The Perhentian islands budget travel guide

Perhentian island, Malaysia
Perhentian island, Malaysia

We had a great time on Perhentian Kecil island and really loved it. Why? First of all warm crystal clear water, very nice for swimming and snorkeling. Second, the island has no roads, no cars, no motorbikes only boats or walking trails. Third, you can do it cheap; camping and eating in local food places. Forth, diving was quite good and again cheap, not in many places nowadays you can dive for less than 20$ including equipment. The islands are very nice though don’t expect too much, it’s not the Maldives or Raja Ampat, the Perhentian is a budget tropical island option with nice beaches and good diving.  

The Perhentian islands

The islands are about 19km off the Malaysian coast, in Malay language “perhentian” means “stopping point”. There are two Perhentian islands; Pualu Perhentian Kecil (Small island) and Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big island), they are not far apart from each other. Most travelers prefer Kecil island as there are more budget accommodation and food options. Perhentian Besar is supposed to be less developed and crowded but more expensive with mostly resorts and fancy restaurants. If you’re a backpacker or a budget traveler we’d recommend to stay on Perhentian Kecil. If you’re on honeymoon or seek for a romantic getaway go to Perhentian Besar island. 

Map of the Perhentian islands with main points of interest.
Map of the Perhentian islands with main points of interest.

When to go to the Perhentian islands?

Best time to go is between March and October; hot and sunny days, calm sea, little rain. June to August especially over the weekends the islands get quite busy can be difficult to get a budget hotel without a booking. Outside the season most of places on the island are closed due to bed weather and rough seas.

How to get to the Perhentian islands?

First get to Kuala Besut, a town from where boats to the Perhentian islands leave. You can get to Kuala Besut by bus from any city in Malaysia, take a night bus that arrives early morning at Kuala Besut and from there take a boat. 

Second take a boat from Kuala Besut to one of the Perhentian islands. Decide beforehand what island and beach you want to go that the boat can drop you right there. 

We took a bus+boat option and paid MYR125/US$28 per person, MYR55 for the bus (George Town – Kuala Besut) and MYR70 for the boat (Kuala Besut – Perhentian – Kuala Besut). Boat ticket is open-date return ticket you can go back any day. Bus leaves at 8.30pm from A.G. Express Services office, Prangin Mall building (we bought our bus tickets here). It took 12 hours to get to the island, including 3 hours of waiting in Kuala Besut for the first boat to go. Speed boats leave early morning, it takes about 30min. to get to the island. 

Boats back to Kuala Besut leave from Coral Bay beach every day at 8am, 12pm, 4pm. Try to arrange everything the way you don’t need to stay overnight in Kuala Besut, accommodation is very expensive here, for a very basic room you’ll pay MYR70/US$18, for better options from MYR100/US$25. We took a night bus to KL for MYR45/US$11, bus leaves at 8.30pm.

Perhentian Kecil island, Coray Bay, Jetty
Perhentian Kecil island, Coray Bay, Jetty

Perhentian Kecil island guide

Set up your budget

  • Accommodation – camping from US$5; cheap room with fan from US$15, nice double room with AC from US$50.
  • Transport – getting to the island from US$30.
  • Activities – diving US$20 per dive; snorkeling US$10 pp for a boat trip; kayak rental from US$5.
  • Food – from US$2 per meal.

Perhentian Kecil Beaches

Two main beaches on Perhentian Kecil are Long beach and Coral Bay beach. The first one is bigger, more touristy and busy with many bars opened till late and parties at night. Corral Bay beach is smaller, with a couple of local food places, two or three restaurants, four dive shops. Coral Bay is very quite at night-time, nothing going on here after 10pm. You can always walk between two beaches, they are just 10-15 min. apart. On both you can find accommodation and food for different budget. We decided to stay on Coral Bay beach because we found a cheap camping here.  Nevertheless Coral Bay is small you can find everything you need here; accommodation, food, shops, diving, snorkeling trips, rental places etc.

Corral Bay beach, Perhentian Kecil
Corral Bay beach, Perhentian Kecil
Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil island
Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil island

Perhentian Kecil accommodation

We stayed at Maya cabins/camping, nice place right on the beach. Here you have two options, to stay in a room with own bathroom and fan – MYR60/US$15 per person for double or stay in a tent for MYR20/US$5 per tent, doesn’t matter one or two persons (mattress is included). To camp with your own tent costs the same 20 Ringgit.  No wi-fi, electricity after 6pm, cold shower, kitchen where you can boil water. The place is quite basic but cheap and clean, the owner, Sunny, is a very nice and helpful person.

Apparently there are two more campsites on Perhentian; Rainforest and Pirate’s camping. The second is near the Long beach, we didn’t go there just saw it on the way. Rainforest camping is 15 minutes walking from Coral Bay beach, at Rainforest beach, kind of hidden in the jungle. The price is MYR60/US$15 per tent. Booking through Hostelworld is compulsory, if you walk in without a booking they will still ask you to book online. You not allowed to camp with your own tent. The place looked nice but for 60 Ringgit you can get a room on Coral Bay beach. Some people complained about thousands of mosquitoes  due to its forest location. 

If you’re on a romantic holiday camping and staying in cheap bungalows might be not the best option. There are some great though quite pricey places to stay  as well. Alunan Boutique Resort  located in a quiet place far from busy beaches and towns features private sundeck and nice restaurant. It offers great accommodation options; big modern and spacious rooms with AC, balcony with sea view, flat-screen TV, continental breakfast. The place is sparkling clean, the stuff is very welcome and friendly.

For even more luxury romantic stay on the island BuBu Villa is an ideal place, located at the Long Beach, close the bars and restaurants this place offers exquisite accommodation; beautiful spacious garden villas with modern design feature AC, wi-fi, big comfortable double bed, the villas are very clean and neat. Included buffet breakfast, free evening cocktails and nice restaurant with local and European food. The stuff is very friendly and helpful. Price for villas US$245.

Camping at Maya cabins, Perhentian Kecil island
Camping at Maya cabins, Perhentian Kecil island

Things to do on Perhentian Kecil

Diving

We did three dives with Anti Gravity divers and enjoyed it. The visibility was good, the water was very warm, 30C, healthy coral reef with some interesting things to see. For more info about diving on Perhentian  with prices and many photos. It’s not the best diving in Malaysia but quite decent, cheap and nice. 

Prices for dives are between MYR75-80/US$20 for one dive, the more you dive the cheaper it gets. The days we dived with Anti Gravity we were allowed to use fins and wet suits for snorkeling for free, as well as to refill our water bottles.

Do a dive course

Good place for learning, warm water, good visibility, beautiful corals, no current, nothing dangerous in the water. The average price for Open Water is MYR1000/US$245, Advanced MYR900/US$220. Some dive shops (e.g. Ombak divers, Panorama Divers on Coral Bay beach) offer free accommodation for those who do a dive course with them for all the period of your course.

Snorkeling

If you are not that much into diving you can snorkel right from the beach or do a trip with 5-6 stops for MYR30-40/US$8-10, including mask and fins. You can rent a mask and fins on the beach for MYR5/US$1,2 for the day. Snorkeling was very good just wear rush vest or put a lot of sunscreen. WARNING! Don’t swim out too far from the shore or buoys, boat traffic can be quite hectic, there were couple of accidents.

Things we saw snorkeling around Coral Bay, Romantic and Rainforest beach. Three black tip sharks, two big and one small, many bumphead parrot fish, four dotted stingrays, one snake, many needle fish, couple barracudas, big schools of parrot fish, yellow box fish, titan triggerfish, many clown fish, sea cucumbers, huge shoals of small silver fish. 

Kayaking

Paddle around, stop at different beaches for swimming and snorkeling. Half day rental (4 hours) – MYR20/US5, full day – MYR30/US$7,5 at Maya guesthouse. We rented a kayak for four hours and paddled to Long beach and back with one stop in between for snorkeling. 4 hours was just enough to do it. Apparently if you’re strong enough you can paddle around the island in 4 hours but without stopping too much.

Chilling on the beach

Both beaches Long Beach and Corral Bay beach are great for spending an hour or two in a beach chair sipping a cocktail, playing a ball and swimming in warm clear water. If you want more movement and bars go to Long Beach, if you’re seeking for tranquility Corral Bay beach is the right place.

Hiking

There are several forest trail through the jungle on the island that connect beaches, resorts and villages.

Going out and partying

Long Beach is the place to go; beach bars, music, cocktail, fire shows, even open air movie nights, it’s not the most party island in South East Asia but there are places to go out and have a drink. The main bars are Panorama bar (here you can get a beer and good pizza) and Monkey bar (more of a drinking place), both places are next to each other. To see a night fire show go to Pirates of Perhentian it stars at 10.30pm.

In Coral Bay it’s totally different; romantic dinner with candles, watching sunset, listening the sea and admiring the night sky.

Clownfish, diving around Perhentian islands
Clownfish, diving around Perhentian islands

Where to eat on Perhentian Kecil?

Of course food on the island is more expensive than on the mainland. In cafes for a meal you will pay from 5 to 30 Ringgit depends what you eat and where.

Our favorite was  Dinie’s cafe on Corral Bay beach, next to Maya Cabins. We usually ordered plain rotis with curry for MYR5/US$1,2, beef burger with chips for MYR8/US$2 or fried vegetable rice for MYR6/US$1,4.

There is a shop nearby where you can buy noodles, chips, cookies, cool drinks and some other stuff. Everything for 1-2 Ringgit more expensive than on the mainland. 

Ewan’s cafe – between Long Beach and Corral Bay, nice food mainly local dishes nasi goreng, rotis etc., decent wi-fi, average meal MYR15/US$4.

Panorama Divers – close to Coral Bay, offers great buffet breakfast with eggs, toasts, pancakes, rotis etc. for MYR15/US$4.

Matahari chalets and restaurant – more expensive place with great variety of sea food, local and European dishes, from MYR20/US$5 pp.

There are many local style restaurants on the Long Beach, they have similar menu with goreng and roti for MYR10/US$2,5.

Perhentian Kecil island, Coral Bay from the view point
Perhentian Kecil island, Coral Bay from the view point

Perhentian Besar island

If your budget is not very limited and you’re more up for a honeymoon holiday Perhentian Besar is a better option for you. The island has many fancy resorts, restaurants and dive shops, most resorts usually offer all inclusive packages; accommodation, food and even diving included.

Activities on Perhentian Besar

Basically all the same things you can do on Kecil island though gear rental, diving and snorkeling trip might be more expensive than on the small island.

  • Jungle trekking
  • Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Kayaking
  • Chilling on the beach

Accommodation on Perhentian Besar

On this island the accommodation options are quite a bit fancier mostly resorts. If you want to stay in a beautiful place and be close to the restaurants and bars Tuna Bay Island Resort is a perfect option for you. Its chalets are located right at the beach in Tuna Bay, nice place for swimming and snorkeling. The chalets are spacious, comfortable, clean and cozy, all chalets have AC, hot shower, towels, balcony. Breakfast (halal, buffet) is included. Price for chalets for 2 nights from US$ 153. Minimum stay 2 nights.

Where to eat on Perhentian Besar?

Nia Cafe at Tuna Bay – one of the few budget options on the island, local food; roti, fruit shakes, sea food. Av.bill MYR20/US$5.

Belinda cafe – Malaysian food; curry chicken, roti canai, milk shakes (must try the Oreo shake), fruit shakes, beer, good wi-fi. MYR20-25/US$5-7 per meal.

Most resorts have fancy restaurants more likely they will be more expensive than the local places.

Fish on the Perhentian island
Thousands of small fish in the crystal clear waters of the Perhentian islands

Useful tips for visiting the Perhentian islands

  • To save money bring some food from the mainland, e.g. we brought instant oats for breakfast, eggs and noodles for lunch. If you stay at Maya you can boil eggs or water for oat or noodles.
  • Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent you’ll definitely need both.
  • There is a water dispenser on Coral Bay beach, at Amelia restaurant, you can refill 1,5l bottle for 1 Ringgit/0,3$, to buy 1,5l water costs 3/0,7$. Some dive shops (Anti gravity) and restaurants can refill it for 1 Ringgit as well so just bring empty bottles with you.
  • Bring enough cash with you there is no ATM and most place accept only cash.
  • Bring alcohol with as it’s significantly more expensive here than on the main land and the choice is limited.
  • If you arrive on weekend it can be difficult to find accommodation.

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7 Comments

  • Hi!
    Would it be possible to get a tent or a chalet on Coral Beach during July and August without booking in advance?
    Thanks!😏

    • He, Fei! We were there in June chalets were sometimes full, mostly over the weekends but to get a tent on Coral Beach wasn’t a problem and it costs the same to camp with your own tent or to rent a rent.
      Cheers!

  • Hello! Did you book your bus and boat together via an agency? Was the bus going straight to the pier in Kuala Besut or stopping in Kota Bahru and you took a local bus?
    The only direct bus from Georgetown to the jetty I find online costs 85MYR (+ 70MYR for the roundtrip boat)
    Pls let me know how/where you book it 🙂

    • Hello, Nat! Thank you for the question!
      You can find an answer for your question in the article, there is a section How to get to Perhentian island from George Town with all the prices and details.
      Good luck!

  • Hi!
    Did you book the accommodation in advance or did you get it as walk-in? Because I saw that the price on the inernet for double room (garden view) is 120 MYR! But I h´don’t know if I can risk not having anything booked since we’re going there from 3 June to 6 June (Sat – Tue).
    Thanks for your answer.

    • Hello, Katerina! Thank you for your question! We are very sorry but the price 60 is per person (we changed it in the article as well) if you’re two it’s 120. If you don’t mind staying in a tent you can rent one with mattresses for 20MYR for two people (at least it was 20 last July). It can be a bit hot in the tent but you spend most of the time outside. We just walked in to Maya guesthouse but we had our own tent we just needed a spot to pitch it. What about booking in advanced we’d recommend to make a booking for the first night because many people from the mainland come to Perhentian on weekends. But as we remember there was one or two tents always available.
      Good luck!

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