Pulau Perhentian – where a tropical paradise awaits divers and snorkelers alike with islands in two sizes.
Perhentian in Malay means stopping point. It is pronounced perhentee-yan and refers to the once thinly populated islands having been a waypoint for traders between Bangkok and Malaysia.
These isles, that used to be home to a couple of fishermen and their families, albeit still quite secluded, now cater to national and international tourists alike.
Divers and snorkelers find a fascinating variety of sea life such as clownfish, cuttlefish, blue-spotted rays, and sea turtles in the turquoise waters.
But unfortunately also irresponsible fellow humans.
My itinerary got all messed up by the Malayan school holidays. The trip I had planned was not doable since the buses were booked out for days.
And then relaxed – and relied on a more or less friendly lady at a tourist booth on the main street. She arranged a package including pick up and transport to the ferry, the ferry ride, and eventually a night bus to Kuala Besut.
This did not sound great – especially the night bus part. But I didn’t want to get stuck more than one day on Langkawi. Although there are worse places to get stranded.
What can I say, although the ferry was delayed and I got a bit nervous, everything worked out fine. I took the bus around eight in the evening in Kuala Perlis – it was surprisingly comfortable with broad, reclining chairs. I woke up only shortly before we reached Kuala Besut around 6 in the morning.
There, some guy ushered us the jetty where we took a small motor boat to the Perhentian islands. Although the ride was pretty rough, I will never forget the color of the sky. The light and the whole atmosphere on the open ocean at that hour – it was just mesmerizing.
…And Not Getting Anywhere Else
I picked Pulau Perhentian Besar since I’m an old lady and Kecil is a hippie-ish place with accommodations that cater rather to guitar playing pot-smoking backpackers. No guitar for me. And the only pot I want shall be filled with rice and some yummy Malayan curry.
So Besar it was.
By the way – besar means large and kecil – which is pronounced ketchil – means small. And once we’re on it: pulau is an island. See, I did learn some useful stuff with babble as I explained in my post on learning languages for travel.
Anyway, Pulau Besar is practically divided into bays so that you have to tell the boatsman the name of your accommodation. If you don’t have one, I guess he just drops you off at his cousin’s guest house.
However, I had one and although it was a budget option, the location was great. Right next to the jetty and between to more upscale hotels where I could have breakfast and a fantastic barbecue with the best grilled squid I ever had in my entire life. And between these two meals, they allowed me to use their beach chairs for free.
Snorkeling was possible right in front of the hotel – which was amazing.
It was holiday season in Malaysia, so loads of tourists were snorkeling. Sadly, they were behaving like idiots, trampling on the corals, feeding the fishes potato crisps.
It was so, so sad seeing these people damaging the ocean. Obviously, they couldn’t even swim but felt the urge to snorkel and showed no understanding or even respect for the beauty and ideational value of the ocean.
Busy Doing Nothing
To get away from the temporary invasion of snorkeling non-swimmers, it’s possible to take a relatively short walk on the beach. But beware, this takes you to the non-touristy part which sadly means the part where the garbage is not picked up…
It is also possible to get to the other bays by hiking across the island’s center through a small jungle. Admittedly, I was too lazy to do so since I was busy doing nothing. Nothing besides sunbathing and water bathing and snorkeling as soon as the non-swimmers had left.
To get back to the mainland and continue wherever you want to continue, everyone on Perhentian Besar can arrange sort of an all-inclusive trip for you. Motorboat back to Kuala Besut and then a bus ride to wherever.
Well, actually not to wherever. Nevertheless, going to the most frequented places such as Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, or the Taman Negara is no problem.
How To Get There
As I mentioned a couple of times, there is a jetty in Kuala Besut on the mainland. From here, you can go to either of the Perhentians.
Adjacent to the small port is a very busy bus station where you can take a bus to the most important touristy spots such as Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, the Taman Negara, Kuala Perlis from where you can cross to Pulau Langkawi.
Obviously, you can arrange all your transfers individually. However, it’s insignificantly more expensive to let some business person on the mainland or on the islands arrange the entire trip for your. And you save yourself a lot of stress.
Where to Sleep
It stayed at Suhaila Palace Chalet which shows Suhaila’s great sense of humor. If there is a place on Perhentian Besar that is neither a Palace nor a Chalet, than it’s hers.
It’s a small room with a fan – which is not enough in the Malayan heat. She offers just this, no meals. That’s not a problem since you can get everything you need at the hotels next door.
A really nice place – but, of course, significantly more expensive – is the Tuna Bay Island Resort* next door. It is a relatively upscale place. But they are nice enough to allow even the Cheap Charlies staying next door to use their beach chairs.
In addition, you find further convenient lodging options on this map*:
Best Place to Eat
Best seafood barbecue ever at Cozy Chalet right next to Suhaila’s – what she calls – Palace Chalet. They also serve an acceptable breakfast at an ok price.
Albeit, they are not very friendly – and I don’t like spending my money where people are not nice; but the grilled squid….
Connection And Communication
There are no banks or even ATMs on the Perhentian Islands. However, credit cards are accepted at bigger hotels, restaurants, and dive shops. Nonetheless, you might want to bring some extra cash from the mainland.
Although some dive shops and bigger hotels offer cash advances with credit cards, they charge a major commission for it. 10 percent or even more.
They also change foreign currencies. But since you’re carrying cash on you, you can as well change it in Ringgit on the mainland.
There is power on the Islands, but it comes from generators that tend to come and go. Blackouts are very common. Keeping a flashlight with you – be it one from your phone – is always a smart idea when travelling.
There is a wifi connection, but it strongly depends on where you are staying.
Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Malaysia? Then go to the main post and take your pick!
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Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in January 2021.