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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?