southern, larger island, is more a sedate, family-orientated one.
People wanting to party
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, if you’re rolling down the coast from Ko Pha Ngan, looking to continue the party and enjoy a vibrant singles’ scene, then Perhentian Kecil is where you want to head, and, well, take as long as you need. The main party is on Long beach, with beach bars that routinely run into the early hours with plenty of booze on hand, and don’t be surprised when you’re offered illegal drugs. (Just in case you missed the memo, drugs like pot, cocaine and heroin are all illegal in Malaysia.) You could easily lose a week—or a month—here working up a massive hangover, sleeping till midday, taking a swim, sleeping on the beach, and rinsing and repeating till the cows come home. But bear in mind you’ll be paying 10+ ringgit for a 330ml can of beer which, at least at a backpacking level, works towards a rather expensive daily hangover.
People wanting to dive
The Perhentians has a lot of dive sites of varying quality. The top three are Sugar Wreck (a large wreck), the Pinnacle (a, well, pinnacle) and T3 (a pile of boulders off the far side of Perhentian Besar). Keen divers will want to see all of them. Secondary sites include the Vietnamese Wreck and Shark Point among many others. If you just want to wing in, see the highlights and bail, two days would be ideal, but be warned, weekend diving around the Perhentians can get very, very busy. One April we spied at one stage 40 other divers in the water with us at the Pinnacle—and that was midweek. Yes, it is a nice dive, no it wasn’t so enjoyable sharing it with 40 others.
People wanting to snorkel
While the coral has been badly effected by El Nino, fresh water flush from the resorts and way too many boats, there are still plenty of fish, including lots of crowd pleasing favourites like bumphead parrotfish, Napolean wrasse, reef sharks and turtles. Some of the best off the beach snorkelling is at the far northern tip of Perhentian Kecil at D’Lagoon and then at their back beaches at Turtle Beach, Adam & Eve Beach and the unnamed beach to the south of there. There is also good snorkelling in patches to the north of Coral Bay and to the south near Keranji Beach. We’ve also heard good things about snorkelling to the west of Petani Beach but haven’t tried it in person. On Perhentian Besar, there is great snorkelling, with turtles at the aptly named Turtle Bay, sharks at Shark Point and apparently some good coral off Bubbles Beach.
Snorkelling trips will generally take in some of the above, plus also visit spots like Rawa Island to the northwest of Perhentian Kecil. These trips come in half-day and full-day flavours and you could do a different one each day, giving you the best spread of snorkelling around the two islands.
Four to five days would be a comfortable stay with the kids on either island, though if you wanted to try both we’d suggest a longer stay. While both islands have calm and quiet beaches suitable for kids, Perhentian Besar is the more family orientated of the two. PIR Beach to the north, and Turtle Bay beyond it, are both outstanding excursions for families with kids old enough to snorkel. Also the jungle trail from PIR south to Teluk Dalam is doable with kids (not toddlers) and they’ll have a good chance of seeing some wildlife—especially giant monitor lizards. Another good spot with kids is Teluk KK, with a very calm and secluded setting. For older kids (teenagers), Perhentian Kecil may appeal as there are more activities there. Both islands offer the above-mentioned snorkelling trips that would be great for kids. One more note: if you’re after a family room in high season, book well in advance to be sure of being able to get one.
Other things to consider
There are no ATMs on the Perhentians. Bring enough cash with you. Some hotels and dive shops will take credit cards, but not all. If you run out of cash you can set aside half a day for the boat trip back to Kuala Besut then taxi to Jertih to get more dosh. If you’re shuttling a lot between beaches by boat the costs add up, as can snorkel, mask and fin hire—anywhere from 10 to 20 ringgit for a day of equipment hire can eat into a budget quickly. Some resorts and restaurants are dry (no alcohol) but beer and some wine can be easily purchased on both islands—at a premium price. Internet and WiFi availability is average, with restaurants and guesthouses often advertising it but in practice having sketchy quality at best.
When it comes to beaches on the Perhentians, there are some great strips of sand and others that are not quite so hot—here are our pick of the bunch.
While not as bad as a few years ago, garbage, especially on Perhentian Kecil, is something the islands continue to struggle with. That said, some of the best beaches on both islands are near totally undeveloped and litter and building waste is less of an issue, though flotsam remains an issue. The following collection of beaches is not exhaustive.
D’Lagoon Beach, Perhentian Kecil
The northern most developed beach on Perhentian Kecil, D’Lagoon is a very narrow, compact beach that can get very dirty with an onshore breeze—swimming out through piles of plastic bags for a snorkel is not pleasant. The coral has deteriorated markedly and while you’re still likely to run into bumphead parrotfish and perhaps a black tip reefshark or two, we’d say you’re better off snorkelling on the back beaches like Turtle or Adam & Eve (see below). The greater bay is popular with both snorkelling trips and shallow-water divers and so can get quite congested with boats coming and going—especially on weekends.
Turtle Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Rivals the nearby Adam & Eve beach for the title of most beautiful beach on Perhentian Kecil. Just over the island from D’Lagoon, this is a stunning bay with thick sand, plenty of shade and some decent snorkelling offshore. The beach gets progressively rockier towards the northern end and on the far side of the islet there is some good coral. This is a popular spot for snorkelling with reef sharks—come before 08:00 for the best chance of swimming with some. One word of warning: a completely psychotic macaque lives on this beach and will steal anything you leave laying around. It can be extremely aggressive—it has chased us into the ocean on a past visit. If you’re going snorkelling here, either bring nothing or bury your stuff so the macaque has nothing to steal.
Adam & Eve Beach, Perhentian Kecil
About a 10- to 15-minute walk to the south of Turtle Beach via the jungle trail, Adam & Eve beach is an equally beautiful strip of sand, if not even more lovely. There is solid snorkelling offshore, especially around the southern headland, which you can swim around to reach an even more secluded beach. There are plenty of shade trees, especially at the northern end, and loads of space, so it is extremely unlikely this beach will ever be all that crowded. If you’re after a beach to lose a day on, this one should be near the top of your list. A few more beaches are dotted along the coastline running down to Coral Bay, including Romantic beach, which is also a popular dive site. All can be reached by boat only (excepting the beach immediately to the north of Coral Bay, which you can walk through Shari-La resort to reach).
Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil
The second busiest beach on Perhentian Kecil, Coral Bay has a large L-shaped pier towards its northern end where the regular boats from Kuala Besut land, and the northern end of the beach also sees a lot of small boat traffic, with a number of dive schools, snorkelling trips and water taxis using the beach. This means peaceful and quiet this is not, though it isn’t as hectic as Long Beach on the opposite side of the island. On the upside, the northern strip of the beach is also lined with a selection of simple beach restaurants that do a nightly seafood barbecue after the sun has set. There are plenty of kayaks for rent here for those who want to kayak to either the north or south, where there are less developed beaches to relax on.
Keranji Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Keranji Beach is the next beach south of Coral Bay that has permanent accommodation on it and, with a decent and very comfortable restaurant, this is a good spot to break an around-the-island wander, or to be the destination for a half-day excursion. While we didn’t try the snorkelling here, guests said it was quite reasonable both to the north and south of the beach along the island’s rocky coast. With just the one place to stay, boats landing are few and far between, but they are common going by out to sea as they shuttle between Coral Bay and other spots on the island.
Petani Beach, Perhentian Kecil
The southernmost beach on Perhentian Kecil, Petani Beach isn’t so hot on the accommodation front but has some good open beach for lazing around. A long walk from Coral Bay, you’re likely to have the beach largely to yourself save the few guests at the accommodation here.
Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil
This is Perhentian Kecil’s most developed beach with resorts, guesthouses, restaurants, dive shops and bars along most of its length. When empty the beach is beautiful—clear near-white sand with calm turquoise waters lapping at it. The problem is the beach is rarely empty, and the southern end in particular can be quite littered, both with trash from tourists and thoughtlessly tossed garbage related to ongoing construction and whatnot. It’s a great shame. During the day there are a lot of comings and goings, primarily taxi boats and dive shop boats, but some stretches have been marked off with floating buoys—ostensibly to keep the boats out. Foolishly there is seemingly no mooring setup, so sharp anchors are tossed into the sand—step onto one of these and you’ll know all about it. The northern area is quieter and less developed and there is a long pier at the far northern end. Come the evening, beach bars get going at the southern end of the beach and they can keep going well into the wee hours.
Turtle Beach, Perhentian Besar
Considered by many to be the most beautiful beach on Perhentian Besar, Turtle Beach is known as such for, you guessed it, turtles. As with PIR beach just to the south, you’ll have to be unlucky not to see turtles here and it makes for very pleasant snorkelling as the beach can only be reached by boat. It’s a very popular spot on the Perhentian Besar snorkelling trips and justifiably so.
PIR Beach, Perhentian Besar
The northernmost developed beach on Perhentian Besar, PIR is a cracker with extremely fine sand and so much space that even with a large resort facing onto it, it never seems all that busy. It’s a shame about the very large pier that has been built towards the western end of the bay—why Perhentian Besar needs quite so many piers is a bit beyond us—but one advantage is that it allows you easy access to the deeper waters of the bay, where, as with Turtle Bay to the north, you’ll find plenty of turtles and perhaps a small reef shark or two.
West Beach, Perhentian Besar
We came up with the name for this beach ourselves, but it basically stretches from Coral Cove in the north to Mama’s in the south. Once a very attractive sandy beach, West beach lost most of its sand many years ago—if you’d like to see it in its former glory ask staff at Mama’s to show you a photo. The northern stretch in front of Reef and Coral Cove is okay for swimming and paddling, but south of Reef it isn’t really worth getting in the water for. This section does have a couple of decent restaurants on it though, making it a good place for sundowners as the sun sets behind Kecil. Belinda Restaurant sells alcohol, should you want to enjoy your sunset with an iced Tiger beer or glass of wine.
Tuna Bay, Perhential Besar
The most developed of Perhentian Besar’s beaches, Tuna Bay stretches from Coconut Chalet in the north to Abdul’s in the south, with the mostly midrange resorts facing onto some decent stretches of palm-shaded beach, with pontoons scattered offshore for lazing and jumping in. There is though a good degree of boat comings and goings here and while we didn’t snorkel personally, we were told the coral was in pretty bad shape—plenty of fish though. This stretch is slightly better positioned for sunset than West Beach and the resorts with their large deck restaurants take full advantage of the view. If you’re after lazy time on the sand, we reckon continuing on foot south to Teluk KK is a very good idea.
Teluk KK, Perhentian Besar
The southern tip of Perhentian Besar’s main west coast is given over to the very little developed Teluk KK. A couple of buildings and a pier lie towards the northern end and a campground is to the south, but what is really great here is the rocky point and the totally deserted beach that runs off to the east. If you want secluded and romantic of a late afternoon, this is it. Offshore on the rocky point to the east is good snorkelling, and strong swimmers could swim around the point to reach Shark Point, where you can snorkel with reef sharks. Be warned that it is a long swim there and back—ideally we recommend visiting Shark Point by boat. This was probably our favourite beach on Perhentian Besar.
Teluk Dalam, Perhentian Besar
South-facing Teluk Dalam has a mix of accommodation, from flashpacker through to midrange, with a broad, shallow beach of very fine white to grey sand. Like Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil, rubbish and flotsam is a bit of a problem on this beach, especially at the high-tide mark, where sections that are not directly in front of a resort tend to be a bit neglected. The water, while quite clear, is more suited to wading than swimming as it is quite shallow. If you want a quieter section, head to the eastern extent that is not developed, but expect some rubbish on the sand. There is quite a bit of boat traffic coming in and leaving at Teluk Dalam. South-facing, you don’t get much of the sunrise or sunset.
Bubble Beach, Perhentian Besar
Last off the rank, just around the headland to the east to Teluk Dalam, Bubble beach is home to a single dive resort and a well managed turtle hatchery and protection centre. The beach is lovely. Protected and sleepy, we much preferred it to Teluk Dalam. There is good snorkelling (and shallow diving) right off the beach and there is plenty of shade for those who just want to lay down and get over it all. The beach is a ten-minute, 20-ringgit spin from Teluk Dalam and you’d be mad not to check it out.
Scuba diving is one of the primary reasons people visit the Perhentian Islands and, with plenty of dive schools to choose from, it is very well catered to—and quite price competitive.
For the region, diving in the Perhentian Islands is best described as non-challenging, making it a good place for those new to diving to do an introductory course or an Open Water certificate, while those already qualified will find a number of interesting sites worth diving. Most sites that the shops are pushing require only Open Water certification—the only one we were turned down from was to the Vietnamese Wreck, which required Advanced Open Water (due to the depth of the site)—not all diveshops were strict in this regard.
Most (though not all) resorts have an affiliated diveshop and most of these shops offer tuition in multiple languages. There is some variation in price from one shop to another—prices start at around 70-85 ringgit for a single dive, 1,000 ringgit for Open Water and 940 ringgit for Advanced. There is some variation though between shops, so do shop around.
In the past we have dived with Turtle Bay Divers (Long beach on Kecil and West beach on Besar), Quiver Dive Team (Coral Bay on Kecil), Angel Divers (Coral Bay on Kecil) and Alu Alu Divers (Teluk Dalam on Besar) doing 10 dives in total. We were particularly impressed with Turtle Bay Divers and would not hesitate to recommend them. We found their gear to be of a good standard, the briefings comprehensive and informative and the divemasters we dove with sufficiently experienced. Quiver Dive Team were also professional.
While more than a dozen dive sites are frequently visited, there are three top shelf sites that you should consider: Sugar Wreck, the Pinnacle and Terumbu Tiga (better known as T3). All are available for Open Water divers. Other dives we did included the police wreck, Batu Butuk, Teluk Seringgi, Romantic beach and Batu Tokong and Terambu Kili (both off the coast of Redang Island). Visibility was up to 15 metres on a good morning at Pinnacle but the Sugar Wreck on both visits was five to 10 metres and the police wreck under five metres! Redang was 15 metres.
Of the top three, Sugar Wreck is in particular a great dive. It’s a fair-sized (90-metre) cargo ship that sank in 2000. The hatch covers are off so it is possible to dive through the cargo hold as well as around the entire site—the vessel still has its deck cranes attached so there is lots of cabling and so on. On the downside, visibility can be quite poor. The Pinnacle (also known as Tokong Laut or Temple of the Sea), is a good pinnacle dive, but can get extremely crowded—when we were there at one stage we counted 40 other divers in the water within eyesight—they need traffic lights! Terumbu Tiga (T3) is off the southeast coast of Perhentian Besar and is basically a pile of massive boulders that features some good swim-throughs. Batu Butuk, a little to the south of T3, is similar and featured enormous schools of fish when we visited.
If you have the time and can rustle up the numbers, a full day trip to Redang Island is well worth it for the better visibility, smaller crowds and bigger fish. Batu Tokong in particular is impressive. Most diveshops will require a minimum of three people to go to Redang. Your best bet for these trips is one of the bigger outfits like Turtle Bay or Quiver, who have enough people coming through to ensure a group can be rustled up.
Most of the diving is off the small boats, with you needing to lug your gear to and from the boat and backroll in. Most diveshops accept credit cards—which is handy, or as was the case with us, results in you doing a lot more diving than initially planned.
Snorkelling trips are easily arranged on both islands, with prices coming in around the 30 to 50 ringgit per person mark, including snorkelling gear.
Trips come in three main varieties: a half-day trip (out at 08:00 or 09:00 and back by midday), a full-day trip (out at 08:00 or 09:00 and back by 16:00) and an outlying island trip (out at 10:00 and back by 16:00). The beaches and islands you’ll visit will depend on where you are staying. Sometimes the trip includes lunch at the village on Perhentian Kecil, other times it might be a barbecue on the beach. Shop around and talk to other travellers.
Most nearly any guesthouse or hotel will be able to place you on a trip, else there are plenty of operations on any of the main beaches on both islands that can sort it out for you. Another option is to join a dive trip but go only as a snorkeller. Bear in mind that in this case depending on conditions, not everywhere the divers go will necessarily be great for snorkelling—be sure to ask beforehand.
All trips should include snorkelling gear (mask, snorkel and fins), but if you have specific needs, bring your own gear or hire it elsewhere. If possible avoid weekends when the snorkelling sites, especially D’Lagoon, may be absolutely swamped with weekenders.
Despite being best known as a diving and laying around on the beach destination, both the Perhentian islands have some decent (and not-so-decent) forest walks that will appeal to those looking for something a little less sandy to do.
It’s possible to walk almost the entire way around Perhentian Kecil using D’Lagoon as a starting and finishing point, while on Perhentian Besar you can do a loop on foot to all the developed beaches save Bubbles (which is only approachable by boat as far as we know). The trail on Perhentian Besar is considerably better marked and maintained than on Kecil, but on both islands be sure to take sufficient water, a hat and sunscreen.
Aside from tramping through the forest, you’ll see plenty of birdlife and monkeys—the latter particularly near D’Lagoon where there is a bunch of macaques (including one that is prone to psychotic episodes on Turtle beach—watch your gear!) that you’ll see, or hear as they munch on fresh mangoes, while between West beach and Tuna Bay there is a very playful chilled out family of dusky langurs—we saw them a few times on the roof of the Turtle Bay Divers office at the southern end of West beach.
Monitor lizards are everywhere on both islands and some resorts consider them pests as they tend to get into the garbage—note to resorts: perhaps consider better waste management policies? Some of the lizards are quite small, but at D’Lagoon on Perhentian Kecil we saw a couple well over a metre in length. They’ll often hear you and bolt before you see them, but don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a few.
On Perhentian Kecil, a trail leads from D’Lagoon first to Turtle beach (10 minutes), then Adam & Eve beach (20 minutes) and then eventually to the wind turbines (one hour in total). From there you can continue onwards to Long beach (we didn’t walk this leg). From Long beach there is a separate trail that leads to Coral Bay and takes just 10 minutes. From Coral Bay, walk south, past Senja and Butterfly, and just keep going.
It will lead you eventually to Keranji (30-45 minutes), then Petani beach (about one hour from Coral Bay) and eventually to the village (another 30 minutes). From the village you can continue north on a trail which will eventually deposit you at the southern end of Long Beach.
On Perhentian Besar, a rough trail starts at Mama’s and continues north, running parallel to the beach and then joining a trail from PIR after about 15 minutes. It then turns and continues south through some good forest and then tall grasses to deposit you at the centre of Teluk Dalam 30 minutes later. From there, walk west along the beach and there is another trail (we didn’t try this one) which leads over the headland to Teluk KK from where it is a straightforward path to Tuna Bay. Where you reach Coconut Chalet, the trail continues for about 15 minutes behind the first row of bungalows on the headland to take you to West beach, leaving you by the dive shop at Mama’s.
Kota Bharu’s Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (KBR) in Pengkalan Chepa has direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru and Singapore. This airport is about 15 minutes from Kota Bharu by taxi (so a bit over an hour from Kuala Besut) and is the closest airport to Kuala Besut.
There is no direct public bus service from the airport to Kuala Besut, but taxis (78 ringgit for the car) are waiting and ready to go. If you’re arriving on a domestic connection from an international flight, you can buy sim cards at a small kiosk in the airport building and there are also ATMs. Vans (25 ringgit per person) run between the airport and Kuala Besut thrice daily, leaving Kuala Besut at 09:00, 13:00 and 17:00. The trip takes around one hour.
Bus #639 runs between Kuala Besut and Kota Bharu, leaving Kota Bharu 11 times daily between 06:15 and 18:30 and in the reverse direction, leaving Kuala Besut ten times dailt between 07:30 and 18:30, costing 6 ringgit and taking around 90 minutes. Bear in mind that if you get the 16:00 bus you will miss the last official boat to the Perhentians and will need to overnight in Kuala Besut. While there are plenty of hotels in Kuala Besut, we think Kota Bharu is a preferable overnight spot. Kuala Besut bus station is around one kilometres from the port.
Tour buses run onwards from Kuala Besut to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Terengganu, Cameron Highlands, Penang and so on and can be arranged though your accommodation on the Perhentians or online. Making a reservation at least a day in advance is prudent as the buses do fill up and on some routes there is only one departure a day.
The gateway to both the Perhentian Islands is Kuala Besut, a typical small Malaysian port town just over the state border into Kuala Terrenganu. It is an entirely forgettable town with all the typical ruses you can find in port towns across Southeast Asia.
Every man and his sister will offer to sell you a return boat ticket to the Perhentians. It doesn’t matter where you are going on either island, the fare is 70 ringgit return. You’ll also be required to pay a 30 ringgit conservation charge (15 ringgit for kids, 5 and 2 ringgit for locals) before getting onto the ferry.
here are four set departure times from both Kuala Besut and the Perhentians: 07:30, 09:00, 13:00 and 15:00 Saturday to Thursday and 07:30, 09:00, 14:30 and 15:00 on Fridays. In practice there may be other boats going as soon as they can rustle up enough passengers. The trip takes around 45 minutes depending on sea conditions. Boats from the islands are sometimes running quite late—our 08:00 boat didn’t leave till 09:00 so be wary of scheduling tight onwards transport connections.
When you board at Kuala Besut, tell the driver which beach you are going to and they’ll either drop you at a pier, onto a pontoon or will wait for a smaller boat to come and fetch you to take you into your beach of choice. The fare is 70 ringgit return no matter which beach you are going to. You can buy a one-way ticket for 35 ringgit, but as there is no savings to be made in doing this, most opt for a return ticket.
Taxis at Kuala Besut will offer Kota Bharu airport for 75 ringgit, Kota Bharu town for 68 ringgit, Sungai Kolok (Thai border) 100 ringgit, Kuala Terengganu town for 130 ringgit and Wakaf Bharu (for the train) for 80 ringgit. Fares with Grab should be a bit less. These fares are for the vehicle and there is scope for bargaining—especially once you mention Grab!
Aside from walking when possible, the only other means of transportation on the Perhentian Islands is taxi boats. They’re straightforward and while they theoretically require at least two passengers, in practice they’ll often take solo passengers for the price of two people. While convenient, they are quite expensive and if you’re zooming between beaches and islands a lot you will burn through your money.
Fares vary somewhat from beach to beach, depending on where you are going. A short hop, say D’Lagoon to Long Beach, Teluk Dalam to Bubbles or Tuna Bay to West beach may cost 20 to 30 ringgit, but longer trips, say fishing village to D’Lagoon or PIR to Teluk Dalam, will set you back 40 ringgit, while the longest, say Teluk Dalam to Coral Bay, will cost 50 ringgit. These fares are one way, so yes, a taxi boat from from Teluk Dalam to Coral Bay and back will cost 100 ringgit.
To save money walk the shorter legs—most of the trails are quite clearly marked and make for an attractive walk anyway.
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