The Perhentian Islands are truly an amazing place and are a must do when visiting Malaysia. We had such a good experience that we decided to extend our stay for an extra day and we’re so glad we did! Before heading to the islands, we went to a coffee shop for our typical afternoon of research and to establish a well laid out plan for our stay. After several hours of searching, the general impression we were both left with was that the Perhentians are incredibly beautiful but are also a hard place to visit if you’re on a tight budget.
After spending four full days on the islands, we definitely didn’t have enough time to see and do it all but we do feel like we came back with some helpful insights on how to visit the Perhentians without breaking the bank. We narrowed it down to the five tips we feel will help you out the most.
1. Catch the late bus to Kuala Besut:
Chances are, you’ll be headed to the Perhenthians from Kuala Lumpur or Penang. In either case, you should definitely book the sleeper bus which will arrive in Kuala Besut (the gateway to the Perhentians) very early in the morning. We caught the Perdana bus out of Penang for 47 RM (one way) at 10PM and arrived at 5AM the next morning. This obviously saves you one night accommodation, ensures you can catch the early boat and gives you a full first day to explore the islands. We would recommend booking through Easybook or Bus Online Ticket.
2. Get on the early boat to the Perhentians:
As of January 2017, the Malaysian government started imposing an entry fee of 30 RM to all foreigners headed to the Perhentians. All official ferries leaving the jetty will charge you this fee along with 70 RM for the return ticket. Official ferry times leaving Kuala Besut start at 8AM.
Now if you followed tip 1, you’ll be at the Kuala Besut jetty early enough to catch a boat before 8AM. Doing this is the only way to avoid the 30RM fee as all boats operated before 8AM are done so by independent tour companies. The speedboats are just as safe as the ones operated after 8AM and you should have a phone number written on the ticket that you will use to book your return journey. As a side note, knowing now just how amazing the marine life still is on the Perhentians, we wouldn’t have minded paying the 30 RM fee as it is supposed to benefit conservation projects.
3. Choosing wisely, Pulau Besar vs Pulau Kecil:
The Perhentians are composed of two islands, Pulau Besar and Pulau Kecil. Choosing where you will base yourself shouldn’t be overlooked as your experience will differ greatly depending on which island you stay on. Pulau Besar, or big island, is calmer and almost solely hosts families and couples looking for relaxing holidays, while much of Pulau Kecil, small island, is more developed and is geared towards the young backpacking crowd. With both islands having terrific beaches and the same types of activities, this distinction is largely due to Pulau Kecil having generally cheaper accommodation. It might then come as a surprise to you that we decided to chose Pulau Besar for our stay but we would only suggest doing this if you meet the following two conditions.
One, you’re traveling as a couple or with a friend. This will cut your accommodation costs and you will get much more value for your money on Pulau Besar. We stayed at Abdul’s Chalets, which during low season set us back 120 RM a night for a good size private cottage which was very clean, had A/C, a mini-fridge and a hot shower. As accommodation on the Perhentians generally offer terrible value for money, we were really impressed with Abdul’s and would definitely recommend it.
Two, you aren’t visiting the Perhentians to party. Chosing Pulau Besar implies you will miss out on the beach parties of Long Beach on Kecil. The total lack of nightlife on Besar also means that you will spend little to no money at all on alcohol. Booze in Malaysia is expensive for South East Asia (it is a muslim country after all) and the Perhenthians are no exception. So if you’re like us and don’t want the temptation, do yourself a favor and pick a place to stay on Pulau Besar!
4. Bring everything you need with you:
This is the one mistake that is easily made when visiting a secluded island. Everything is more expensive on the Perhentians than on the mainland, so bringing snacks and bottled water can save you a considerable amount. Also, you won’t find much in Kuala Besut so you’re best off getting everything you need while in a bigger city such as KL or Penang. Most importantly, double check that you have enough sunscreen! We had the misfortune of running out and the cheapest bottle we found was 45 RM for 100 ml.
5. Be wary of the Taxi Service:
The only way to get from one island to another and to visit almost any beach is by taxi boat. That being said, using this service even once a day can really burn through your budget and remember that prices are always one way and will double if used after 7 PM. For example, getting from our beach to Long beach on Kecil would cost us 20 RM each way. The best way to avoid this expense is simply booking all your activities directly from your hotel and exploring by walking or swimming when you can! After all, the main attraction of the Islands is the marine life, so grab some snorkeling gear and go explore the water!
Some furthers things to note before you travel to the Perhentians:
- Internet Access on the Perhentians is extremely unreliable. Although this allows for a much needed break from social media during your stay, it also means you will not be able to research any activities, accommodation or transportation while you’re there. We suggest you book your onward travel ahead as buses out of Kuala Besut tend to fill up (even during low season) and last-minute prices directly at the bus terminal are inflated. A bus ticket back to Kuala Lumpur should cost around 45 RM. However, if you do not book ahead, you might be stuck paying double that price for a minibus if all the buses are full.
- These might seem like they go without saying, but just in case, here are some things we think you should add to your packing list:
- Bug spray
- After sun (trust us!)
- Underwater camera
- Snorkelling gear (renting snorkelling gear every day adds up!)
- Cash (there are no ATMs on the Islands)
By using the tips above, the Perhentian Islands can be a reasonably budget-friendly destination. Combine that with their pristine beaches, picture perfect turquoise waters, fantastic marine life and amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities and we don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t add the Perhentians to your bucket list! Share this post if you enjoyed it!