Perhentian Islands Guide: Explore Malaysia's Beach Paradise
The Perhentian Islands was one of our favorite places from our time in Malaysia! There’s nothing like taking a few days off the grid and enjoying some time in the sun. These islands are up there on our favorite things we’ve done in our year of travel in Southeast Asia.
There are two main islands: Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar. Kecil is a bit more crowded and generally cheaper, while Besar is a little quieter and more spread out. We stayed on Perhentian Kecil when we visited.
Check out the video from our visit:
How to get to the Perhentian Islands
The only way to get to the Perhentian Islands is via public speedboat from Kuala Besut, the closest town on the mainland. To get to Kuala Besut:
By bus: it is easy to get to Kuala Besut by bus from almost anywhere in Malaysia (including Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Langkawi) quite cheaply. The bus station is a 20 minute walk or very short car ride from the bus station. When you get off the bus, you can buy a ferry ticket which includes free transfer to the ferry terminal.
By plane: you can fly to neighboring Kota Bharu and take a local bus, taxi, or shared van to Kuala Besut.
The boat costs 70 RM per person, round trip, and runs between 8am and 4-5pm every day. We read prior to our visit that it runs every two hours, but our speedboat left at 7am as soon as it was full.
What to do in the Perhentian Islands
Windmill hike: on Perhentian Kecil, there’s a hike that takes you past the windmills and solar panels that power most of the island. You then descend a broken staircase down to a beautiful secluded beach. To get there, head down the path between Long Beach and Coral Bay and head north near Tropicana Inn (see it on the map →). It took us about an hour to get all the way to the beach. Be sure to bring some water and sunscreen!
Watch sunset at Coral Bay: the best sunset view is from the west side of Perhentian Kecil. You can chill on the hammocks or enjoy a drink at one of the cafes on the beach. It’s beautiful when it’s not cloudy!
Chill on the beach: head to Perhentian Besar for large, uncrowded beaches.
Snorkeling trip: there’s a three-stop snorkeling trip offered pretty much anywhere you go. You’ll see a nice coral reef and then Shark Point where we saw several cute blacktip reef sharks and Turtle Point where there was a single lone turtle. It was definitely worth it in our opinion! There’s also a longer trip offered where you can have lunch in the local fishing village and make a few more stops (including at a lighthouse you can jump off of). Pro tip: we found the snorkeling trip for 30RM on Coral Bay which was cheaper than the 40RM price that was standard on Long Beach.
Scuba diving: the diving was spectacular. We did 2 dives with Turtle Bay Divers (at Batu Layar and Pinnacle) and enjoyed both of them. There are several wrecks in the area as well that are reportedly interesting to explore.
Where to stay in the Perhentian Islands
There are many options for accomodation on the islands, from tent camping to high end resorts. Perhentian Kecil has many of the cheapest options, while Perhentian Besar tends have more resort-style accommodations. Housing is more expensive on the islands than mainland Malaysia and most of the budget options can’t be booked online. We just showed up and checked out the available options. If you’re visiting during high season, you may want to try and arrive early in the day so you have first pick!
On Perhentian Kecil, the primary options are to stay at Long Beach and Coral Bay. These main beaches are separated by a short 10 minute walk. There are other accomodations on the island as well but they generally require you to take a water taxi to reach the main areas.
We stayed at Symphony Village on Long Beach in a fan room for around $20 USD / night. We’d recommend spending a little more and getting a room with A/C, because it was extremely hot at night. We made the mistake of leaving the doors open for a little bit to try and cool the room off and ended up with dozens and dozens of mosquito bites, despite having a mosquito net around our bed.
The nicest looking hotel on the island is Mimpi Perhentian. You can book online and it includes a tasty breakfast buffet. The buffet is 35 RM for non-guests and the accept credit card.
Other Tips for the Perhentian Islands
Be sure to bring enough cash! There are a few places that will give you cash back from a credit card (Tropicana Inn and Matahari Divers on Kecil) but they charge a hefty 10% fee and they may not have any cash available. Very few places accept credit card. We were stuck without any cash for our first day and struggled to find anywhere we could eat or get cash back.
Phone service works quite well but WiFi is scarce. Top up your sim card (ours was a Maxis Hotlink and it worked perfectly throughout the country) before you go if necessary.
The only place on Kecil that we found that would refill our water bottle was Panorama Cafe. Some dive shops will offer refills if you dive with them. Bring a LifeStraw so you don’t have to buy plastic bottles!