Perhentian Kecil, which literally translates as “small stopping point” in Malay, entices travelers to do exactly that with tropical sunsets, coral reefs, isolated beaches, wildlife, and a good backpacking scene.
Located on the east coast of Malaysia close to the Thai border, is a small group of coral-reef islands known as the Perhentians. The two main islands open to travelers are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, respectively the “big” and “small” island.
Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar?
The big island, Perhentian Besar, is more quiet and mainly popular with families and resort tourists. It has a bigger permanent population than the small island, with more infrastructure and facilities.
Perhentian Kecil is most visited by a wide range of budget travelers and holds a true backpacker’s vibe: a lively atmosphere, white beaches, cheap diving and snorkeling possibilities.
Beaches on the Island
The island has two main beaches: Long beach and Coral Bay. These beaches are situated on different sides of the island and are separated by a 10- minute jungle path.
- Long Beach: The first place the boat stops on the island — is the most popular beach with the party and sunbathing crowds. Long Beach is the longest stretch of sand on the island and the sea is clear and shallow. On breezy days the waves get bigger and possible to surf. At night, Long Beach is the place for partying — most of the beach bars are situated here and stay open until late.
- Coral Bay: The more quiet of the two beaches, it is smaller, has more rocks and is the place to see spectacular nightly sunsets – the best time to visit Coral Bay. In the early evening there is a stand selling alcohol and the beach restaurants get busy as they start up their seafood BBQs. Around midnight, Coral Bay becomes quiet and the party continues at Long Beach.
Things to Do on Perhentian Kecil
- Snorkeling: Most of the beach bars and accommodations offer snorkeling trips including breakfast. The boats follow the same routes and operate together most of the time. Snorkeling trips can be booked in advance or directly before leaving. Trips leaving from Coral Bay are cheaper than the ones leaving from Long Beach.
- Private Beaches: On the north/right end of Coral Bay behind the Sha-Ri-La Resort are many small, secluded, white-sand beaches separated by rocks. These beaches are nice to explore and around the rocks you will find colorful fish, crabs and coral. Snorkeling gear can be hired at stands on the beach for low prices and is worth taking.
- Diving: There are many dive shops on both Long Beach and Coral Bay that offer single fun dives for around US $25. Prices go down with each consecutive dive. For first timers, Perhentian Kecil is a great place to get PADI certified; many dive shops bundle courses with accommodation.
- Hiking: From the main beaches there is a trekking path (5 km) to the Fisherman’s Village — the main village on the island. The trail passes small beaches and deserted accommodations where zero-budget squatters sometimes set up camp. When walking, chances are high of spotting some of the island’s big monitor lizards and even a sea otter who belongs to an isolated bungalow complex on a small beach!
Eating on the Island
Most beach bars offer broadly the same menu of Malay food, Western dishes and beach BBQs after sunset — a wide selection of fresh seafood served with rice, a potato, fruit, and salad. The lobster, barracuda, tiger prawns and crabs are definitely a good value for your money.
Also worth trying is the cheapest local spirit or arak of the Perhentians: Monkey Juice.
A wide range of bungalows, cottages and resorts are situated on the island. Dorms can also be found at the Sha-Ri-La Resort at Coral Bay. Arrive early at the island for the best chances of finding good accommodation. Some of the places have a bad reputation for stealing; put your belongings somewhere safe.
How to Get There to Perhentian Kecil
Perhentian Kecil can be reached from the town of Kuala Besut by a 40-minute speedboat. Boats run daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. A return ticket (70 RM) can easily be purchased at one of the many booking offices throughout the town of Kuala Besut. Return tickets are sold with open date and your return can be confirmed the day before leaving the island.
Every visitor to the islands has to pay a small conservation fee before leaving to the islands. Tickets are sold at the jetty terminal and you will be asked to show your conservation ticket before departure.
When going to Long Beach you will have to transfer to a smaller boat at sea to be brought closer to the beach – expect to pay an extra 3 RM.
Bring enough cash from the mainland — there is no ATM on Perhentian Kecil.
When to Go
High season at the Perhentian Islands is from the end of March until October. Finding accommodation during the peak months of June and July can be competitive.
During the low season it is possible to visit, but be prepared for a -very- quiet stay. Also, the sea can get pretty rough when visiting during these months.
Tips for Visiting Perhentian Kecil
- There is no ATM on the island — make sure to bring enough cash. If desperate, you can get cash with a credit card at some resorts and dive shops for a poor rate.
- Alcohol is expensive on the island and choices are limited. If you are planning on partying, bring some bottles from the mainland.
- Write down the name of your boat company after buying your ticket. If you lose your return ticket you can still confirm your trip back as they register each visitor.
- Cover your backpack, especially on windy days. The speedboat to the islands can be rough.
Beaches and Accommodation
- Arrive early at the island for the best chances of finding good accommodation.
- When considering at which beach to stay, Long beach is most popular with party crowds. Coral Bay is more quiet. Accommodation and food at Coral Bay is slightly cheaper.
- Keep in mind that crossing the path between Long Beach and Coral Bay at night can be risky. The jungle path is dark and remote — better to team up before crossing. Always bring a torch.
- Keep your belongings somewhere safe! Ask about a lockbox at reception; unfortunately, some accommodations have a bad reputation for theft.
- Book your snorkeling trip at Coral Bay; lower prices for the same trip are offered.
- Explore the small beaches behind the Sha-Ri-La Resort — keep climbing over the rocks for more private beaches – and take snorkeling gear which can be rented at shops and small stands.
- Perhentian Kecil is a great and cheap place to get scuba certified; many dive centers bundle courses with accommodation.
- When swimming and sunbathing, protect your skin before going to the beach. Even when your skin is already used to the sun — be careful! Really!
Eating and Drinking
- Try the beach BBQs, fruit shakes and Monkey Juice – the island’s local arak. Monkey Juice is sweet and mixes well with Sprite or Coke. It is sold only at the beach stands and bars. The restaurants don’t sell alcohol but the staff allows you to bring in your own as long as you keep it discreet.
Meet the Author:
Laura Mayer was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She has been addicted to Asia since her first visit in 2006. Laura has a background in Arts and Children’s Studies and has decided in 2012 to follow her passion and become a full-time traveler. Check out Laura’s blog, the OctopusDiaries.