Only a short 30-minute fast boat ride from Kuala Besut, this backpacker getaway is the perfect island to escape to as you make your way through peninsular Malaysia. Days can easily turn into weeks, as we quickly discovered after exploring the island for a few days (we ended up extending our stay from 4 to 7 days). “No hurry no worry” should be the catch phrase of Kecil as most people spend their days diving and snorkeling in the crystal clear water and lounging around soaking up the sun on the white sandy beaches. However, if you’re more on the adventurous side like us, trekking through the jungle in search of remote beaches is a must!
There are plenty of expensive resorts you can book online if you’re looking to pamper yourself. However, the majority of the accommodation on this island consists of walk in only chalets, jungle camp sites with “private” beaches, and countless dive shops that offer free or discounted accommodation for divers. After a bit of research and some sound advice from a friendly Scot we met at our hostel in Kuala Terengganu, we decided to wing it and find a place to stay once we arrived and were thrilled with our decision.
There are two beaches that serve as the main hubs on Perhentian Kecil, which is the smaller of the two Perhentian islands but the main destination for young backpackers and Malays on holiday. The big island, Perhentian Besar, is more popular with resort seekers and families on vacation.
Long Beach is the larger of the two beaches on Kecil (who would have thought) and is also the “party” beach at night. There are several dive shops, dozens of places to rent a room ranging from cheap camp sites to rustic chalets to full-scale resorts, and restaurants ranging from cheap eats to resort prices. Most of the dive shops have restaurants and bars and there are also several “tiki” style bars propped up along the beach run by locals. These are basically just makeshift bar stands where you can grab a beer, cocktail, or hip flask of liquor to take with you as you dance, watch a fire show, or chill out on the beach.
Be sure to catch the main fire show at the far end of the beach (away from the jetty) at around 10:30 each night. People keep the party going until around 2:00 am most nights. Pro Tip: If you are there on a night with a particularly low tide, a small sand bar island is revealed just off the beach and the fire dancers put on an elaborate show that is not to be missed!
Coral Beach has a much more mellow vibe than its counterpart on the other side of the island and it is only a short 10-minute walk on a well-maintained path to cross from one side to the other. Here you will find several fancy resorts, some local restaurants, a couple of small shops where you can buy some basic supplies and snacks, and a few more dive shops. This side is where you will want to be to catch the sunset, but the swimming is better over on Long Beach. There is also a more secluded beach which can be reached via Coral Beach. Just head up the steps at the Shari La Resort and take a right before you enter the reception/restaurant area. Follow the signs and you will find Sunset Beach (ironically not the best for catching the sunset though).
The local population on Kecil mostly reside at what is known as Fisherman Village which is located at the Southern tip of the island. Here you will find a school, a beautiful seaside mosque, local shops, markets, and restaurants. Although it is small, this colorful village vibrantly smiles its island culture. There is a decent network of paths that wrap around the entire island, so you can easily travel the entire stretch in a couple of hours if you’re keen on seeing all that this island has to offer. You can also hire local water taxis to take you practically anywhere on either of the two islands for a reasonable price (10-25 ringgit depending on where you want to go).
Perhentian Kecil At a Glance
- Bring your own alcohol. It’s a small tropical island and booze is not cheap. If you know you are going to be drinking a lot of beers I would recommend bringing your own case from the mainland.
- Fill your water at the fill station machine at Amelia’s Cafe. Located just down the beach to the left as you enter Coral Beach from the Long Beach pathway. When we were there the machine was rigged so that you could get 5000 ml with only one 20 sen coin. You will save big time by not having to buy multiple bottles of water each day (bring 5 or 6 bottles to fill at a time to cut down on your trips). This is assuming that the place you are staying doesn’t offer filtered water, which some do.
- Don’t book ahead. Most places are walk-in only and you will get a much better deal if you wait to book upon arrival.
- Kayak around the island. Be sure to ask which direction you should go based on the current and pack enough water and supplies for a 4-6+ hour adventure. There are loads of beaches to stop at so this can easily become an all day affair.
- Take a hike to the windmills and the stairs to “Blue Lagoon”. This is an absolute must! Check out the video and you will instantly know why.
- Trek through the jungle from Long Beach to Coral Beach (the long way around the island). If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can even walk the entire island in around 3-4 hours. If you can’t find the trail, just ask a local. Don’t forget to pack water, sunscreen, and any other supplies you may need.
- Get dive certified/take some fun dives at one of the many dive shops. You should definitely take advantage of the free or discounted accommodation that they offer if you do decide to dive.
- Take a snorkel trip to see some incredible sea life in some of the clearest waters out there. There are many locals along Coral and Long Beach that you can hire to take you out for the day. A short half day trip will cost around 40 ringgit per person (3-4 snorkel spots) and a long full day trip will cost about 60 ringgit (6-8 snorkel spots).
- Watch a movie at the outdoor theater at Ombok Restaurant. Films play nightly at 7:30 pm. Ombok has some delicious pizza and really strong cocktails. Try the long island ice tea if you’re looking to get a serious buzz going (2 had me feeling some type of way). Food and drink prices are some of the most expensive on the island, but the movie is free and changes daily.
- Drink some beers and watch a fire show at the Sheesha Bar on Long Beach. Apart from those who stay to drink at the dive shops or resorts, the beach is where you will find everyone once the sun goes down. Beers are relatively cheap (8-10 ringgit) and you can post up and smoke some sheesha with friends as you enjoy hours of fire spinning shows.
- Spend your day sunbathing, reading a book, and swimming in the crystal clear blue waters at Long Beach. The white sand is soft and the beach is perfect for swimming. Just watch out for the little fishies that may try to bite your toes 😉
- Pick up volleyball games on Long Beach are quite common. Just stop by Oolala Dive Shop and ask some of the divers if they would like to get a game going.
Mohsin Chalet- These lovely hillside chalets are where we ended up staying for five nights after roughing it for our first night in a rustic beachside hut (in true backpacker fashion we didn’t book lodging before we arrived!). For around 80 ringgit a night you can stay in a reasonably sized room with a huge king size bed. These hillside rooms offer what is probably the best view on the entire island (and also a lovely breeze which is quite nice as much of the accommodation on the island does not offer AC). Each room has a spacious deck with chairs, which make for the perfect place to sit back and cool off with a cold beer and friends (as well as a great place to hang your laundry to dry!). Don’t expect any frills and be ready for a few mosquitos, but we will definitely book here again the next time we return to the Perhentians. Also, note that the entire island is run on generators and most places only offer power during the evening hours (6PM-9AM).
Dive Shops– If you plan to dive, then you should definitely be staying at one of the dive shops. Depending on the company, they offer free and reduced rate lodging to all divers and you will be surrounded by the new friends you meet during your many dives around the islands.
Rainforest Beach Camp– For those looking to stay off the beaten path a bit, there is a private beach camp where you will literally be sleeping in the jungle. They provide the tents and even have a kitchen on site where you can order meals. Just ask your boat driver to drop you off at the Rainforest Camp and have fun “roughing it” for a few nights on the beach with new friends and plenty of stars. Just be aware that you will be about a 20-25 minute walk from Coral Beach and 35-40 minute walk to Long Beach.
This eatery has the best WIFI on the island that we found and also some of the cheapest food. The curry and beef paprik are bomb and you have to try the Oreo milkshakes (probably the best milkshake I have ever had). You will find Ewans on the path from Long Beach to Coral Beach at approximately the halfway point (7-minute walk from Long Beach).
This Indian restaurant can be found at the end of Coral Beach (opposite the jetty). They have a set Indian plate lunch and dinner special for 15 ringgit with several options to choose from (Nan/Roti, two main dishes, and a special dessert). Great place to cool off after an afternoon of sunbathing on Coral Beach.
Some of the cheapest food on the island and super convenient when you’re looking for a quick bite on the Long Beach side.
Shari La Resort
This is the place to go if you are looking for the most bang for your buck. They have breakfast and dinner buffets with lots of options to choose from. For 14.90 the breakfast buffet comes complete with an egg bar, roti bar, fruit bar, cereal bar, hot buffet style items, coffee, tea, juice, and a number of other delicious goodies to help jump start your day. The dinner is similar, but with a lot more local dishes to choose from. If you choose to do the bbq as well the total cost comes to around 20 RM and you get to choose one item (either chicken, a small fish, or squid) for the staff to grill up for you.
One of the more expensive establishments on the island, but if you’re looking to splash out they have yummy wood fired pizzas and some of the strongest cocktails mixed on Kecil (two long islands had me buzzin). The ambiance is top notch and makes this the perfect for date night because you can catch dinner and a movie all in one beautiful outdoor setting.
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