Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

An Introduction to Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar

The beach in Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
••• The beach in Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia. Photo by Greg Rodgers

The Perhentian Islands in Malaysia are blessed with sun-bleached sand along with excellent snorkeling and diving in the bluest water imaginable. A lack of high-rise developments and motorized transportation -- aside from boats – reinforces the feeling of paradise.

While the party scene can get extremely busy at Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil during the summer months, you'll still find peace and quiet on other parts of the islands.

The correct pronunciation for Perhentian sounds like: per-hen-tee-en.

Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar?

A majority of visitors to the Perhentian Islands end up on the smaller of the two islands, Perhentian Kecil, mainly because it is cheaper and more social. Backpackers and budget travelers come to Perhentian Kecil -- a popular stop on the infamous Banana Pancake Trail -- to enjoy the blue water by day and beach parties at night. While nightlife is far livelier on Perhentian Kecil, parts of the island do offer peace and quiet.

The resorts on Perhentian Besar, the larger of the two islands, cater to a more mature crowd which typically includes couples, honeymooners, and families.

Check out these important tips for traveling with a romantic partner.

Perhentian Kecil

The rowdier and smallest of the two islands, Perhentian Kecil is split into two sides: Long Beach and Coral Bay. A 15-minute, unpaved jungle trail connects the two sides of the island.

Most people head directly to Long Beach for the better beaches and soft-sand ocean bottom. Long Beach has more eating, sleeping, and nightlife options than Coral Bay.

Coral Bay is the place to go for spectacular sunsets, slightly cheaper prices, and small private beach coves (when facing the sea, walk to the right and scramble over the rocks past the last resort to find a series of small private beaches).

While the snorkeling is better on Coral Bay, the narrow beach is strewn with dead coral and shallow water that make swimming less pleasant.

Perhentian Besar

Perhentian Besar, the larger and more grown up of the Perhentians, is the place to go for nicer resorts, better food, and an overall more upscale experience. Aside from the usual island activities, don't expect an abundance of things to do on Perhentian Besar; grab a book and relax! Snorkeling is better on the northern and eastern sides of the island.

  • Learn more about visiting Perhentian Besar.

Diving in the Perhentian Islands

While both islands share the same excellent sites, the dive operations on Perhentian Kecil are slightly cheaper than those on Perhentian Besar. Daytime fun dives can be as cheap as US $25 each depending on the company and distance to the site; night dives cost around US $40.

Both divers and snorkelers in the Perhentians can enjoy excellent visibility and reefs in good condition. Plenty of reef sharks, barracudas, turtles, and even occasional mantas and whale sharks keep things interesting!

Getting to the Perhentians

The Perhentian Islands are located on the northeast coast of Malaysia, only around 40 miles from the border of Thailand.

Boats to the islands depart from the small town of Kuala Besut. Buses to Kuala Besut from Kuala Lumpur take around nine hours. Alternatively, you can grab a cheap AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Khota Bharu then arrange onward transportation to Kuala Besut.

Unless your resort has agreed to provide transportation to the islands via private/charter boat, you will have to purchase a speedboat ticket in Kuala Besut. The price of the ticket includes return fare so save your ticket. You'll be asked to pay an additional conservation fee at the jetty before departure.

Speedboats to the islands take around 45 minutes; the ride can get rough on choppy seas. Waterproof valuables as sea spray can drench both bags and passengers. If coming into Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil you will need to transfer to a smaller boat while bobbing at sea, then wade ashore in knee-deep water; there is no jetty.

Passengers arriving on the Coral Bay side of Perhentian Kecil can disembark onto a wooden jetty.

When to Visit the Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands are practically shut down during the winter months; it's a bad idea to visit between November and March. Rough seas and very few visitors force many hotels, shops, and restaurants to close up for the year.

 

While you can still charter a boat from Kuala Besut to either island, you may find yourself completely alone -- aside from a handful of permanent residents -- with few options during the rainy winter months.

The peak season in the Perhentian Islands runs between June and August; accommodation can become very expensive and competitive with backpackers even sleeping on the beach or in receptions as they wait for rooms to come open!