The Perhentian islands are formed by two main islands, Big Perhentian island (aka Pulau Perhentian Besar) Small Perhentian island (Pulau Perhentian Kecil). While the small island is known for the “backpacker party scene”, the Big Perhentian Island is renown for being much more laid back. Naturally, we chose the Big Perhentian Island to rest for a few days! After so much time backpacking this supposedly backpacker party scene is no longer appealing, it’s nothing more than people wanting to get wasted and act stupid away from home.
Location and Getting to the Big Perhentian Island
The Perhentian Islands are approximately 19 km off the coast of northeastern Malaysia. The archipelago is also a marine park, which means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly prohibited. To enter you have to pay 30 RM per person before you board. The only way to get there is getting a ferry from Kuala Besut, which takes about one hour. An open return ticket costs 70 RM, however, if you only want to buy one way it will cost 40 RM.
Although they call it a ferry, don’t expect a big ferry, it’s only small fast boat. You should expect a very bumpy ride if you get lucky. If you are unlucky you can have one of the worst boat trips ever! We like bumpy boat trips, though this one was a nightmare! Afterward, we could only think that we wanted to stay on the island forever and it wasn’t because of how beautiful it is… We just didn’t want to endure another trip like that!
In the Perhentian Islands choosing where to stay is crucial, because you are not only choosing the hotel but also the beach you are staying in! We knew we wanted the Big Perhentian island but we couldn’t make our mind about the beach. Eventually, we went to Bayu Dive Lodge in Teluk Dalam.
At 21$ per night for a double room with fan and bathroom ensuite, Bayu Dive Lodge was OK if you take into consideration the garden and cool beach restaurant. Our problem was the beach, it was nothing like we imagined. It’s completely full of restaurants, resorts, and diving/snorkeling lessons spots. The sand was average at best, the water wasn’t at all clear and worst of it all: It was completely full of boats, always coming and going! There was no way anyone would be able to relax, sunbath, swim or even snorkel here… And that’s why after hiking through the island and we decided to change to Mama’s guesthouse. The facilities and pricing are similar to Bayu, but here you are close to some of the best beaches of the island (particularly PIR beach).
Obviously, the Perhentian islands are more expensive than your average hostel/hotel in the mainland and please note that: sometimes WI-FI doesn’t work (particularly if it rained), there aren’t ATMs in the islands! Some hotels and restaurants accept credit cards (usually with extra fees) but for your own good bring extra cash with you!
Hiking in the Big Perhentian Island
After doing (and really enjoying) the trails of Penang National Park we wanted to do more juggle trekking! In retrospective, we believe we have made the perfect trail on the island. This is a circular, 4 or 5 hours trek through a dense rainforest, fantastic beaches, snorkeling spots and a few resorts! We start (and finish) the hike in Teluk Dalam. Finding out where the trail from the beach to the jungle starts is a bit tricky, as it’s inside the Arwana Eco Resort. Tip: If you aren’t finding it, just ask the locals where it is.
The first part goes deep into the island and the native jungle. It’s highly probable that you will have to walk over and through water streams and mud. After 1.5 – 2 km you will arrive at Perhentian Island Resort. This is probably the most expensive resort on the island but fortunately, you don’t have to pay for its unbelievable beach! Enjoy the beach, rest, do some snorkel or whatever you like to do. 🙂
Next, we head west to Coral Bay Resort and then south through the beach until Mama’s chalets. From these beaches/resorts, you can see how close you are from the small Perhentian. If you want you can easily rent a taxi boat to go there. After reaching the end of Mama’s chalets resort you continue south, now into the jungle again. It may appear that there isn’t a trail, but if you look closely you’ll find one. Tip: if you have doubts regarding this part of the trail follow the big water pipe.
After 500 meters you will reach a new series of resorts, continue to go south through them. In this portion of the trail, you will go partially through the beach, through the resorts and some concrete trails. Enjoy! These are some good beaches with awesome views. Close to Abdul Chalet’s you will have to, once again and for the last time, go deep into the jungle. This portion of the trail is quite difficult to do and the path wasn’t at all clearly marked. Maybe we were tired already, maybe it was the steep parts of the hike or even the many slippery rocks… It could also have been the freaking monitor lizards that kept appearing out of nowhere… Anyway, we were glad when we finished and exited the jungle into Teluk Dalam beach once again! 🙂
This is quite a hike! Not because it’s very long or extremely hard but because you feel like an explorer each time you enter the jungle and you feel extremely satisfied every time you reach the sea. The jungle is extremely dense and almost untouched, the trails are very little used and sometimes even hard to follow and the beaches… well check below which are the best fit for you 🙂
Pro tip: use Maps.me to guide yourself in the jungle.
The beaches of the Big Perhentian Island
Teluk Dalam beach
This beach is in the southern part of the island and it was the first we visited. As said above we were really disappointed by this beach. We had really high expectations about the Perhentian islands and the first impression wasn’t that good. This isn’t a beach to soak in the sun or to swim close to the sand. It’s used by many divers and snorkel shops so its full of boats. It’s also quite dirty with all the resorts and restaurants in it. Despite this, it looks very good in some angle pictures. 🙂 On the upside, it’s very close to shark point, a very good snorkel and diving place.
This is one hell of a beach! Although It’s right in front of Perhentian Island Resort and very close to a few others it doesn’t feel too crowded because it’s quite long and with more than enough white, clean sand. The water is wonderfully clear turquoise and without boats close to the swimmers. This is also one of those beaches in the Perhentian where you can just swim into a snorkel spot with a coral reef full of fishes, rays and sometimes even turtles and (not dangerous) sharks. In our opinion this is as good as a developed beach can be and our favorite in the Perhentian archipelago.
On the west coast of Perhentian Besar and looking right into Kecil Perhentian lays this stretch of beach. It is said that close to Mama’s chalets it was once a beautiful beach but nowadays it’s better for sundowners and enjoying the waterfront restaurants and the views to the very close by sister island. There is little to no sand on the beach anymore and the water although clear is full of boats coming and going.
Tuna bay Beach
Also on the west side, but a little further south, Tuna Bay Beach goes from Coconut Chalet in the north to Abdul’s in the south. It’s one of the most developed part of the island and it’s also part of the route of the trail we talked above. This is a good beach, it’s scenic and picture worthy, although we didn’t really try it, only crossed it and enjoyed the view.
Keke Beach (sometimes KK beach)
If you continue going south you reach KK Beach on the southern tip end of Tuna Bay. Keke beach is a good place for resting under the sun with the occasional dip into the ocean. It’s very little developed so it’s great to escape and enjoy solitude. The beach that runs off to the east is deserted and a highlight of this part of the island. Supposedly you can swim to shark point from here, but it does look quite far away and we don’t really recommend it. If you are doing the hike we recommended above this beach starts right where you turn the last time into the jungle. Therefore if you want to check it out you should continue by the beach and then return. It’s just a few meters and it’s worth to rest before the last hike!
This is the only beach that is outside the trail we suggest and for a reason: there are no tracks to it. The only way to reach turtle beach is by taxi boat. To put it simply turtle beach is probably the best beach we have ever been to. The water is borderline perfect in any way you look at it, the sand is white, clean and as thin as powder. There are very few people because it doesn’t have any resorts or trails leading into it. It’s also famous for being an excellent snorkel site. Incredibly we didn’t see any turtles, however, we did see stingrays, cuttlefish, “nemos” and much other tropical fish. Another great thing about turtle beach is the feeling of arriving at a paradisiac, secluded beach by boat. Moreover, we got a lucky bonus, it had rained earlier in the day and when we arrived there was a great number of… NO ONE IN THE BEACH.
Snorkeling in the Big Perhentian Island
As stated above the Perhentian islands are a marine reserve, which means that in addition to the nice fee and the prohibition to litter and fish we get more than a few great snorkels and diving spots. Although some of the reefs are in pretty bad shape (tuna bay beach for e.g.) others are still good (Monkey beach).
We aren’t experts in snorkeling and have never dived, but the big Perhentian island is a great place to start. You can snorkel right from the beach. We did it at Monkey beach and PIR beach and can safely say that these are the best places we have ever tried snorkeling. Both in terms of visibility and fish variety. Moreover, it left us with the bug of snorkeling more and more! We will surely do it again in the future.
In Besar Perhentian (and surely in Kecil Perhentian) you can easily rent snorkel gear and fins in any resort. Tip: It’s pretty cheap usually at 10 RM each, however, Mama’s Chalet was even cheaper at 5 RM!
We didn’t do any diving or snorkeling tours, but as far as we could understand they are pretty similar and available in every resort. Even between Kecil & Besar islands, the tours are alike because they all take you to the same diving spots. Finally, we should mention that there are a lot of diving schools on the islands and we have heard that it is a good place to get your drivers license. However, we haven’t tried it and can’t really recommend any.
The Big Perhentian island is a paradise to beach, jungle and snorkeling lovers! Besar and Kecil are a bit different in terms of vibe and reputation as we explained earlier but they both offer fundamentally the same. Moreover, the islands are extremely close to each other and just 15 minutes (and 15-25 RM per person) by taxi boat! So, if you are tired of one (or think you didn’t choose wisely) you can just go to the other!
We strongly recommend you to go to the big Perhentian island and spend at least 3 days hiking, swimming, snorkeling and simply recharging your batteries!