Getting to the Perhentian islands proved a hassle, but was so worth the discomfort.
We got a ferry from Langkawi to Kuala Perlis early in the morning, hoping to catch a connecting bus to Khota Bharu or Kuala Besut, on the other side of peninsular Malaysia. But upon arriving at the bus station we were given the devastating news that the only buses were 8am and 8pm. It was 10am so we had a lovely 10 hour wait ahead of us.
Luckily we managed to sneak back into the air con ferry terminal for the day, but it was insanely boring. When we did finally get on the bus, it was comfortable but the roads were not. A whole night of almost flying out of our seats around corners equals not much sleep. We arrived at Kuala Besut around 5am and bought tickets for the first boat at 7am.
Thankfully from here is did go smoothly. As the sun rose we bounced along in a speedboat to Perentian Kecil. We got dropped off at the pier on Coral Bay and headed towards the nearest hotel. Massively expensive. After a few stops at places along the beach we settled at Senja Resort. Still not cheap but our room is high up in the trees and overlooks the sea. Can’t complain.
After some much needed sleep we chilled on the beach for the rest of the day. Because that’s what we came for right?
Coral Bay is the less busy beach on the island, in fact it is almost deserted during the day. There aren’t too many places to lay out but where there are it is idyllic and peaceful. The water is crystal clear with plenty of fish. However it is a bit rocky and full of (mostly harmless) sea cucumbers.
Long Beach is the ‘happening’ side but it seemed just as quiet as Coral Bay to us. Maybe it was because it was a shoulder season, who knows, but we weren’t complaining. It is more developed but a different world to many spoilt Thai islands. This side has proper beach mats and umbrellas to rent (RM10) and the sea is almost completely rock and coral free.
The beaches are around 1km apart with a brick path making for a surprisingly easy walk. There was supposed to be lots of wildlife around but apart from one monitor lizard (and lots of squirrels) we didn’t see any.
You’d be mad not to do a snorkelling trip while on Kecil. The reefs and marine life are amazing. Ours cost RM30 for 6 hours. Snorkel spots included shark bay, in which we saw no sharks, and turtle point, where we actually saw one turtle.
We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Fisherman’s Village, then headed on for further snorkelling at the Lighthouse and Romantic beach before going back to Coral Bay.
It was an amazing day for it, the sea was so clear and there were so many fish wherever we went, with spots of shallow coral reef teeming with life. A lot of Malay tourists used the coral as somewhere to stand and rest from swimming, which annoyed us a lot. Not one boat driver cared or warned anyone about not damaging the coral.
Unfortunately I got badly sunburnt on my back while snorkelling which ended my sunbathing for the next few days! But it was worth it.
As mentioned, check bus times thoroughly before attempting to get to Kuala Besut. There are more buses leaving from Butterworth further south if you are coming from Penang but still only around 4 per day. Despite what some websites say, Besut is the only way to get to the islands, there are no boats from Khota Bharu.
On Kecil, cheaper prices for just about everything are on Coral Bay so it’s worth walking over if you want to book things. Our RM30 snorkelling trip was RM50 at one place on Long Beach.
Food and drink are expensive compared to the mainland, like most small islands. BBQ set dinners can be had from RM18, standard dishes are around RM10-15. Soft drinks are usually RM3, and beer from cooler boxes at rrestaurants(they don’t sell the alcohol themselves) is around RM8 for a small can.
Do not go to Mama’s on Coral Bay – it is always packed for some reason, probably because they have the biggest signs but their service is utterly appalling and they didn’t even apologise for keeping us waiting over an hour for food and then forgetting 1 out of 3 of the meals!
As mentioned we stayed at Senja Bay, the last resort on the beach on Coral Bay. We paid RM120 per night which was for a standard twin fan room with an extra mattress for my brother. All accommodation on Kecil is very bad value for money but our chalet was at least clean and tidy with a nice terrace and 24 hour electricity. 6/10
Expect to be offline on the Perhentian’s. The WiFi at Senja was awful and we could never get connected. The whole island had no internet when we visited so it didn’t matter but even when it works it is probably horrific. 3G very, very occasionally works, but usually only GPRS. It’s a small island but there is no excuse for it to be this bad – Thailand manages fine on all it’s islands.
None of the negative stuff really matters though. The Perhentians are incredible.