Perhentian Islands Malaysia travel guide

Coral Beach

The magical Perhentian Islands hold enough charm to attract hordes of both budget and luxury travellers to their sparkling shores. Although lacking any cultural sights as uninhabited for decades, there is more than enough brilliant white sand and clear tranquil water to warrant staying for many weeks. Plus there are fabulous options for exploring the breathtaking underwater world.

Visiting the Perhentian Islands from Kuala Lumpur

Lying 20kms off the eastern coast of Malaysia by the Thai border, these former ’stopping points’ for resting merchants only really came into their own in the last few decades of the 20th century when the first tourists arrived.

Their rise to notoriety has been nothing short of meteoric with thousands of travellers now arriving every year in search of sun, sea and seclusion. Large resorts have been developed to accommodate the influx although there are still a refreshing array of budget options as well.

Teardrop-shaped Pulau Perhentian Kecil is the smaller of the two islands and is known for it’s party atmosphere (be under no illusions – this is no Ibiza) and cheap backpacker rooms. The large-scale luxury resorts are situated on the larger island of Pulau Perhentian Besir, but there’s also a decent range of budget A-frames and shacks as well. But after dinner everything pretty much grinds to a halt and there’s no discernible nightlife of any sort.

Life on the Perhentians is pretty sleepy with nothing much to do except frolic on the sand and dip into the clear blue water with a snorkel to catch a glimpse of the exotic marine life. Be aware that this is still a Islamic society and so bikinis should not be worn outside beach areas and topless sunbathing is prohibited. Scuba diving is extremely popular with great value PADI Open Water courses for beginners and attractive wreck and night dives for the more experienced enthusiasts.

Many people fall in love with the fantastic choice of grilled seafood and spicy Malay curries in on offer in the Perhentian Islands. Many restaurants which cater specifically for tourists put display large menus packed full of Western dishes such as burgers and sandwiches. These can be hit and miss but the local food is always top notch. In the large resorts there are international restaurants offering everything from wood fire oven-baked pizza to sushi. Perhentian Kecil is where all of the admittedly limited nightlife is located.

Getting to the Perhentian Islands can be relatively easy if you are prepared to shell out for private transfers. Most of the large hotels will arrange this, otherwise visitors must find their way to the port at Kuala Besut which has regular speedboat connections with a variety of companies. There is an airport in Kota Bharu which is situated 45 kms from the jetty.