Find paradise, Perhentian Islands Malaysia

The Perhentain Islands Malaysia are a collection of stunning tropical islands off the northeast coast of Malaysia, not far from the Thai border. There are two main islands: Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two, which draws young backpackers to its shores, and Perhentian Besar, the larger island, home to more resorts and a chilled out, quieter scene. On my trip round Malaysia I visited the smaller of the two islands, Perhentain Kecil, and, like many before me, found it near impossible to leave. It’s difficult to find fresh superlatives to describe the beaches and islands of Southeast Asia but these islands truly are blessed with some of the clearest, bluest waters and most pristine, white sands I have ever seen.

Perhentian Islands Malaysia: Tropical island paradise
Tropical island paradise

Getting to the Perhentians

Tucked up, about 10km off the coast, in very northeast of Peninsula Malaysia, it might seem like a bit of an effort getting to the Perhentian Islands Malaysia. Transport in Malaysia is great though. To illustrate the point, I travelled here from Kuala Tehan, near the Taman Negara National Park, some 400km away, in a string of pre-booked minivans, then over on a speed boat to the islands. I set off in the morning and arrived with plenty of time to find accommodation in the Perhentains and settle in – all in time for an evening meal on the twilit sands of Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil. Of course, hiring a car in Malaysia is also a great way to travel around the country with more freedom, although there are no vehicles or roads on the Perhentian islands themselves.

Perhentian Islands Malaysia: Beautiful Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Beautiful Long Beach

What to do on the Perhentian Islands Malaysia

Relax on beautiful, tropical beaches

Many people would say the best thing to do on the Perhentian Islands Malaysia is absolutely nothing. Take a good book or two, throw out a beach towel and relax on the powdery sand, under the shade of an umbrella. Every so often you’ll glance up from the page and become transfixed by the dazzling, electric blue waters, which only become more unbelievable the more you stare. There are plenty of restaurants along the beachfronts to get meals and refreshments. As the sun goes down and night rolls in, the bars open. Even on Perhentain Kecil, the backpacker haven, it’s a much more sedate scene than you’ll find on Thai islands. Alcohol is available but it’s pricer than in neighbouring countries. People tend to relax at low wooden tables, nursing drinks and smoking hookah, listening to the soft waves on the shore, digging toes into the fine sand and enjoying the relative quiet and the blanket of stars in the ink-black sky.

Perhentian Islands Malaysia: Delicious snacks on the beach
Delicious snacks

Snorkel or dive in the Perhentians

If you find you need to break up all that relaxation with something a little more active, snorkelling and diving are incredibly popular around the Perhentian islands. I’ve never done any scuba diving but there are plenty of courses and trips to be had. While here, I snorkelled instead. Snorkelling in these fantastically clear waters is incredible. The islands do see plenty of tourists but the coral around them still seems fairly well preserved and the fish haven’t been scared off. You can do half or full-day trips. You’ll usually be taken out by yourselves, or in a very small group, in one of the small speed boats used for transport by the locals. I saw more, snorkelling in the Perhentians, than I’d seen anywhere in Southeast Asia: hundreds of tropical fish, numerous types of sparkling coral, reef sharks and, for the first time in my life, a sea turtle. When travelling to the islands we also saw dolphins leaping through the waters not far from our boat.

Getting around the Perhentian Islands Malaysia

The two main islands of the Perhentians are both relatively small and fairly easy to explore. The only forms of transport are boat and your own two feet. The interiors of the islands are made up of lush, tropical jungle but there are trails and pathways linking various beaches. After a few nights on Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil, I travelled round to the more secluded D’Lagoon. This small bay is dominated by one very pleasant guesthouse and is a great place for snorkelling and relaxing. From here you can hike, a short way through the jungle, to what are often totally secluded beaches. Boat rides between the Kecil and Besar islands are also fairly cheap.

Perhentian Islands Malaysia: The view from my room at D'Lagoon, Perhentian Kecil
View from our room

Practicalities of the Perhentians

There are no ATMs on the Perhentian Islands Malaysia, so take out enough money for your intended stay and then some; chances are your return to the mainland will be put off as long as possible when you experience the breathtaking beauty of this tropical paradise. The islands are also all but shutdown in the monsoon season, from about the middle of November to mid-February, so bear that in mind when planning your trip.

Share your stories of the Perhentians below. Tell us about other amazing islands you’ve visited or other great places to visit in Malaysia.

About James Gill

Born and raised in the UK, James got his first taste for travel on an inter rail trip, round Europe. Since completing his English Lit. degree, he has spent most of his time working and traveling in Asia. As well as the UK, James has lived in Thailand and southern China and is now trying his luck in Australia. He has backpacked throughout Southeast Asia and China and travelled in America, Australia and Europe. He is a keen reader and loves eating spicy food.

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