BBQ dinner at Amelia’s on our final night.
A view of Coral Bay from Senja Resort.
Tomorrow, we will leave the Perhentian Islands with heavy hearts – and red shoulders.
8 days of sun, snorkelling and BBQ dinners on the beach: all for around 100 RM per day per person. What’s not to like?
We stayed at Senja Bay Resort, a large group of wooden ensuite huts at the far end of Coral Bay beach on Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two islands. We negotiated a 3rd level (69 steps up from the central reception/restaurant area) ensuite fan room with breakfast for 94RM per night – a 20% reduction on the high-season rate. The room’s bathroom was a bit dirty and had an ant infestation and the breakfast spread lacked choice but choosing Senja above Fatimah’s Chalets (a bit grubby but cheaper) and Ombak (pricey) proved to be inspired: the view of the beach and sunset from our room and the restaurant is spectacular, the food is tasty and inexpensive and the staff are friendly and speak good English. We found Long Beach inferior to Coral Bay because of some noisy works on the beach, a larger concentration of rocks jutting near the beach and stronger currents.
There are plenty of accommodation options on Kecil and we noticed that the upmarket Bubu (on Long Beach at the other side of the island) and Ewan’s Place (a small and simple gathering of smart chalets) were popular. We enjoyed our first days on the island so much that we quickly booked 3 more nights at Senja before new arrivals at the pier beat us to it. Although the islands only fully opened to tourists 3 weeks before our stay, I’d say the resorts were already about 80% booked up, despite The Rough Guide’s promise that we’d almost have the island to ourselves at this time of the year.
The islands are primarily known for their white sandy beaches and dive spots. Having decided against a PADI beginners course – widely available on both islands for around 1,000 RM- we went on two snorkelling day trips, through Senja and then Yellow Station on Coral Bay. Both offered the same schedule for 40RM with 5 snorkelling locations and lunch at the village on Besar, the large island. With Senja, the boat driver snorkelled with us and pointed out a 4-foot reef shark within seconds of jumping in at Shark Point. Our driver from Yellow Station stayed in the boat. However, the restaurant we went to during our second day trip was markedly better than the first. Of the 5 locations, The Lighthouse offered the best visibility and Coral Garden, the best coral and most colourful fish. On both occasions, we saw turtles at Turtle Point and sharks at Shark Point. We also discovered a pretty but dangerous blue spotted ribbon tailed ray. Awesome, right? Yes…and no. While they are both beautiful and rare animals, the crowds of snorkellers jostling for position around the turtles were frustrating and potentially harmful to the coral and seeing a 7-foot shark swimming at you is pretty terrifying for a while. However, these trips are undoubtedly great value for money. Famous dives here include Sugar Wreck and The Vietnamese, where you can see barracudas amd stonefish among other marine life.
We also hired a kayak for the day from Yellow Station for 40RM and circled eastwards around the northern tip of the island, relaxing at two minute but idyllic beaches en route. You could probably circle the entire island in kayaks but why expend so much energy when there are so many pristine fine sand beaches waiting for you at the other side of every rock!
We’d also heard that D’Lagoon, a remote resort catering more for Malaysian than western tourists, was home to a large monitor lizard so set off early one morning in search of the resort. Although we enjoyed breathtaking views from the windmill at the island’s peak and discovered a large set of steps down to a beautiful abandoned cove, our hazardous 3-hour search for the resort was not worth the effort: I cut open my toe while slipping down one of several dangerously steep dust paths and the signs for the resort were few and far between. Once there, we were so frayed that we just paid for a 10-minute, 40RM water taxi back to Coral Bay.
In terms of evening entertainment, Ombak (7:30pm) and Senja (8:30pm) both show movies every night. Ombak has the better atmosphere and shishas for 30 RM; Senja’s movies are better quality (subtitles and picture) and their food is better. Amelia Chalets offers a great BBQ set from 7:30pm every evening: 20RM will get you a large portion of fish or meat, a potato, rice, salad, fruit, banana cake and a drink. You can buy beer for 6RM or monkey juice (local rum) for 30RM from a vendor who has a cool box set up next to the coals.
While ambling along the path from Coral Bay to Long Beach, we stumbled upon two sparring 5-feet long monitor lizards – the agressor seemed to initiate some kind of robotic head jig before launching itself at the intruding lizard. Weird. We also spotted a scorpion (in our room), tokay geckos (almost everywhere at night), squirrels and some large spiders.
At just 5 hours via bus and boat from KL, the Cameron Highlands or Taman Negara and with cheap food and accommodation, free sand and sun and great watersports available, the Perhentians are fast becoming a hotspot for tourists and a weekend getaway for well-heeled Malaysians.
-A budget of 100-150 RM per day is plenty to have a great time here. We stayed for 8 nights but could have lingered longer.
-We organised all of our travel to and from the island (Cameron Highlands-Pulau Perhentian Kecil-Penang) through Kang Travel. The total cost of our route was 200 RM.
-Bring plenty of SPF30+ suncream and DEET with you. The sun is very hot and strong from midday to 6pm and the biters quickly rear their ugly heads once the sun sets.
-There are no ATMs on either island so be sure to withdraw plenty of cash before you visit (you should stop for a while at Kuala Besut town before your 45-minute boat journey).