Photo: Lazy beach days.

Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar?

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The twin islands of Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar off the northeast coast of Kuala Terrenganu State in peninsular Malaysia have been attracting travellers for decades now, and while “back in the day” there was no electricity, no WiFi, no air-con and no worries, today you can have all those — including the worries sadly. While we’d encourage travellers to try and visit both islands, if time is limited or you just want to plonk yourself on one beach and not move for a week (or month) where should you head?

This will do nicely.

This will do nicely.

Where is the party?
Traditionally, Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian) was the backpacker and party island and Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) the more monied, family orientated island. Today this is largely still the case. If you’re out to party and drink till dawn, Perhentian Kecil is still where it is at — primarily because just about everything on Besar is closed by about 23:00 and Kecil has far more places that sell alcohol.

Perhentian Kecil has a dedicated party scene, primarily at the southern end of Long Beach with a cluster of beach bars that will often run till 03:00 or 04:00 (if not all night) where cheap (by Perhentian standards) booze is on top — along with a wide array of illegal drugs. Not surprisingly, druggings and attacks are not uncommon. Be careful and especially those travelling solo should watch their drinks as we heard some concerning stories about drinks being spiked and women being attacked. A more sedate scene over the other side of the island on Coral Bay sees people head to bed earlier but if you’re here to party, Long Beach is pretty much where it is at.

A busy day at Bubbles.

A busy day at Bubbles.

Kids in tow
Pretty much all the main beaches on the Perhentians have calm waters (in season) so you’re not going to need to worry about the kids being swept away. They also all have shallow drop-offs, so they are great for travellers with younger kids who are not sure of their swimming ability. Some of the beaches though see a lot of boat traffic and so are not so ideal — both for the boats coming and going, but also for the very sharp anchors that get thrown willy nilly in the shallows. Long Beach and Coral Bay on Kecil should probably be avoided because of this, as should the northern part of Tuna Bay and West Beach (though you wouldn’t swim at West Beach anyway as the beach is gone).

Beaches that are good for kids include PIR, Teluk KK, Teluk Dalam and Bubbles on Perhentian Besar and Keranji and the back beaches of D’Lagoon on Kecil. Overall we think Besar is the better one for kids, partly due to the beaches, but there is also less rubbish (trash on Kecil is a real problem) and it just had a more kid-friendly vibe to it. Bubbles, while very isolated, stood out as a good choice for families looking for a retreat who are not fussed about being a boat ride from everything.

Yes, I have seen the light.

Yes, I have seen the light.

Call me Crusoe
If you’re looking for very quiet offerings, far from both thumping tunes and wailing children, Keranji and D’Lagoon beaches on Kecil stand out, as does the campground at Teluk KK on Besar. All three have totally undeveloped beaches nearby and back onto complete jungle. A very rustic traveller’s camp lies south of Coral Bay, about halfway to Keranji, where you can indulge your inner Crusoe.

Both islands have a reasonably well-marked network of jungle trails that can make for a good occasional non-beach day and some parts of the forests are pretty decent. Watch out for monkeys (mostly cute dusty langurs and nasty, vicious, rodent-wannabe macaques) and large monitor lizards.

Diving and snorkelling
If you’re on the Perhentians to dive and snorkel, it doesn’t really matter which you choose as the dive and snorkelling trips from both islands go to all the same sites and there isn’t all that much to separate them on price. There are though more dive shops on Kecil than there are on Besar, so if you like a lot of choice, perhaps consider Kecil.

Glassy up top, gorgeous underneath.

Glassy up top, gorgeous underneath.

Pampering please
If you’re really just looking for a luxurious beach getaway, we’re sorry to say that, well, none of the the accommodation on either island struck us as being particularly good value. At the higher end you basically have Bubu Villa and Bubu Long Beach on Kecil and, on Besar, Perhentian Island Resort, Coral View Island and Tuna Bay. If they fit your budget, any of these will do, but they all struck us as resoundingly poor value. But then across the board, standards on the Perhentians are very poor for the price asked.

Uber budget
If you’re travelling on the cheap, prepare yourself — you will break your budget. Be it the ferry taxis, the cost of food and beer or even the accommodation, you’ll probably burn through more money than you planned. Budget travellers, unless you are camping, should probably head to Kecil for more choice as few places on Besar cost below 100 ringgit per night. You’ll find most of the cheapest digs on either Long Beach or Coral Bay (D’Lagoon has a dorm too) on Kecil or the campground at Teluk KK on Besar. When it comes to the cheapest digs on Long Beach, it is very much a case of you get what you pay for and 40 ringgit will not buy you much — and don’t be surprised when you’re asked for 15 ringgit to hire snorkelling gear!

Snorkelling to a

Snorkelling to a “new remote area”.

Food is also expensive, with simple plates of fried rice going for 8-12 ringgit. And don’t get us started on the cost of beer — bring your own! One thing that is relatively cheap here is the diving: frequent divers should be able to get away with 70-80 ringgit per dive depending on the site and number of dives they are doing.

One last thought
Bear in mind that the islands are separated by a narrow body of water that you can cross in 10 minutes by water taxi, so even if it turns out you opted for the wrong island, a bevy of beaches on the other island are just a short boat ride away.

By .

Location map for Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar?

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