Perhentian Islands with kids

Welcome to our Perhentian Island travel guide. The Perhentian Islands off Malaysia’s north east coast are a great place to go on a family holiday. There is some good snorkelling, great beaches and its a safe spot to travel with kids. There are two islands – Kecil (meaning small) and Besar (meaning big). From other information sources we heard Kecil was the backpacker/party island and Besar is more laid back. In our experience both are laid back, unless you’re staying on Long Beach on Kecil, then be prepared to party.

Getting there

The easiest way to get to the Perhentian Islands is to fly to either Kuala Terengganu to the south or Kota Bharu to the north and get a taxi to Besut jetty. At both KB and KT airports there is a taxi counter where you prepay your fare to your destination. Be prepared to pay about RM170 from KB or RM120 from KT.

Boats leave three times per day (8am, 12pm and around 4pm) from Besut Jetty and you will most likely have your boat ticket already as these come packaged with accommodation. If possible try to arrive earlier in the day for a smoother trip, the wind often picks up later in the day making the ride bumpier. It is a 45 minute trip by speed boat to the Perhentian Islands and the driver will make a number of stops and tell you where you are to get off.

Money

There are no ATMs on either Island (current as of June 2015) and many places do not accept credit card payment so be sure to take enough cash with you for your stay. We allowed about RM1,000 for the week (family of four) for food and water taxi trips, which well and truly covered our stay. Allow more if you plan on going scuba diving, renting snorkelling equipment, going on snorkelling tours or drinking alcohol.

Also be aware that there is no ATM at the jetty in Besut, so our advice is to get money out before you arrive. The ATM is in town, about a kilometre away and as the town is the service centre for the two Islands you can expect to be waiting a while at the bank.

Where to stay

Tripadvisor is a minefield of mixed reviews for Perhentian Island accommodation. In our experience most of it is fairly basic and rather expensive compared to what you would pay elsewhere in Malaysia. Just because you are paying more for accommodation doesn’t mean you a getting better quality accommodation. We have stayed at Reef Chalet and Coral View on Besut as well as staying in the Village on Kecil. We would recommend Reef Chalet as the best value for money. It is close to reasonably priced food (especially Mama’s) and just round the corner from the beach in front of Perhentian Island Resort where you can watch sea turtles feeding on sea grass.

Our best advice for accommodation on the Perhentian Islands is not to set your expectations too high.

Volunteer experiences

There are some really meaningful volunteer experiences available on the Perhentian Islands, especially when you are travelling with kids. We recommend

  • Ecoteer – Perhentian Islands – This is a great opportunity to get amongst village life. We volunteered for a week. They have a family room in the volunteer house which you share with the other volunteers. The accommodation is basic, but the experience is fulfilling. Our children learnt so much about culture, religion, building a sense of community and environment. They also made friends and had a lot of fun. The staff were flexible with the program to accommodate our kids and we were made to fit right in. See some of the photos from our stay.
  • Ecoteer – Turtle Project – While we didn’t formally volunteer with the turtle project, we met them as part of the Ecoteer team and after volunteering in the village spent some time doing turtle surveys and just hanging out with them. They are a passionate team, dedicated to conservation. The project has only recently started and it’s inspiring watching the team build it from scratch. The property is on a beautiful point on Besar Island.

Where to eat?

Food on the Perhentian Islands is delicious; we recommend:

  • We ate at Mama’s everyday, food is affordable and they serve all day – great for families. Note, they don’t serve alcohol here.
  • Belinda’s (formally known as Paradise) and the one next to it. There are two small restaurants both right next to Reef Chalet. The meals here are slightly more expensive than Mama’s (not much) and they serve alcohol.
  • The Barat. Food at the Barat is fine and they serve alcohol. In my experience the service here was slow and they don’t start serving food until 7.00pm which may not be feasible after a day swimming with kids. If you are going, I suggest getting there just before 7.00pm so you can order as soon as the kitchen opens.
  • Mari-Mari on Petani Beach, Kecil. The food here is delicious and the staff are friendly. Ring ahead and tell them your food preference (vegetarian, kids meals etc) and you’ll be served a delicious meal with other guests just after sunset. If you’re looking for an authentic beach bar – it doesn’t get much better than this.
  • The Village on Kecil. There are lots of great places to eat in the village where you can support local people and the local accommodation. Some notable mentions are the beach bar (on the sand just left of the jetty), PILA (from the jetty turn right and you make you’re way past the grocery store, you’ll see a hand painted sign on your left)

Any questions? Ask below! Have you stayed on the Perhentian Islands and have some advice to add? Please do!

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