Perhentian Islands Travel Guide
Overview of Perhentian Islands
Perhentian Islands (or "Pulau Perhentian") is on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is about 21 kilometres off the coast of Terengganu and about 64 kilometres south of the Thailand border.
Perhentian consists of several islands, with the main ones being Pulau Perhentian Besar (“Big Perhentian Island”) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (“Small Perhentian Island”). There are also five uninhabited islands in the archipelago, including Rawa, Serengeh and Susu Dara.
The name “Perhentian” comes from the Malay word meaning “stopping point”. The island used to be a stop off for merchants travelling between Thailand and Malaysia.
The islands are famous among backpackers wanting to go scuba diving or take snorkelling trips as there is plenty of cheap accommodation for budget travellers to family friendly leisure island resorts.
What to Do
There are plenty of beautiful beaches between the two main islands, suitable for sunbathing and swimming.
In Perhentian Kecil, the most popular beaches are Coral Bay and Long Beach, both located in the middle of the island. There are other beaches in the northern part of the island, accessible via the walking trail and water taxis.
In Perhentian Besar, the most popular beaches are on the west side of the island. Like those in Perhentian Kecil, the beaches in Perhentian Besar are accessible by foot and boat.
Perhentian Islands are famous among snorkelers and scuba divers as there is plenty of beautiful coral and unique species of marine life in the area, including sea turtles and sharks.
Travellers can also go on a day trip to the nearby Redang Island. Travellers planning to do this can ask around the local dive shops for packages.
Kayaking is also possible on the islands, and there are several places for travellers to rent a kayak. Jet skiing and water skiing, however, are prohibited on the islands to avoid any damage to the corals.
Walking trails connecting beaches are available on both islands. Travellers might encounter wild animals, such as big monitor lizards, spiders and monkeys, during their walk. However, they are generally harmless.
Those who want to do trekking will need to wear proper shoes and bring enough drinking water since some of the trails are quite steep.
Nightlife and Shows
There are several bars in Perhentian Kecil’s Long Beach for those who are looking for drinks and cocktails. Note that they can be quite expensive. There is also a nightly fire show near a bar called Pirates of Perhentian, as well as open-air movie nights at Ombak Cafe.
When is the Best Time to Visit Perhentian Islands
Perhentian Islands have a tropical climate with brief rainfall and thunderstorms happening regularly on the island.
The peak season for Perhentian islands is during the summer months from May to July in conjunction with school vacations and long weekend holidays.
Just like many parts in Peninsular Malaysia, Perhentian is affected by the Northeast monsoon, and most resorts are not open between November to February. During this period, transport to the island is heavily restricted.
How to Get There
There are no direct flights to Perhentian Islands. Instead, travellers can visit the island from the ferry terminal in Kuala Besut. The nearest airports are the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport in Kota Bahru, Kelantan and the Sultan Mahmud Airport serving Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu. You can take direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to either of these airports. From there, travellers can proceed to Kuala Besut via land transportation.
For travellers not wanting to fly, Kuala Besut is also accessible via train and bus from various parts of Peninsular Malaysia. There are two daily buses from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut. These take approximately 9 hours one way.
At the ferry terminal, travellers can grab a speed boat to the Perhentian Islands. The journey will take about 30-45 minutes.
Travellers should note that they must pay a marine park conservation fee when visiting the islands.
How to Get Around
Perhentian is relatively small with no proper roads connecting various parts of the islands. Instead, travelling around is limited to walking on the trails and water taxis.
Travellers can easily access the beaches on foot. But for those who want to hop from one beach to another without walking, water taxis are available for a reasonable price and can be arranged at most resorts. Travel between Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil is only possible via water taxis.
What to Eat
Resorts on the island generally provide meals as part of their packages. However, the options, especially for the smaller resorts, might not be as diverse.
There are also several cafes and restaurants on several of the beaches. However, they are quite pricey, and it might take you a long time before your food arrives.
What to Buy
Touristy gifts and other sundries are available on Perhentian Islands, albeit with a more expensive price tag. Those who want to grab some keychains, batik clothes and other trinkets might want to do so at the ferry terminal in Kuala Besut instead since it is much cheaper there.
Where to Stay
Perhentian Islands is popular among backpackers and families as there is plenty of accommodation to suit any budget.
Generally, most backpackers go to Perhentian Kecil as there are more budget accommodations on the island. On the other hand, accommodation on Perhentian Besar are more expensive, and families are more likely to stay here to avoid the backpacking crowds on the other island.
What to Bring and Wear
Remember to bring sunblock and proper beachwear as travellers will spend most of the time on the beach and in the waters.
Packing some water bottles and snacks would be a wise choice as well since those sold on the island’s convenient store or the resorts’ gift shops can be expensive. Those who are prone to seasickness should get motion sickness pills as well.
Travellers planning to go for jungle trekking need to bring comfortable shoes as well as insect repellent for the mosquitos.
In terms of clothing, travellers have no problem with wearing bikinis and swimwear on the islands. However, going naked or topless is unacceptable.