The roosters are crowing and the sun is coming up. As I pry open my heavy eyelids, I can see some fishermen walking towards the water. My back hurts; I’ve just spent 7 hours on a bus through the night, and 2 hours sleeping on a wooden bench waiting for the ferry office in Kuala Besut to open. As disoriented as I feel, I stare out into the water. Get me a coconut and a spot on the beach ASAP.
When the ferry office finally opens, we buy our tickets for Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two Perhentian Islands off the east coast of Malaysia. Once on the ferry, it takes longer than I assumed, but slowly two green mounds of land emerge from the water’s surface.
The first stop is Pulau Perhentian Besar, the larger island which caters to couples and resort-types. On our backpacker’s budget, we stay on the ferry for our stop, Pulau Perhentian Kecil, my backpacking paradise.
For 2 nights, myself and two friends, stayed on the island and enjoyed the simple life. This island offers nothing else. We woke to a routine of sun, swim, food, coconut, repeat. On the day we felt most active we took a snorkeling trip. When the sun went down, we wandered down the main avenue (a dirt path through thick foliage) in search of any dish made with our favorite South East Asian flavors; lemon-grass and coconut milk. Once full and satisfied, we made our way back to the beach to choose from one of the three beach bars. Tough decisions. One hookah, and a few rum buckets later, the beach party engaged in a celebratory rain dance. All barefooted, we pranced in the sand as the thunderstorm moved closer, and the lightning bolts struck down across the horizon.
What to know before you go
- There are no roads, and barely a town on Perhentian Kecil. On Long Beach, obviously the longest beach on the island, there is accommodation, food and small shops. On the other side of the island, there is a smaller version of this. A narrow dirt path connects the two.
- There are no ATMs. Come with all the cash you will need for your stay.
- With that being said…Make sure to book a return ferry ticket before coming to the island in case you do run out.
- The majority of bungalows and hostels do not take online reservations. Try and take one of the morning ferries over to the island to get a head start on booking accommodation. Walk down the beach and pick a place you like, and hopefully they will have space. During the high season, you might be stuck in a large dorm with space for 10-20 people. This happened to us, but it didn’t matter, we were barely inside anyway.
- You can easily book snorkeling and diving trips by walking down the beach and talking to locals.
- As there is no actual town, there is also no regular police force on the island. Given the conservative and strict Islamic state that Malaysia is, this may be a positive for some backpackers.
- If you take a snorkeling trip, and stop by a fishing village for lunch, remember to cover up before getting off the boat. As a lot of Malaysia, the population is Muslim and very conservative. These rules do not apply on Long Beach.
- Do not expect authentic Malaysian cuisine on the island. Many of the restaurants cater to foreign tourists. I found the better of these restaurants to be farther from the beach, down the dirt paths.
- Do not allow yourself to spend too long on the islands. Though you may be enjoying it as much as I did, the rest of Malaysia offers many sites and a lot more culture.
At the time, the Perhentians were exactly what I was looking for. Someplace small, relaxing and laid back. I could have spent another day or two here easily. Yet, culture called, and we had an overnight bus to catch to the ‘chicken rice’ and pimped out tuk-tuks of Melaka, Malaysia.