History and Geography
The Perhentian Islands
-- Pulau Perhentian
lie off the coast of northeartern Malaysia
the state of Terengganu
, not far from the Thai
The two main islands are Perhentian Besar
("Big Perhentian") and
("Small Perhentian"). The small, uninhabited
islands of Susu Dara
lie off Kecil.
The Perhentians belong to Pulau Redang National Marine Park
means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly
The name "perhentian" means "point to stop" in Malay, referring to their
longstanding role as a waypoint for traders going between Bangkok
and Malaysia. (The Perhentian Teksi signs
you'll see all around Malaysia aren't for a single
company, it just means "taxi stand"!)
The islands have been sparsely inhabited by fishermen
for hundreds of years, and only recently has tourism started to
encroach on the scene.
The islands are often dubbed with superlatives like "the most beautiful
place on Earth" or even simply "paradise", and at least for the nature
lover this may well be true. Both islands feature miles and miles of
white sand beach, and the reefs and crystalline water
island are host to a wide variety of coral and other aquatic
flora and fauna. The islands themselves are small and low, the
interior being authentic tropical jungle with a few trails hacked in.
The islands shut down more or less completely during the monsoon season
between November and February.
High season is in the
summer, and during Malaysian holidays and weekends the place can be
packed to capacity.
Things to Do
The top attractions on Perhentian are thus sunning yourself on the beach,
and scuba diving
-- there are a number of dive operations
on both islands and prices are very low, with single
dives available for as little as RM 60 with discounts
for own gear, multiple dives, etc. (I recommend Turtle Bay Divers
has a shop on both islands. Say hi to Taina!)
Although there is now one (seriously
for jet set package tourists, the Perhentian Island Resort
most accommodation is in simple little beachside chalet
s that go for
as low as 10 RM
a night on Kecil's popular Long Beach
). Besar's accommodation tends to be
a bit more classy, you'll probably have to fork out
closer to RM 50 per chalet but that'll get you a few
luxuries like included bathroom and a ceiling fan.
However, unlike some places on the other side of
the border, do bear in mind that this paradise is a rather ascetic one:
the state of Terengganu is strictly Islamic, which means that alcohol availability is limited, although most
restaurants do sell beer for nearly RM 10 a can.
In theory even bikinis are banned, although in practice this law is
completely ignored and there is even a semi-official topless beach on Besar.
On the other hand, Malaysia's zero-tolerance drug policy with mandatory
death sentences for smuggling or dealing is no legal
fiction, and it means that drugs are essentially
non-existent. At the chalets, electricity is usually available only in the
evening, if at all. Internet cafes, on the other hand, are rapidly
Due to a near-total lack of infrastructure
getting to the islands
remains a somewhat cumbersome
process, as there are no airstrips
or real ports on the islands.
Most people fly or take a
bus to the mainland centers of Kota Bharu
and Kuala Terengganu
and then proceed by taxi (one hour from Kota Bharu, two from
Kuala Terengganu) to the little fishing village of
. From Kuala Besut, fishing boat
s (RM20 one way, 60-90 min)
s (RM40 one way, 30 min) ply to the Perhentians and
back a number of times each day. Be warned: the boats
are small and they cross on the open sea. While seasickness
is unlikely due to the high speed, you may get a bit of
a sore butt (hang on tight!) and you will
soaked with seawater
. Protect your belongings and
try to cross during the day, when the waves are usually
at their lowest.
Travel between and in the islands is also by boat, the crossing between
Kecil and Besar takes only around 15 minutes. A hop from one
island to the other is around RM 10 a pop, while inter-island trips are
around 5. The intrepid may also choose to try the trails that crisscross the islands, but be warned that it's a
jungle out there and it feels like hiking in a steam
bath full of exotic bugs.