After our eating frenzy in Melaka and more steps than The Proclaimers, it was time to take it down several notches for Perhentian Island bliss.

A group of islands that was completely foreign to me until I started researching what to do and where to go in our 10-day tour of Malaysia. I was stoked to find out about these jungle-sprouting islands. They have the right level of tourism set-up/operation balanced with a sereneness that is sadly lost on almost all Thai islands and typical Malay favourites.

View from a balcony of turquoise waters
Tropical bliss

Getting to Perhentian Islands (from Melaka)

If you have ever travelled by overnight bus, you will know that the essential ingredients of any ride include suspicious smells, bumpy roads, temperatures approaching arctic and a mad driver who thinks playing Malay pop music all night is your answer to sweet dreams.

Arriving at Jerthi at about 6 in the morning, you catch a taxi to Kuala Besut port, because I’ll be darned if you are in the mood to search for a public bus to save a few pennies. If you are travelling from KL or Penang there are direct buses to the port.

Port entrance with orange coloured beams
Kuala Besut port. When you book your accommodation they will organise your ferry transfer. You pick up your tickets and wait for your speedboat to arrive. Not quite that straightforward for us as we were unsure which was our speedboat, (maybe to do with the lack of sleep).

You could also rock up and book your ferry tickets on the day and take your chances walking along the beach for accommodation (tips and emails at the end of the post).

There are two main islands – Perhentian Kecil (small island) and Perhentian Besar (big island). We heard that the small island is more laid back and more suited to backpackers, but I saw some families and lots of Malay tourists too.

Perhentian Kecil

After a bottom-breaking 40 minute speedboat ride, we get to the island. From the water you transfer to a long-tail boat for 2RM unless you fancy swimming with your luggage.

You couldn’t care less about the transfer over sea as you are lost in the clarity and blueness of the water. It was as if pirates dropped their treasure here giving it a gem-like shimmer.

turquoise waters
It is this stunning

On land we head to our pre-booked accommodation at D’Rock Garden. It was the only place that had availability for the dates we wanted, and I didn’t think much of it when we booked, but was really surprised by the set up and having a bungalow overlooking the water was a dream and worth the steps.

Bungalows positioned on the side of a hill overlooking turquoise waters
D’Rock Garden

Staying on the Long Beach side, as the name suggests is a lovely long beach with loads of food options and snorkel/dive shops. Umbrellas for hire, it was time to drop our (body) anchor and relax for the afternoon. Something that you notice straight away when you walk along the beach is the lack of tat stores. There is one store that’s a mini-mart also selling inflatable water toys and touristy stuff, but that’s it.

Perhentian Island
NB: There is limited sale of alcohol until about 5pm. For some that may spell doom and also not the nightlife you may be looking for.

I know what you’re thinking. What, no 18km walk just for funsies or trek in the jungle just before dusk with no headtorch?

Man drinking a watermelon smoothie whilst on holiday
Check this – we instead opted to freshen up, and enjoy a few civil drinks before heading off to watch a fire show.

Unlike Phi Phi, there are two fire show spots on Long Beach, you can’t miss it and it’s a nice way to just unpack the day in your mind watching the fiery orange flames dance.

Snorkelling tour – Turtle point – Coral Garden – Fishing Village – Shark point 

If there is a smidge of coral to be seen or a parrot fish to hear chomping, we are in the water.

The boat anchors and you have already put your mask on ready to jump in. That first moment you can see clearly after hitting the water is the best. A whole new world opens up to you. We had two Malay girls on their first ever snorkel trip. At the beginning it was holding onto the ladder, but by the end, they disappeared off.

underwater photo of flatbed coral with blue fish swimming across

underwater photo of purple soft coral

It is these moments that you see how precious our planet is. Fragile, needing a supporting hand to right what we did wrong.

We booked the dive with guys next door to D’Rock Garden and the service and safety they provided was great. One of the guides also doubles as a fire twirler at night.

View of small fishing boats on Perhentian Island
My only gripe would be the lunch stop at Fisherman village. All boats go there and it’s a total tourist trap. The food was average and overpriced. Not the tour operators fault, though be warned.

Perhentian Kecil – Coral Bay

Kecil is a small island and whilst I would have preferred longer time to just chill out and read and write, we wanted to get to the other side of the island.

view of a bay with fishing boats in the water and bugalows dotted along the jungle covered hilltops
Coral Bay is about a 10 minute cool jungle walk away and some would say the preferred side of the island with better food options and snorkelling just off the beach. With it being so close, I wouldn’t let it worry you too much.

Perfect way to keep the island time feeling going – Jurassic World at Ombak restaurant. Get there early to get a good spot on movie night.

Perhentian-Ombak movie night

Highly recommend the Ombak fried seafood noodle and the calamari appetiser, but the wait can be long. We missed out on the bbq seafood as it was a two-hour wait. Suggestion would be to order as soon as you arrive.

Time for dessert and I was holding out for Ewans as I heard so much about the food. Reasonably priced accommodation too, if you get a chance to stay.

Young woman sitting at a table with a thick shake frozen dessert and fried banana
Nursing a decent sunburn and a weird shaped head? Cool down with a Snickers or Oreo milkshake. Add a fried banana for funsies!

That’s it! No pressure to see or do anything really. What island time is all about me thinks.

Budget for 2 people 

Bus from Melaka to Jerthi100RM
Taxi to Kuala Besut port30RM
Speedboat transfer to Perhentian Kecil140RM
Marine Park fee10RM
Accommodation w/fan at D’Rock Garden per night140RM
Snorkel trip90RM
Food average price per meal6-15 RM
Alcoholic beverages per drink depending if you go for a beer or a cocktail.8-30 RM

Travel tips

The islands have a super short season (June to late October). Whilst we went in August following the end of Ramadan, I would avoid this month if possible. It is not so crowded due to the limited accommodation, but another time would have definitely been more relaxed. Take note of Malay and Singaporean long weekends in this period too.

There is amazing diving (we hear) and if you book a dive package they will organise the accommodation for you.

Some useful contacts to get you started on accommodation if you prefer not to wing it:

D’Rock Garden: [email protected] They also operate a number of other chalets and resorts, so they could help you out.

Mari Mari (highly recommended by other travellers): [email protected]

Ewans: +60 14-817 8303

Matahari Divers: mataharidivers[email protected]

Mama’s Chalet: [email protected]

Keranji Beach: [email protected]

Panorama Chalets: [email protected]

Abdul Chalets: [email protected]

Dayumni House: [email protected]

Other things to note

Luggage: If you do book your accommodation in advance, the likelihood is that you can leave some of your luggage in the office at Kuala Besut port and only take what you need for the beach. Lifesaver for us as we had portable music equipment and clothes we didn’t need.

Mozzie repellent: The buggers come out before dusk to get a head start!

Head torch: Handy for late night walks between Long beach and Coral beach. Your phone will suffice too.

Theft: We read lots of horror stories about gear being stolen out of rooms. We had no such experience and I guess common sense always plays a part. No more crime than you would expect in other places on your travels.

Listening to Plastik Joy’s album 3:03

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Hidden treasure: Perhentian Islands
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