Perhentian Kecil, off the northeastern coast of Malaysia, is one of the most popular backpacker islands in Southeast Asia. Smaller and slightly rowdier of the two Perhentian Islands, Kecil is a place to come for excellent diving, sunbathing, and socializing with other budget travelers.
Warm, turquoise water full of marine life splashes onto white sand beaches, while the jungle provides a lush, green backdrop for this island paradise. Many travelers find it easy to fall in love with Perhentian Kecil—if they don't run out of money first!
Kecil is divided into two distinct beaches, both with their own vibes and personality. A narrow jungle trail, easily walkable in about 15 minutes, connects the two beaches.
Long Beach, on the east side of the island, steals most of the attention with nicer beaches and better nightlife. Long Beach is the first place that travelers arrive and where most end up staying.
The white, fine-sand beach is wide enough to accommodate sunbathers even during the busy season and the swimming is superb. Accommodation on Long Beach ranges from a couple of semi-luxury "resorts" to ramshackle bungalows with dirty mattresses and naked light bulbs. However, prices for food and alcohol are expensive compared to the rest of Malaysia.
On the opposite side of the island, Coral Bay, often referred to as Coral Beach, has spectacular sunsets and is markedly more chilled out. Coral Bay, with its rocky beach and unforgettable sunsets, is much quieter than Long Beach.
Superb snorkeling awaits just to the right of the pier and it is possible to scramble over the rocks, past the last resort on the right side of the beach, to some secluded patches of sand. Prices are only slightly discounted on Coral Beach, despite the lower volume of travelers. Rooms tend to be nicer around Coral Beach than on the opposite side of the island.
When to Go
Perhentian Kecil is best visited during the dry season between March and November. The island is nearly-closed during the rainy months and strong currents make swimming dangerous. The entire island can actually fill up during the busy season, particularly in July and it's not uncommon to see travelers sleeping on Long Beach awaiting a room in the morning.
Diving in the Perhentians is cheap and dive shops compete fiercely for business. Thanks to a turtle restoration program, sharks and turtles are frequently spotted on dives as well as a large variety of species that call the warm water home. Perhentian Kecil is a popular place to complete PADI certifications because of the low prices and quality of dive shop operations.
Most of the dive shops offer snorkeling trips by boat or you can rent your own gear and head over to one of Coral Bay's rocky bays to find excellent snorkeling.
Many restaurants offer seafood grilled nightly and a string of side-by-side restaurants on Long Beach have tables for dining directly on the beach. The menus, prices, and food quality are nearly identical. The ever-popular Panorama restaurant on Long Beach has an impressive menu of both local and western fare and serving sizes are larger than those found in other eateries.
There's not a lot of nightlife that goes on in the Perhentians, but what does happen usually happens in Long Beach. Prices for alcohol are high, so many travelers opt to bring their own to the island. Most people start the night with socializing during the nightly movie screened either at Panorama or Matahari. The occasional dance party breaks out during the high season at one of the two operations. As with the rest of Malaysia, drugs are illegal on the island.
Aside from a few small shops selling basic necessities and some tables of handmade jewelry, there is not much shopping on the island and no ATM machines.
You'll need to make sure you bring enough money with you, but know that thieves are keenly aware that travelers must bring a large amount of cash to the island. Theft in bungalows on Long Beach is common. If you find yourself out of money, cash advances on a credit card can sometimes be obtained for a large fee at one of the resorts.
Internet access on the island is painfully slow and rates can be as high as US $5 for 30 minutes. Phone calls can be made from the larger resorts for a fee. Mobile phones do work on the island.
Electricity on Perhentian Kecil is provided by generators, however, power outages are frequent. Some small bungalows only have power at dark. If you're worried about an outage, make sure to bring along a portable battery, so you can charge your devices.
Mosquitoes can be a real problem on the island, especially after it rains. Bring mosquito repellant, keep your arms and legs covered, and burn coils when sitting at night.
The usual port for accessing Perhentian Kecil is the coastal town of Kuala Besut. To get to Kuala Besut, there is no direct bus service from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut, so you must change buses in either Jerteh or Pasir Puteh. All travelers to the Perhentians are charged a conservation fee before leaving Kuala Besut.
Small speedboats make the choppy, 45-minute run over to the island regularly throughout the day. Prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. The small fiberglass boats bounce fearlessly over waves, sending passengers and luggage into the air and everything gets wet. The speedboats transfer passengers just short of the shore and a smaller boat runs all the way to the beach. Expect to wade ashore through the knee-deep water with your bags.
If the seas are particularly rough, boatmen may choose to drop passengers on the west side of the island at Coral Bay.