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 the Malay language “Perhentian” means “stopping point”. There are two Perhentian islands; Pulau 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 most resorts and fancy restaurants. If you’re a backpacker or a budget traveler we’d recommend staying on Perhentian Kecil. If you’re on a honeymoon or seek a romantic getaway go to Perhentian Besar island.
When to go to the Perhentian islands?
The 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 the places on the islands are closed due to bad weather and rough seas.
How to get to the 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). A boat ticket is an open-date return ticket you can go back any day.
Buses leave at 8.30pm from the 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.
Suggested Malaysia tours & activities
If you want to explore more of the country, experience its culture and do some adventure activities without having to plan and book everything on your own, joining a mini group tour might be a good option.
Set up your budget
- Accommodation – camping from US$5; cheap room with a 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 open till late and parties at night. Coral Bay beach is smaller, with a couple of local food places, two or three restaurants, four dive shops. Coral Bay is very quiet 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 budgets. We decided to stay on Coral Bay beach because we found cheap camping here. Nevertheless Coral Bay is small you can find everything you need here; accommodation, food, shops, diving, snorkeling trips, rental places, etc.
Perhentian Kecil accommodation
We stayed at Maya cabins/camping, a nice place right on the beach. Here you have two options, to stay in a room with your 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, a 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. Our main problem with camping on the island was heat we were sweating in the tent even at night and you can’t leave it open because there are tons of mosquitoes around. Unless you’re really on a tight budget we’d recommend staying in a room with a fan at least.
Apparently, there are two more campsites on Perhentian; Rainforest and Pirate’s camping. The second is near 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 in 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 their forest location.
Middle price range | Anis Perhentian |
Quiver Dive Team Perhentian has great packages scuba diving (fun dives/discover scuba diving and gear)+ accommodation (4-bed dormitory, a great option to combine a beach holiday with diving. Note! The packages are very popular the place is often fully booked.
Things to do on Perhentian Kecil
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.
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 masks 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 sunscreens. WARNING! Don’t swim out too far from the shore or buoys, boat traffic can be quite hectic, there were a 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 needlefish, couple barracudas, big schools of parrot fish, yellow boxfish, titan triggerfish, many clownfish, sea cucumbers, huge shoals of small silver fish.
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 Coral 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.
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 the sunset, listening the sea and admiring the night sky.
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 Coral 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 a great buffet breakfast with eggs, toasts, pancakes, rotis etc. for MYR15/US$4.
Matahari chalets and restaurant – a more expensive place with a great variety of seafood, local and European dishes, from MYR20/US$5 pp.
There are many local style restaurants on the Long Beach, they have a similar menu with Nasi goreng and roti for MYR10/US$2,5.
Perhentian Besar island
If your budget is not very limited and you’re more up for a honeymoon holiday Perhentian Besar is a better option for you. The island has many fancy resorts, restaurants and dive shops, most resorts usually offer all-inclusive packages; accommodation, food and even diving included.
Activities on Perhentian Besar
Basically all the same things you can do on Kecil island though gear rental, diving and snorkeling trip might be more expensive than on the small island.
- Jungle trekking
- Chilling on the beach
Accommodation on Perhentian Besar
On this island, the accommodation options are quite a bit fancier mostly resorts. If you want to stay in a beautiful place and be close to the restaurants and bars Tuna Bay Island Resort is a perfect option for you. Its chalets are located right at the beach in Tuna Bay, a nice place for swimming and snorkeling. The chalets are spacious, comfortable, clean and cozy, all chalets have AC, hot shower, towels, balcony. Breakfast (halal, buffet) is included. Price for chalets for 2 nights from US$ 153. Minimum stay 2 nights.
- Budget | Flora Bay 1 | Samudra Beach Chalet |
- Middle price | Flora Bay 2 | The Barat Perhentian | New Coconut Chalet |
- Luxury | Tuna Bay Island Resort | Perhentian Island resort |
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, seafood. Av.bill MYR20/US$5.
Belinda cafe – Malaysian food; curry chicken, roti canai, milkshakes (must try the Oreo shake), fruit shakes, beer, good wi-fi. MYR20-25/US$5-7 per meal.
Most resorts have fancy restaurants more likely they will be more expensive than the local places.
Useful items to bring with you to the island
- Rash vest will be very useful if you’re planning to do any water activity be it snorkeling, kayaking, going out with a boat etc. (check for men’s options here).
- Snorkeling mask
- Cap or hat
- Board shorts/Bikini
- Beach towel
- Mosquito repellent
- LifeStraw water filter
Tips for visiting the Perhentian islands
To save money bring some food from the mainland, e.g. we brought instant oats for breakfast, eggs and noodles for lunch. If you stay at Maya you can boil eggs or water for oat or noodles.
Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent you’ll definitely need both.
There is a water dispenser on Coral Bay beach, at Amelia restaurant, you can refill 1,5l bottle for 1 Ringgit/0,3$, to buy 1,5l water costs 3/0,7$. Some dive shops (Antigravity) and restaurants can refill it for 1 Ringgit as well so just bring empty bottles with you. LifeStraw bottle or just a filter is a great option for buying water in plastic bottles and staying healthy when traveling.
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 mainland and the choice is limited.
If you arrive on weekend it can be difficult to find accommodation it’s better to book something in advance at least for the day you arrive on the island.
Travel insurance for Malaysia
It’s always recommended to have travel insurance when you go abroad especially if you’re planning to move around a lot and doing some outdoor activities like diving, snorkeling, surfing etc. Make sure you will be able to get medical assistance any time you need. It’s quite handy to have an insurance in case of a luggage loss, flight delay, and other emergencies. Insurance makes traveling less stressful when you know you’re covered in case of any unpredictable emergencies.
- Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei (Travel Guide). Paperback
- Insight Guides Southeast Asia. Paperback & Kindle.
- The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei (Rough Guides). Paperback & Kindle.
- Diving in Southeast Asia: A Guide to the Best Sites in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand (Periplus Action Guides). Paperback & Kindle.
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