This post most likely contains affiliate links to things such as tours, transport, accommodation, products & amazon associate links. I may receive a small commission if you use the links which costs you no extra, but helps keep this blog going.
The Perhentian Islands are 2 islands on the North Eastern Coast of Malaysia and if you have an image of what Malaysia is like in your mind, you probably won’t think of these islands or any of Malaysia’s Eastern Islands of Paradise!
The word ‘Perhentian’ means ‘stopping point’ referring to the islands traditional role as a middle point between Bangkok and Malaysia. I was first told that I HAD to go to the Perhentian Islands by a friend of a friend in 2013 and since then these Malaysian Islands have been on my list to visit. I finally made it and stayed on the small Perhentian Island also known as Perhentian Kecil and I was not disappointed!
I’m sure these islands would have been better 6 years ago and a lot more untouched, but in 2019 they are still looking good and still a slice of paradise in South East Asia that not many travellers and backpackers actually visit!
Although there are 2 Perhentian Islands, the big one (Perhentian Besar) and the small one (Perhentian Kecil), I stayed on the small one as it’s known to be the more backpacker and traveller island whereas the big one is known for holiday makers and families with more resorts and big hotels.
I didn’t visit the big island at all apart from on the boat when dropping passengers off from the mainland so I can’t give you any judgements of that island and therefore this blog post is mainly based around the small island as that’s where I spent 5 days!
However, in terms of the information below like how to get to the Perhentian Islands, things to do in the Perhentian islands and important things to note before coming to the Perhentian Islands, this will apply to the big island too!
So let’s get into it, this is what you need to know if and when you visit the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia!
There are 2 islands, the big island called Perhentian Besar and the small island called Perhentian Kecil.
The Perhentian Islands are open from March until October and most of the accommodation is shut the rest of the year due to the weather with the exception of a few bigger resorts.
March and October are known as the low seasons. (Note, I visited early March and everything was fully open so arriving then is ok.)
April to September is high season.
There are no ATM’s on the Perhentian Islands so you need to bring enough cash with you from the mainland and card is not a popular way to pay. If you get stuck though some hotels offer cash advances via card.
There is very limited wifi available (on the small island anyway) and when there is wifi it’s not very strong. My mobile data barely worked on my Malaysian Sim so be prepared for no or limited internet.
Be prepared to see huge Dragon Lizards! This is your warning! They are not dangerous and more scared of you but you’ll probably jump when you first see them!
The only entry to the Perhentian Islands is via boat from Kuala Besut.
Once you’ve arrived, you probably won’t want to leave so give yourself a few extra days to enjoy the islands!
To SEE the Perhentian Islands and my Trip there, have a watch of this YouTube video:
Firstly you need to get yourself to Kuala Besut as this is the main port to the Perhentian Islands.
Kuala Besut is a small port village with nothing much to do however it does have a few hotels if you need a nights accommodation, a few restaurants, a 7/11 shop, bus station and of course the boat terminal.
Getting to Kuala Besut by Bus:
From Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut you can get a day bus or an overnight bus, the journey takes abut 9 hours.
From the Cameron Highlands to Kuala Besut you get a mini bus which takes about 5 hours. I can’t see one online but this will be bookable in the Cameron Highlands.
From Georgetown Penang to Kuala Besut you get a day bus leaving Penang in the morning. I got the 9:00am bus, we were meant to get to Kuala Besut at 16:00 but didn’t get there until 18:30.
I booked my buses on 12GO Asia which offers all the buses available so I’d recommend using them and booking in advance.
Getting to Kuala Besut by Plane:
The nearest and most main domestic airport to the Perhentian Islands is Kota Bharu so getting a flight from Kuala Lumpur or Penang is a popular way to get to the Perhentian Islands and back. Once at the airport there are minibus transfers to the jetty and from the jetty back to the airport.
Internal flights in Malaysia and around South East Asia can be quite cheap when booked in advance, have a look at flights to the Perhentian Islands here on Skyscanner.
Boat from Kuala Besut to Perhentian Islands:
The boats start from 8:00am officially over to the Perhentian Islands although I was offered a ticket for 7:00am too. They run pretty regularly all day although boats at 8:00am, 9:00am and 5:30pm are definite from what I saw. The rest depend on how many people there are to fill the boat and you may need to wait for a bit.
The boat costs 70RM for a return journey plus a 30RM Conversation Fee and this applies to both Perhentian Islands. When you get on you tell them which island and which beach you want to go to and they stop there for you.
The last boat from Kuala Besut to the Perhentian Islands is at 5:30pm. If you miss this you have to stay in the town of Kuala Besut, this is what I did and to be honest it was actually the better option. Kuala Besut town is just a 10 minute walk from the bus station (you really don’t need to get a taxi). There are a few hotels in the centre which you can walk into and ask for a room without booking in advance, or you can book a hotel online here.
Staying in Kuala Besut overnight meant I could arrive on the islands fresh the next day and look for accommodation first thing in the morning rather than late at night as it was getting dark so I would recommend this option to you too if you arrive late.
To leave the islands there are boats at 8:00am, 12:00 and 4:00pm from the big and small island. Get to the jetty 15 minutes early and remember to keep hold of your return ticket.
Buses leaving Kuala Besut.
Give yourself about 45 minutes to get back to Kuala Besut as the boat needs to go around both islands and pick everyone up.
Buses to Kuala Lumpur and Penang leave in the morning and in the evening. I managed to get the boat at 8:00am and make the bus for 9:00am because the boat went straight to the mainland, sometimes it can go to other islands first so passengers don’t make the 9:00am bus in time.
Getting an overnight bus to Kuala Lumpur from the Perhentian Islands is a very popular journey.
The best thing is to check 12GO in advance so you know the times of the buses and book it once you are on the island or turn up at the bus station and see what is available.
Related Post: How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Perhentian Islands?
Got 2 Weeks to spend in Malaysia? Here’s a great 2 Week Malaysia Itinerary!
If you’re reading this you may have noticed that there is not much accommodation available online for the Perhentian Islands and especially budget accommodation if you are backpacking Malaysia like me.
There is lots of accommodation on the islands though. In fact I ended up writing so much about the accommodation I have created a separate post for the best accommodation on the Perhentian Islands which you can read here!
Like many remote islands there is not a huge amount to do on the Perhentian Islands except enjoy Island life in the water and on the land. Here are the best activities on the Perhentian Islands that you can do:
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving are the two most popular things to do on the Perhentian Islands, one because the water is incredible and full of marine life and also because of the prices! The Perhentian Islands are one of the cheapest places in the world to dive and certainly the cheapest place to scuba dive in South East Asia!
There are so many dive sites between the small and big Perhentian Island with just as many dive schools too. I dived with Anti Gravity Divers on Coral Beach who I really recommend, they are a cool team of foreigners and their school, boat and equipment was all at a very high standard. There are also many more dive schools with local and foreign teachers.
On the Perhentian Islands you can get a diving qualification like your Open Water Certification, you can do a First Time Dive, or you can do Fun Dives if you already have a certificate.
To SEE the Perhentian Islands and my Trip there, have a watch of this YouTube video!
You can read more about the prices and the cost of visiting the Perhentian Islands in this post, however so you have an idea of how much it costs to dive on the Perhentian Islands, here are the costs at Anti Gravity and the other dive schools will be very similar if not the exact same:
Try Dive – 250RM
Refresher Dive -120RM
One Dive – 90RM
2-3 Dives – 85RM (and then it goes down in price even more)
Open Water Certificate – 1150RM
Advanced Open Water Certificate – 1050RM
Cheap right?? In fact, it’s cheaper to dive on Perhentian Islands than spend one night there on accommodation which doesn’t happen in many, if any, other places in the world!
Snorkelling trips are also very popular and a great way to see the islands and the marine life.
There are 2 main snorkelling options on offer which are sold at stands all over the beaches. A short trip visiting 3 spots for 30RM for 3 hours and a long trip visiting 6 spots for 40RM for 6 hours. I went on the short trip which visits Turtle Point, Shark Point and Coral Point. We saw a turtle, we saw reef tip sharks and lots of coral and fish so I 100% recommend going out snorkelling on the Perhentian Islands as you don’t often get promised turtles and sharks and see them in many places in South East Asia!
The same stands that sell snorkelling trips also offer Fishing Trips for a few hours.
If you want to get a boat to another beach, perhaps one of the beaches that can only be accessed by boat, there are lots of taxi boats ready to take you to beaches on both the big and small island and the costs vary depending on the distance and length of time.
On the small island aka Perhentian Kecil there is a viewpoint which is pretty cool and from the top you can see just how blue the ocean is. There is a track from the pier end of Long Beach which takes you to the top, it is quite steep and the path is not paved but it isn’t too hard and can be done in flip flops!
On the big island a popular thing to do is a jungle trek, this is something that I did not see offered on the small island because the tracks are all walkable without a guide however the big island is much bigger with more jungle to see!
Finally, like any good island, there is plenty of beach hopping available on both islands!
What I loved about the small Perhentian Island is how many beaches you can visit and how easy they are to visit, you do not need to stay on the beach you have accommodation on or near.
The 2 main beaches on the small Perhentian Island are Coral Beach and Long Beach, these are both really beaches.
Coral Beach has lots of Coral (surprise surprise), so it’s really good for snorkelling if you have your own equipment or you can hire some for the day. However this makes it not so great for normal swimming and it’s relatively calm with no waves. However Long Beach has no coral, crystal clear water and waves which makes it much better for swimming and cooling off!
Aside from this there are other smaller beaches you can walk too if you don’t want to get a taxi boat.
From Coral Beach you can walk about 20 minutes to Mira Beach (also known as Keranji Beach), this was my favourite find of my time on the Perhentian Islands and think it must be the best beach because Mira Beach is total Paradise!! On the track you come upon Rainforest Beach first which is ok and then Mira Beach.
Mira Beach has a few huts with accommodation and a really good cafe so you can spend the day there. The beach is pure white sand and the water is crystal clear. It was also really quiet when I went, a bit of a hidden gem! Further a long is Petani Beach. Half of this beach has a resort on so feels more built up but the other half just has a small beach house and feels much more authentic.
Other beaches you can walk to on Perhentian Kecil are Golden Sand Beach, Adam and Eve Beach, Turtle Beach and D’Lagoon. The beaches in the Northern Part of the island require you to walk up towards the viewpoint and back down again so be prepared for a harder, longer and steeper walk.
The paths along side the cliff are a bit up and down but not too hard to walk.
Romantic beach is also one of the best beaches on Perhentian Kecil but you need to get a taxi boat there!
From my research and from speaking to a fellow traveller, the best beaches on the Big Perhentian Island, also known as Perhentian Besar are Turtle Beach, PIR Beach, Teluk KK and Bubble Beach which you could visit on a day trip from Perhentian Kecil via taxi boat.
Coral Beach and Long Beach both have a cafes and restaurants open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The choice is quite limited once you’ve stayed there for a few days but it’s enough and they each have big menus offering Local and Western food. The smaller beaches tend to have at least one cafe attached to them too so if you go on a walk you’ll be able to find lunch and a drink during the day at them.
To see how much the food cost on the Perhentian Islands, have a look at this post.
Come evening the beaches offer BBQ’s of meats, fish, rice, potatoes etc in addition to their normal menu and there’s a really relaxed atmosphere on the beach.
Coral Beach is very quiet at night, or at least it was in March. Long Beach is where you want to be if you want some drinks, a later night and more of a party atmosphere. I saw parties advertised on signs along the jungle path at Long Beach for Ab’bas and Panorama however don’t expect a big party beach like in Thailand. The Perhentian Islands are not known for their parties, it’s more of a chilled out vibe!
All of the food I ate on Coral Beach was good but one place I really recommend is Fatima Cafe for their Roti’s, they say they serve the best Roti’s on the island and they really do!
I wrote a post about the do’s and don’ts of packing for South East Asia which applies for the Perhentian Islands. This Thailand packing list will also apply as it’s a similar feel and the same climate as Thailand. However the one thing I will tell you to pack for the Perhentian Islands is – Mosquito Spray!
I really enjoyed my stay on the Perhentian Islands and I am glad I finally made it. It was out of my way going from Georgetown and then down to Kuala Lumpur afterwards and I was worried about the accommodation situation because I couldn’t see any online but it was totally worth it. I didn’t know how long I would stay for and ended up staying 5 days and nights which was a nice amount of time.
I’ve seen a lot of the islands in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines and although the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia felt similar they also felt very different and unique too.
The water is Perhentian Islands biggest asset in my opinion, it really is crystal clear, turquoise blue and full of marine life around both islands and although they have issues in terms of rubbish like all islands do most of what I saw was very clean and well looked after.
Although the Perhentian Islands are close to Thailand they don’t feel like Thailand at all. They feel much less visited and affected by mass tourism and still how they did many years ago (at least Coral Beach on the small island feels this way) and sitting on my balcony at Butterfly Chalet looking over the perfectly blue water and quiet beach (I’m literally looking at that as I type this), I feel like i’ve come across a slice of Paradise in South East Asia and Malaysia that get’s missed by many other travellers and backpackers around South East Asia and I’m glad I found it.
To SEE the Perhentian Islands and my Trip there, have a watch of this YouTube video!
I hope this is enough to convince you you should go to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia, helps you decide which Perhentian Island to visit and gives you all the information you need to help you plan your visit to the Perhentian Islands!
For more posts on the Islands and Malaysia see:
This post contains affiliate links but at no extra cost to you.
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!
JANUARY-MARCH: INDIA FOR MY GROUP TOURS!
If you want to join or read more about the details of the group tour.