The Perhentian Islands off the North East coast of Peninsula Malaysia will try to kill you. To get here we had to endure endless hours on multiple buses to arrive at a jetty in Kuala Besut. Those with more cash to spend can get to Kuala Besut with less hassle, but everyone ends up at the same jetty. From there it’s a 30 minute fast boat ride to Perhentian Besar. Fast boat is an understatement. It’s a 12 foot fiberglass bullet shaped hull that probably weighs less that my cat, propelled by all the fury that Mercury could contain in two 175 horsepower outboards. These things have a power to weight ratio that would put any high powered motorbike to shame. For the less petrol headed, imagine you decided to run your house on solar power and then plugged your toaster directly into the sun. To top it off, the ‘captain’ drives this monstrosity like a pissed off teenager. There was no slowing down for the swell or wake of passing boats (that were just as suicidal) and I’m fairly sure we spent most of the trip airborne. Although we did survive, we head back today and the swell is larger than before, so who knows…
Once you are here, there is not much to do aside from sit back and relax, enjoy the sunshine, swim, snorkel and jungle trek. Be warned though that the snorkeling and swimming mean you expose yourself to scenes from the upcoming thriller, ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s; The Fish’. Beautiful as they may be, some of fish decided they’d have a quick bite. Perhaps they wanted to try the other white meat.
In between getting bitten by the fish we also got to swim with incredibly large and presumably old sea turtles and a black tip reef shark or two. I managed to chase a shark with our new waterproof camera, but apparently ‘waterproof’ and ‘underwater’ are two different things and we need to buy another part so that it can focus properly. Who knew.
The island we stayed on, Besar (which means Big), is quieter and more laid back than Kecil (Small) which we spent a day on. Kecil has soft sand beaches, shallow crystal clear water and lots of restaurants and accommodation. Known as the backpacker island, it’s the more popular of the two which also makes it the more active but also more expensive. Being more popular with tourists also means the pressure to cover up for the ladies is less, making swimming more enjoyable.
So yes, there are aspects of the Perhentian Islands that are slightly deathy, but ignoring those the place is spectacular. Both islands have their charms and no matter what your style of travel is there is something here for you.