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How to Travel the Perhentian Islands

Jade Johnston of, shares her tips on travelling to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia in this travel guest post for

Despite over five years of travel, and over thirty countries visited in that time, the Perhentian Islands marked two of my travel firsts. My first time travelling solo properly, and my first proper beach holiday. I know, shocking.

And like anyone, taking their first shaky steps onto new territory, I fell hard. I made a couple huge mistakes which can be easily avoided, but I also did a few things right.

Travel Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Islands. Malaysia by willposh, on Flickr

Perhentian Island Paradise

The Perhentian islands, although only taking up a page in Lonely Planet’s Malaysia book, are well known on the backpacker route. They are your typical island paradise, with long sunny days, beach parties at night, and great snorkeling and scuba diving activities. Which island you chose to stay on will depend on your budget and your travel lifestyle. Perhentian Besil, the big island, is popular with families and the typical accommodation includes resorts and hotels. Perhentian Kecil, the small island, is backpacker haven. Cheap guesthouses and dorm rooms abound, and a dorm can be obtained for as cheap as 12 ringgit a night. Thats 4 dollars!

The two islands are easily reachable from Kuala Besut by speedboat for 70 ringgit return. Kuala Besut is easily reachable from most main towns in Malaysia by bus, and I reached the town by overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur.

So below are my top 5 tips to make your visit to the Perhentian islands a memorable one. And do take these tips into consideration – as I learned several of them the hard way!

Travel Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Island by karma-police, on Flickr

Top 5 Tips for Travelling to Perhentian

1.  Arrive early to ensure you get a good room

Many of the hostels on Kecil are not available to book online, so most people search out a guest house when they arrive. This is definitely an “early bird gets the worm sort of situation,” and the decent budget rooms disappear quickly. So unless you want to sacrifice your wallet, or sacrifice the luxery of a semi decent toilet facility, try to get there early! I took the 7:30 am boat to Kecil and was lucky to therefore be the first in line for a dorm room in the cheap and very clean Tropicana Inn. Many others were waiting for a dorm room after me, but several ended up being turned away.

Top tip: take the overnight bus to Kuala Besut – that way it will be impossible for you to oversleep and miss the first ferry.

Travel Perhentian Islands

Perhentian Beach by karma-police, on Flickr

2.  Slip, Slop, Slap!

Now I know this is supposed to be common sense, but if you like me (no sense) and don’t want to end up looking like a lobster, then heed this advice. Slip on long sleeves, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat. The sun on the Perhentian islands is extremely strong – and the atmosphere is extremely relaxing. A dangerous combination. Now I don’t ever need to wear sunscreen! I’m half Asian and never burn! Wrong! I ended up burnt to a crisp and having to spend the rest of my time on the Perhentian islands hiding from the sun with a book. The worst part of it – it peeled … making me paler when I got home than when I left.

Top tip – Try not to fall asleep in full sunlight in the mid afternoon!

3.  Snorkel or dive

The Perhentian islands are located in a marine reserve and the water is crystal clear and teeming with marine life. Just from standing on the pier, I was able to see several species of fish. I didn’t go snorkeling due to my having not followed tip #2, but others I spoke to raved about it. Apparently it is rather easy to see small sharks, sea turtles, sting rays, and dozens of brightly coloured fish.

Top tip – Every man, woman, and child seems to run their own diving and snorkelling excursions here, so make sure you spend some time shopping around to get the best deal.

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Perhentian - Underwater by Anan Amri, on Flickr

4.  Coral bay

The main beach on Perhentian Kecil is long beach, and it is therefore lined with guest houses, shops, and restaurants. However, for a slightly less crowded beach and for cheaper eats, take the walking trail across the island (only about 500 meters) to Coral Bay. Also, be aware that the restaurants stop serving food around 7pm or 8pm, so make sure you get your dinner in before it’s too late. (Another mistake I made!)

Top tip – The restaurants in coral bay are almost half the price as those on the main beach.

5.  Bring bug spray

Since I spent most of my time in Malaysia in larger cities, I didn’t really encounter many mosquitoes or insects at all. (note: I wrote this before my last night in Malaysia – the night I got feasted upon by bed bugs!) However, in the Perhentian’s the mosquitoes are about the size of house cats – seriously! When one came at me, I had the same panic reaction as if a pigeon was swooping at my head.

Top tip – it’s better to stock up on your bug spray (and sunscreen as well) on the mainland, as prices are a bit inflated on the island.

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Amazing Sunset on our last night on Besar by The Shifted Librarian, on Flickr

Well, those are my top 5 tips for travelling to the Perhentian Islands – most of them learned the hard way! It’s somewhere I definitely want to revisit – but next time with my sunscreen!

Have you been to the Perhentian islands? What are your greatest tips?

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Vicky says:

Great post. My boyfriend and i plan on spending a few weeks in Malaysia during our backpacking trip and we hadn’t penciled in time on the Perhentian Islands – but maybe that’s worth reconsidering!

Rease says:

I was all about this place until you mentioned the mosquitos! Mosquitos will find me anywhere and devour me, head to toe. I would have to bathe in bug spray to survive.

Rachel says:

Just when I was looking into stuff about the Perhentians… I found this! Thanks for the tips. I plan to go in February.

Si says:

Hi Jade, I can’t believe I missed the Perhentian’s when traveling Asia. I suppose you can’t go everywhere, but another good excuse to return!

I have added the link to The Travel Bloggers Guide to Malaysia I’m developing. I hope you don’t mind? Kind regards, Si

Scott says:

I had never heard of the Perhentians before last year or so, and now they have skyrocketed to the top of my list for my RTW next year! Your post has only added to that and I will bookmark it for the info for sure!

Alex says:

I visited the Perhentian Islands two years ago and they are still some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen! Other suggestion… rent a kayak and find some totally private beaches and DIY snorkeling.

Hey Alex, thats a really great tip!! I only spent two nights there, and you definitely need to spend more time there so you can really explore all the nooks and crannies

Erin says:

We loved the Perhentian Islands. As a couple who likes our beaches empty we preferred Perhentian Besar (and chose the quietest side). We got our advanced diving certificate there and it’s a really affordable place to learn to dive. We even snorkelled with sharks by swimming to Shark Point from our beach. In 10 days we only wore shoes twice to walk through the jungle to the other beach. Our hotel, restaurants and dive shop were all on the beach so we were barefoot all the time!

That sounds amazing! I think next time, if I have a bit more money to burn, I might spend a few quiet nights on Besar, and a few party nights on Kecil.

Claire says:

That is one gorgeous sunset!

I know! I wish I had taken more photos when I was there – but thankfully there are some amazing images of the Perhentian islands on the creative commons

Lavanya says:

Wow! I just trying to find more information on Perhentians when i came across this link on Twitter 🙂
We’re in Langkawi right now and would love to go to Kecil island.. but heard that now may not be a good time with the monsoon season. Do you know anything about it?
Love the post and choice of photos! looks great 🙂

I went to the Perhentians in August and it was hot hot hot! I’m not sure how they are affected during the monsoon season though! Sorry I can’t be more of a help!

Andi says:

WOW it looks gorgeous!!!!!!!!

It is such a BEAUTIFUL place! Definitely check it out if you go to Malaysia!

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