Perhentian Kecil, an island off the east coast of Malaysia is a must visit when you are in South East Asia. Why? Because the island is simply stunning with a beautiful beach, a crystal clear sea, beautiful corals, a few chalets, a few local restaurants / bars, some wooden huts and it’s not overcrowded.
Perhentian, the two islands
The Perhentian Islands are composed of two islands, Perhentian Kecil (small) and Perhentian Besar (big). Kecil is considered as the island for the travelers, whereby Besar is more suitable for families as it is more resort like. Kecil Island is probably what Koh Phi Phi (Thailand) and Koh Rong (Cambodia) were before it became very busy with travelers and tourists. There isn’t electricity (only a generator which runs from 10pm till 6am), but that makes the experience of being on a secluded island even better. We haven’t been to Besar island, as we are not into resort kind of holidays. That’s why you will find more detailed information of Perhentian Kecil in this post.
Long Beach & Coral Bay
There are 2 main beaches on Perhentian Kecil, separated with a small dirt road. The island is that small that you can walk from Long Beach to Coral Bay, which is on the other side of the island in 15 minutes. Long Beach is the beach where most of the travelers stay. It is where in the evening the beach parties are and where you can find budget chalets. Coral Bay seems to be a bit more suitable for people who want to stay in the quiet area and can afford the slightly more expensive chalets. You can find plenty of local restaurants, dive and snorkel shops on both beaches.
Snorkeling on Perhentian
The Perhentians, are perfect for snorkeling. The water is crystal clear and the corals are very colourful. There are a few operators on both beaches which sell snorkeling tours (MYR50 per person ($12.50) I really recommend that you do do it. During the tour they will take you in a small boat (max 8 people) to a few snorkel spots; Turtle Bay, Shark Point, Coral Garden, Romantic Beach etc. Guaranteed that you will see sea turtles and small reef sharks!
Diving on Perhentian
The Perhentian Islands offers excellent diving. In addition to a lot of fish and color full corals, the Perhentians are also home for sea turtles and many species of sharks. The visibility is often 30 meters and no wet suit is required. Besides that, diving on the Perhentians is one of the cheapest in the world. A dive will only costs you MYR80 ($18.00) and if you do multiple dives it will be even cheaper. The island is also perfect for getting your PADI Open Water as it is very cheap, MYR1000 ($235.00) including accommodation, and the dive sites are beautiful and easy. Dive shops we recommend are: Panorama Divers, Turtle Bay Divers and Matahari Divers I have been diving with all 3 of them and the price / quality is very good.
Where to eat and party
The island has plenty of small restaurants where they sell local and European food. It is slightly more expensive than the mainland as they have to transport everything by boat. When you are there, defenitely try the fresh grilled fish from the barbecue! Keep in mind that the restaurants won’t sell any alcohol as they are all owned by Muslims. The small bars that are dotted around on Long Beach do sell beer, liquor and monkey juice (locally brewed) till 3am. The beach parties on Long Beach are a lot of fun and perfect to meet other travellers.
Where to stay on Perhentian
On Perhentian Kecil, it is not possible to book any budget accomodation in advanced if you don’t book any dive course / package. If you decide to just show up on the island (what most travelers do), you should try to arrive with one of the first boats so you have the best chance on finding a cheap place to stay. Most of the accomodation on the island is basic chalets with just a bed, a mosquito net and a shared bathroom with cold showers. There are a few dorms but most of the time they are used for the dive packages. The chalets will costs you MYR40 – MYR150 per night and most chalets reqruire a minimum stay of 3 nights in the months July and August. If you are traveling alone, try to find someone who you can share the room with or book in advanced a dorm bed with the diveshop (incl. dive package).
We stayed at the Lemongrass chalets, located on the far left of Long Beach (left when you stand with you back to the sea). Basic chalets with a nice view, balcony with hammock and an affordable price. The bathrooms are shared and it has cold showers.
How to get there?
The best way is getting an overnight bus from either Penang or Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut, which will take you 9 hours. The buses are comfortable and you will save money on accommodation. Also you will be able to catch the first boat to the island at 7am, this will make it easier to find the cheapest / best spots on the island to stay. You can book your bus tickets online on the following websites:
Another option is to fly to the nearest airport Kota Bharu and take a shuttle bus from there to Kuala Besut. Air Asia flights are sometimes as cheap as MYR40 ($10). Keep in mind that the last boat to the island leaves at 4.30pm. You can also take a shuttle bus from Taman Negara or Cameron Highlands, most tour offices in those areas sell transfer to Perhentian including boat.
Speed boats from Kuala Besut to the Island operate between 9:00am and 4:30pm with no fixed departure times but they could leave as soon as there are enough passengers. For the return journey, the speed boats are scheduled to leave the Island thrice daily at 8:00am, 12:00 noon and 4:00pm.
What are the costs?
- Return ticket boat: MYR70 ($16.50)
- Chalet: MYR40 – 150 a night ($9.50 – $35.50)
- Night bus: MYR60 ($14.00)
- Diving: MYR80 per dive ($19.00)
- PADI Open Water course: MYR1000 incl. accom ($235.00)
- Beer: MYR10 per can ($2.50)
- Monkey Juice: MYR25 per bottle (350 ml) ($6.00)
- Local meal: MYR10 – 25 ($2.50 – $ 6.00)
When is the best time to go?
The Perhentians are only open for visitors between March – October, as the monsoon makes it impossible for boats to reach the island. The best months for diving are April, May and June. The visability will be the best in these months. Try to avoid traveling to Perhentian Island on Hari Raya (the Muslim festival after the fasting), as most of the restaurants will be closed due to family visits.
Top 10 tips & tricks
- Try to catch the first boat, as it will give you a better chance to find the best / cheapest chalets.
- Want to guarentee your accomodation on the island before you arrive? Book a dive course, the accomodation will be included.
- Defenitely go to see the sunset on Coral Bay.
- Skinny dipping after the beach party may seem a good idea, but never ever leave your belongings on the beach (heard many cases from people who went for a swim and all their stuff got stolen incl. clothes).
- Bring enough cash with you as the island doesn’t have an ATM and you won’t be able to pay with your card in the dive shops.
- If you are an AOW diver, defenitely go diving at the Sugar Wreck.
- Go sea kayakking, there are plenty of small secluded beaches around to visit.
- Get you quality beach time!
- Join the fire and beach parties on Longbeach.
- Bring your own alcohol!