Perhentian Islands, Pearls of the South China Sea

Perhentian Islands, Pearls of the South China Sea

Pulau Perhentian is a tropical paradise, one that is fringed by windswept palms with rows of hammocks swinging from them; beach seemingly dipped in earthshine-gold, contrasting against the backdrop of an azure sky and clear, teal waters—a much-needed respite from the stifling miasma of the city.

A Tropical Paradise off the Coast of Kuala Besut

Dazzling blue sea from bird's eye view
Beautiful Perhentian Island

Pulau Perhentian—meaning “stopover” island in the Malay language—is situated just 21km off the coast of Terengganu. Though often lumped together, there are actually two islands; the ‘Kecil’ which means ‘small’ in Malay, is suited for backpackers while the ‘Besar’, meaning ‘big’, is for those who prioritise comfort and quietude. Blessed with stretches of powdery white sands, Pulau Perhentian is the place to be for beach bums.

Though it has been somewhat developed over the years, time still seems to elapse much slower, with a relatively poorer internet connection and phone signal. The laid-back ambience, as well as stunning scenery, seems to fit into what most would describe as ‘paradise’; its lush green jungles and sun-kissed beaches are sanctuaries for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Pulau Perhentian is generally avoided during the mid-November to mid-February monsoon season. However, for those hardier travellers, you can still get to the island and stay at one of the few accommodations that are resiliently opened during the monsoon.

To say that Pulau Perhentian is gorgeous would be an understatement. Though occasionally pock-marked by a surge of visitors, these islands (Kecil and Besar) still rival that of Thailand’s wondrous yet sometimes overcrowded islands. Read further about Perhentian Islands and other Malaysian islands at The Telegraph: Malaysia’s Unsung Islands.

Getting to this Sequestered Haven

Getting to Pulau Perhentian, drive to the fishing port of Kuala Besut and embark on a boat at the jetty. It takes 45 minutes before you get to its sprawling soft sands. If you’re coming in by air, the closest airport to Kuala Besut Jetty is the Kota Bharu Sultan Ismail Petra Airport; connected through a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur. Note that the boat fee is RM70 return and you’re required to pay an additional RM5 conservation fee.

If staying on one island doesn’t sit well with you (with the neighbouring island being so close), you can easily charter a speedboat to take you to the other side. It is quite common to want to experience both the quietude of Pulau Perhentian Besar and the equally charming but more lively counterpart, the Pulau Perhentian Kecil.

Exploring the Vibrant Underwater World

Vibrant underwater world at Pulau Redang Marine Park
Experience the richly coloured underwater world with your own eyes

Situated on the fringe of Pulau Redang Marine Park, Perhentian’s waters is home to stunning corals adorning the sea, as well as a thriving underwater ecosystem, densely populated by vibrant fishes, sharks, turtles and various other sea creatures. In other to fully experience the wonders of the ocean, you could either go snorkelling or diving to explore the excellent underwater seascape.

Intimidating shoal of sharks
Shark Point, an
 incredible snorkelling site 

There are 3 popular points for snorkelling, the Shark Point, Turtle Point and Fish Point—which can’t get any more obvious than that. Shark Point is home to numerous black tip reef sharks which are relatively harmless to us. Found commonly in shallow waters, it is often called one of the most beautiful sharks in the ocean.

Turtle Point is filled with—you guessed it—turtles! While you shouldn’t expect a nest of turtles, Turtle Point is your best bet to snorkel beside sea turtles and get up close to them. There aren’t many corals here but you’d be able to see some fishes. Another popular snorkelling point would be the Fish Point. If you’re hell-bent on exploring the seas via snorkelling, check out our Adventoro's Perhentian Island Snorkelling Excursion 3D2N to kickstart your holiday!

Although it is a common sight to see people baiting fishes with bread just to capture them on camera, it is time we put a stop to it. Ocean Crusaders: Why You Shouldn’t Feed Bread to Fish asserts that the yeast in bread can cause constipation in most fishes and while some are alright, others—in their weakened state—would be easy prey to predators. We urge you to stop the practice and discourage those who meant to do it.

Clownfish residing in a sea anemone
Sea anemones and clownfish found at Tanjung Besi

If you’re an avid diver and keen to explore the ocean below the surfs, Sugar Wreck, Tiger Rock and Tanjung Besi are dive spots that would help you uncover the wonders of the ocean. Sugar Wreck describes a shipwreck, the grave of an old cargo ship that met its end in 2000. Here, you may spot lagoon rays spanning 2 to 3 metres wide! Tiger Rock (also known as Terembu Tiga) is located on the east side of Pulau Perhentian Besar is adorned with sea arches, rock crevices—an underwater playground of sorts.

In addition, Tanjung Besi boasts gorgeous corals dotting the ocean, worthy to be dubbed Poseidon’s backyard. Sea anemones and clownfishes are strewn across the ocean scape; parrotfish, angelfish and various other fishes breathe life into an otherwise desolate landscape. In September and October, the whale shark claim dominion over the seas as a surge of plankton population spur them on. Tanjung Besi is preferred by The Star: Protecting the Reefs of Pulau Perhentian.

Aside from that, there is also the Tong Laut dive site situated to the north-west of Perhentian Kecil. Here, you can catch a glimpse of catsharks, bamboo sharks and fishes of different shapes, sizes and colours as well as vibrant corals, each a microcosm of biodiversity. If you’re itching to begin your diving excursions, check out our Adventoro's Perhentian Island Fun Dive Adventure 3D2N.

Canoeing on Crystalline Waters

Canoe on sandy beach
Ready to explore the open waters? Get on a sea canoe! 

Snorkelling and diving are not the be-all and end-all to Pulau Perhentian. There are more ways than one to experience its natural beauty. From island cruises, relaxing at private bays and secluded coves to windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing and canoeing, you’re bound to have loads of fun! Enjoy sea canoeing to navigate the calm, clear waters and feel like seafaring natives. Perhaps you might find yourself on any of Perhentian’s uninhabited islands such as Pulau Seringgi, Pulau Rawa, and Susu Dara somewhere off the Perhentian Kecil.

Embarking on a Trail of Discovery

Monitor lizard resting on a rock
A monitor lizard lounging near a trail

For those craving more than just the open sea, there are numerous nature trails strewn all over the southern half of Pulau Perhentian Kecil and also a patch of wilderness on the Western side of Pulau Perhentian Besar. If you’re stationed at Pulau Perhentian Kecil, you can start your nature trail from Fishing village and follow a boardwalk either on the east coast, west coast or inland to Long Beach or Coral Bay. It takes approximately 45 minutes to 2 hours.

If you find yourself at the Pulau Perhentian Besar, you can embark on a 30 minutes’ jungle trek across the island (starting from Perhentian Island Resort) to Teluk Dalam. Then, continue for another 20 minutes to Love Beach before heading back to Perhentian Island Resort on the trail parallel to the beach (a further 45 minutes’ trek).

Aside from the arresting beauty of the underwater wildlife, the Perhentian Islands also boast its own land flora and fauna which becomes obvious as you embark on the nature trails. You might come across large monitor lizards in your path; if you do, steer clear and be on your way. They can also be found lying around near island resorts; our very own Komodo dragons right at our backyards!

Volunteer at the Turtle Sanctuary Pulau Perhentian

A bale of baby turtles
Do your part to save the turtles

Perhaps one of the most memorable sights at Pulau Perhentian, you might be able to catch sight of turtles laying eggs Turtle Beach at night. Head there around April to August and you might just be lucky. Wanderlust Travel Magazine: Asia’s Best Beaches - With Extra Thrills also mentioned that Pulau Perhentian is probably your best bet to see turtles.

Perhentian Islands were once known to have hundreds of Green and Hawksbill turtles but now only hosts some 300 nesting sites. You can volunteer at the turtle hatchery on Pulau Perhentian to conserve their population for years to come; check out the Ecoteer Turtle Conservation Project Perhentian Islands website if you’re keen on helping these wonderful creatures that are threatened by oil spills and egg poaching.

Hopping Idyllic Beaches to Escape the Crowd

Pristine Adam & Eve beach
Sun-kissed Adam & Eve Beach, perfect for relaxation

If you’re looking for a beach to clear your mind and just relax in the tropical environment, head towards Turtle Beach, Adam & Eve Beach or Long Beach. Another good location to bask under the sun is at the bay in front of Perhentian Island Resort on Perhentian Besar and the lower western stretch of Perhentian Kecil. There’s also the Romantic Beach north of Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil for you to enjoy a spectacular view of the sunset.

However. if you’re aching for some solitude and silence devoid of human chatter, then you might have to venture out further but if you’re there during off-peak seasons, a quiet spot to yourself is almost a given. CNN Travel ranked Pulau Perhentian at No. 13 of the World’s 100 Best Beaches which speaks volumes.

Overnight Options to Lay Your Head

If you’re looking for a place to rest your head, Pulau Perhentian has a little bit of everything for every kind of traveller. From luxurious rooms that open to the beach and sea to chalets situated atop a hill, overlooking the vast waters, you will certainly find something to your liking (except maybe during peak seasons where rooms are limited). Though Perhentian Kecil seems to be the place for backpackers, rest assured that there are also campsites on Perhentian Besar and affordable chalets.

Some of the options on the higher end that you can consider are Bubbles Dive Resort and Perhentian Island Resort. Located at Perhentian Besar, these resorts are located right in front of a lush coral bay perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving. If you find yourself at Perhentian Island Resort between June to September, you might even chance upon nesting green sea turtles which would enrich your holiday experience even further! 

Bubbles Dive Resort is hidden at the secluded bay of Tanjung Tukas—a boon for honeymooners. If you're looking to do diving, this is likely what you're looking for; spacious rooms, delectable buffet meals as well as professional diving instructors and well-maintained equipment to ensure you enjoy your diving experience. Check out Adventoro's Perhentian Island Open Water Dive Course 5D4N which offers full-board accommodation as well as a PADI Open Water Diver course that is internationally recognised! 

In a Nutshell

Though the Perhentian Islands sound like a flawless getaway paradise, like every other place, it does have its downside. One major problem is that there are no ATM machines on the island so you’ll have to bring sufficient cash else you’ll be in trouble! However, it is without a doubt an affordable, relaxing and beautiful holiday destination that you should definitely consider when in Malaysia! Adventoro offers a myriad of tours to Pulau Perhentian if you’re interested in beginning right away; Adventoro's Perhentian Island Escapades.

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