A short summary
We first traveled to Malaysia in November 2000 but back then we only had a short stop in Kuala Lumpur. This time we also wanted to try out a couple of beach destinations. We decided to go to Perhentian because the word was that it was a true paradise for snorkeling and diving and that it was not yet ruined by mass tourism.
Planning the trip
Perhetian is made up of two islands…Perhentian Kecil (small island) and Perhentian Besar (big island). The small island seems to be more targeted towards backpackers and has cheaper accommodation while the bigger island has some resorts. We looked at pictures at web pages like perhentianisland.info , perhentian-island.com and perhentian.com.my and in the end we decided to go for Perhentian Island resort. In the end we booked it through perhentianisland.com.my and we paid 720 RM per person for 4 days/3 nights where the following was covered:
- return boat transfer.
- welcome drink.
- 3 nights accommodation (air condition/hot shower).
- 3 breakfast, 3 lunch, 3 dinner
- 2 snorkeling trips around Perhentian Island with snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, guide and boat during the trips ).
- drinking water
- marine park fees surcharge
We also paid 110 RM to get a round trip by taxi from Kota Bharu Airport to Kuala Besut Jetty.
To get from KL to the island we decided to fly from KL to Kota Bharu airport. We bought tickets online on Malaysia Airlines and we paid 388 RM for the round trip for both of us. Remember that you can also use AirAsia to get to Kota Bharu. We chose to fly Malaysia Airlines as the flight times were better for us.
Trip from KL to Perhentian
After a few days in KL we left for Perhentian on Wednesday March 22nd. Meena was kind enough to drop us of at KL Sentral and we took the KLIA Express to the airport. If you are flying Malaysia Airlines (and maybe other airlines as well) you can check in already at KL Sentral :-) This was an excellent service and it was great to get rid of the Samsonite suitcases already at the train station.
The flight from KL to Kota Bharu only took about 1 hour so before we knew it we landed on the tiny airport called Sultan Ismail Petra in the province Kelantan. After we picked up our suitcases we found our driver…it was not that hard in the small airport :-) He was waiting for us with a sign with my name on it. He led us over to this old Mercedes that must have been from the 70s or 80s :-) We did of course get a bit skeptical when seeing this old car and the lack of safety belts in the back seat but there was not that many options. The drive from the airport to the jetty in Besut (located in the state of Terengganu) was about 45 minutes and it was pretty interesting. Apart from a few times where the driver tried to overtake cars and we felt we were about to meet our maker, we had time to look at the view as we drove along. It was pretty easy to see that the state of Kelantan is very different from the modern city of KL. It looked like it was a pretty poor area: the houses seemed very basic, people had cows tied to a pole in their front yard, chicken/goats were roaming freely, the butcher sold his ware in the direct sunlight on a so refrigerated street corner etc.
We finally arrived at Besut and I went to the office of perhentianisland.com.my to pay, in cash, for the stay at Perhentian Island resort. We were given all the papers and a few big bottles of drinking water that we could have during our stay on the island. We had to wait for the boat so we were invited by the guy that runs Perhentian Sunny Travel to sit down in the shade and he bought us some cold drinks while we chatted. In the end we got to board the small boat together with about 15 others and the two huge outboard engines roared as we made our way out to open water. The trip out to the islands took 30-40 minutes but I guess this depends a lot on the weather. When we went out there the waves were big so he had to slow down from time to time as the water was splashing.
Tip! If you are sensitive to noise bring a couple of earplugs. The roar of the engines can be quite loud & remember to take your seasickness pills!
A bit about Perhentian Island Resort and the room
We arrived at Perhentian Island resort in the afternoon and we were met by a guy that took care of our luggage. When we arrived at the jetty we were not really sure that we were on the right place. There was a beach but it didn’t look like there were that many rooms - seeing a sign with the resort’s name clarified that issue. The check in was quick and we got room 205. The room itself was pretty anonymous. Each hut contained 4 rooms and we were located on the second row from the beach. When I first came into the room I was like “Where is the TV”…hehe…I know it is sad. I guess I was just expecting a TV when we were staying at one of the (reputedly) best resorts on the island.
The walls were recently painted white and we got a pretty big bed, a wardrobe, a desk and chair, a small mini bar (which was empty) and a water boiler with some coffee and tea. We had air condition in our room but it didn’t seem to be fully operational. We could e.g. not turn it to low but at least we got cooling. There are not that many hotels on the islands that have this option. The bathroom was small but it was tiled and contained a sink, toilet and a bathtub. We could take a shower in the bathtub but there was no shower curtain so the water pretty much splashed everywhere. I did mention this to the reception and they said they would fix it but they never did. The whole hut seemed to be a bit lopsided and the door to the bathroom was hard to close and it swung open automatically. We also had a small porch where there were two chairs and a table.
The resort facilities included a pool (I guess the only one on the island) that was never in use as far as I could tell…well, I jumped into it once just to test it out :-). The lobby is located in a big open building which also contained the restaurant where we had all our meals. The breakfast included warm food like beans, hash browns, pancakes, omelette, beef bacon (remember that Malaysia is a Muslim country) and also a selection of warm local dishes like nasi goring, rice porridge etc. It was also possible to get the usual treat of toast, cereal and fruit such as pineapple, watermelon etc. There was also juice and coffee/tea to choose from. The coffee was the darkest coffee that I have ever seen :-)
There is a small shop across from the restaurant where, for a fairly hefty price, you can get the essentials such as sun cream, shirts, disposable cameras etc. Between the restaurant and the beach there was a nice tiled area which incorporated a bar. I’m not sure that they had much more than beer on sale. I had a few Tiger beers and they coast 10 RM per can.
Activities on Perhentian Island
So what is there to do on a small jungle island? Well, let me just say that if you don’t like sun, sand, beach and water you should probably go somewhere else :-) The beach at Perhentian Island Resort is very nice…I guess it is 300-400 meters long and the sand is fine and powdery. March is just the opening of the season at Perhentian and many of the resorts actually close during the monsoon season. We did have a bit of bad weather when we went there but we still had a great time on our snorkeling trips.
As the map of Perhentian indicates there are resorts like pearls on a string and they are connected with wooden stairs and pathways if you want to go over and say hi to the neighbor resort. We never ventured any further than Coral View located right next to Perhentian Island Resort :-) . It didn’t take us long before we started checking out the warm clear water. We started snorkeling right from the beach but we found out that it is of course better to snorkel from a boat.
Tip! Bring you own snorkel gear to make sure that you get good and comfortable equipment. Having a mask that fits is important - poor Nikki needs to either get a facial reconstruction or a kids mask because hers kept on flooding or fogging. And spitting into the google works better than anti-fogging spray!
The snorkeling trips we had around the island were great. We started out by going to a place called Shark point…not a good place to start if you have seen movies like Jaws. But from what I understand the sharks that you can see there is first of all harmless reef sharks. When we were there I only saw a shark briefly as it was swimming away from me. But the snorkeling itself was great…lots of colorful fish, corals in every possible colors etc. If you haven’t tried snorkeling yet you are missing out on something. It is incredible to just lay in the water and watch everything below you.
On the way back after our first snorkeling trip our boat driver stopped as he was seeing ripples on the surface and shadows in the water. I didn’t see a thing so at first I thought he was pulling our leg. But he seemed pretty determined so I thought he was spotting manta rays on the sea bed. All of a sudden he told us to get in and I tried to slide into the water as quietly as I could (I’m not exactly like one of those slim Chinese divers when I get in). It turned out that it was a huge turtle that was eating away at the seabed. It was amazing to dive down 2-3 meters to take a closer look at it. At that point I wished that I had bought an underwater house for my camera.
Tip! If you are going to a place like this to snorkel, bring along a underwater camera. The disposable ones are not very good (we found that out at the Maldives. If I were to buy now I would buy a Olympus mju 720SW which is supposedly waterproof down to 3 meters - still considering buying it.
Tip: Snorkeling in the tropics means that you are faced with a strong sun. Remember to put on a good sun screen (I used Riemann P20) and when you snorkel it is a good idea to have a surfer vest or light coloured t-shirt and some protection for your head as well…at least for guys like me where the hair is not as thick as it used to be :-)
We also snorkeled from the boat at the rocks that you see on the left hand side when you stand on the beach at Perhentian Island Resort. The many colours of the coral amazed me…red, blue, green, purple etc. Snorkeling is hard work …after snorkeling at three different spots from the boat we were ready for a break - a bit of relaxation on the beach.
Evening entertainment at Perhentian Resort is pretty limited. We stuck to the preset menu that was defined in our package deal and that was, well … pretty boring actually. I think they should have served Malaysian inspired dishes instead of serving their take on western food. After dinner we would just relax in the beach bar. I can’t say that it was really happening…the bartender seemed to be pretty bored so he used every opportunity to come over for a chat when Nikki was not at the table.
Tip! As there is not much to do I would recommend that you bring along some board games/cards, snacks as there is not that much on sale and mosquito spray to avoid getting eaten alive :-)
We did a morning snorkel trip as well. We started out on a place north of Perhentian Island Resort. We were almost alone in the area…there was only one other couple there. It was a bit funny watching this other couple (I think they were Japanese) as it seemed like it was the first time the girl was snorkeling and she didn’t seem that comfortable with it. Again the snorkeling was great. But at this point it seemed like we were getting stung by something in the water. It felt just like when we are getting stung by jelly fish back home and Nikki was a bit freaked out when she swam right into a cloud of tendrils on her way back to the boat.
We also went to a beautiful small beach where it was possible to snorkel right off the beach and again there were lots of colorful fish and corals. And the best thing is that we were more or less alone in the water. On some snorkeling trips like to Phi Phi a few years ago it felt like we were on a trip with way too many people. I also have to mention a third place we snorkeled at. When we got into the water there were lots and lots of colorful fish and at this place they seemed more curious than on the other place. Normally when you move your hands towards the fish they swim off but this kind was not easily scared. These fish were right up in our snorkel masks and we’re pretty sure they were nibbling on us :-)
The return of Godzilla – the local wild life
When we first got off the transfer boat at the Resort there was an amazing noise coming from the jungle. At first I thought it was an engine or generator of sorts on the verge of a break down. But then I realized that the sound was coming from crickets and other jungle winged creatures. Check out this video to get some clue of what I’m talking about. From time to time I get questions from other travelers that are going to different tropical destinations and they ask if there are any creepy crawlies where they are going. On Perhentian Island I would say that we were closer to nature that we have ever been :-) It felt like the humans were just occupying the small strip of land ... the rest of the island is the domain of the animals and insects. As we experienced when out of nowhere a Comodor-like lizard crawled waddled (yes, there was definitely a waddle there) out from behind a bush in front of our room. I followed it with the camera and another guest also picked up the camera. Nikki got a bit nervous and, as she was backing up into the room, she mentioned this to a couple of passing staff members and all they said was “It is good meat” :-). As usual in warmer climates you get visited by geckos at night (where do they hide during the day?). One gecko (we gave him the nickname “George”) even got into the room and found its way to the bathroom.
Apart from that we saw squirrels, bats flying by and pretty big spiders spinning webs as we walked around our resort area. We also saw oversized ants - they were huge - and even larger snails crawling across the tiles near the beach bar etc. There was also a rather large beetle that seemed to be a bit too heavy because we only ever saw them crash landing. And of course…there are mosquitoes. There was one night, around dusk, when I went outside to spray on some mosquito spray and by the time I had covered the front I had gotten 3 bites on my back!! How rude is that?
We bought some mosquito bite cream at Besut called Krim. Good name as krim is the Norwegian word for crime. But the only criminal element in this cream was the color…it was bright yellow and impossible to rub off once applied! So after a couple of days on the island I was a colorful person…a bit of sun burn on some parts of the body, yellow cream on other parts
It is also possible to trek across the island. It was strange to come from the beach area where it was pretty warm and humid to the jungle where it was even warmer and humid. So we had not walked very far before I was soaked in sweat. We didn’t go all the way to the other side of the island but we did reach the top. Once you are in the jungle it is natural to start thinking about what creepy crawlies that might be using the opportunity to catch a ride as you walk by. But we didn’t come back to the beach with any unwanted guests - that we know of …
Time to leave
On Saturday March 25th it was time to leave already. We got up at the crack of dawn and walked around a little while we waited for the boat to pick us up. This time we were able to squeeze in 17 adults and 5 children. The sea was very calm so we got back to land within 30 minutes. Back on land we were met by Sunny again and he got us a cab to take us back to the airport. This time we got an old Toyota that made the old Mercedes that we had from the airport to Besut look like a luxury limousine. I have to say a couple of words about this car….it is possibly the worst wreck that I have ever been in and it was just hilarious. The driver wanted to roll up the windows but the only thing that was keeping the window up was a piece of paper folded together. So I had to squeeze the window up while the driver re-adjusted the piece of paper. Wires seemed to hang everywhere under the dashboard. The car seemed to be an automatic to start off with but turned out to be a manual afterall and it didn’t feel like there was any suspension left so the car felt really unstable….so I was getting a bit nervous when the driver pushed it up to 120 km/h even after we assured him that we were in no hurry :-). After a while there was this constant sound coming from the car and he eventually stopped to investigate but he never found out what was wrong. But we made it back to the airport at Kota Bharu and off we went to KL.
The trip to Perhentian was a bit of an "adventure"…planes; worn out taxis, speed boats etc. It is a bit of a mission to get there so this is not a destination that I’m going to recommend to families, people that are not used to traveling (or people with a bad heart…remember the taxi description).
We have been to places like Thailand and Maldives so it is hard not to compare this destination with other places that we have been to. You might get a sense from the description above that I was not totally impressed with the resort itself. The room itself was not impressive at all but you have to take into account that the Perhentian Islands are a couple of remote jungle islands with no roads and no major development. In that respect I guess we were lucky to have electricity, air condition and a pool in the first place. I didn’t mind that the room was a bit basic but it seemed like the whole resort was a bit half finished and didn’t look that well maintained. A few examples are the big hole located at the edge of the pool, traces of bonfires around the area, a noisy and totally stripped mini-cargo van that was driving equipment and stuff around on the tiny pathways on the resort etc. I think that Perhentian Island resort (and other resorts) could learn a thing or two by visiting resorts in the Maldives to get some ideas.
But the beach and snorkeling at Perhentian were amazing. The snorkeling is probably some of the best snorkeling that we have ever done and seeing a big turtle made my day at least. So maybe it is better to keep the resorts here a bit “basic” and to keep the tourist invasion at bay by making it hard to reach. But if you want a bit of adventure take your time to visit Perhentian Island.
Click here to read about the next leg of our trip: Langkawi