A backpackers guide to Perhentian Islands
Malaysia is definitely one of my favourite countries to travel in. As a solo woman travelling it is of the utmost importance to me that I feel safe. And Malaysia gives me that. The second most important thing is the nature. I have great appreciations for cities and culture and food but it is the nature that makes my heart sing, and to be more exact – I need the sea. Being in the water, listening to the sound of the sea, swimming whenever the sun gets too strong, walking on the damp sand. This is what makes me happy. I'd been a couple of times in Malaysia already every time I wanted to visit more.
This year I decided to go to the east coast – Perhentian Islands. August is a good month to visit these islands as most of the resorts close up in the Autumn due to a Monsoon season. They open back again in February/March in case you cannot make it in August.
There are two Perhentian Islands, a small one – Pulau Perhentian Kecil and a bigger one – Pulau Perhentian Besar. I went to the latter. When I booked my accommodation I knew nothing about the islands so it was a pure coincidence I ended up there and as usual in my case with coincidences, it turned out to be a great choice. To sum up differences between a small and a bigger island, Kecil is more developed, has many more restaurants, the nightlife is more vibrant there, there are more options for cheap accommodations (like hostels) hence more popular amongst backpackers. Besar is the opposite, it's much more relaxed, only a couple of restaurants, more expensive resorts and one (to my knowledge) cheap accommodation. You will see a lot of families there, couples, newlyweds etc. or those who ended up there by accident (looking at me ;).
I'm very happy I ended up on that island as I'm definitely not a nightlife person and prefer to go to bed early, wake up early and then go for a swim, or dive or snorkel. Add trekking in a jungle to that list and you will have a complete set of activities on the islands. (Not gonna mention the obvious so lying at the beach ;) ).
Speaking of diving, there are a couple of diving centres and the prices vary so make sure to check it and compare. I went with Perhentian Dive Centre and couldn't be happier. I had a pretty bad experience with snorkelling last year in Bali which put me off from both snorkelling and diving. I have an open water PADI Certificate but I had a long break and simply didn't feel confident enough to enter the water. Guys at the diving centre helped me a lot. We simply chatted once I arrived (their centre was just next to my accommodation) and I told them that I'd love to go diving but am simply scared. They suggested a refresher and made sure that they would explain to me again everything slowly and it will be all okay. My roommates were doing their open water certificate and they confirmed that the centre was great so I decided to give it a try. That was the best thing I did during my stay. I refound my love for diving and underwater life and had the most amazing time. If you're not sure about diving, I would recommend you trying snorkelling first. There are a lot of places where you can book your snorkelling trip and prices vary (mostly around 50RM). If you don't feel like going on a trip, just get your snorkelling mask and see what is under the water just next to the beach. I was amazed at how much I could see (including baby sharks).
Some practical information about Perhentians:
How to get from KL to Perhentians
There are two ways – you can take a bus from KL to Kuala Besut. The journey lasts about 8 hours so I would recommend taking an overnight one if you can sleep on a bus. (Make sure to bring warm clothes as the aircon is strong). Then you take a boat to Perhentians.
You can take a plane to Kota Bharu, taxi to Kuala Besut and then a boat to Perhentians.
WiFi and electricity.
It depends on where you will stay but you may have problems with the Internet or electricity. Where I stayed, I had only electricity at night and the Internet was not working so I needed to rely on my mobile data (Celcom has the best signal).
Bring your own refillable bottle. There are places where you can refill it so it's great for the environment and your wallet ;).
I suggest you get your own gear. There are so many amazing places where you can go snorkel (just next to the beach) that you can go whenever you feel like.
No ATMs so bring enough cash.
No problem. They will make rice with vegetables, noodles with vegetables or soups.
If you're staying at Besar and your accommodation doesn't provide you with breakfast I would recommend you checking out a buffet breakfast at Tuna Bay Resort. It's 30 RM which may seem a lot for breakfast but after checking out different options, my conclusion is that it is the best option, especially for those who are plant-based. There are a big fruit and veggie selection, there are warm dishes that change every day (but there are always beans in tomato sauce that are vegan),. There is always bread and peanut butter and jams. I would eat a lot and then fill my container with some food that can last in heat and be sorted mostly for a day.
Best time to visit
March - October. Some of the resorts close in October, some are open till November. You need to check it out but remember that the closer the Autumn is, the likelihood of storm is higher. Then you won't be able to enjoy the island fully and if you go diving, the visibility will be worse.
There is a bigger selection of cheap accommodation on a smaller island. I stayed at a cheap one on a bigger island but can't recommend it. If you're on a budget I would consider camping. I saw camping sites and they looked pretty nice.
Yes, the are there. A mosquito repellent is a must.
There is a plethora of diving and snorkelling centres. I went with Perhentian Diving Centre and couldn't recommmend them more.
Travelling between islands
It's super easy to travel between two islands so don't think that if you went for a bigger island you're stuck there and you're gonna miss out on the nighlife on the smaller island. You can always take a taxi boat which is available all day. My roommates were doing their open water diving course on a bigger island and then were taking a boat to a small island to have nice dinner. It's 100% doable.
Are you planning to visit East Coast of Malaysia? Which islands would you like to visit?