Perched in the middle of the turquoise waters just 20 kilometres from the Malaysian mainland is a pair of picturesque islands known as the Perhentians. Pulau Perhentian Besar (Large Island) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Island) make up this tiny archipelago and earned their name from the Malay phrase meaning “The Stopping Place” thanks to their strategic position as an ancient stop-off point for sea traders. These days it is travellers and tourists who stop off here to relax on the white sandy beaches and submerge themselves with all manner of marine life in the glistening turquoise waters.
The islands are accessed via a short boat trip from Kuala Besut on the Malaysian coast and are best visited during the dry season between October and March when unbroken sunshine is more or less guaranteed day after day. Despite their proximity, the two islands have very distinct personalities. Pulau Perhentian Kecil is home to a kicking nightlife and plenty of budget accommodation, perfectly suited to the travellers with a backpack in tow. Pulau Perhentian Besar on the other hand is destination for travellers in search of more luxurious accommodation and an upmarket yet not uptight atmosphere.
If you are looking for a place to really escape your daily life, you have probably found it in the Perhentians. There is little to do here other than relax and enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings. Lay back on the white sand beaches, hop from one island to another on a fishing boat and explore the woodland trails that weave their way through the rolling hills swathed in thick jungle greenery. If you are visiting for more than a few days it is possible to take part in one of the many conservation projects that are being run on the islands to protect the Hawksbill and Green Turtles that nest here.
One of the greatest draws of the Perhentians is the clear waters, teeming with marine life just waiting to be discovered. Snorkeling and scuba diving are amongst the most popular visitor pastimes and there are several well-established dive companies offering PADI courses, group dives and specialist excursions to the many sites in and around the area such as the Sugar Wreck and the tiny Redang Island.
Most of the more luxurious accommodation is found on Pulau Perhentian Besar, with some smart, resort-style hotels offering all mod cons against the backdrop of a paradise beach setting. Buffet-style dining is the order of the day here, with plenty of tasty Malaysian treats lots of freshly caught fish and seafood.
If you are fond of washing your dinner down with a nice cold holiday beer, this is easier to do in Besar’s resort hotels than in the smaller Pulau Perhentian Kecil where may of the smaller bars are Muslim owned and do not serve alcohol. That said, most visitors in the know come armed with their own or soon learn which bars are happy to sell it under the counter. As a result, Pulau Perhentian Kecil remains the livelier of the two destinations, offering a fun party atmosphere to a friendly and open-minded international crowd.