When I think of Southeast Asia, island paradises are one of the first things that come to mind. Unfortunately, after a few island visits in Thailand, I also began to gather that paradise equated to a big hit on my wallet. Prices usually doubled upon leaving the mainland and when the Perhentian Islands were the next stop on my route, I assumed Perhentian would be no different.
Fresh off a visit to the Perhentian Islands, I can say firsthand that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money to experience the island and its beautiful surroundings. In fact, you can visit Perhentian on the cheap.
The main reason people visit these islands is for what lies beneath the surface. It’s known for its snorkeling and diving offering the chance to see everything from sunken ships to sea turtles and sharks. Luckily diving is extremely inexpensive compared to just about everywhere else with individual dives starting at 70 RM (only $22!). You can shop around and choose a dive shops and dive master you like most, but prices are very similar across the board.
If you prefer to stay close to the surface, than you’re definitely not out of luck. Snorkeling can be done right off most of the beaches and a snorkeling tour can take you to some amazing spots. Turtles and sharks are extremely common as I didn’t talk to a single traveler that missed out. I was able to see rays and a cuttlefish, not to mention loads of fish, right off of the northern portion of Long Beach, but the south end of Coral Bay was also reported to be good. Bringing your own gear lets you go whenever your heart desires, but renting equipment is possible as well and can be done right on the beach. Tours start at 30 RM for a half day or you can hire a private water taxi to take you around.
Accommodation and Internet Access
Most backpacker’s end up on Long Beach on the island of Perhentian Kecil (the small island). During our stay, which was supposedly during the high season, we found plenty of affordable options. Dorms priced between 20-25 Ringett could be found at Tropicana, Sunrise Guesthouse and Mohsin, the later of which includes A/C and reliable wifi. Private rooms were priced as low as 40 RM, but these were far from luxurious with a lone fan to keep you cool. If you aren’t interested in the busier Long Beach, D’Lagoon Chalets, just one beach to the north, offered 20 RM dorms (w/ wifi) as well as some more seclusion. And finally, if you’re on the ultimate budget, there’s an abandoned hotel just south of Coral Bay, where you can string up a hammock. Obviously, wifi and toilets are not included and you may get run out if someone finds out.
Eating on the island can and will cost you more than it would on the mainland. There isn’t a night market or yummy food stalls lining the beach. Having said that, it’s not impossible to avoid restaurant prices that rival Western countries. Mama’s Café on Coral Bay is one of the cheaper options. There’s is also a great and affordable restaurant along the path connecting Long Beach and Coral Bay, which also offers free wifi all day long. 5 RM will get you a tasty burger at one of the little burger stands on Long Beach, but the best way to save some dough is by bringing some of your own food. Malaysia is much more developed than other Southeast Asian countries and grocery stores are easy to come by on the mainland. I brought the fixings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for whenever I got the munchies.
Alcohol will play a huge factor on whether you keep or break you budget. The combination of a Muslim country and an island make drink costs sore. Relative to a Western country, it’s still not terrible, but compared to 50 cent drafts in Cambodia, its a shocker. A beer at a bar is 10 RM unless you can find a happy hour. Cocktails will run you the same and a bottle of Vodka will run you 25 RM. If you’re real ambitious, buying a bottle of the bottom shelf, and I mean the absolute bottom shelf, “monkey juice” will run you 20 RM. Waiting to party until you get to Thailand may be the best option.