Pulau Perhentian ~ Kuala Besut, Terengganu Malaysia

Pasir Panjang ( Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil)

Paradise Found and Lost (Perhentian Kecil)

The phrase 'the grass is always greener' is certainly true of most travellers who have zig-zagged the globe thrice over but not have even ventured so far out of their home state. Well, this has proved true of me in any case.I have certainly travelled to faraway locations but never has it crossed my mind to spend time travelling through my own birth country. Until that is, this February, after meeting countless Swiss, Finnish and Australian backpackers who were perpetually raving on about the Perhentian Islands..I thought to myself, "This is pretty embarrassing, I better go see for myself what the hoopla's all about". So off I went on my search for this Malaysian paradise..me, my backpack, heaps of sunscreen and a big thick book for company. The journey there was relatively stress-free, a bus ride from KL to Kuala Besut, and a 30 min boat ride (fast boat, expect to pay more than the 1 hour slow boat) to Perhentian Kecil. Despite my doubts, I have to admit that my first glimpses of the Perhentian islands were pretty breath-taking.

I found it difficult to believe that there existed off the coast of Peninsular Malaysia, crystal clear blue waters and white-lined shores (not after the let down of Langkawi). I quickly found myself a chalet at Matahari Bungalows (strangely enough hardly any of the bungalows/chalets on the island are on the beach!). The bungalow was comfortable enough although a tad on the expensive side ($60 Ringgit) when compared to what one can get in Thailand. I soon found myself a nice spot along Long Beach (Pasir Panjang) and kept myself occupied with obtaining the perfect tan.

The island itself is rather small, there are a couple of walks that take you to the other parts of the island, but I found the best beach to be on Pasir Panjang.

Hawksbill turtles kept in a pail for release

However, I was disappointed to discover that most of the corals around the island have since been destroyed by speedboats, by too much human contact (and abuse) and general lack of environmental-consciousness by both the resort/restaurant owners and tourists. Whilst the water remains clear, there really isn't much to see by way of sea-life unless one goes diving. Which I did, and found it to be pretty interesting.

There were a couple of interesting marine life to be found like the trigger fish, turtles, whip-rays and large schools of fish. However, my regret is that I left it 10 years too late in paying a visit to this once-idyllic paradise.

the best sunsets can be seen over at coral bay

There's not a lot by way of night-entertainment which is I think part of the appeal to so many western travellers who are seeking respite from the incessant techno beats being belted out from every Thai island. If you love your beer/alcohol, a friendly piece of advice..stock up on the mainland and bring your booty over (beer is NOT cheap on the islands). The food was a bit of a let down..all the restaurants seemed to have worked off the same menu.there is certainly no shortage of mee goreng, nasi goreng, BBQ fish with choice of 3 sauces etc. As a food-lover and a born Malaysian (a lethal combination), the Malaysian food repertoire extends far greater (and far tastier) than that found on Perhentian Kecil.

I guess the million dollar question is 'would I recommend it to my friends?'. I would say yes, but with the caveat that it really is a place to get away for pure rest & relaxation. A stay of 3-4 days would suffice, unless you plan on taking in a couple of the surrounding islands (I have been told that there are some pretty amazing islands around that region that have not fallen victim to mass tourism).


As with all other places where there are many visitors, there are also many touts, thieves, and opportunists. So, do look after your belongings and just make sure that if you're a woman traveller - your doors are locked when you go off to sleep. There have been incidents where ladies have been molested and the local authority are too pressed to do anything about it. Just be aware that the young islanders have just only been recently exposed to all these liberation that comes with the island being suddenly a tourist destination. Sometimes you may get the odd annoyance here and there.

For example; the little motorboat that takes customers from the speedboat or slowboat arriving on Perhentian Kecil to the beach charges each customer per person per way. So be prepared to be ripped off.



A short trek from Pasir Panjang (Long Beach) takes you through a clear trail to Aur Beach on the other side of the island. Here you can see remnants of what used to be a beautiful plot of virgin jungle.


bubu beach resort ~ a spot of night time entertainment but if this is not your scene, there's always a video screening somewhere and sometimes you may get to watch something not so dated

There are quite a number of dive centres in Perhentian. Scout around for responsible operators. There are a few cowboy outfits that charge a little cheaper but prefer to take larger groups out for dives.

For a few ringgit less, you lose out on it big time. Also the responsibility as a diver rests upon you..conservation is an issue here in Perhentian and many are not heeding the signs of degradation around. The coral reefs are beginning to suffer the wear and tear of irresponsible operators and their customers. The Lonely Planet featured Perhentian in the Malaysia/South Thailand chapter a little while ago - showing Justine Shapiro having a wild time snorkelling just of the beach. It's gone now. Nothing but dead corals..

Packing Checklist

  • Swimsuit
  • Snorkelling gear - mask, snorkel, fins, booties, life jacket (prescriptive mask if required)
  • Diving equipment- mask, snorkel, fins, booties, regulator and octopus, BCD, dive table, dive logs, marine life ready reckoner, dive computers, knife, lycra or 3mm skin suits, gloves, underwater torches, dive watch - it's advisable to bring your own kit as rental can be expensive. If you require dive equipment best to inform the operators upon booking of package. Equipment rental is charged separately.
  • Dive card
  • Life jackets especially for children
  • Waterproof pouches, torch
  • Clothing - shorts, t-shirts, sarong, towel , light dress
  • Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser, after-tan lotion, shampoo, soap, women's sanitary products, shaving foam and shaver, comb
  • Sun block, mosquito repellent, mosquito netting, hammock
  • Travel journal, reading material
  • Binoculars
  • Prescriptive medicine, dietary supplements, motion sickness tablets
  • Some resorts require you to bring your own blankets and bath towels
  • one more, leave your Ego behind!



A few resorts have their water drawn from their own wells while others pipe them from streams.


Generator powered electricity means that lights and fan go on at sunset and off at sunrise. A few resorts are a little mean. generator power off at midnight! Electricity will soon be available on both islands 24hours . The government has finally got its act together and commissioned a wind powered sub station expected to be ready by mid to end 2007. No more diesel smoke and constant droll of the generators hopefully


Making overseas call is expensive. The charges are exorbitant and often dialled from mobile phones.

Internet cafes are available. Rates are higher than the mainland rates.


The resorts do not carry such facilities

Money changer

Poor rates. For the desperate. Please, if you need to get some money, make sure you have some with you before you get to Kuala Besut or Tok Bali jetty. There are no ATM machines at either of these jetties.


Almost everyone speaks English.

Things to buy

The resorts do sell some toiletries and some t-shirts and island souvenirs but nothing to shout about. The villages have sundry shops that can provide your basic needs such as toiletries, snacks, towels. DO NOT BUY any souvenirs made from corals, shells and other marine animals such as starfishes. Anyone found in possession of such items will be fined RM5,000. If the villagers don't know better, advise them not to exploit their environment. Even dead corals - the bleached ones sometimes found washed ashore should be left where it is found. Did you know that hermit crabs do not grow their own shells? ..they inhabit abandoned or empty shells. For all you shell collectors out there, have a thought for these poor, homeless creatures. Leave those shells where you found them!

Food and Drinks

Western and local cuisine available...with barbeques a staid favourite with customers.

Alcohol used to be freely available and seems like its getting a little difficult to find and pretty expensive too due to scarcity. Best bet? Bring your own

Women travellers please take heed!

If you're travelling on your own or with a few fellow women travellers, please try not to take privately arranged snorkelling trips or tours while on the islands. Private boat operators may approach you and offer cheaper rates than what the resort can offer, but it is at your own risk. Best to stick with the resorts and make sure that the boatmen that is providing the service from the resort is validated by the resort itself. There have been several unpleasant accounts of harrassments and indecent proposals.

Thank you.

getting there and away

By car

- from Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Besut (the town you take ferries to Perhentian), is located south of Kota Bahru and north of Kuala Terengganu. Driving to Kuala Besut takes approximately 8hrs from Kuala Lumpur. From Kuala Lumpur, take route 2 to Kuantan, then either take route 14 or route 3(a more scenic route) to Kuala Terengganu. Continue on route 3 until you reach Jertih. Follow road signs from Jertih to Kuala Besut (route 84)

(please note that Besut is a district, you want to get to Kuala Besut)

By taxi

- from Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut/Tok Bali

A taxi ride from Kota Bharu takes about 45minutes to the jetty and costs approximately RM55 - RM65 per taxi per way. But the taxis from Kuala Besut to Kota Bahru can be a bit rough and a non-airconditioned ride can cost from RM55, depending on how desperate you are. Don't let the touts scare you...just stand your ground and bargain away til you get the same deal as your ride to Kuala Besut.

- from Kota Bharu Airport to Kuala Besut/Tok Bali

Taxi ride costs between RM65 - 70 per taxi

- from Wakaf Bharu Train Station

Expect to pay between RM55 - 65 per taxi

By coach

Please refer to Kota Bahru or Jerteh/Kuala Besut for coach schedule

By train

Closest station is Wakaf Bharu. From Wakaf Bharu to Kuala Besut, taxis cost around RM65.

From Singapore, trains take about 13hrs30min, Trains depart nightly

From Kuala Lumpur, Express Wau and Express Kenali departs daily from KLSentral station.

For detailed scheduled, check www.ktmb.com.my

By air

return flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bahru on Malaysian Airlines ; For more details and flight schedule, check http://www.malaysia-airlines.com

An alternative is Air Asia which offers daily flights. For more information, check www.airasia.com

From Kota Bharu airport, transfers to Kuala Besut cost around RM 65.00 one-way.

Boat Charges

There are now 2 ferry routes to Perhentian. One from Kelantan at Tok Bali and the other from Terengganu at Kuala Besut. The general travel guide books may not have included the new ferry route from Tok Bali but it's generally the same - roughly the same distance to the island and roughly the same travelling time. But Tok Bali has fewer boats going out to the islands. It is advisable to catch the boat from Kuala Besut. Check out the table below:


Kuala Besut to Perhentian Island

Departs -

Kuala Besut: 9.00am to 2.00pm

Perhentian Island to Kuala Besut

Departs -

Perhentian: 8.00am 12.00noon and 4.00pm


Fast boat : Adult RM90.00 / person. Child : RM45.00 / person ~ High Season (April - October)

Fast boat : Adult RM100.00 / person. Child : RM50.00 / person ~ Low Season (November - March)

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