Believe it or not, until recently, I wasn’t much of a beach traveller. I also tended to avoid any destination that sold cocktails in “buckets”, or had an any one given time, more drunk people than sober. I was probably a minority among most backpackers in their early twenties.
The first time I visited Malaysia was in 2011. It was a trip of firsts for me. It was my first experience travelling solo, and it was my first time going to a backpacker party destination.
Travel to the Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands are made up of two islands. Both islands have soft white sand, crystal clear blue water, and so much marine life that you don’t even need to go into the water to experience it. But there are two huge difference in the islands; Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besil. Perhentan Kecil, the smaller island, is backpacker heaven. It’s characterized by budget accommodation and all night beach parties. Perhentian Besil, the larger island, is much more family friendly. It’s characterized by a wide range of hotels and resorts, and a lot less cocktails in buckets.
Getting to the Perhentian Islands
The gateway to the Perhentians is Kuala Besut, a small town on the Eastern coast of Malaysia. Malaysia has a great network of buses that connect it’s major towns and cities. I took the overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut. I arrived at around 5 AM, just in time to secure a good price on the connecting speedboat at 7:30 AM and to enjoy a breakfast of Roti Canai in a local restaurant.
At the time of my visit, the speedboat cost 70 Ringgit per person.
Accommodation on the Perhentian Islands
If you are travelling to Perhentian Besut, finding great accommodation in advance is fairly simple. Many of the hotels and resorts on Besut advertise them selves on various internet hotel booking sites. In fact, most of the Perhentian island accommodation you will find online is located on Perhentian Besut.
The hostels and accommodation options on backpacker friendly Perhentian Kecil are usually much cheaper than the ones on Perhentian Besut. However, many of these can not be booked ahead of time. I would recommend taking the overnight bus to Kuala Besut so you can get the first speed boat to the island. This will give you first pick of any of the rooms available. The cheapest and best rooms fill up quickly, so in this case, the early bird really does get the worm.
What to do on the Perhentian Islands
There are no attractions, museums or sights to see on the Perhentian Islands. The main thing to see on the islands are the islands themselves. The beaches are the main things to see on the island. The white sand beaches are beautiful and idyllic, but make sure you pack your sunscreen. I got a bit cocky, and ended up with one epic sun burn.
Other than the beaches, most of the main attractions of the Perhentian islands are actually under the water. The main activity here is snorkelling or scuba diving trips. Popular dive sites include The Pinnacle and The Sugar Wreck. There are quite a few dive operators on the islands, and the competition ensures you can easily get a good deal. However, ensure you compare the quality of the equipment and guides as quality, as well as price, can vary widely.