best things to do in the perhentian islands

The Perhentian Islands Travel Guide Malaysia

The Perhentian Islands are a group of islands of fine white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water, and colorful corals. This region is the perfect place if you are looking to chill out, go diving, and snorkel while in Malaysia. This is the location you want to be at the end or beginning of your trip where you can simply relax and get away from the noise and big crowds.  This Perhentian Islands travel guide will help you plan and figure out the best things you can do during your visit here.

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Malaysia Travel Tips

There are five islands that make up Perhentian Islands. The two main ones are Pulau Perhentian Kecil which means “Lesser Perhentian”, this island is smaller in size, (but not by much). The other island is called Pulau Perhentian Besar, the “Greater Perhentian” which is slightly larger in size. There are three other islands in the Perhentian Island Group that are uninhabited.

Visiting the Perhentian Islands tends to be more costly than traveling through the mainland and Sabah, however, the experience and what this destination can offer are worth every penny. Going on a trip here is still remarkably more affordable than visiting islands in Europe or North America.

Where are the Perhentians Islands

The Perhentian Islands are located northwest of Malaysia’s mainland, off the coast of Kampung Raja. The islands are almost at the border between Malaysia and Thailand and are usually visited when heading from Malaysia to Thailand, or Thailand to Malaysia.  Our guide on going from Malaysia to Thailand, from Kota Bharu to Sungai Kolok is here.

Which Perhentian Island is Better?

When choosing which island to spend most of your time in Perhentian Islands, there are some things to consider. Although Besar and Kecil are just a boat ride away from one another, both islands offer a very different vibe. Deciding which island is better for you comes down to what kind of atmosphere you prefer.

Come to Perhentian Kecil for

Kecil is on the Banana Pancake Trail, which means it’s the main choice for backpackers and people traveling on more of a budget in Southeast Asia. This island is slightly smaller and the accommodation tends to be of slightly lower quality, but it has a large social scene and offers amazing nightlife. Although most locations are busy and loud, you can still find a nice and quiet place to read a book or chill out in Kecil.  We stayed on Perhentian Kecil and found quiet spots all over the island.

We didn’t book accommodation before arriving. Big Mistake. But this is what a lot of people do. They rock up, wander up and down the beach to find something, presumably eventually finding something, and then crash. And so we found ourselves, about noon only us and the mad dogs traipsing up and down the beach.

You can of course just turn up and wander up and down and find somewhere when you arrive. And wander around all the spots. Our experience?

The Matahari Chalet was too expensive, their 60 RM rooms have gone, and it was now 140 RM for an air-con room which isn’t that great. We head back along the beach and check out the Lemon Grass, which makes me shudder. Then the next door set of bungalows which has a large pool of stagnant water outside (which just makes me think of Malaria, Dengue, and getting bitten all night), and then head back down the beach trailed by the mad dogs.  (note the mad dogs are in my imagination and are related to the midday sun and Englishmen, we didn’t actually see, hear or spot any in our trip to the Perhentians…)

After more than an hour of wandering around, we found our home at the Panorama Chalets, where for 120 RM (US$28) a night we got a fan-cooled room, with a private bathroom and cold shower.  It’s grungy and it’s expensive but it’s the cheapest we’re could deal with. The others were just too horrid.

There’s electricity (most of the time), there’s the internet (some of the time), and our deal gave us a free meal each per night included in the cost. This place apparently serves the best pizzas on the island so I’m sold. Although the island is small, how hard can it be to have the best pizzas?

perhentian islands guide beach perhentian kecil

Where to Stay in Perhentian Kecil

There are a host of places to stay in Perhentian Kecil – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Perhentian Kecil, mid-range places to stay in Perhentian Kecil, and budget accommodation in Perhentian Kecil.

Bubu Long Beach Resort Perhentian Islan, Perhentian Kecil: The Bubu Resort is ideally located on Perhentian Kecil near the beach. This top-rated Perhentian resort has rooms with an air-conditioner, a balcony, an in-room safety deposit box, a mini-fridge, a coffee/tea maker, free WiFi, and a private bathroom with bathrobes, toiletries, and a hairdryer. The restaurant here, Santai, has a view overlooking the white sands of Long Beach and there’s also a beachside barbeque. Additional eating options at the Bubu Long Beach Resort on Perhentian Kecil include the Work Café where you can enjoy outdoor-dining experiences with Italian and Asian cuisines. This top Perhentian hotel resort also offers spa services, and activities such as snorkeling, hiking, sunset cruise, island hopping, a fishing trip, and, for a little romance, a candle-lit dinner. The Bubu Long Beach Resort is the ideal place for those looking for a relaxing and luxurious stay on Perhentian Kecil. See room rates and availability here.

Villamas Perhentian Resort, Perhentian Kecil: Villamas Perhentian Resort is located right on the beachfront on Perhentian Kecil. The resort’s 25 rooms are equipped with air-conditioning, a seating area, a private bathroom with a shower, a balcony, a fan, and free toiletries. You’ll be able to enjoy the resort’s pool with a view of the island and a buffet breakfast at Bayu. There’s also free WiFi throughout the property. The Villamas Perhentian Resort is a fantastic place to stay when visiting Perhentian Kecil with its relaxing vibes and welcoming atmosphere. Read reviews, check rates, and availability here.

Senja Bay Resort, Perhentian Kecil: The Senja Bay resort is located on the southern corner of Coral Bay in Perhentian Kecil. Selected rooms of this Perhentian Kecil resort have air-conditioning while some have fans, but all rooms have private bathrooms with hot showers, and a spectacular view of the sea. There’s a restaurant here that serves both Western and Asian dishes daily and which also has a big screen for movie viewing at night. Electric kettles, mosquito nets, beach mats, and flashlights can also be provided here. Senja Bay Resort is a super budget-friendly accommodation for travelers visiting Perhentian Kecil. Check rooms and available dates here.

Come to Perhentian Besar for

Besar, the bigger island, has the best, nicer, and most modern resorts and hotels. This island caters to and is more popular with mature crowds such as honeymooners, families, and couples. If you want to avoid a busy social scene, Besar might be more suitable for you as well.

Where to Stay on Perhentian Besar

There are a host of places to stay in Perhentian Besar – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Perhentian Besar, mid-range places to stay in Perhentian Besar, and budget accommodation in Perhentian Besar.

Perhentian Island Resort, Perhentian Besar: The Perhentian Island Resort Besar is located at the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, right at Perhentian Besar. All 106 rooms are equipped with air-conditioning, balcony, a desk, a private bathroom with a shower and hairdryer, an iron/iron board, safety deposit box, a fridge, and complimentary tea. The resort offers guests an indoor and outdoor pool, a tennis court, watersport equipment rentals, karaoke, sauna, and spa services. The Perhentian Island Resort is the perfect place to indulge when visiting Perhentian Besar. Check room rates and availability here.

The Barat Perhentian Resort, Perhentian Besar: The Barat Perhentian Resort is located at the south west coast of Perhentian Besar, reachable through a boat service. Available in both rooms and chalets is air-conditioning, clothes rack, a private bathroom with a shower and hairdryer, in-room safety deposit box, and towels. The resort has a restaurant available for guests to enjoy, along with a coffee shop, and barbeque facilities. The resort also boasts a garden and also a private beach area where they can enjoy soaking up the sun. The Barat Perhentian Resort is a fantastic place to stay in Perhentian Besar. See rates and available dates here.

Samudra Beach Chalet, Perhentian Besar: Samudra Beach Chalet is located at Teluk Dalam on Perhentian Island, specifically at Perhentian Besar. All types of rooms or chalets are furnished with air-conditioning, a closet, a private bathroom with a shower and free toiletries, a clothes rack, and a balcony. The Samudra Beach Chalet is the best budget-friendly accommodation for those visiting Perhentian Besar. Read more reviews, check rates, and available dates here.

Things to do in the Perhentian Islands

There are a plethora of things to do in the Perhentian Islands – both exhilarating and energetic and chilled out. Most of the things to do in the Perhentians are water activities, but there are equally enough recreational activities to keep you busy while on land.

perhentian islands guide beaches perhentians

Diving in the Perhentian Islands

Diving is one thing that you should do while in Perhentian Islands. It’s one of the best locations in Southeast Asia to explore the underwater world with fewer people. Diving in Perhentian Islands is much more affordable than anywhere in the world while offering some of the best corals and various sea creatures that you can see. Whether you are looking to enjoy Southeast Asia’s diverse waters or thinking to get a diving certification, this place is just perfect.

We’d planned originally to dive here, but the remnants of my cold mean that it’s not going to happen, so we’re here to see what it’s like more than anything. If it’s paradise, then it’s similar to the Gili Islands in that paradise means the accommodation is basic and/or expensive. It means that paradise means you can get pizza, a burger, and a tuna sandwich and that there’s always a cold beer within reach, especially at sunset.

it’s partly rainy season here, so the clouds are ominous on an afternoon, and although we don’t get wet, it’s enough to have us heading for cover at the end of the day.

Take a Diving Certification Course

Diving is easily one of the most popular and exciting water activities. Diving means that you can swim with sea turtles and take awesome underwater photos. If you are not a licensed diver yet or planning to get certified, the Perhentian Islands are one of the top places to do it.  (One of the other great places to learn to dive here in the South East Area is Koh Tao and I wrote about it here).

There are three kinds of diving you can do in the Perhentian Islands. There are diving activities for licensed divers, diving for those who plan to get a diving course certificate, and another for people who simply want to explore the marine world, aka tester dives or dive experiences.

By law, scuba diving doesn’t specifically need you to be licensed or have a certificate. This is a diving tour that you can do if you only want to go underwater and see the corals up close. It’s basically snorkeling with a tank and an expert diving instructor. The tour lasts for 2-3 hours and it includes the diving materials, boat, and guide.  You can reserve your place here, they are limited on numbers.

If you want to take it to the next level, go sign up for a PADI open water scuba diving course. This course lasts for 4 days where you will learn the basics and get yourself underwater using professional gear. At the end of the course, you will earn yourself a PADI certificate, which means you’ll get to dive some fabulous places around the world.  Malaysia is one of the cheapest places to get PADI certified, so if you’re thinking about it, book it now!

Snorkeling in the Perhentian Islands

Many beaches of the Perhentian Islands have lovely coral near the coastline and have such crystal clear water where you can simply put on a snorkeling mask or even just a pair of goggles and find different fish from the shore or near the beach.

You can also sign up at your accommodation for a half-day or full-day boat tour where you will be brought to specific places where many fishes, corals, and sea turtles can be found. Another option is to speak directly to local boatmen and hire them to take you to lovely snorkeling spots.  This inclusive deal in the Perhentians includes boat transfer transport from the mainland, sea views, private pools, and snorkeling,

perhentian kecil boat trips

Each place to stay and each dive shop offers snorkeling trips, so steeling ourselves against the memories of the Gili Islands, where 70 of us crowded onto a 40-person capacity boat, we sign up. How bad can it be?

It turns out to be incredible. There are five stops. There are 14 of us on the boat, and the boats are designed for perhaps 20. There are other boats, but not too many. We see multiple turtles, but don’t chase them as our guide did in the Gili’s. There are amazing amounts of brightly colored fish (our guide cum boatman brings bread and they feed from our hands).

We even get to see junior black-tipped sharks and that is amazing. Even if I had an underwater camera, (and this was another oh, we REALLY need one moment ) I wouldn’t have been quick enough to catch them. They are incredibly fast. Update: We now have three underwater cameras.

perhentian islands guide snorkeling trip

And while our final stop is on the beach on the big island, I stay in the water just enjoying the moment and the solitude.

Go Kayaking in the Perhentian Islands

There are locations in the Perhentian Islands where the water is calm and peaceful. Hire a kayak, and go from Coral Bay to Adam and Eve Beach. Perhentian Kecil has the best places for kayaking compared to the busier Perhentian Besar.  Arrange this with your accommodation.

Trekking in the Perhentian Islands

Apart from water activities, you can also enjoy some attractions on land. The most popular is jungle trekking where you can explore the jungles of Malaysia in Perhentian Besar. However, the paths are not well-maintained and often muddy. Remember to bring proper footwear and lots (and lots) of bug repellent. You can also book a tour which comes with a guide to help you get through the thick jungle.

Chill out in the Perhentians

Sometimes, the best thing you can do in Perhentian Islands is simply relax and chill out on the beach or by a pool. These islands have amazing beaches and cater to every kind of visitor. The best beaches in the Perhentian Islands are Long Beach and Coral Bay which are both located on Perhentian Kecil. These two beaches get very busy most time of the day and also in the evening and are great for vibrant nightlife.

perhentian islands guide long beach

On Perhentian Besar, Teluk Pauh and Tuna Bay are popular beaches. Tuna Bay is favored by families with young children. While Teluk Pauh and Flora Bay are two great locations for diving and snorkeling. You can also go to Turtle Beach to find turtles relaxing on the sand and around the coves.

If you are looking for a beach to chill out and away from the crowd, go to Teluk Keke in Besar and Isabelle Beach or Adam and Eve Beach in Kecil. For people couples wanting to be romantic, go to Romantic Beach.

How to Get to the Perhentian Islands

The easiest way to get to Perhentian Islands is to fly to Sultan Mahmud Airport in Kuala Terengganu, then take a bus, minivan, or taxi to Kuala Besut. The journey will take about an hour. From Kuala Besut, you have to get on a boat at Kuala Besut Jetty. The boat leaves every hour between 8 AM to 5 PM from Besut to Perhentian Islands.  You can book your boat transfer here

When leaving Perhentian Island, you will take the same boat back from Perhentian Islands to Besut. However, the boat only leaves 4 times a day, (8 AM, 10 AM, 12 NN, and 4 PM). It’s cheaper to buy your ticket online and then collect it at the jetty port than to buy it on the spot. You can also get a return ticket right away if you know when you want to leave Perhentian Island.

We traveled to the Perhentian Islands from Singapore and you can read about all the different options for getting to the Perhentian Islands here.

Travel Tips for Visiting the Perhentian Islands

To help you plan your visit much easier, here are some tips on what to expect while you are in the Perhentian Islands:

  • Cash is the king on the islands, all transactions are done with cash, and there are no ATMs available on the Perhentian Islands. Some fancier resorts might accept a bank card payment but contact your hotel first to confirm. Remember to bring plenty of cash, if you run out of cash, you will have to take a trip to Kuala Besut.  If you prefer to prebook and prepay your accommodation and transfer, then this is an awesome offering.
  • Alcohol is expensive in Perhentian Islands just like in most places in Malaysia, but more so, as it all has to be shipped in.  Literally. . If you plan to party and drink, bring enough cash with you.
  • Unfortunately, the water on the island is not safe to drink. You can buy bottled water but it’s very expensive. It’s best to bring a water bottle with a filter or you can go to places with an “automatic machine” where you can refill your bottle. You can also boil some water in your hotel room and use water purification tablets.  Read our guide to drinking tap water even when it’s not safe here.
  • Packing a headlamp/headtorch or flashlight with you is essential especially if you want to stay in Kecil. The electricity goes out from 11 PM until the morning, and the route back to your accommodation is usually not easy in the dark!
  • Many accommodations have mosquito nets installed in the room, but not all. Bringing a bug repellent is vital, you can also use plugin citronella or bring your own mosquito net to save yourself from bites!

What’s the Best Time to Visit the Perhentian Islands?

The best time to visit the Perhentian Islands is the months of July and August which are the perfect time for diving and snorkeling. However, those months are also the peak and the busiest season. You can avoid the crowd by coming to the Perhentian Islands from April to June. Avoid the months of November until February which is the typhoon season.

Final Words on the Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Island group is Malaysia’s pride when it comes to the best islands in Southeast Asia. These islands offer spectacular diving spots, easy-to-find snorkeling locations, and a great balance between serenity and cool partying options. It’s a place where backpackers, couples, and family travelers can enjoy an amazing trip without spending too much.

The Perhentians were a pleasant diversion, the snorkeling was superb and the break from the reality that is budget travel in Asia was nice – no buses to deal with, no washing to do, I ate pizza (and it was good pizza) for two nights in a row and I drank 7RM cans of Chang beer sitting on the beach watching the storm clouds. It wasn’t paradise, but the more I see beach paradises, the more I think my paradise is a mountain somewhere with lakes, trees, and endless skies. And that means we either need to go back to Nepal. Enough dreaming.. next stop is up the coast, Kota Bharu, where World War II started in the Pacific, the site of the first Japanese landing.

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