A week ago I had never even heard of the Perhentian islands now I’d like to move there and open up a beach bar. There are two Perhentian islands, Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar, we were drawn to Kecil as it’s a better fit for backpackers as opposed to families and honeymooners.
The island has two key spots, Long Beach and Coral Bay separated by about a 1 km walk. Long Beach has stretches of alabaster sands with azure, gentle waves perfect if you are an “ocean bobber” not so great if you like to go mano-a-mano with a killer riptide. Coral Bay is a calm bay with lots of coral (the clue really is in the title) and all marine life that accompanies it. The bay is so still you can swim laps in it and is as clear as glass, perfect for snorkeling.
Finding accommodation appeared challenging at first but turned out to be rather simple, when looking online there are approximately four options available, do not be fooled by this, there are closer to twenty they just don’t have an online presence. Your best bet is to get a ferry from Kuala Besuit (60RM return) and find somewhere when you land. I can highly recommend Senja Bay Resort on Coral Bay 70RM per night for a beach front chalet, the room is basic but perfect for this island. From your front deck you have an uninterrupted view of the bay and it’s many inhabitants.*
The marine life is striking, plentiful and in one case quite belligerent.
Countless species of damselfish are spotted gliding around the bay getting on with whatever it is fish get on with however, the bowtie damsel upon sighting you locks eyes, takes a swim up and repeatedly body slams or nips you as hard as it can. This is not particularly painful but is slightly unnerving, similar to being mauled by a Teacup Chihuahua.
The easiest way of spotting where these fish are in the bay is to look for other people hurriedly swimming backwards with a bewildered look on their face.
Wanting to explore more than coral bay we booked ourselves on a full day snorkeling trip and for the princely sum of 30 RM where we were taken to six different areas around both islands – coral garden, shark point, turtle bay, romantic beach, the lighthouse and the fisherman village.
As with coral bay shark point and turtle bay were very aptly named, shark point yielded a small, 1 metre shark, a stingray and some large cuttlefish. Turtle bay was the big win of the day, as we pulled up in the boat a 1 1/2 meter green turtle was grazing on sea grass, shortly joined by another three smaller turtles.
Fun fact – a group of turtles is referred to as: a bale of turtles a dule of turtles a nest of turtles or a turn of turtles.
Good reference site to help identify the marine life you will most likely see Common Coral Reef Fish
Here are a few do’s and don’ts for the island.
- Do take cash! Imagine, if you can, a long gone era where MasterCard and Visa didn’t exist that is what it is like on Perhentian Kecil. There is not a single ATM on the island and we only found two places that accept card, watching the pitying look of a vendor as you attempt to pay by Visa for two beers from a cooler on the beach is not fun. We did manage to find one place that would exchange money however their exchange rate was from over a year ago so it was a ferry ride back to the mainland for us.
- Do stock up on water, snacks and alcohol before you leave the mainland. Most of the bottled water is treated tap water and alcohol is relatively expensive, 10RM a 330ml beer, 28RM a cocktail, 28RM a glass of wine and 20RM for a whiskey soda making it quite easy to plough through cash – see point 1
- Do try the beach BBQ from Mama’s Restaurant on Coral Bay, 18 RM for a huge fresh fillet of fish (ranging from kingfish, tuna, barracuda to lobster), side, fruit and dessert. Service moves at a glacial speed but hey where else do you have to be
- Do go on a snorkeling trip, every second place on both beaches advertise 25RM for a short trip and 30RM for a long one.
- Try and take a backpack, both landing points are jetties that turn into beaches, wheels and sand don’t mix very well
- Don’t wander more than 300 meters away from the beach without mosquito repellent. The island has a lot of jungle containing stealth bomber mosquitoes that should not be underestimated in their blood thirsty sneakiness
- Don’t plan your trip during monsoon season (November – March) this isn’t like other parts of the world with a large variety of things to do, if you don’t have the beach you don’t have anything here. In addition to which pretty much all hotels, restaurants etc. close for about three months and a tent on the beach won’t last five minutes once a storm there gets on its dancing shoes
*Other animal sightings include large monitor lizards, squirrels with red tipped tails and pet cats pouncing on the front deck to regale you with their days adventures.