The Malay word Perhentian is roughly translated as “stopping point”, which is appropriate considering that most travelers come here and end up staying awhile. The Perhentian Islands in Malaysia are composed of two islands, Perhentian Kecil (small) and Perhentian Besar (big). Both are hugely popular with snorkelers and divers, as the reefs and crystalline waters surrounding them are host to a wide variety of coral, sea turtles, sharks, and reef-fish. Mostly, people come to these beautiful and rustic islands to relax, enjoy the beach, and slow down. The islands are more expensive than the rest of Malaysia so be sure to budget extra when you come to this paradise.
Hostel prices – There aren’t any hostels on the islands, just upscale beach houses. Rooms start around 30 MYR, but 75 MYR is more average. Check out renting from a local as well for a good budget option — you won’t mind many options online in advance.
Budget hotel prices – There are a few hotels on the islands with prices between 150-285 MYR per night for a double room. For a budget hotel with WiFi and breakfast included, expect to pay on the higher end of that scale. For a hotel with a pool (not that you need one with the beach so close), prices begin around 300 MYR per night. Airbnb is available BUT extremely limited. A private room (of which there are few) will cost around 85 MYR per night.
Average cost of food – Eating is extremely affordable here. Meals are typically around 8 MYR, but can go up to 30 MYR in the more expensive tourist restaurants. Stick to the local food for the cheapest prices, and shop at the local markets if you plan on buying groceries. Western food items (think wine, cheese) will be much more expensive so avoid buying them if you are on a budget! If you need a place with fast WiFi, check out Ewan’s cafe — it has some of the best WiFi in the area.
Transportation costs – There are no roads on the islands, but there are many walking routes so be prepared to walk everywhere. For slightly longer distances, water taxis are the main form of transport, costing around 15 MYR for most journeys. To get to the islands, a bus and ferry from KL will cost around 100 MYR per person. There are also speed boats available from the mainland for around 70 MYR per person, but keep an eye out for those trying to undercut this price.
Suggested daily budget – 160-250 MYR / 33-55 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at the local cheap restaurants, and using local transportation. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Shop around – Diving is hugely popular here, so shop around for a dive center that is inexpensive, safety conscious, and takes in the dive sites that you want to see.
- Bring your own alcohol – There is very little alcohol on the islands, and what is there is expensive. Bring your own to save yourself some money!
Top Things to See and Do in the Perhentian Islands
- Go scuba diving – The Perhentian islands offer excellent diving, and draw divers from far and wide. In addition to coral and fish, the Perhentians are home to sea turtles and many species of shark. Visibility is often in the 20m range, and no wet suit is required. Expect to pay around 75 MYR per dive, and around 1,200 MYR for an Open Water certification.
- Go snorkeling – All resorts rent out snorkeling gear and arrange snorkeling tours around the islands. You can get some cheaper equipment from some local restaurants. Popular snorkeling spots on Besar include Teluk Pauh (to the left of the beach in front of the PI Resort), Shark Point, and Tanjung Basi. For turtles, the best place is the middle of the beach in front of Perhentian Island Resort, where the sandy bottom is covered with algae. A snorkeling trip from Kecil will cost 25-35 MYR per person.
- Go jungle trekking – These tropical islands are crisscrossed by small paths that connect one beach to another, but be prepared to sweat and swat off bugs. There is a good chance to see big monitor lizards and large spiders between Long Beach and Coral Bay. If you are lucky, you might also spot a monkey or two.
- Lounge on the beach – The most popular beach on the islands is Long Beach, which is highly regarded as the center of activities during the day and is dotted with hammocks and umbrellas.
- Catch a sunset – Coral Bay is a great spot to catch the sun setting. There are also a couple of small and private beaches next to D’Lagoon that you can go to if you’d prefer to take in the sight away from the (relatively small) crowds.
- Watch turtles – The islands are home to a significant turtle nesting population. Head to Turtle Beach at night to catch a glimpse of them laying their eggs and of the baby turtles making their way to the sea.
- Join a fire party – Head to Bubu Long Beach resort at night for an evening of hula and fire dancing on the beach. There are no clubs in the Perhentians; everyone just sits on the beach, drinking, hanging out, and watching the locals perform.
- Volunteer – Why watch the turtles all week when you can help conserve their home for years to come? The nesting areas are frequently in danger due to oil spills and unfavorable conditions. There are a few sites and organizations that will help you get involved.
- Go sea-kayaking – The waters around the islands provide some excellent opportunities for sea kayaking. Many of the resorts rent out equipment or you can sign up for a tour. It gives you a good chance to get to some of the places on the island where you can’t easily walk to. Expect to pay 30-70 MYR for a rental.
- Eat out in Kecil – It can be a little more crowded in Kecil than Besar, but prices are cheaper. Senja is a great seaside restaurant over Coral Bay, which offers dishes of local flavor at around 11 MYR. Maya, Mama’s Café, and Amelia Café are three other great spots to check out.
- Get in your beach time – While it may be tempting to fill every hour with a great dive or snorkeling session, don’t forget to take some time to just lay in the sun with a good book and relax. On Perhentian Kecil, Long Beach is the more popular and vibrant beach while Coral Beach has a more laid-back atmosphere. On Besar, Teluk Dalam is quieter and Love Beach has more social activity.