Not just a desert-island idyll (though they’re that too), their exceptionally calm, clear and shallow waters make the Perhentian Islands the ideal place to snorkel or dive amongst damselfish, neon-bright anemones and stingrays.
Just 30 minutes by boat from the northeast coast of the Malaysian peninsula, the Perhentian Islands are a picture-perfect tropical paradise - but it’s their superb snorkelling and diving opportunities that keep us coming back year after year. Of the two main islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil (simply meaning Big and Small Island respectively), the larger is more family-orientated, while the smaller caters to a more bohemian, backpacker crowd, with plenty of beach bars and parties (though nothing on the scale of Thailand or Bali).
The name Perhentian means “stopping point” in Malay, and throughout history these islands have been a waystation for fishermen, traders, colonists, and even Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s. All this traffic means that the waters around the Perhentians have their fair share of wrecks, and these underground landmarks have become magnets for sea life. At the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90-metre cargo ship sunk in 18 metres of water in 2000, giant puffers, bamboo sharks, and lionfish make their homes. At the so-called “Vietnamese Wreck” (actually an American landing craft sunk in the 1970s), a fully-fledged coral garden attracts seahorses and blue-ring octopi. Meanwhile, at three police boats sunk in 2008, you might spot flounders, stingrays and outlandish nudibranchs.
Though snorkelling and scuba diving are easily our highlights, they’re not the only reason we love the Perhentians. While some of Malaysia’s islands charge a pretty penny for access to paradise, here you can get that castaway experience for the fraction of the price – with all the white sand, sparkling seas, and chilled-out beachy vibes you could wish for – and sometimes that’s all you want.