13 July 2019.
Planning a trip to this pair of idyllic islands off the east coast of Malaysia? Sun-drenched white sand beaches, impossibly turquoise water and carefree island living await.
Really, getting to the Perhentian Islands is simple, but there are a couple of different options depending on how much time you’ve got and your budget.
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The ferry leaves for the Perhentian Islands leaves from Kuala Besut so your first step will be to get here. There are bus connections from all major towns in Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown (Penang), Ipoh and Tanah Rata (Cameron Highlands).
The trip from Kuala Lumpur and Penang are outlined below.
Kuala Lumpur To Kuala Besut
Buses bound for Kuala Besut from Kuala Lumpur depart from the TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) which can be easily reached using the KLIA train (6.50RM, €1.40) from Kuala Lumpur Sentral which departs every 30 minutes. Jump off at station Bandar Tasik Selatan and walk across the overpass toward the bus terminal.
Day services for Kuala Besut depart between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. while night buses set off from 9:30 p.m. until around midnight.
The trip takes around 7 hours and usually includes an extended break for lunch or dinner.
| Take the KLIA train from Kuala Lumpur Sentral to TBS
| Jump on bus to Kuala Besut
George Town and Penang To Kuala Besut
From Penang, buses for Kuala Besut leave from either the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal south of George Town or Penang Sentral in Butterworth.
To reach Sungai Nibong, take bus #102 or #401 from Komtar Tower (3RM, €0.65) or much faster is to take a Grab which should cost around 20RM (€4.50).
If you’re staying in George Town however, getting to Butterworth is the far more convenient option. Rapid Penang ferries depart every 20 minutes or so from Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda Terminal for Butterworth on the mainland. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and is free when leaving Penang.
At the time of visiting, Penang Sentral was still under development but is well on its way to being a modern and efficient transport hub for buses, trains and ferries.
Online, the trip is said to take 7 hours, but for me, it took closer to 10. On arrival in Khota Bharu, I was also told I needed to change buses for the final hour to Kuala Besut and was moved onto a bus already waiting in the terminal. I’m not sure if this is always the case so keep an ear out if you hear them calling for Kuala Besut, often shortened to just Besut, when you arrive at the terminal. I completely missed it.
Kuala Besut Bus Terminal To Ferry Port
From the Kuala Besut bus terminal, it’s an easy 10-minute walk to the ferry terminal mostly following the main road. Many taxi drivers will offer to give you a lift, but it’s really not necessary unless you’ve got plenty of luggage.
If you’re arriving late at night, there are a couple of hotels located right around the port. They’re not great value but will do the job for one night.
I stayed at Hotel Ain which was fairly basic and overpriced for what you get but it’s located right opposite the port so was perfectly fine for a few hours of sleep. Check here for rates and availability.
April Cafe across the road is a reliable choice for an early breakfast or late dinner. I arrived here late at night on the eve of Ramadan and even though they had closed the kitchen, their lovely staff still offered to whip me up some eggs and toast from the breakfast menu.
TIPS FOR BUS TRAVEL IN MALAYSIA
1 | Buses in Malaysia are generally modern and comfortable with enormous seats and charging outlets, but they really like to crank up the air conditioning. Don’t forget to put a jumper or warm shirt in your carry on luggage and, although it may be sweltering outside, wearing trousers isn’t a bad idea.
2 | Given there are limited services on some of the routes, it’s definitely a good idea to book your tickets in advance, especially for the night buses leaving Kuala Besut. Many of the ticket desks here only open around the time that buses are due to depart which tends to be around 10 p.m. meaning you could be waiting around for an awfully long time only to be disappointed. I booked all my tickets through EasyBook and had no issues.
3 | Particularly on the route from Penang which passes near the Thai border, the scenery is quite beautiful with rolling green hills draped in mist. Try to get the front window seat on the upper deck if you can.
Short on time or can’t stand the thought of an all-day or overnight bus? Instead of travelling overland, there are several daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and Penang to Kota Bharu located just an hour from Kuala Besut and prices are very competitive.
It’s possible to find flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu for as little as €15 (not including baggage). From Penang, direct flights start at around €45 but drop to around €30 with a connection through Kuala Lumpur.
The flight takes just 1 hour from either destination.
It’s also possible to fly into Kuala Terengganu, a 90-minute drive from Kuala Besut, but tickets tend to be more expensive on this route and connections aren’t as good.
From Kota Bharu airport you can either take a taxi or Grab all the way to Kuala Besut or just to the bus station where you’ll find local buses that depart several times a day. The trip takes around 1 to 1.5 hours.
The final stage – actually getting to this slice of island paradise.
Ferries leave every hour from the Kuala Besut Ferry Terminal and you’ll be asked to buy your ticket before you step onboard. Tickets are 70MR return (€15) and are colour coded based on the boat so be sure to keep it safe while you’re on the islands.
It’s just 30 minutes to Coral Bay, the first stop on Perhentian Kecil, followed by Long Beach and then Perhentian Besar.
For the return journey, boats leave at 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. from both Coral Bay and Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil and the same time from Besar. Multiple boats will be waiting and you’ll be divided up based on the colour of your ticket.