The Perhentian Islands, situated a short boat trip off the north west coast of Malaysia, are a tropical paradise straight off the front of a South East Asian postcard. Boasting coastlines of exfoliating white sand and crystal clear waters, these rustic retreats are steeped in natural beauty, guaranteed to win your island-hopping heart.
Perhentian Besar, the largest of the two islands, has seen a recent rise in tourism contribute to a reputation as the more family focused island with mid-range accommodations popping up on its dazzling shores. But for independent travellers on a budget, the pick of the pair is the small, yet just as perfectly formed, Perhentian Kecil.
Things To Do On Perhentian Kecil
This is the island you dreamed about when you booked that ticket to South East Asia and slung your swimsuit into your backpack. The main strip is Long Beach, a thick, curving carpet of powder-soft sand where all the island action takes place. Several umbrella outfits set up in the day for those that want to laze safely in the glorious sunshine while watching the boats, kayaks and paddle-boarders bob across the glassy waters. Perhentian Kecil is an island that insists you unwind and relax – alternating chilling out on the beach with frolicking in the sparkling sea.
Situated in a marine park (with a small, conservation fee required to enter), these protected waters are ideal for diving and snorkelling with an assortment of tropical fish, sharks and friendly sea turtles just waiting to be discovered. There are a handful of dive centres on Perhentian Kecil offering all manner of courses and packages, including night dives and dive safaris. Quiver Dive Team is an award-winning option.
Snorkelling equipment can be hired for around 10RM (Malaysian ringgit) per day and boat trips to nearby Besar and its adorable turtle hatchery can easily be arranged. D’Lagoon and Turtle Beach are good spots for some snorkelling action but a better option is to arrange a trip to one of the nearby, rocky islands in the marine park such as Pulau Rawa or the site by the old Light house – a structure you can climb and leap off into the sea.
Explore the island and take a wander through the sultry, jungle interior, looking out for monkeys, monitor lizards and curious squirrels. It’s only a short 15-minute stroll to Coral Beach on the other side, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular sunsets that set the sky on fire.
Where To Eat And Drink
As twilight descends, a few simple beach bars set up shop on Long Beach, starting up their sound systems and laying out low, candle-lit tables where you can sip your drinks right on the sand. Alcohol is not always readily available for religious reasons but these bars fill the gap by serving up beers and bottles of spirits to mix into your soft drink – a favourite is the light, vanilla flavoured rum, Orangutan.
There are a trio of no-frills eateries that set up on the sand on Long Beach, all serving relatively simple fare – it’s easy to eat on a budget on Kecil if you are happy to sample local Malay food. Otherwise, if you are willing to splurge a little more, most of the accommodations have restaurants attached where you can dine on delicious seafood BBQs or track down Western home comforts like pizza. Shari La hosts a buffet dinner and there are several tasty, local cafes at the Coral Beach end of the island.
Later, watch the fire dancing shows on the beach and make a few new friends as the drinks flow into the night.
Where To Rest Your Head
Life is simple on Perhentian Kecil and so is the majority of the accommodation despite the odd high-end resort. Options range from dorm bunks to private en-suite rooms with Matahari being a popular budget choice. However, unless you are willing to part with more cash, it is a good idea to get the early boat from Kuala Besut, particularly in high season (June – October) as the budget rooms operate on a first come, first served basis. In this case, the early bird most definitely catches the best digs whilst the late bird could very well end up having to pay a lot more than he bargained for. Or even end up sleeping on the beach.
One thing to bear in mind is bring plenty of cash – there are no ATMs on Perhentian Kecil; you stay until your money runs out and as is the usual case with stunning islands such as this, prices are a little bit steeper than on the mainland.
When To Visit
The best time of year to take advantage of The Perhentians is between April and September, as it can be affected by the eastern monsoon bringing choppy eaters and unsafe swimming conditions. Some accommodation may be open from February, but you won’t find many eateries or bars with their doors open.
The Perhentian Islands’ location lends itself to backpackers looking for a convenient stopover as they pass from Thailand to Malaysia – the name ‘Perhentian’ even means ‘stopping off point’ in Malay.
And after experiencing this idyllic island retreat first-hand, you won’t find it hard to see why some travellers stop off here much longer than intended.
By Alex Saint