Top Tips for Visiting The Perhentian Islands in Malaysia
Understanding the Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands, off the western coast of mainland Malaysia are a group of tropical islands in the South China Sea. The Perhentian Islands consist of two main islands and a number of smaller islands The two main islands, frequented by travellers and holiday makers, are Perhentian Besar (translated as 'big island') and Perhentian Kecil (translated as 'small island'). Perhentian Besar has more in the way of luxury accommodation whereas Perhentian Kecil has a more laid-back, bare-bones, rustic feel. That's not to say that Perhentian Kecil doesn't have good accommodation - it certainly does - but it is more appealing to backpackers and travellers on a smaller budget.
Getting to the Perhentian Islands
You can get to either of the Perhentian islands from the small port town of Kuala Besut. Boats from Kuala Besut start from around 7am (or once the boat is full) and cost around 70 Malaysian Ringitt for a return ticket. Most of these boats go to both Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar. The boats are speedboats and the journey is fast and relatively pleasant. Rest assured there is a cafe at Kuala Besut so you can get your cafeine fix to help you with the early start. I really recommend getting there as early as possible as most of the accommodation on Perhentian Kecil operates on a first come first served basis. Getting there in the first wave of the day will boost your chances of finding somewhere good to stay.
Where to Stay on Perhentian Kecil
My girlfriend and I stayed in the Matahari Chalets on the island of Perhentian Kecil, which is accessed almost directly opposite from where the boat lands on the beach. Accommodation on Perhentian Kecil is more expensive compared to Perhentian Besar and the rest of Malaysia, but then this is just a natural product of capitalism ie less choice means less competition means higher price. Matahari Chalets provided good value for money but if you stay there then I would recommend taking one of the huts furthest away from the beach. I say this for good reason as there is a bar on the beach situated close to Matahari that has a live band doing covers of British and American pop/rock songs into the early hours of the morning and they are LOUD!
If you aren't backpacking and you have a little bit more money available then I would recommend Bubu at the far end of the beach. This is Perhentian Kecil's premier accommodation and comes at a price! But beware, no matter how much you pay you're always going to have a at least of couple of additional non-paying room buddies in the form of geckos!
What to do on Perhentian Kecil
There are a few things you can do on Perhentian Kecil. Most people just come to the Perhentian Islands to lie on the beach and float around in the sea by day and party at night. But the beach is full of tour operators offering various activities. Activities include snorkeling trips where you can go and swim with shorks and turtles and see literally millions of colourful fish and awesome, pristine coral. There's banana boat rides, jet-skiing and of course scuba diving. The Perhentian Islands is also one of the best places in Southeast Asia for diving. There are several dive centres operating along the main beach (known as Long Beach) of Perhentian Kecil and all of them have a decent reputation. A dive course here is amongst the cheapest available throughout the whole of South-east Asia.
If you're feeling energetic and adventurous you could try taking a walk around the whole island of Perhentian Kecil. It will take a good few hours but it is possible. Just be sure to take plenty of water and don't take any valuables with you. You may have to swim around some sections. I got about four fifths of the way around the island and then came up against a near-sheer cliff face that I had to swim around. Unfortunately, I had my camera with me and didn't want to get it wet. However, I was sweating that much that the camera got wet through anyway and I had to buy a new one when I got to Kuala Lumpur.
Eating and Drinking at Perhentian Kecil
Long beach is lined with many bars and restaurants. Perhentian Kecil has plenty of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they are all reasonably priced and the food is good. Over on Perhentian Besar there is slightly less choice as your mainly limited to eating at your hotel or at another hotel. At breakfast time I'd recommend the pancakes with banana and chocolate and a nice tall glass of hot Malaysian coffee. Or if you want something a little less heavy the fresh fruit salads are excellent.
For lunch, you're likely to find sandwiches, fried rice and fried noodles dishes. Not particularly exciting fare but enough to tide you over until dinner. Then at dinnertime you can be really spoiled and try the best that the Perhentian Islands has to offer. Most of the restaurants will have a bbq or outdoor charcoal grill where you can order fresh fish cooked to your requirements. The food is excellent and there is a fantastic, romantic atmosphere down on the beach as the sun goes down.
Most of the restaurants on the Perhentian Islands don't sell alcohol and neither do the limited number of shops. For this you need to find one of the guys selling beers and monkey juice (blended spirits) out of ice boxes on the beach. Expect to about 5 or 6RM for a beer and 18RM for a small bottle of Monkey Juice.
Perhentian Island Burgers
Late in the evening there's nothing better than grabbing a burger from the little burger shack on Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil. These burgers are seriously fantastic and cost only 5RM each. Just grab a beer, grab a burger and sit on the beach listening to the sound of the ocean (and the annoying covers band somewhere off in the distance) and you'll appreciate that you are actually in paradise.
Monitor Lizards at Perhentian Kecil
One thing that you will quickly notice on Perhentian Kecil, and you'll quickly get used to, are the huge Monitor Lizards that freely roam around the place. They don't tend to come down onto the beach but you will probably see them roaming around the grounds of the chalets and bungalows, especially if you stay at Matahari Chalets. Upon seeing them for the first time one could understandably be a little unnerved, however they are so used to seeing humans that they will just saunter on past without even paying any attention to you. It's possible to get close enough to get your photo taken with them but you still shouldn't get too close as they are still wild animals and should be respected as such.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Matt Doran