This is our guide to this tropical paradise – The Perhentian Islands
Clear skies and warm crystal blue waters. Diving is a must here!
The Perhentian Islands (Pulau Perhentian) are situated on the North East coast of Malaysia. Two inhabited islands make it up – Besar, which is the big island and caters more for families and Kecil, which is the smaller island, slightly cheaper than Besar.
We decided to go to Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil. We stayed there for 5 nights in total, which gave Andrew time to complete his PADI Open Water Scuba qualification.
How did we get to the Perhentian Islands?
I had pre-booked an Airasia flight from KL to Kuala Terengganu back in December when they had a promotion. Flights for me and Andrew amounted to £15.50 per person, which also included 20kg of luggage. The flight was not stressful at all and the whole journey lasted 35 minutes (we arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule). They often do special offers at Airasia so go and have a look.
Terengganu is the nearest town and gateway to the Perhentians. From there we took a taxi (120RM) to the Kuala Besut jetty (it was our only option!!) There are no buses that go directly to Kuala Besut. If you can gather a few people to travel to the jetty at the same time you can divide the 120RM up but unfortunately there were not any other backpackers at that time!
The cost of the jetty is 70RM per person return and takes roughly 45 minutes to reach the Perhentians.
Top tip: Before you leave the jetty, ask for directions for the supermarket. If you want to get some food for the journey you can do this here. The walk is roughly 10-15 minutes. You can also use the ATM at the front to withdraw money as there are no ATM’s or money exchangers on the island. Most dive centers and the bigger restaurants will accept credit/debit cards but they may apply a 6% charge (to cover GST) on top.
What is accommodation like?
This is the first time neither me nor Andrew had pre-booked accommodation. The reason being most of the places did not accept bookings on Coral Bay (Perhentian Kecil), only the very higher end accommodation and chalets took bookings. We just decided to rock up with our backpacks and hope for the best. It was lucky we arrived during the weekday because after asking a few chalets on the beach, they were fully booked. If you arrive at the weekends, you will also be fighting for accommodation with the locals, who come to the island for a weekend break.
There’s a variety of hostels and hotels on Coral Bay all dotted along the beach. We just went into each and asked for the price. Rooms started from 50RM, the larger resorts and chalets were more expensive with prices starting from 100RM for a fan room and 150 for a room with air-con. We decided to stay with Aur Bay Chalets because it was the only accommodation available for 4 days straight. The room was basic with a double bed and attached bathroom. You have to take it with a pinch of salt and whilst I am not very fussy the toilet didn’t flush and the fan was next to useless. There we no electricity points to charge our gear but you can charge at the reception. The room was close to the beach front and dive centre and that’s what we were mainly after.
Top tip: When you ask for the price of the room, ask if you can have a look at the room so you can fully understand what you are paying for. They are used to this so don’t be shy.
What are the main attractions?
Beginners → This is a great place for divers including those that want to learn. The waters are crystal clear, warm and teaming with life. For beginners you don’t have to dive that deep to see the life under the sea. Andrew completed his PADI Open Water Dive qualification at Quiver Dive Centre, you can read about it here. It was 950RM for the course, which is roughly £173!
Divers → There are plenty of dive sites here. Pinnacles (Temple – Tolong Laut), wrecks (Police wreck, Vietnamese wreck). They are all boat dives and take approximately 10-15 minutes to get to. Most dives are around 70RM to 90RM depending how far out the dive site is.
On my first dive at Temple (a pinnacle) I saw almost everything – pufferfish, triggerfish, stingrays, bamboo sharks, boxfish and a turtle. The other dives after that were overshadowed by such an awesome dive.
If you haven’t planned to go diving you could go and have a snorkel. There are snorkelling trips that you can go on as a group and they take you to the different points on the islands – Turtle point, where you may get a glimpse of a turtle, D’Lagoon, Rawa Island, Shark Point etc.
- Water Sports
You can rent banana boats, donut boats and kayak/canoe around the island. Take your time to enjoy the view and relax.
On Long Beach, the other side to Coral Bay on Kecil, you can sunbathe to your heart’s content. The parasols were 10RM to rent and the whole stretch is covered with sunbathers.
- Fishing Trips
If you fancy doing some sea fishing then the locals can take you out. The trip that we saw was 350RM for half a day but they required 4 people to make it worthwhile.
- Visit the other islands
We did go to Perhentian Island Resort and then walked to Turtle Point. We then got a water taxi to the Fishing Village. It was great to see the how the locals lived and we had some amazing chicken lemongrass here.
How do I get around?
To get around you need to use the the water taxis. Don’t worry there are plenty of people who will come up to you and offer you a ride. Check the prices before but the are mostly the same. However we did find some prices were cheaper depending on which side of the island you were, for example we saved 30 ringits between us by just walking 10 minutes to side of the island closest to where we wanted to go.
Food is great and there are restaurants serving local and western food. Prices vary but you can check the menus out beforehand. Please note there aren’t many places serving alcohol on either islands.
The only place we found that accepted credit card was Ombak, which also happened to be the most expensive place to eat.
Of course, with it being an island there is plenty of sea food to choose from, one of our favourite dishes was a claypot cooked soup with seafood or chicken – lots of local flavours.
We came to the Perhentian Islands so Andrew could get his diver certification. He has now got it and so we can go scuba diving together in the future!!
The island is a definitely a good place to relax, soak up the sun and have some fun in the water. Even with all our diving included (5 dives) we were still within budget (okay, Andrew’s course was my Christmas present to him – so that was not included).
Our next stop is Taman Negara a rainforest that is 130 million years old in Malaysia.