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Visiting the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia; Malaysia’s best-kept secret!

Malaysian Islands are SO underrated. Thailand steals all the plaudits, but honestly, Langkawi, Penang and visiting the Perhentian Islands rival the famous Thai islands. All day long. So let me let you in on another of Malaysia’s backpacking secrets, the Perhentian Islands.

The Perhentian Islands consist of 2 main islands:

  • Pulau Perhentian Besar. The Large Perhentian Islands, more resort-based.
  • Pulau Perhentian Kecil. The Small perhentian Island, and more of a traveler/backpacker scene.

When you dream of traveling through South East Asia, you often dream of visiting beautiful, untouched islands. But those days are almost gone. ALMOST. Mass tourism has arrived and although most of the islands are still beautiful, they’re also dotted with full-moon parties and cheap hotels. The Perhentian Islands though? They offer pristine beaches, that still remain underdeveloped. Come and chilllll.

perhentian islands

Why visit the Perhentian Islands?

It’s off the tourist trail. That alone should be enough! But also, the snorkeling, the diving, the water color, and most of all, the serenity and peace of an (almost) untouched island is such a rare thing in these parts. So go here while it’s still like this!

The Perhentian Islands consist of 5 islands, 3 of which are uninhabited. As I mentioned above, the 2 main islands divide themselves by characteristics. A backpacker/traveler island – the larger island Kecil, and a higher-end holiday island, the smaller island – Besar.

So bring a book, bring cash (no ATMS), bring a bottle or 2 (booze is pricey and limited here), and get ready to experience South East Asia from 50 years ago.

the perhentian islands

Where are the Perhentian Islands?

The Perhentian Islands are on the lesser-visited East Coast of Malaysia. In North West of the Malaysian peninsula. Just over the border from Thailand, near Hat Yai. As the crow flies, it’s about 200 miles/330km from Kuala Lumpur.

How do I get to the Perhentian Islands?

Getting to the Perhentian Islands means you’re likely coming from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Or from across the nearby Thailand border.

Can you fly to the Perhentian Islands?

No. But you can fly nearby. The easiest way to get to the Perhentian islands is to fly to Kota Bharu airport. There are daily flights from Kuala Lumpur for as little as $20.

From here you take a bus/taxi to Kuala Besut port. It’s 30miles/50km.

The ferry from Kuala Besut port to the Perhentian Islands takes about 1 hour. And $15 or so.

Kuala Lumpur to the Perhentian Islands overland:

From Kuala Lumpur bus station, you can take an 8 hour bus ($15) to Kuala Besut.

From there you take a ferry ($15, one hour) to one of the 2 islands. Backpackers choose the friendlier, cheaper smaller Island – Pulai Kecil.

Thailand to the Perhentian Islands overland:

Take the train/bus to Hat Yai in southern Thailand.

Here you cross the border to Butterworth in Malaysia. There’s no direct bus I’m afraid, so from Butterworth take the bus to Jerteh (7 hours, $15) which is 20km from the boat. Taxi, hitchhike or walk to the boat!

Perhentian Islands ferry terminal
Perhentian Islands ferry terminal

Things to do on the Perhentian Islands

Firs of all, get quality (and cheap!) travel insurance. I use these guys! Then, when you want things to do in the Perhentian islands, think relaxation! This place is all about white sand beaches, beautiful clear waters, and chilling. Other than sipping beers at sunset, here are the main things to do on the Perhentian Islands.

Scuba diving.

This is an absolute must, visibility is unreal. Similar prices to Thailand so it’s about $40 for a ‘fun dive’ with equipment included in that price.

Snorkeling.

This is much cheaper than scuba diving. Around RM10/person for masks, fins and slippers. There are a number of excellent snorkeling spots like Shark Point and Teluk Pauh on the Pulau Besar Islands. But anywhere across the Perhentian islands, snorkeling is going to be awesome.

Trekking through the jungle. 

There are a few trails through the islands, taking up to a couple of hours each. Plenty of monkeys, bats, lizards, and potentially massive spiders (I mean ‘size-of-your-hand’ massive eeeeek).

Kayaking.

My favourite thing to do on the Perhentian Islands. As both islands are small enough to kayak around the whole thing in a day, without too much effort. Guest houses rent kayaks for $10 or so per day.

things to do Perhentian Islands

Save the turtles!

The Perhentian Islands are home to sea turtles, and there is a Perhentian Turtle Project where you can volunteer. Especially during April to September. Check them out!

Sunset and sundowners

The best sunset spot in the Perhentian islands is Coral Bay, on Kecil.

Evenings on Long Beach

A low-key version of the Thai island vibe. Fire dancers, people on the beach, drinking, chatting. It’s the perfect island evening vibe.

The Perhentian Island Mosque

The reason why alcohol is expensive and restricted is due to the religion of most of the landowners on the islands. Many are devout Muslims. You can pay your respects to the local culture at the beautiful A R Rahman Pulau Perhentian Mosque, perched above the water, on Kecil. The locals are more than open to you entering if appropriately dressed.

perhentian island mosque
perhentian island mosque

The Windmill hiking route on Kecil

There’s a beautiful hiking trail. Long beach to Windmill point, to Adam & Ever beach, to D’Lagoon, then hop in a boat taxi to Alunan Resort. And done! It’s about 2 hours.

Which Perhentian Island should you stay in? Kecil or Besar?

Depends on what you’re after. Kecil has very few ‘luxury’ accommodation options. Besar is the opposite. Basically, if you want to kick back and do nothing with your partner and/or family, with comfort, then Besar.

If you want to mingle, meet people, and do stuff, go to Kecil. Long Beach, on Kecil, is the main traveler strip. Both for activities, and socialising.

perhentian island

Getting around the Perhentian Islands

It’s easy! There are no roads on the island, so walking is number 1.

Water taxis can take you from costal point to coastal point, and they’re found everywhere. Expect to pay around $10 for a journey.

The Best Time to Visit the Perhentian Islands? 

Good question. The monsoon season hits these guys hard, so the islands effectively close between September to February.

The best time to visit the Perhentian Islands is anytime between early March to late October. Preferably in the middle of this time. Outside that window, you might find accommodation but restaurants, bars etc are mostly all closed.

Sunset at Perhentian islands
Sunset at Perhentian islands

Final thoughts on the Perhentian Islands

Truthufully? Go now. The word is out and the Chinese and Russian tour groups are starting to appear. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed your chance. It’s still SUPER quiet compare to other islands. But it won’t be forever. So get going! If untouched beaches is what you’re looking for, this is your spot. Most backpackers don’t make it here so it promises a whole different atmosphere to any other islands you may have visited throughout South East Asia. Happy travels.

visiting the perhentian islands
Sunset at the Perhentian Islands

Remember, never travel without travel insurance! And never overpay for travel insurance!

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Also, if you want to start a blog, and start to change your life, I'd love to help you! Email me on johnny@onestep4ward.com. In the meantime, check out my super easy blog post on how to start a travel blog in under 30 minutes, here! And if you just want to get cracking, use BlueHost at a discount, through me.

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16 thoughts on “Visiting the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia; Malaysia’s best-kept secret!

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  5. Have you heard of Pangkor Laut? In my opinion its another place to rival the Perhentian islands as Malaysia’s best kept secret islands? I was lucky enough to go last month and they are amazing and only 3 hours drive from KL, so bit more convenient to get to then Perhentian. Although I still want to visit Perhentian islands after reading your post! I’ve written a post with info on how to get to Pangkor Laut incase its useful to your readers: http://www.justinewharton.com/2015/04/01/pangkor-malaysia-your-own-luxury-private-island/

    1. if you like to come here, i will guide you and give a good service. FREE OF CHARGE. mY HOME IS NEAREST THE ISLANDS. WELCOME AND CONTACT ME.

  6. Love reading your first hand reports Johnny! Going to Malaysia/Thailand end June but will only be in Malaysia for about 10 days. Trying to decide where to go during those days also taking weather into account… Focus on Langkawi or Perhentian??? If you have any advice will be appreciated!

    1. hey shey – this place rocks! It’s pretty cool because you could come south through thailand, from samui, phangan, krabi, phuket and experience the beautiful craziness and then finally reach the Perhentian islands and imagine what Thailand must have been like 40 years ago 🙂

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