After our disappointing stay in the Gilis Islands I had very low expectations for the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. But what a surprise when we got to the Perhentians! These Malaysian islands are absolutely nothing like the Gilis, that’s for sure. They are much more preserved, the coral is in far better condition, and there is still enough wild nature to ensure a peaceful and relaxing stay.
Getting to the Perhentians from Taman Negara National Park
We left Taman Negara National Park for the Perhentian Islands by mini-bus. With the baby we try to avoid long travel days on chicken buses and hectic transport and figured out that it was the easiest way to do it. The bus took us 8 hours with one far too long stop for lunch where we had to change buses. The second bus was the scariest ride I ever had while travelling with baby and I seriously thought that we were not going to make it without bruises…. or worse. The driver was totally mad and an expert at doing dodgy and ridiculously dangerous overtaking manoeuvres. Everyone on the bus had their eyes on the road, crossing their fingers hoping to make it alive. And then it started to rain… a tropical and heavy rain. The reduced view and wet tarmac didn’t seem to bother our driver who kept going full speed like a total maniac and made my heart stop many, many times. I had my tired and crying baby strapped on my chest and I was holding husband’s hand while trying to read the other passengers faces; no one was laughing. When we finally got to the ferry station I felt lucky we didn’t have any accident and told myself that I was not going to recommend that company, NOPE! So, when the driver offered (while smoking like a real chimney in my baby’s face…) to arrange transport from the Perhentians to Kota Bharu on our way back we politely declined the offer…. Thanks, but no thanks.
Well preserved despite the decent tourist infrastructure
The Perhentians are a tourist destination popular among Malaysian people but thanks to their protected status they have kept an idyllic, low-key, tropical vibe. The waters are the clearest I have seen in a long time, rubbish (if present in some parts of the islands) is not scattered everywhere, and clear efforts are made to improve the management of trash. Water visibility for snorkelers and divers is exceptional and the variety of marine life surprising. We stayed on the western side of the big island (Pulau Perhentian Besar) at the most affordable beach hut resort we could find, Reef Chalets. We arrived there on Malaysian Mother’s Day, on a Saturday, and it was packed! However, the next morning boats were full of mostly Malaysian tourists returning to the mainland and we had most of the resort for ourselves.
Snorkelling with sharks at Shark Point
The Perhentians are another destination where there isn’t much to do but enjoy the water and just chill on the beach. There are numerous amazing beaches with turquoise water and white sand on both islands and water taxis can shuttle you around for reasonable prices. We wanted to see the famous shark point where it’s possible to snorkel with black tip reef sharks and so we took a water taxi that dropped near Flora Bay Resort at Teluk Dalam with the idea of avoiding the crowds of bright orange jackets and floating noodles at the southern tip of Shark Point. From the beach, my husband swam his way to shark point; it’s a good 600 metres swim but there is no strong current. Eventually beautiful, multicoloured coral gardens appeared, and with them, black-tipped reef sharks.
The Perhentians were great for some good free activities: swimming, playing on the beach, and a nice jungle walk with 2-metre-long monitor lizards and monkeys. We saw some pretty amazing things just swimming from the shore; really healthy corals, reef sharks, turtles, parrot fish, and so on. The visibility was absolutely fabulous! My husband went for a dive at the D’Lagoon site (as I generously suggested to stay with baby on the beach… one of us has to watch the little one!) which was great but not fabulous. I had a feeling that unless you are a serious diver and are looking to see specific things, snorkelling is good enough. Saying that, we were pretty spoiled with previous diving and snorkelling escapades in Tonga and Australia!
Bush walking through the jungle
I totally recommend walking through the jungle between Teluk Dalam and Teluk Puah (about 1.5 km) which took us about 30-40 minutes in flip flops. It’s a fairly easy walk and there are some nice monitor lizards to see. We asked the locals for directions to find the hidden trail-heads (behind Perhentian Island Resort and Arwana) but it would be hard to get lost while walking as the path is pretty clear.
Prices, alcohol, and baby supplies
The Perhentians were about 50% more expensive than the rest of the country. Of course you can still eat for pretty cheap especially if you go for the local food (we could still find some breakfast roti cannai for 3 ringgit at the two little restaurants beside Reef Chalets). Bring your own supplies if you travel there with kids. We couldn’t find any diapers, wipes, or baby food there. There is no need to bring your own alcohol as beer is easy to find (an important detail when you fancy a beer in a hammock!). We could really relax for once watching the little one running on the beach.