It was just last February when I realized that I have yet to explore much of my own backyard. A conversation with a German friend in Koh Chang made me realized how little I knew of this place I called home. He asked about the states of the islands off the east coast in Malaysia and honestly I couldn’t answer him. The east coast is often a territory I’ve yet to explore because in my mind “it’s so far away” (which is bullshit considering that I made it far to London!).
It was all thanks to an awesome group of friends that I embarked on a crazy road trip off the East Coast of Malaysia, and had the best mid term break ever! It was such an impromptu decision, one of us popped out about Perhentian Island and the next thing we knew we paid for the accommodations, packed our bags and off we go!
I was pleasantly surprised to find such crystal clear waters at Perhentian Island, and to be honest Perhentian was what I imagined Koh Chang in Thailand to be. The island exudes such laid back ambiance, abundant sea life and literally untouched by development – the only thing developed here was the dive industry and that’s it. And after a much needed escapade from the city jungle of Kuala Lumpur, this is what I would called as paradise.
HOW TO GET THERE
CAR ROAD TRIP
We decided to drive up north from Kuala Lumpur instead of taking the bus, and by doing this we managed to cut cost by sharing fuel expenses and road toll since a few of us owns a car. It was such an intense journey though, we were told that it’ll be a 6 hour max journey but ended up extending to a 10 hour long drive and mind you the road wasn’t exactly that smooth either. If you’re thinking of hitting the road, be extra careful! Keep your eyes out for crazy bus drivers who tend to speed down the hill. We took the Karak Highway into Terengganu and passing by Pahang and Kelantan along the way, but the view up in Gua Musang and breaking into sunrise surrounded by paddy fields in Kelantan was pretty worth it.
BUS / FLIGHTS
Similarly you can take the bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut (which is the port town leading into Perhentian Island) for RM40 – RM50 (USD 15). You can also opt to fly to Kota Bharu and take a connecting bus from there.
BOAT TRANSFER TO PERHENTIAN ISLAND
Now from Kuala Besut you’ll need to get a return boat trip from mainland to Perhentian Island. A standard return boat trip will cost you RM70 (USD 21.50) and you can get them from travel agencies at the jetty. An additional fee of RM5 (USD 1.50) has to be paid upfront at the jetty for marine conservation purposes.
Considering that we were traveling in a group of ten, we took upon a package deal from a travel agency and it was RM290 per person for three days – inclusive of boat transfer, accommodation, food buffet and snorkelling packages. It was a pretty sweet deal, but I chose not to disclose the travel agency because of how they tried to extort more money from us when we got back from the island but hey – shit happens.
WHERE TO STAY
The Perhentian island is divided into two main islands – the Perhentian Kecil (small Perhentian) and the Perhentian Besar (big Perhentian). The bigger island caters more to families and high end resorts, while the smaller one caters more to the backpacker crowds and people who just wanted to chill and dive. Personally I liked the smaller island better, it has more of an attitude and a little less touristy than the bigger island.
Long beach in Perhentian Kecil is a pretty rad place to stay, in which it offers abundant budget accommodations and mid range guesthouses to suit to everyone’s needs. Mohsin and Tropicana are the popular ones for those budget savvy, but there were also pretty fancy guesthouses for families and those who have extra cash to spare.
Most of the listings in Perhentian doesn’t accept online reservations, so it’s wise to catch the earliest boat transfer from the mainland to have a head start on the best bed they have to offer. On a worse case scenario where everywhere else is full, you can opt for an unfinished chalet or abandoned buildings, string up a hammock and camp for the night for free.
Another option is to head down to Coral Bay, which is just a narrow trail away from Long Beach to the other side of the island and offers a far laid back atmosphere. Coral Bay is a tad cheaper than Long Beach, in which most of its occupants consists of budget savvy peeps, and a good place to have BBQ dinner.
My friends and I however stayed at the Fisherman Village, which is far down south of Perhentian Kecil and a ten minute boat ride (RM10 one way) from Long Beach. Similarly you can opt to hike through the trails to Fisherman Village but this will set you back a good one hour and you’ll need proper shoes to do so. For a group of ten, it was a pretty decent place. Clean beds, A/C included and toilets were clean. They said wifi was provided in the whole village but we barely get connections. That being said the Fisherman village is still a village, the locals live here so you’ll see children running round minding their own business jumping off the dock into the water and hunting around for fishes. It’s wise to cover up if you decided to go for a visit, as majority of the villagers are of a Muslim population. But there’s nothing much to do around though, there wasn’t even much of a beach to speak. Restaurants were scarce and closed as early as 8pm. They do have two grocery stores if you’re up for ice creams but other than that, nothing much.
WHAT TO DO IN PERHENTIAN
The main reason why most came to Perhentian was for the wonderful treasures lying underneath the surface. Perhentian boast pretty kickass diving and shipwreck sites with plentiful of dive operators operating all across the island. If you’re thinking of getting your open water PADI license, a 3D2N course starts from RM900++ onwards while diving trip starts as low as RM60. I’ve yet to get my diving license, saving it for when I get to Sipadan but I already had a mental mindset to come back one day and dive.
If diving is not your things, snorkeling is another option. It was easily the main highlight of the trip as our package offered a full 5 snorkeling points around the islands in which I grew fin and became a mermaid (haha). I wasn’t expecting much when our boatmen pointed out turtle point and shark point, in which I would normally regard as a tourist gimmick but imagine the shock I had when I lowered down into the water and there, 5 ft deep down under was a kickass giant hawksbill sea turtle munching happily off the green algae on the ocean floor. They have a nesting site up north in the bigger island which are heavily protected for conservation purposes, but witnessing one cruising so lazily underneath us was worth getting all the uneven sunburn.
And when they said reef sharks I imagined teeny weeny sharks the size of my arms, but imagine the shock I had when one came out of nowhere the size bigger than my own body. And I witnessed not one, but two (apparently the area was full with sharks!) but they’re pretty harmless. Do be mindful though if you get too close especially in shallow water they can mistakenly bite your leg, especially if you panic and start wadding around aggressively.
Other notable snorkel point was the lighthouse off the shores of the smaller island, in which I saw a couple of rays and had the time of my life jumping off the 5 feet lighthouse platform into the deeper oceans. I had so much fun that I actually went up and dive in twice.
If you’re tired by all the sea actions, Perhentian also boast some pretty good beaches – such as the Romantic Beach above. I was sad to leave the insanely white sand and the pristine blue waters, it was really beautiful. It was also a pretty secluded beach (hence, the name romantic beach) so it’s perfect for a quick getaway and sunset watching.
The boys also took up for some quick roll in the sand. It was really really beautiful, I wish I could stay longer.
Another highlight of the trip was the impromptu decision to hike up the hills in Perhentian Kecil, and this was done pretty last minute as we were leaving home the very same afternoon. We thought it’ll be an easy journey because apparently they built a small jetty for easier access to the top but the heavy storm snapped it into half, forcing us to take the back route and it was hell of a half an hour journey up to the windmill station. But the breathtaking view that met us on top was amazing, it made all the insanity of hiking with just a pair of slippers and sundresses worth all the sweats.
The water was so breathtaking blue I swear it wasn’t even photoshopped, and this was taken off by a mere iPhone camera. It was even more breathtaking in real life, we just stood there in awestruck (while taking gazilions of photos) and the fact no one even bother to head up in the sweltering heat in the middle of the afternoon cause us to had the whole place to ourselves.
It was pure bliss, I couldn’t be any happier.
THE BEACH IS GOOD, BUT WHERE’S THE PARTY?
If you’re imagining Koh Phangan or Koh Phi Phi then I’m afraid you got yourself at the wrong side of the island. Bars are limited and being a Muslim country with predominantly Muslim occupants, alcohols are not cheap. A bottle of beer will set you back at least RM15 or more, and “cheap local liquor” in which they called as Monkey Juice are pretty dodgy.
And there’s no such thing as a full moon party, and all that jazz. That being said, if you’re set to have a good time, do bring your own liquor where most brought over their own stock from Langkawi, which is a duty free island off across to the west coast of Malaysia.
You can also build your own campfire, sit around singing along to Siti Nurhaliza‘s songs, doing random shits across the beach and talked away the whole night – which was the exact thing we did. That, and a whole loads of dancing and drama just to kickstart the fire and keeping it alive.
All in all Perhentian Island was a pleasant surprise. I came with no expectation and went back with plentiful of memories, and the amazing companies I had made the trip even more amazing. It’s easy on the money too – for a 3D2N trip I spent roughly RM320 in total. If you had the chance to venture to this side of Malaysia, please do. It’s such a beautiful place to go for a break, and the fact that we had such place existed at our own backyard makes you wonder what else have you missed.
That being said, I cant wait to hit the Semporna Archipelango and Sipadan island soon. Till next time!