The Perhentian Islands on a Backpacker Budget

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.

Diving


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.

Snorkeling

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.

Food

Delicious 5 RM Burger


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.

Drinking

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.

For the areas I didn’t cover ;)
Lonely Planet Malaysia
Lonely Planet Southeast Asia: On a Shoestring

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19 thoughts on “The Perhentian Islands on a Backpacker Budget

  1. Hello,

    I’m planning on going to Perthenian Islands in three weeks time and was just wondering how you got there, and what ferry / boating companies are the best. I’ve read a few dodgy stories on the web so i’m just wondering….. I’m planning on making my way to Khota Bharu and stopping there for a day or two beforehand.

    • I can’t remember the exact name of the companies but it was fairly obvious when we arrived at the pier. I’m not even aware that there were multiple companies actually. The bus dropped us off right there and we walked to the end of the pier and were herded onto boats which left as they filled up. Pretty straightforward. Good luck. Also Khota Bharu is a great place to relax and recharge for a few days with all amenities handy

  2. Thanks for the tips! I’m heading to the Perhentian Islands tomorrow and feeling a bit terrified that my budget is going to be blown there, but keen on some fun beach times! Bring on the PB&J!

  3. Hi Phil, great site. I went to the Perhentian Islands and many years ago and never forgot it. They had everything I was looking for as you note. In a couple of months I’m headed to Thailand on a family trip (never been). My question – can anywhere in Thailand compare? Thanks!

    • I’m sure Thailand has an island that rivals the Perhentians, but I didn’t visit it. I went to the Thai islands early in my trip and only visited a few of the most popular ones like Koh Phangan and Koh Phi Phi. Definitely totally different vibes than the Perhentians, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

  4. I’m heading here tomorrow and can’t wait! Thanks for the post and advice, I will definitely be checking out the cheap accommodation you recommend x

  5. Hello, I am trying to plan my trip to Malaysia next month and i can’t figure out how to check rates and book a room on kecil! Just wondering if you could please advise me :)

  6. Hey Phil, thank for the post. Two questions;

    1. Do you think 5 days is too long to spend on Kecil?
    2. Are there many meal options for vegetarians and vegans?

    • I would say 5 days isn’t too long, but that also depends the rest of your trip and your personal time constraints. If you like the water, dive and snorkeling, then I’d say it doesn’t ever get old.

      While I don’t have dietary restrictions, I can’t image it being an issue. All the dishes they serve can be served without meat. Main issue is probably shared cooking surfaces

  7. I’m going there in 2 Days.
    Should I worry not to get a decent (low priced) place to sleep? Many forums says that it can be hard because of the man visitors!

  8. Hey there,

    Heading over to the island in a couple of weeks and was wondering whether it would be best to pre book accom? If so, what site as im struggling to find the hostels on any of the usual sites?

    Thanks

    • I didn’t pre-book anything for my stay there. Just showed up and started going from guesthouse to guesthouse to see what was available and get some quotes

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