If you’d like to swim, camp and explore an island wonderland, head to the Perhentian Islands. The white-sand beaches here are fringed by lush coastal jungle, and lead down to clear waters inhabited by turtles and reef fish.
The waters and islands are part of a National Marine Park and fishing is prohibited. This makes the area a snorkeling and diving paradise. For divers, there are several sunken police boats in shallow water to explore, as well as an older sugar cargo hauler, a Japanese ship that served in World War II and underwater geological formations, such as the world-renowned “Pinnacle.”
Perhentian Besar is the larger of the two islands and offers accommodation within a medium price range. Perhentian Kecil’s accommodation caters to those on a tighter budget, and is the busier of the two islands. Accommodation is seasonal, with most places closing down from September to February because of rough seas and monsoonal weather, so plan your visit from March to October.
The islands are fairly undeveloped, so pack some good books and a Frisbee, and enjoy the gorgeous tropical outdoors. Relax in one of the many spas that offer traditional massages and beauty treatments. Dine at one of the resorts, or explore the village restaurants and cafés offering both local and western dishes. If you’re feeling ecologically minded, join the turtle conservation programme, which accepts volunteers every Monday.
Once you’re done exploring the water and lazing on the beaches, check out some of the jungle trails for a close encounter with dusky leaf monkeys, who live high in the trees. This greyish brown monkey has white markings like spectacles, and babies that are born bright orange!
The Perhentian Islands are just over 12 miles (20 kilometres) off Penisular Malaysia’s northeast coast. The only way to get to the islands is from the mainland villages of Kuala Besut and Tok Bali by speed boat.