I must admit flying back into Asia a week or so ago I had done little to no research on what to get up to on my latest backpacking trip.

Although I spent the best part of 6 months in South East Asia last year covering Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia venturing into Singapore and Malaysia was new territory for me.

And like a lot of my plans I was totally unprepared and winging it, hoping for the best!

I had however been told by various people that the Perhentian Islands were a must – especially given my fondness for the ocean, beaches and general lazing around.

Seeing as I had literally no plans after over landing to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore I decided to ping out some tweets, emails and Facebook messages and go see what all the fuss was about…


The Perhentian Islands, Malaysia – Where, How and Why

Where Are The Perhentian Islands?

perhentian islands malaysia backpacker south easy asia

Island Paradise….

Incase – like me – you have no idea where the Perhentian Islands lie they’re on the north east coast of Malaysia – nestled just offshore from the town of Kuala Besut which is a couple hours taxi journey from the Thai border.

The 2 islands (conveniently called “Kecil” and “Besar”….big and little) are literally called “stopping place” in Malaysian – and in times gone by it was a stop over for fisherman, but these days it’s more a mecca for divers and backpackers seeking clear blue waters and teaming coral life than traders of the east.

Unfortunately though for most backpackers it’s completely off route and a pain in the arse to travel to if you’re simply heading along the Bangkok – Singapore track before bouncing to Indonesia or into Australia and beyond!


How Do You Get To the Perhentian Islands?

There are a few ways to head to to the islands, and since undertaking it myself I’ve realised that some are alot easier and time friendly than others!

perhentian islands malaysia backpacker south easy asia

Not The Easiest To Get To But Well Worth It…

The route I did was the 10 hour overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kual Besut Jetty. The bus itself set me back just under £9 with a bus company called Mitiara – which was heaps comfortable and air conditioned.

If you’re dropping down from the north (or heading there after) you can take and overnight bus to/from Penang. This set me back £10 with a bus company called SP Bumi and took about 8 hours.

Once you get to Kuala Besut Jetty you simply need to jump on a speed boat to the islands – it’s around £14 for the return trip and takes just under and hour.

The other option – which is particularly useful to know if you’re

  1. short of time or
  2. pissed off with long over land travel

is to fly into Kota Bharu from KL or elsewhere via Air Asia and then grab a quick taxi to the jetty (about 30mins). This significantly cuts down your travel time and wont burn a huge whole in your wallet either…although if you’re a backpacker like me you can always justify the overnight bus as a nights accommodation in the budget!


Why Should You Visit?

So why the hell would you lug your backpack to the other side of the Malaysian coast?

Now I’ve spent the last few years clocking up a good amount of time enjoying island life – whether than be sailing around the Galapagos, diving on Phi Phi, partying on Phangan or surfing around Indonesia.

snorkel trip perhentian islands malaysia

The Perfect Spot For Snorkelling

But the Perhentians still took me by surprise – surely that says a lot about them?!

If you’ve spent time on the Thai islands I could well see how you might be dubious to venture to another set of Asian islands – you’ve seen them at their chaotic worst, full of drunken students, gap yahs and not the idealic slice of islands quiet you might have been craving.

They’re even more picturesque and relaxing than Gili T in Indonesia which recently topped my island get away list!

The Perhentians struck me as what I envisioned the likes of Koh Tao or Phi Phi to be a decade ago. Barely developed, beautiful clean waters, amazing coral gardens and a laid back, easy going vibe.

They’re a little hidden gem off the standard South East Asia backpacker route.

The only real development here is via the dive industry – there are a few dive resorts littering the island but the majority of accommodation and restaurants are locally owned guesthouses and rag tag in appearance – perfectly nestled amongst the palm strewn shore lines against a backdrop of hilly jungle.

And you can also take a day trip to the rather quirky Pulau Besar island – complete with abandoned 5* hotel!


The Cost Of Visiting The Perhentian Islands

And they’re also surprisingly easy on the budget too.

I stayed in Ombak Dive Resort (on the recommendation of Sam from Totally Sams World who was already on the island) and a twin fan room with the bro set me back around £10 each a night – although we later moved to the dorm at £6 per night.

Now that’s pretty dam cheap for island living – let alone in a very clean. tidy resort!

There’s two sides to the island as well – long beach and coral bay. If you’re wanting a more relaxed, chilled vibe and more space on the beach (although that’s never really hard to find there!) I’d opt for coral bay…

coral bay perhentian islands malaysia

Not A Bad View For Lunch….

Food wise there’s heaps of places to choose from (although admittedly all serving very much the same thing) and a meal and drink will set you back around £2 – definitely munch down on one of the sea food BBQ’s whilst you’re there!

When it comes to things to do I’m afraid you’re pretty limited – but in the perfect island way. You can spend your days sunbathing on the tranquil beaches, kayaking around the coves or lazing in a hammock with a good book. The night life here is pretty tame – which is a real relief given the party chaos of the rest of Asia – but a few beers and cocktails to some live music on the beach is always there if that’s how you’d like to spend the evening.

There are also plenty of snorkel and fishing trips to check out too if you wish to leave the shore for something a bit more energetic – and the snorkelling here is pretty damn epic. The coral and white sands are the perfect place to swim amongst schools of marine life, including black tip reef sharks and heaps of turtles.

snorkelling perhentian islands south east asia

Clear Waters and Pristine Coral

The real appeal here though is the diving, you’re pretty spoilt for choice with dive sights covering everything from vast coral bombies through to wreck dives at all depths.

The water temp is pretty comfortable year round so you can opt out of the wetsuit if you wish and the visibility is spot on.

…which sucks because I had an ear infection and blocked sinuses so was unable to dive – the reviews I got from the divers (both new and experienced) that I chatted to highly recommended it though!


So there you have it. If you’re heading to south east Asia, backpacking the Bangkok – Singapore route or simply find yourself in Malaysia for any reason make sure you pencil in some down time in the Perhentian Islands. 

It really does live up to it’s “stop over” name sake!


Have you hit up the Perhentian Islands on your travels?

What did you think of them?


**please note – it seems the islands are closed during the Nov – Feb monsoon season so check before you go!**


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23 Responses

  1. Ashley

    Random question, what was the internet like there? The Mister and I are looking to start a nomadic life and I thought we would start in Malaysia in December but need to make sure we have consistent internet access. Thanks!!
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    • Chris

      to be honest it wasn’t bad Ashley – there was a great little cafe on teh path towards long beach which had pretty good wifi (although when it’s busy it slows right down!) but it was enough to skype and upload posts so you’ll be fine!

  2. Roslin

    FYI. Island close during monsoon season which is Nov to February. I’ll be going end of this month I hope the water is still beautiful. cant wait.

    • Chris

      Cheers for chucking that info my way Roslin – I’d heard about it but wasn’t too sure of the dates!

  3. Scott

    After reading your blog on the islands we decided to do the same and had there for a few days for some diving and snorkeling. After some of the more hectic islands we had just come from in Thailand this was a great place to come to for more of a relax. Thanks for all the info, loved our time in paridise. Check our blog out too, is http://www.scottnkarengortw.wordpress.com

    • Chris

      Stoked you enjoyed them Scott! Any info I should add in that was missing?

  4. Nadia

    Love these islands – worth a mention that finding accommodation on Kecil can be a right pain – it’s kind of a free for as no advance bookings taken. So at peak season there could be limited choice – I went in May and had to trudge up and down Long Beach before I found somewhere to stay. But well worth it, it’s just beautiful.

    • Chris

      Yeah accommodation can be a bit of a pain to find hey? I was luckily as my buddy Sam was already there and simply booked us in!

  5. Justine

    Hey Chris great post! I’ve got back from Malaysia, I wanted to check out thes Perhentian islands but never got the chance as it was Monsoon season (Feb) when I went (they’re still on my ‘wish list’ though!). So instead I went to an island off West coast of Malaysia called Pangkor Laut. It’s only 3 hours drive from KL too so easy to get to. Incase you or your readers want to know more about the place – it is definitely a good alternative to the Perhentians during moonsoon season – I’ve written a post about it here: http://www.justinewharton.com/2015/04/01/pangkor-malaysia-your-own-luxury-private-island/

    • Chris

      Hey Justine,
      Sorry to hear you couldn’t make it to the Perhentians, but sounds like you found an awesome alternative – cheers for sharing…will have to head there myself when I’m back in Asia!

  6. Liz

    They’re so out of the way that we’ve been unsure about whether to bother on our trip in August or go for somewhere nearer to KL but you’ve totally sold them to me with the ‘better than Gili T’ comment. The Gilis were amazing so I now have high hopes for Perhentian Kecil!

    • Chris

      hahahaha well there’s no pressure then! I’m sure you’ll have a blast – totally worth the detour!

  7. Luuk Reinalda

    Great post! especially combined with the overland info! I’ll probably take the fast option flying in from surat thani to kuala lumpur. From there I’ll just take the bus up north. Do you know if Tenggol island is worth visiting? I read the diving there is the best in this region but it’s pretty expensive… It would be nice to stop there for a few days before heading to perhentian.

    • Chris

      Sounds like a plan Luuk – internal flight certainly cut the time down if you need to cover large distances quickly! Cant say I made it to Tenggol, you’ll have to let me know how you get on!

  8. Georgia

    Visited Perhentian Kecil this summer (thanks to reading this post over a year ago) and they were one of the best places I’ve yet to visit! The snorkeling was phenomenal – highly recommend a day snorkeling trip to check out all the various spots around the island like the coral garden, shark point, or the light house. Best 35RM (about $10 USD) I’ve ever spent for a full day on the water! Smoking hookah on the sand while watching the nightly fire show was the perfect way to end the day. Hope to return soon – thanks so much for sharing this awesome destination!

    • Chris

      Stoked you had such a good time out there Georgia, looking forward to returning soon myself! Which hostel/guetshouse did you end up staying at?

  9. Kesh

    Hey there! Do you think it will be possible to put up a hammock tent there somewhere ?

    • Chris

      I like your style Kesh!
      immmmmm no clue to be honest though, there is plenty of jungle around, but I haven’t been there for a few years now so I’m not sure how much is changed unfortunately! Fingers crossed you can though!


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