Perhentian Islands

South Beach, Perhentian Besar

The Perhentian Islands (Malay: Pulau Perhentian) are a small group of islands approximately approximately 10 nautical miles (19 km) off the north-eastern coast of West Malaysia in the state of Terengganu. The islands are protected as part of the Pulau Redang National Marine Park.

Understand

The Perhentian Islands (pronounced Perhen-tee-ahn) comprise of two main islands, Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian). The name Perhentian means stopping point in Malay as the islands became a staging point used by traders travelling from Malaysia to Bangkok.

Kecil attracts more travellers due to cheaper accommodation options, while Besar is a little more expensive and caters more to families and those who want to avoid the backpacker party scene. The Perhentian Islands also comprise of the small, uninhabited islands of Susu Dara, Seringgi and Rawa, which lie off Kecil. All the islands are protected under marine park status, which means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly prohibited. However in practice litter is one of the major problems that face the islands.

When to go

Due to the eastern monsoon, the only time to visit the Perhentian Islands is effectively limited to the beginning of March or April until late October. This is similar to many other islands on the east coast of Malaysia. Outside this period the seas can be very rough and choppy with currents that make swimming dangerous and overcast skies with frequent rain. For this reason most accommodation (but not all) are closed. Travel agents may claim accommodations are open and even then many restaurants and all shops will be closed during the off-season. If a restaurant is open during the off-season, except limited and over-priced food choices.

Location Names

Many locations on the island are referred to with both their Malay and English names. To make life a little more confusing, the words "beach" (pantai) and "bay" (teluk) are often used near-interchangeably as well, and a few English place names are not literal translations.

Malay English Location
Pasir Panjang Long Beach Kecil, east coast
Teluk Aur Coral Bay Kecil, west coast
Teluk Dalam Deep Bay Besar, south coast
Teluk Keke KK Bay Besar, southwestern coast
Teluk Pauh Mango Bay Besar, northwestern coast

Get in

Boats at Perhentian Kecil jetty

Access to the Perhentian Islands from the Malaysian mainland is by ferry from Kuala Besut, which is usually reached from either Kota Bharu, Jerteh or Kuala Terengganu. See the Kuala Besut article for more information. If you took a train (KeretapiTanahMelayu) 'KualaLumpur'-'Tumpat' or 'Johor/Singapore'-Tumpat' it is recommended that you stop at Tanah Merah Station which is the third-last station to Tumpat,this station is the shortest route to Kuala Besut (if you don't want to waste time). At there,you will find a locals who provide the transportation (usually car/minivan) for between RM70-90 (+60 14-8060259). Note that ferries from Tok Bali and Kota Barhu no longer operate to the Perhentian islands. There are no ferries to neighbouring islands, but reasonably priced direct transfers to Redang are possible if a day-trip or dive boat has free seats - enquire with travel and dive shops.

From the main ferry terminal at Kuala Besut the only option to reach the Perhentian Islands is by speed boat. Previously there were slow boat services, but they have ceased operating due to poor demand.

Speed boats - usually small fibreglass boats with two or three outboards which take 30-45 minutes, charge RM70/person (though you can bargain it down to RM60, even in high season beware of unreliable & unlicensed boat operator do the under cut price) for return open ticket and RM40/person for one way,. You can buy a ticket from Kuala Besut Boat Services or PI Boat services, tel no:+6097479668 Email Piboatticket@gmail.com. They can deliver your ticket to you at the airport upon your arrival, to your hotel room in Kota Bharu where you stay, to the Wakaf Bharu train station, or Tanah Merah train station or at their office in Kuala Besut. It is advisable to make reservation first especially during the peak period May to August for your seats. Daily departure from 07:300-17:00. The boat leaving the Kuala Besut jetty to Perhentian Islands 4-5 times a day, 1st departure at 07:30 when the gates of pier are opened. Some are enclosed, some have a fabric roof, some are completely open. If the sea is choppy expect a bone-jarring, bumpy ride and in the case of the latter two types expect to get very wet. If you are early, sitting at the back of the boat (near the engines) is less bumpy, but wet and noisier. There is no safe space for electronics, you might want to wrap anything that will not survive being wet in plastic (e.g. in bags inside your backpack) beforehand. If you don't want back problems do not sit in the front part of the boat large swells combined with the driver going as fast as possible will throw you up in the air and smash you down hard as the boat hits the next wave (but it's dry there).

All ferries take their passengers directly to their destination, wherever it may be on the islands. Passengers may be charged an extra RM2 to get a small boat from the ferry to the beach at (Kecil) Long Beach (scam, but you can do nothing except jumping into sea with baggage and swim to coast). If you want avoid this 2RM scam ask for dropping at Coral Bay from where it's easy 10 minutes walk on nice paved tiled path to Long Beach from where it's also more convenient to southern end (Mohsin, Rock Garden...) of Long Beach if you have suitcases, there is no paved path at Long beach. Elsewhere, jetties are springing up and enable people to get off the ferry without the need for an additional small boat ride to shore and without getting their feet wet.

All travellers to the islands must pay a marine park conservation charge of RM5. The marine park conversation charge 'ticket' claims to be valid for a few days, but in practice it is never asked for and is valid for the length of stay. This ticket is paid at the office in the jetty at Kuala Besut.

Get around

Map of the Perhentian Islands

By Walking

Walking is the main way to travel around Kecil or Besar to travel between beaches on each island. There are many walking tracks that connect the beaches as an alternative to water taxis. Take note that apart from the main tracks on both islands, everywhere else is dense jungle.

On Kecil, Long Beach to Coral Bay is about ten minutes and a very easy walk. To go from Long Beach to D'Lagoon, follow the jungle path that starts behind Bubu resort on the northern part of Long Beach, when you reach the turbines follow the path down behind the turbines (do not go down the stairs!) a further 30 minutes until you reach D'Lagoon. It takes about 1 hour. Another route from D'Lagoon is to Adam and Eve beach on the west side of the island (25 minutes), be careful when swimming here as there are sometimes thieves waiting in the forest, though they are only interested in cameras and money. Or another one to Turtle Beach also on the west side (10 minutes).

On Besar, an easy 30 minute walk starts behind the Arwana resort on the southern bay of Besar and comes out in the Perhentian island resort on the north west bay. The other is a more adventurous 45 minute trek between the camp site (Teluk KK) on the west bay and the west corner of the south bay. If it's damp, mosquitoes can be a menace.

By Boat/Water Taxi

Aside from walking, the only means of transport is by boat or water taxis. Prices are negotiable but figure on RM 12 for most hops from one beach to another, and a little more when crossing from one island to another. Travelling by boat is a much faster alternative to walking around the Islands and is of course the only means of travel between Kecil and Besar.

See

Relax at Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil

There are no monuments, museums, viewpoints or other above-ground sights whatsoever on the islands; however, the beaches are a sight in themselves. White sandy beaches with clear water and flanked by rolling jungle covered hills make the views from the beach spectacular. The best location to experience sunset is at Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil, but construction of a new jetty has spoiled most of the view. On Besar, the best and cleanest beaches are on the west side of the island. The south beach on Besar is less inviting and had lots of broken coral, treacherous to bare feet and lots of litter and discarded rubbish (as of May 2012).

There are several trails that you can take around Kecil island that offer spectacular viewpoints such as the Lighthouse Towers, which you can also climb up and jump off of into the sea.

With luck you might be able spot some of the islands' wildlife, including huge harmless monitor lizards (almost guaranteed - they are not afraid of humans) and monkeys, not to mention nesting turtles at certain times of year. Arguably the Perhentians' best sights of all are underwater, where you're likely to see reef sharks and sea turtles amongst the corals and tropical fish. Kecil island also has a huge population of cats, most of which are kittens that a lot of the locals and expats take care of.

Do

Activities on the Perhentians are basically limited to scuba diving, snorkeling, sea-kayaking, sunbathing and turtle conservation volunteering. Those with excess energy may attempt the jungle trails crisscrossing both islands.

Scuba diving

The tip of the Pinnacle

The Perhentians offer some great diving and excellent snorkeling. In addition to coral and fish, the Perhentians are home to sea turtles and many species of shark -- none of them dangerous unless provoked though. Visibility is usually in the 10-20 meter range (although it will temporarily go down after storms, as well as during the end-of-year monsoon seasons) and no wet suit is required, although you may wish to use a dive skin for protection from coral and the occasional jellyfish. Popular dive sites include the Pinnacle (aka Tokong Laut, "Temple of the Sea"), a pinnacle jutting out from the sea bed, and the Sugar Wreck, an easily accessible 3500-ton sugar hauler. The (more expensive) single-day trip to Redang Island, where the water visibility is considerably better, offers diving a notch above the local options - but be prepared for a rough ride in a small speedboat.

Competition for divers is fierce and consequently diving is quite cheap, averaging out to RM60-80 per dive depending on how many dives you do and whether you bring your own gear. All dive shops also arrange introductory dives (no training required) and PADI training. If you want to try Diving for the first time, ask your Dive Center where did they do introductory dives and escape the 'jetti' trap.

Take care when choosing your dive center. Look closely at the state of the scuba equipment. Its not only about price but also about safety.

There are multiple dive centers on Kecil's Long Beach and Coral Bay (from North to South): Sunlight Divers, Quiver Dive Team, Turtle Bay Divers, Seadragon Divers, Matahari (formerly Coral Sky) Divers, Spice Divers, Steffen Sea Sports and Angel Divers.

On the big island (Besar) are a number of dive centres, placed on different beaches:

Snorkeling

Most resorts and a few restaurants rent out snorkeling gear (typically RM10 a day for mask, snorkel and fins) and arrange snorkeling tours around the islands. Popular snorkeling spots on Besar include Teluk Pauh (to the left of the beach in front of the PI Resort), Shark Point and Tanjung Basi. The best place to see sharks (black tip) is in front of an extremely small "beach", only accessible by boat, between Shark Point and the Teluk Dalam large beach, or the rocks off the Coral View and PI Resort. They are usually seen cruising the bottom of the reef but be careful in low tide, otherwise you could end up swimming right alongside them (mostly babies though). For turtles, best place is the middle of the beach in front of Perhentian Island Resort, where the sandy bottom is covered with algae.

On Pulau Besar, if you are planning to do snorkeling just in front of your chalet, then stay on the northern and east side of the island where the water is clearer then the south side.

The best spot for family snorkeling would be the south-west of the island. The water is shallow and it is not faced by any chalet so the corals are more abundant and colourful. Between Pulau Besar and Redang, the corals are much better in Pulau Besar.

Turtle Conservation Volunteering

The Perhentian Islands are home to a significant green turtle nesting population. The island was once home to hundreds of nesting Green and Hawksbill turtles but now the islands only receives 300 nestings per year partly due to frequent oil spills from oil production platforms and oil tankers owned by Petronas located not too far away. The Department of Fisheries http://www.dof.gov.my, are running a turtle hatchery on the islands to help readdress the declining turtle populations. Help Our Penyu are complimenting the work done by the Department of Fisheries by protecting two beaches on Perhentian Besar and educating visiting tourists around the islands. Ecoteer also run their weekly Turtles Need Trees after-school marine club which is educating the local school children about turtle and marine conservation. If you want to help the turtle conservation efforts whilst visiting the Perhentian islands you can join Ecoteer's or Bubbles Dive Resort http://www.bubblesdc.com/conservation.htm volunteer program which accepts new volunteers every Monday.

Jungle trekking

The islands are crisscrossed by small paths connecting one beach to another, but be prepared to sweat and swat off bugs if you tackle any of these. There is a good chance to see big monitor lizards and large spiders between Long Beach and Coral Bay (Kecil), and if you are walking off the main trails, you are likely to spot some wild monkeys if you are lucky.

There is a wide trail (30 mins) between Watercolours Paradise and Arwana on Besar, you can see large termite trails, monitor lizards, big fruit bats and sometimes monkeys.

There is a paved walking trail from Coral Bay to Mira Beach (30 minutes) and on to Impiani beach (20 mins) and to the main fishing village on Kecil (20 mins). This is a great trail to see monitor lizards.

Eat

Many of the smaller resorts only offer meals as part of an all-inclusive package. These are usually buffet-style with a variety of Western and Malaysian dishes. Larger beaches, such as Pasir Panjang, offer a larger variety of eating options. Since everything (except seafood) has to be imported, expect to pay at least 2 to 3 times more than on the mainland. Restaurants on Long Beach (Kecil) are slow to deliver food (30 mins to 1.5 hours) and there are no hawker stalls and only one buffet (breakfast at Bubu's), so ask the waiter first how long the food will take before deciding to eat there.

Kecil

Besar

Drink

Pasir Panjang on Kecil (Long Beach) is the only place in the islands with any semblance of a nightlife, although Besar's first bar has recently opened up. Alcohol is expensive at RM8 and more for a can of beer, and Muslim-owned restaurants can't sell any. There is some under-the-counter booze, and bringing your own is also permitted in most otherwise dry restaurants.

Kecil

Oh La La's, Monkey Bar and Blacktips on Long Beach are the only places where you can get alcohol and hang out, but each have their own chilled out beach vibe. Oh La La's and Monkey bar have sunken or mat seating whereas Blacktips is a tiny shack with beach seating, but that always kicks off as a party late in the night (so if you want to dance, go there.)

On Coral Bay, you can buy Chang Beer and Orangutan after 19:00 from a vendor with a cooler that is usually set up near Mama Restaurant. Just ask around when you are there. As of April 2012, Change beer was RB 7 per can. It is no problem to drink the cans with dinner in the few restaurants on Coral Bay.

Beer is expensive for South East Asian standards, but is still only between 8-10 ringgit a can. Tiger, Carlsberg, Singha and Chang are the only brands readily available. For RM 25 you can get a bottle of Orangutan (325 ml) which is also known as monkey juice,and is the choice drink for backpackers and locals. It's a sweet vanilla rum but only about 25%. Vodka is also available at RN 25-30rm a bottle (325 ml). If you have a chance to buy alcohol in either Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu or in Thailand, the extra weight you will carry will make it cheaper for your wallet as alcohol is expensive in this area. If you haven't bought alcohol before you get to Kuala Besut, don't bother stocking up there, as prices are no cheaper than in the Perhentians.

Besar

Sleep

Kecil

There is little luxury accommodation on Kecil, with the top of the line being air-conditioned chalets (RM100-200) and the bottom being a bunk in a longhouse (RM10 and up). Discounts are usually negotiable in the off season (although most resorts are closed), for weekdays, for longer stays, if you show up late and they have room... but the better places can get snapped up fast, especially on weekends and holidays, so book in advance. Luxury accommodation is on the west bay of Besar, but expect to pay for it. (Air conditioned chalets and all the trimmings in some) easily arranged on line or in Kuala Besut, but booking in advance is recommended. Mosquitoes can be a problem after rain, so bring your own mosquito net if staying in low-end (non-aircon) accommodation.

The most popular backpacker destination is Pasir Panjang (Long Beach) on the eastern coast of Kecil, where a bed in a longhouse can go for as little as RM20. More private "chalets" with fan, electricity and bathroom start at RM50. From north to south:

Elsewhere on the island:

Besar

Due to its popularity Kecil can get a little noisy at times, so to get away from it all, head for Besar. Starting from the northern Teluk Pauh:

A 5-minute walk away is Besar's nameless main beach, featuring the following:

Crossing over to the next beach is a more challenging 15-minute hike up and down through the jungle, but it will bring you to the southwest beach and:

The largest and the quietest beach on the islands, the southern beach has 6 resorts/chalets.

Connect

Internet cafes can be found on both Kecil and Besar. Although some connections are slow and a little expensive (RM 10 for 30 mins) many resorts are now installing satellite broadband. Many cafe's and chalet's offer a slow connection (through GSM with wifi extender). If your main reason to use the internet is to stay in touch with friends and family then another option is getting a prepaid GSM SIM and use your mobile phone. Most modern phones do handle email, just remember to get the appropriate settings from you email provider. Rates are the same for all three operators in Malaysia: 0,01RM/kB.

GSM mobile phone coverage is available on both islands as all three (Digi, Celcom and Maxis) operators have placed their respective cell towers (huge red and white ones). They look a bit weird coming out of the green jungle. Celcom and Maxis provide UMTS 3G coverage though coverage is more limited than GSM, the best coverage is in the band between the islands (east coast of Kecil and west coast of Besar). There are some points where reception cannot be reached on the more secluded beaches. In particular the whole southern beach on Besar has very poor reception and no 3G reception.

Cope

For all their beauty, the Perhentians remain a bit of an up-and-coming attraction and there are some missing bits in the infrastructure to be aware of:

Money can be changed on Long Beach, but rates are approx. 10% worse than on the mainland. Watercolours on Perhentian Besar will change money with only a small commission. It seems no one will change travellers cheques, so do it before you leave the mainland.

Stay healthy

There is a small medical reception at the small island, in the main town where most locals reside. It has a friendly staff of a doctor and a couple of nurses, and offers basic medical help at low cost. To get there, ask a boat taxi driver for help.

Respect

Garbage/refuse barges in the coves/bays are generally being collected by the marine park. However, when they are not, the cargo falls off the barge, washing up on the shores of the beautiful beaches. Litter remains a big problem despite local regulations. No one seems to want to pick the stuff up. Maybe they need a black bag volunteering day.

When you arrive at the jetty in Kuala Besut, you are made to pay a marine park fee, which is used to pay for services such as this. Despite this conservation effort, there are concerns that the coral reef will be gone within the decade due to the intensive tourism industry. The destruction of the reef, especially close to shore, is becoming more profound each year.

Many snorkeling trip operators have very little awareness of environmental issues. They may discard plastic bags which contained food for attracting fish directly into the sea. This adds up to thousands of plastic bags needlessly thrown into the ocean. Do what you can do discourage this neglectful habit.

If you are a diver then you can dive with operators who care about the marine environment. One or two dive centres run regular reef and beach clean operations and even offer the Reef Check survey methodology, which you can learn whilst helping to monitor and conserve the marine environment. See Watercolours and Coral Sky Dive Centres.

Use the water refill services listed in the Stay Healthy section to reduce the amount of plastic waste you create and the islands have to deal with.

Go next

Most people will find themselves returning to Kuala Besut as this is the only scheduled location that boats go to. Boats depart for the mainland daily at 08:00, 12:00 and 16:00 only. If you purchased a return ticket from the mainland be sure to hold onto the ticket and contact the operator the day before you wish to leave to ensure they go to your departure jetty. Usually if you inform the reception of your accommodation they will contact the boat operator for you.

Those looking for more sun, sand and surf could head towards Redang Island, located south-west of the Perhentian Islands. There are no scheduled boat services to Redang but you can arrange transport with a water taxi operator or even the occasional dive or day-trip operator if they are heading there already. Be sure to confirm the trip with the operator beforehand.


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