Malaysia’s Tropical Getaway

I went on a three-week trip to Malaysia this summer, and the memories still vividly dance in my mind. Among the destinations that enchanted me, the Perhentian Islands stood out as an undeniable highlight — and to top it off, I celebrated my 30th birthday there! Tucked away off the northeastern coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are a tropical oasis, characterized by their crystalline waters, untouched beaches, and diverse marine life. If you find yourself daydreaming about the best things to do in the Perhentian Islands, mulling over where to stay, or are yearning for a genuine connection with the unparalleled beauty of nature, look no further. This Perhentian Islands travel guide is your personalized map to an island escapade you won’t soon forget.

Kecil or Besar Perhentian Island? Which to Choose

First things first, which Perhentian Island should you stay in? Perhentian consists of two prominent islands: the larger Besar and its smaller sibling, Kecil. Although Kecil is dubbed the ‘smaller’ island, it isn’t significantly tinier than Besar. However, what sets Kecil apart is its night vibe, reminiscent of beach parties with fire shows, all set against the rhythmic sound of waves – no lavish discotheques, just the pure essence of a beach soiree. The islands, albeit popular among tourists, have preserved their pristine charm, devoid of high-rise resorts. Instead, the Perhentians offer an escape to connect with nature, tranquil beaches, and the delightful camaraderie of locals and fellow travelers. Personally, I stayed at Kecil Perhentian Island and if you’re a couple or a group of friends, I recommend to do the same. From what I heard, Besar has more resorts but it’s quieter and best for families.

How to Get to the Perhentian Islands

Malaysia has 13 states and three federal territories, and the Perhentian Islands are a part of the Terengganu state, situated off the northeastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. These islands are nestled in the South China Sea and are surrounded by crystal clear waters and diverse marine life. The islands are in close proximity to the town of Kuala Besut on the mainland, which serves as the main departure point for boats heading to the islands.

It’s important for travelers to note that outside of major cities like KL, Penang, and Kuching, much of Malaysia, including Terengganu, is less developed. Terengganu, in particular, offers a vastly different ambiance and pace than the bustling cities and might feel like an entirely different country. While the islands are a paradise for many, the mainland, especially around the Kuala Besut area, won’t probably appeal travelers, and I wouldn’t recommend staying an extra day there. Here’s how to get to Perhentian islands from Kuala Lumpur and Penang:

From Kuala Lumpur

  • By Air: The most efficient way from Kuala Lumpur (KL) is to fly directly to Kota Bharu Airport. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia both offer daily flights, with the journey typically taking around an hour. Once at Kota Bharu, you’ll need to arrange a taxi or shuttle service to Kuala Besut jetty, which is about an hour’s drive away. Flight prices can range from MYR 90 to MYR 300 depending on the season and how far in advance you book. You could also opt to flying to Redang airport and then organizing a private boat tour, that will allow you to skip the shuttle.
  • By Bus: For those on a tighter budget, buses are available from Kuala Lumpur’s Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) to Kuala Besut. The journey can take anywhere from 7 to 9 hours. While it’s a longer and less comfortable option, it is cheaper, with prices typically ranging from MYR 40 to MYR 70. Once you arrive in Kuala Besut, you can catch a boat to the islands.

From Penang

  • By Air: You can catch a direct flight from Penang to Kota Bharu, which takes just over an hour. Both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia offer this route. From Kota Bharu Airport, continue as mentioned above to reach Kuala Besut jetty.
  • By Bus: Buses from Penang to Kuala Besut are also available, although the journey is quite lengthy, often taking up to 8 hours or more. Once in Kuala Besut, you can then take a boat to Perhentian.

Boat Transfers to the Perhentian Islands

After reaching the mainland, travelers have two main options for boat transport to the Perhentian Islands – public or private.

Public Boat:

  • Operational Hours: The public boat service operates daily from Kuala Besut Jetty, departing between 8am to 5pm. Return boats from the Perhentian Islands to Kuala Besut are available between 8am and 4pm.
  • Duration and Stops: Typically, the journey to the Perhentian Islands takes about 45 minutes. These boats often make multiple stops at various beaches on both Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, based on passengers’ accommodation locations. Make sure to communicate your specific drop-off point to the boat operator upon boarding.
  • Pricing: A round-trip boat ride is priced at 70RM (€14). Be mindful of the luggage allowance which is set at 15 kg per person. Exceeding this limit might incur additional charges.
  • Conservation Fee: Before embarking, travelers must also pay a marine park conservation fee of RM30 per person at the jetty.
  • Considerations: The public boat is safe, but it could become quite packed and loud during the high season. Given that there isn’t a proper jetty on the island, expect to tread in water ranging from ankle to knee-depth when you get to Perhentian Islands. It’s advisable to dress accordingly and safeguard electronic items or other valuables in waterproof containers.

Private Boat

  • Flexibility: Unlike the scheduled public boats, private boats function based on demand, offering a direct and tailored route to your chosen beach on the island.
  • Duration: The private boat journey usually takes around 30 minutes.
  • Pricing: Hiring a private boat costs RM350 for a single trip. This fee covers a group of up to 12 passengers.
  • Convenience: One significant advantage of the private boat option is its direct route, eliminating the multiple stops that public boats make. You can also pre-arrange your return journey details with the boat operator. Additionally, there aren’t any restrictions on luggage weight, and travelers are exempt from the marine park conservation fee, allowing for a hassle-free experience as you take in the picturesque surroundings.

Where to Stay in the Perhentian Islands

On Kecil Island, the divide between budget and high-end accommodations is quite evident. Coral Bay appeals to those with a penchant for budget travel. Here, many accommodations veer toward the basic, giving guests a genuine, unfiltered island experience. However, you should be prepared, especially when it comes to amenities like bathrooms which can be rustic… to put it kindly. These type of stays are not my cup of tea; I always hold the belief of “you get what you pay for” close. I’d rather invest a more for enhanced comfort. But travel is an intensely personal experience. Even if the accommodations are basic, Coral Bay compensates with its traveler vibe, budget-friendly beachfront eateries and stunning sunset.

On the other side of the island you’ll find Long Beach. Here, you’re greeted with an expanse of soft sand, clear waters, and a spectrum of places to stay. If you’re angling for luxury, this is where you’ll likely find your fit. Among the accommodations, three resorts stand out:

Bubu Villa: This is the place we stayed in and I loved it. It’s situated at the rightmost end of Long Beach and I loved the harmony of its structure, not one of those huge resorts that ruin everything, it perfectly blended with the setting and offered lovely rooms with top-notch amenities.  Their restaurant has a lot of variety, offering dishes perfected by both Malaysian and Italian chefs. I’m not a breakfast person but I did not skip one breakfast during my stay here. They have a simple breakfast buffet but you can then order pancakes, french toast, homelletes etc from the chef and oh man, the pancakes were sensational. They also have a spa and the spa sessions were my daily retreat; massages were priced between €30-40, depending on your selection. We chose the Garden Villa, a space that seamlessly blended indoor luxury with outdoor freshness. An interesting design choice was the open concept for the toilet area, sans a door, which might raise a few eyebrows if you’re on a romantic trip!

Bubu Resort: This is Bubu Villa’s sister property, ensconced on Long Beach’s opposite end. Many of its luxuries mirror that of Bubu Villa. However, an aspect to be cognizant of is the receding tide during late afternoons, causing the beach to seem a tad remote. It’s a natural interplay, but something you’d want to factor in.

Andovan Resort: This is another good one on Long Beach. While I have personal experiences with the first two, the buzz around Andovan Resort suggests it’s a place of comfort and charm, catering to varying budgets and tastes. The down side is that they don’t have sunbeds on the beach.

Mimpi: this is another resort but it’s not located on Long Beach. But it combines the raw beauty of the Perhentian Islands with modern comforts, ensuring a stay that’s both authentic and luxurious.

In essence, whether you’re a budget traveler or someone seeking luxury, Perhentian Kecil, with its distinct stays in Coral Bay and Long Beach, ensures every traveler finds their niche.

What to Do in the Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands are a tropical paradise, offering a diverse array of activities for all types of travelers. From scuba diving in the clear waters to hiking its lush trails, there’s never a dull moment here. Let’s delve into some of the top activities you can indulge in:

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is a major attraction in the Perhentian Islands, thanks to the clear waters and vibrant marine life. It’s also surprisingly affordable, making it a popular choice for many visitors. My friend Valentina ventured into the depths, even partaking in night dives and cleaning dives where she assisted in removing ocean trash. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a newbie, the underwater world here will leave you mesmerized. Her diving center was Lekkers Divers on Long Beach, she said they were really nice and they offer diving courses from beginners to professional. The course costs around €200 and every dive is then around €17, super cheap!

Island Hopping

Island hopping is an adventure you shouldn’t miss. We organized a day trip through our hotel to Redang and Lang Tengah. The first stop was at Lang Tengah and it was a revelation; it felt like an untouched paradise with minimal tourists. There’s a resort on the island for those interested in an extended stay, but I found it perfect for a day’s visit given its quiet nature. Here, the waters unveiled a marine marvel – from packs of needlefish darting around to the cute nemos (clownfish) hiding amidst the corals and many small sharks. For your information, these small sharks are not aggressive, and in general, the sharks in the Perhentian Islands are not known to be hostile to humans. Visit in the morning for clearer waters as the afternoon sees a low tide.

Redang Island was next, where we were lucky enough to spot turtles at Turtle’s Bay, right next to Taaras Beach where the Taaras Hotel is located. The sight of these majestic creatures swimming freely was unforgettable, we brought bait (calamari) to attract them.

Before heading back, we made a pitstop at a sandbank right off Redang. Imagine a slender tail of pristine sand surrounded by the clearest water imaginable. It was a moment of sheer bliss, made even more special by the fact that it was only us and another boat enjoying this paradise. Karla, our hotel’s manager, mentioned that it’s common to find up to 10 boats anchored here, so we realized how fortunate we were to experience it in such a tranquil setting.

For refreshments, we had packed sandwiches and drinks, but you could also opt for a local restaurant. The entire trip cost us €400, and with the boat accommodating up to 12 people, it can be a cost-effective outing for a group. Definitely one of the highlights of our trip and super worth it.

Beach Hopping

Another day, we embarked on a boat trip around the two Perhentian Islands. Wadi, our captain, introduced us to several hidden gems. Here are the best beaches in Perhentian Islands:

Kerenjani Beach/Mira Beach (Kecil Perhentian): Tucked away on Kecil Perhentian, Kerenjani Beach, often referred to as Mira Beach, boasts an ethereal sight with its pristine shoreline flanked by swaying palm trees. Here, you can find the Keranji Beach Resort, a quaint establishment characterized by its simplicity. Comprising just a handful of bungalows, it offers a peaceful escape from the more bustling parts of the island. While it’s a relatively small beach, its ambiance and scenic backdrop make it worth the visit.

Turtle Beach (Besar Perhentian): Situated on Besar Perhentian, Turtle Beach might just claim the title of the most stunning beach in the Perhentian Islands. Words seem insufficient to describe the mesmerizing hue of the waters here. While its name suggests the presence of turtles, we didn’t spot any during our visit. However, our encounter with these majestic creatures at Redang more than made up for it.

Romantic Beach (Kecil Perhentian): Romantic Beach, with its evocative name, is truly an epitome of tropical allure on Kecil Perhentian. A blend of clear waters, soft sand, and gentle waves creates a serene environment, making it a favorite spot for couples and those seeking a tranquil setting. This beach is known for its sunsets, so be sure to stick around as the day draws to a close.

Teluk Pauh (Besar Perhentian): Teluk Pauh is distinguished not only by its natural beauty but also by its vibrant jetty. The colorful jetty here adds a touch of whimsy to the surroundings, making it a popular photo spot. Dive into the azure waters, or just relax on the sandy shores — either way, Teluk Pauh offers a memorable experience.

Adam and Eve Beach (Kecil Perhentian): Another gem on Kecil Perhentian, Adam and Eve Beach is a secluded paradise perfect for those looking to get away from the crowds. The beach is fringed with lush greenery, and its crystalline waters beckon visitors to take a dip. The tranquility here is palpable, making it an ideal spot for relaxation.

Turtle Beach (Kecil Perhentian): Not to be confused with its namesake on Besar Perhentian, Turtle Beach on Kecil Perhentian is a lovely stretch of sand and sea. While it shares the name, the vibes can be quite different, offering another perspective of the island’s diverse beachscapes.

Each of these beaches presents its own unique charm and beauty, ensuring that your Perhentian Islands trip is filled with a plethora of memorable beachside moments. If you don’t want to go on a boat trip, you can just get a boat taxi that will take you to a beach and asked to be picked up later on. Just exchange numbers so you can communiate via whatsapp.

Hiking

The islands also boast a number of hiking trails. While I don’t have the exact names of the trails at the tip of my fingers, I’d urge you to do some research or ask locals upon arrival. Ensure you bring along appropriate hiking shoes and stay hydrated.

Kayaking

You can easily rent a kayak on Long Beach, typically for around 25-30RM per hour. Paddle out and enjoy the serene surroundings from a different perspective.

Pamper Yourself

After days filled with adventure, unwind and treat yourself to a rejuvenating spa session. At Bubu Villa’s spa, I indulged in daily massages priced between 30-40 euros for an hour. While you might find more affordable options, the quality here was top-notch. From foot reflexology to aromatherapy massages, there’s a treatment for every mood. For those sunburned adventures, treatments with ice and aloe vera provide much-needed relief.

Where to Eat in the Perhentian Islands

The culinary delights in Perhentian cater to a broad spectrum of palates. Bubu Villa, where we stayed, served an array of tantalizing dishes. Their seafood barbecue, where you choose the catch of the day, is a gastronomic experience. The tiger prawns were to die for (so big they looked more like lobsters), as are the squids. Expect to pay around €30 per person for a hearty meal here. Post dinner, Long Beach becomes the island’s epicenter of entertainment, with fire shows and music that lasts until the wee hours.

Nightlife on Kecil Perhentian Island

On Kecil Perhentian Island, specifically Long Beach, the evenings transform into a relaxed yet lively ambiance. Just 20 meters from Bubu Villa, there’s a standout beach bar, the nightlife hub on the beach. This is where island-goers gather to enjoy the fireshow – a mesmerizing performance with talented locals showcasing their skills with flaming poi. Visitors can grab a prime spot, sit down with a shisha or a cold beer, and relish the spectacle. There’s no grand discotheque setup; it’s raw, simple, and incredibly authentic. With just the music, the dance of the flames, the whisper of waves, and the company of fellow travelers, it’s an experience that perfectly captures the essence of Kecil Perhentian. Dance barefoot on the sand, laugh, and let the rhythm of nature and camaraderie guide your night!

When to travel to Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands experience a tropical climate, which means they are warm year-round. However, like most tropical destinations, they have distinct wet and dry seasons that can influence your travel plans.

Best Time: The optimal time to visit the Perhentian Islands is during the dry season, which typically runs from March to October. During these months, you can expect sunny skies, calm seas, and excellent visibility underwater – perfect for diving and snorkeling. This period also sees the islands at their liveliest, with all resorts open and various activities available for tourists.

Monsoon Season: Between November and February, the islands experience their monsoon season. Heavy rainfall, strong winds, and choppy seas are the norms during this period. Many resorts close down, and boat services become limited due to rough sea conditions.

Is it worth visiting Perhentian Islands?

Definitely. The Perhentian Islands were the highlight of my trip. Think clear blue waters that can rival the Maldives, but without the hefty price tag or the crowds. It’s got that laid-back vibe where you can genuinely relax and feel miles away from the hustle and bustle. Unlike some touristy spots, these islands still feel authentic. You won’t find massive resorts overshadowing the natural beauty. Instead, you’ll discover local charm and untouched beaches. If you’re after a real getaway where the beauty of nature takes center stage, then yeah, the Perhentian Islands are totally worth it.

Environmental Responsibility

While the Perhentian Islands are a paradise in many aspects, like many pristine locations worldwide, they aren’t immune to the global issue of litter. During my visit, I did come across occasional trash on the shores. As responsible travelers, it’s our duty to ensure we leave no trace. If you stumble upon any litter, please take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it properly. Not only does this protect the environment and marine life, but it also preserves the beauty of the islands for future visitors.

Health and Safety Perhentian Islands

When planning a trip to a paradise like Kecil Perhentian Island, it’s easy to get lost in the dreamy azure waters and white sandy beaches. However, ensuring your safety and health should be at the forefront of your preparations. Here are some essential tips to keep in mind:

  1. Travel Insurance: Before you embark on your journey, ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers potential medical emergencies, especially when visiting remote destinations.
  2. Sun Protection: The tropical sun can be intense. Protect yourself by applying sunblock regularly, wearing a hat, and ensuring you stay hydrated. Bring along sunblock, after sun lotions, and perhaps aloe vera for natural relief in case of sunburns.
  3. Water Safety: Tap water on the island isn’t safe to drink. Ensure you always drink bottled water and avoid ice in your beverages unless you’re sure it’s been made from purified water.
  4. Medical Facilities: There’s no hospital on Kecil Perhentian Island. While there are small clinics that can handle minor medical issues, serious medical emergencies may require evacuation to the mainland. It’s vital to be prepared.
  5. Medications: Always pack essential medicines, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions. For instance, during my trip, I regretted not bringing Monuril for my UTI. Additionally, consider packing probiotics to maintain gut health, especially if you’re trying various local foods. Insect repellent is another must-have, given the tropical environment. FYI coconut water does miracles for UTIs!

Malaysia Digital Arrival Card (mandatory)

Starting January 2024, if you’re heading to Malaysia, you’ll need to fill out a Malaysia Digital Arrival Card. It’s pretty straightforward to complete:

  1. Head to the official website no more than three days before your arrival. Remember, you can’t fill this out any earlier.
  2. Put in your personal details—make sure you have your passport handy for this.
  3. Enter your flight information and the address where you’ll be staying in Malaysia.

You’ll need to fill out this card every time you enter the country. Once you submit it, you’ll get an email with the card that you need to print.

Most travelers need to do this, but if you’re a diplomat, a Malaysian resident, a citizen of Singapore, or fall under a few other exceptions, you might not have to. Check the official website to see all the details and exceptions.

Author

I'm the daughter of an Italian family of diplomats, the second of three children, and a global citizen. I've lived in 7 cities around the world, I have a gigantic crush on Italy and my name has been mispronounced more times than I can remember.

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