Perhentian Islands, Terengganu: Snorkeling for Sea Turtles and Black Tip Sharks! [SP]

Turtle Beach
Soaking up the sun at Turtle Beach in Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Island), Terengganu

From rainforest to reef, we shuttled northwards from Taman Negara to some of Peninsular Malaysia’s purest shores – the Perhentians, a pair of jungle-clad islands in the northeast state of Terengganu, near the Thai border. Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Island) is the more popular island with budget and midrange accommodations along its popular beaches such as Long Beach and Coral Bay, and more upscale options in its secluded coves. Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Island), on the other hand, is quieter with more upscale, family-oriented resorts. The Perhentians can only be visited from March to October, before the eastern monsoon arrives. Outside this period, the weather can turn ugly and the seas are rough, making swimming and snorkeling dangerous.

Long Beach
The amazing shoreline of Long Beach at Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Island), Terengganu

Both islands have stretches of sugary sand and crystal waters, and amazing snorkeling sites offshore. A trip to the Perhentians is never complete without seeing the underwater marvels. We booked for a “long trip” at one of the several stands offering island tours along Long Beach.  We visiting six points around the two islands, namely Turtle Point, Shark Point, Fish Point, Mystery Point, Fishing Village – for lunch break – and, lastly, Turtle Beach.

Turtle Point
A sea turtle grazing at Turtle Point, Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Island). Photo by Anna Helen Zeta Yap

At the first two spots, we spotted the eponymous marine residents: sea turtles and juvenile black tip sharks, which warily patrolled the coral reef hunting for food. At the other spots, we spotted large schools of fish, including sergeant majors (which are extremely gregarious fishes!), garfish and massive bumphead parrotfish. Our last stop was an immaculate stretch of sand called Turtle Beach on Perhentian Besar. The ruins of an overturned wooden boat at one of the end added to its charm. There’s also a small brook of cold spring water that runs into the beach that makes for a really wonderful spot to cool off after a long way swimming with the fishes.

Black Tip Bar
Nightlife at Long Beach means enjoying some “monkey juice” under the stars at beach bars like Black Tip

Aside from snorkeling, most travelers just swim, sunbathe or simply snooze on the white-sand beaches. Another activity would be hiking through the dense rainforest that covers both islands. Hiking trails connect popular beaches with the more secluded ones, so adventurous souls can definitely find a spot they can call their own. Despite its popularity, the Perhentians surprisingly retains a very laid back atmosphere.  Even on Long Beach – the most popular stretch of beach on Kecil – nightlife on the islands means enjoying a couple of cocktails or local rum (aka Orang Utan or “monkey juice”) on a mat and coffee table at Black Tip Bar, the “trendiest” of two or three beach bars on Long Beach. Occasionally, the beach bars rev up to some lively dancing, but its usually chill on most nights.

What impresses me the most about the Perhentian Islands is how they’ve managed to develop resorts, while minimizing the impact to the environment. Vibrant marine life thrive offshore, while the dense jungle cover are home to monitor lizards, monkeys and flying foxes. I wish Boracay and other tourist beaches in the Philippines were developed this way!

Swimming at Long Beach
Crystal waters of Long Beach, Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Island)

HOW TO GET THERE: After visiting Taman Negara in PahangNKS Hotel & Travel arranged our transfer from Jerantut, Pahang to Kuala Besut jetty by minivan (5 hours, RM 65) and speedboat to Perhentian Islands (45 mins per way, RM 70, return trip). From Kuala Lumpur, you can bus (10 hours) or fly (1 hour) to Kota Bharu, then ride another bus or van to Kuala Besut jetty (45 minutes). 

Speedboats can drop you at any point on Perhentian Besar (Big Island) or Perhentian Kecil (Small Island). If dropped at Long Beach, water taxis will ferry you to the beach (RM 2 per head). At Coral Bay, you alight at a jetty. Long Beach and Coral Bay are connected overland by a paved trail through some jungle and a few inland resorts (Watch out for monitor lizards and monkeys!). 

Several stalls along Long Beach offer snorkeling tours around Kecil and Besar islands at RM 30 per head for short trips (i.e. three spots) and RM 40 per head for long trips (i.e. six to seven spots). There are also special trips to the more distant Rawa Island for RM 60 to 80 per head. Snorkeling tours include equipment such as life jacket, mask, snorkel and fins.

WHERE TO STAY: Mohsin Chalets offers hillside chalet at the southern end of Long Beach – the most popular shoreline in Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Island). Fan chalets, good for two, range between RM 80 to 130 per night, depending on the season. We visited during peak season, but was able to negotiate for two night’s stay for only RM 200. There are cheaper accommodations inland and at Coral Bay, on the western side of Pulau Perhentian Kecil.

WHERE TO EAT: Food is two to three times more expensive than on the mainland, with meals usually at RM 15 to 20 per set at popular beaches like Long Beach and Coral Bay. The best value we found was an eat-all-you-can dinner buffet at Sha-rila Resort in Coral Bay for only RM 20 per head. For cheaper food options during the day, go for the few food stalls along the beach. We found some good burgers at Long Beach for only RM 9.

This trip was made possible through Airphil Express and Tourism Malaysia, as the Grand Prize for the Airphil Express Kuala Lumpur Blogger Adventure Contest.

5 comments

  1. Dan Punzalan says:

    This is definitely next in my to-go list. 🙂 Added you to my blog list 🙂

  2. lamyerda.com says:

    Love the photos Ed! Sana maisama q to sa bucketlist q. anlayu pla tlga nito. next yr na lapit na rainy season! 🙁 Pero mukhang worth it nmn. Bet q mag eenjoy ako sa night life at sa underwater. 🙂 Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Niza Zainal says:

    Hi Edgar, glad to hear that you have great time at Perhentian. And thanks for the info last time about Myanmar. Btw I’ll be going to your home country next week,and I’m a bit concern about the recent flooding and typhoon. The tickets (Airasia) have been purchased months ago and not going seems to be under productive. Planning to visit manila town proper – the intramurous and whats not then having a day trip either to tagatay or pagsanjan falls. How bad is the flood? Appreciate your advise though. Thanks.

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