Saturday, November 2, 2013

Trip Reports - the Perhentian Islands

 Julie's Perhentian Islands Trip Report - visited August 2013

I'm over long trips on budget airlines but when BeachBlogger found a good fare on full service Malaysian into Kota Bharu via KL in order to revisit the Perhentians and nearby islands, I said count me in. I had not visited this area and was keen to see if his ratings of the islands "as good as Thailand's" was justified.

 We decided to stay on both islands. Because the bigger Besar (background: it looks smaller but this is an oblique Google Earth view from the west) is a bit more difficult to move between beaches we selected 2 resorts there. Order of stay was Coral View, Abdul's and then Shari La. The water-taxi service makes it easy to travel between resorts and islands.

Coral View has 3 dining areas - this small deck overlooks the northern beach. A bigger covered area is behind the camera and another beach-view section is about 30m to the left, overlooking the western beach and the other island. Restaurant prices were 20-50% higher than the neighbouring bungalow restaurants we mainly used. A Coral View club sandwich was superb, a satay beef dish very ordinary. Some reviews had complained about slow service but we found it speedy, although when full (this place has many rooms) things may be slower. A problem shared with nearly all restaurants in these north-east islands was that certain menu choices were unavailable. It seems these places were slowing down for their closure for the wet season. This is understandable although our late August visit was a long way from the mid-late October closure of most places and was not matched by shoulder season room pricing, which tends to start in September.

Coral View's corner position allows the 2 beach frontages mentioned above. The northern beach is compact but the nicer of the two although the sun lounges were showing wear and tear, unlike at the other beach. Both have shallow water at low tide, something that the superb bigger beach in front of Perhentian Island Resort does not suffer. It is an easy walk to this beach. The 3 resorts to the south of Coral View have budget restaurants. Reef also has beer for sale. I think this would also be the case at Perhentian Island Resort which fancies itself as an international standard place.

We ate many of our meals at Watercolours which was only a 5 minute walk. Food was okay at true budget prices (although there were some "no haves") and the view across to the other island pleasant. Diners can ask for the wi-fi password and log-in (free). The beach in front of these 3 resorts is not great. It gets very narrow at high tide and the water is shallow and littered with dead coral at low tide. Almost stepped on a baby turtle making his way down the sand here to the water one evening. All these resorts seem to have a small shop for basics - the one at Coral View was not inexpensive.

Perhentian Island Resort beach - wide clean sand, crystal clear water. BeachBlogger said there was some coral out near those boats which had snorkelers and divers working off them. That is the northern end of Perhentian Kecil in the background.

Coral View has a large number of rooms. Nearly all the Garden View chalets (some air-conditioned, some fan) are both sides of this hill, connected by wooden walkways. The gardens were intensively manicured by the staff which performed excellently in all facets. Our chalet had easily enough room for 2 people, a nice little ante room for reading, an ok bathroom with cold water, a working fridge and a big balcony. The bed was comfy, the air-conditioner effective but a bit noisy. The general area was quiet. Problems: the bathroom bi-fold door was dodgy, lights poor for reading and no bottled water was supplied. Wi-fi was only available in a tiny area near reception.

The pick of the chalets are at the beach front. See also the opening photograph. These are considerably more expensive of course. Monkeys in shot lived in tree-tops near our bungalow and seemed to take a daily mid-afternoon excursion to the rocky peninsula between the two beaches.

The branch manager.

The outlook from our balcony. There were scattered sea and Perhentian Kecil views in gaps between the tree tops but the camera exposure settings needed for the shaded forest area does not show them. The balcony was a good area to spend time because the tree tops were a haven of animal activity - monkeys, bats, cute little squirrels and of course plenty of birds.

The squirrels had no hesitation in coming from the trees onto the balcony or clambering over the roof.

My overall judgement of Coral View was that apart from the expensive food and menu "no haves", it was a pretty good place. Value wise we paid less for our chalet than most Thai Andaman island places of similar standard in high season. However value was not as good as at sister* resort Shari La on the neighbouring island which was of a similar standard with less expensive accommodation and cheaper food.
*I'm not sure if Shari La is still a sister resort. We read a review stating it was and chalet design and fittings were similar and sometimes identical, but the difference in food pricing/availability and the proprietary air shown by the friendly service orientated manager indicated it may now be separately owned.


A very short water taxi ride (rm6 each) along the west coast of the bigger island got us to Abdul's beach which becomes Tuna Bay on the northern side of the pier with the resort of the same name plus a couple of other nice looking places. It is possible to walk this trip from Coral View in around 30 minutes via the 10 minutes jungle track from the southern end of Mama's beach but BeachBlogger says the last is steep and rough and will only be taken by the most desperate of cash-short budget travelers.
Abdul's-Tuna Bay is a very nice beach with deep water at lowest tide (although it gets a bit shallow over the excellent coral north of the pier: however this allows non-swimmers to wade the short distance from the beach and stick their mask in the water at the edge of the reef to check the abundant coral and fish), clear water and plenty of sand at highest tide.

There was no shortage of sun-lounges at Abdul's and good shade until late in the day. Beach Blogger tells me Abdul's started as a backpackers' place but has upgraded over the years. These are the air-conditioned beachfront chalets. Most of the second (final) row places are similar.

However there were 2 smaller fan bungalows in the 2nd row, one of which old budget traveler BeachBlogger couldn't resist. The front steps were only about 20m from the beach. 

The chalet was basically a box plus cold water bathroom. The main room was big enough for two plus their gear without being excessively cramped. The queen sized bed was comfy. However there was no net nor screens or glass for the windows. The manager assured us the mosquito "hour" was 1600 to 1800 and providing we took precautions then we would not be worried later. Now I am used to 1500-2000 being the danger time, but he was proved correct. Maybe the tiny but very active bats have dissuaded the mozzies around dusk. There seemed to be no problem around dawn. During the night  we still slept under a top sheet and put repellent on exposed parts, but we did not have mozzies buzzing around our ears. 
There was no bottled water supplied.
The area was quiet although close spacing of bungalows saw some noise transmission - like the woman singing at 3am.
The reception/restaurant's wifi did not extend to the room.

Abdul's beachfront restaurant has  a nice  outlook although many guests preferred the tables on the beach itself. The beach bbq on candle-lit tables attracted a good crowd each night. At rm25 it seemed good value.
The general food in the restaurant was pretty nice and at budget prices. Service was okay but not as warm as at Coral View or the later Shari La. There were a few "no haves" on the menu. No alcohol was available although expensive beer could be bought at the similar Tuna Bay resort restaurant 5 minutes north. Abdul's restaurant has an adjoining  small shop selling a good range of products at reasonable prices for an island resort store. 

Abdul's offshore platform proved popular any time of day. BeachBlogger tells me there is reasonable coral in that area but not as good as north of the pier.

My overall judgement of Abdul's was that it was an interesting place to spend a few nights, with a much better beach than at Coral View or the later Shari La. However the basic bungalow meant a few nights was approaching the limit for me. Value wise the basic bungalow was not appreciably cheaper than similar places in Thailand's (expensive these days) Andaman islands. But it was much less expensive than Abdul's other places: the beachfront air-conditioned chalets could be accused of being overpriced. However they were fully booked: economics-nerd BeachBlogger will tell you that the market ensures overpriced places can't achieve this status.


Shari La dominates the headland at the northern end of Kecil's second most popular beach area, Coral Bay on the western coast. The area in the above picture is mainly restaurant and dining locations: the chalet section stretched a good 300m to the right of this image.

This is the view of the pier and far end of the beach from one of the undercover dining areas. Food was good with prices not much higher than budget restaurants on the nearby beach.There seemed to be fewer "no haves" on the menu. Our breakfast was not included but they offered a half price buffet deal (rm10) which was outstanding value – rm10 only gets the basics in a budget place, whereas the buffet was very good. The nightly seafood bbq on the rocks at rm25 was even better value. Places on Redang later in our visit were wanting rm75 for much the same.

Unlike "sister" resort Coral View, virtually all of Shari La's mid-range accommodation is on the one level once you climb up from the beach to reception. There are dozens of chalets in this area, joined by pathways through well-manicured garden areas. Some of the more expensive chalets have nice elevated ocean views but there are no beachfront places. The above are the only accommodation that appear on popular booking sites like Agoda, but this resort also offers budget rooms (which may be best booked via the associated diving outfit) and even a backpackers' dorm. If the last 2 also offer the cut-price breakfast buffet, this accommodation may be an excellent deal. There was a lot of building going on at the time of our visit in the budget-room section.
Wifi was not available in the rooms but was strong in the reception area which had lots of comfortable seating and free fruit punch.

Our standard room in a quiet garden setting was big and comfortable. It had the usual dark stained wood exterior and ornate interior of traditional Malaysian holiday chalets. Limited windows were balanced by many lights, none super bright. There were a big comfy queen bed, plenty of seating in a separate ante room, good hot water and a neat little garden balcony with plenty of drying space. Faults: both air-conditioner and regrigerator didn’t work effectively. No doubt these could be fixed but we didn’t need the latter and overhanging trees plus an effective ceiling fan on low speed kept the place cool.

Coral Bay beach is about 300m long and reasonably attractive but is not a patch on nearby Long Beach or at Abdul's/Tuna Bay and Perhentian Island Resort. The sand is coarser and water tends to get a bit shallow at lowest tide. This is shot from the small internet cafe towards the southern end of the beach where we got our afternoon beer fix - Shari La is dry. The beach has a number of budget bungalow restaurants and at least 3 small stores.

Shari La has the distinction of 3 small "exclusive" beaches on the northern side of its headland. These are the first two. They are nothing outstanding with shallow water at low tide but the first one had some nice sun lounges and shade. BeachBlogger was not impressed with the coral offshore but said there was quite a few fish.

Arguably the best beach in the Perhentians, Long Beach on the opposite east coast is an easy 10 minutes walk from Shari La across a well paved low saddle path. You can exit through the back of Shari La onto this path. This beach has hire sun lounges and umbrellas yet plenty of space to spread a towel on the sand. There is a good range of beach bars and restaurants. Low tide water close to shore at this northern end is shallow but okay after wading out a bit. It is very clear. Shade is limited if you by-pass those beach umbrellas.

My overall judgement of Shari La is that is was the best place we stayed at on the Perhentians. The tariff was excellent –  a bit over half "sister" resort Coral View on Besar, which I thought was inferior in other respects, particularly food - although Coral View's absolute beachfront chalets cannot be replicated at Shari La. Staff and management were friendly and efficient. Although Coral Bay beach is not as good as some, it has a wider range of services and  it was easier to move to several other reasonable to good beaches than at the other resorts: I didn't feel as confined to the one area.

To answer the opening question: I did think the Perhentians better than the Thai islands I have visited: Lipe, Kradan, Ngai, Bulon Lae, Lanta, Jum, Krabi (admittedly not an island), Phi Phi, Phuket, Phratong, Khao Lak (another mainland one), Samui, Phangan, Samet, Chang, Wai and Kut. Several of those listed have beaches the equal of the Perhentians and (not necessarily the same ones) scenery as good or better. But none have the water clarity and good coral combined with nice beaches and good scenery.

Compared to the other north-east Malaysian peninsula islands, I thought the Perhentians was the pick. Lang Tengah was too expensive and isolated. Kapas was spoiled by what I judged as a terrible resort. Redang was very nice with a hugely attractive main beach, the best in the north east area. But Redang loses a few points by being a bit too crowded and having what I thought of as a scarcity of budget eating options.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you nice article.
    your next trip…Phuket is the best choice for you!!
    I love here Surin Beach Hotel This hotel is very nice clean and the people are friendly. VERY nice hotel with helpful staff.
    And I really love white sand, crystal clear waters at Surin Beach too.
    Thank again.