Perhentian Islands are one of Malaysia’s ‘must do’ getaways. Perhentian island resorts are located on the two main islands, Pulau Perhentian Besar (Greater Perhentian) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Lesser Perhentian). Kecil is marketed towards a younger crowd with many a backpacker haunt and more of a vibrant party vibe in comparison to the slightly more upmarket Besar with family resorts. Before the season finished, we decided to head to Tuna Bay on Besar as it had been recommended to us by friends.
As we approached the resort we were met with the view of white sands and clear waters which sat on a back drop of the most beautiful dense jungle – safe to say first impressions did not disappoint.
At the resort itself the accommodation is in the form of beach chalets, which although basic, contain all the necessities: hot running water, bath towels, beach towels, a safe and bottled water. Although simple and a little dated, the rooms were clean with extra beds and interconnecting rooms available upon request.
When traveling as a large group of 4 families you can imagine that arranging boats, buses and extra beds can often be difficult, but from the word go Tuna Bay were great at communicating with us and arranging all our requirements. As they were winding down at this time of year (the resorts close for the monsoon season) there were great deals to be had. We got a wonderful deal and the weather was great to us.
Whether you are a couple looking for some R+R, an adventure seeker or a family who likes to relax on the beach for a few days it is safe to say that the simple yet beautiful Tuna Bay resort will not disappoint with something for everyone.
Meals at Tuna Bay
Breakfast was buffet style, nothing fancy but more than adequate with something even for picky children. We were happy with the usual selection of continental and cooked Asian and Western options and coffee – my only must. There is a station cooking eggs and omelettes to your liking and for the self-confessed coffee snobs like me, lattes and cappuccinos are available at an extra cost.
All day dining is available for the rest of the day with a wide menu of both Western and local favourites; again there was something for everyone. The food isn’t going to win any Michelin stars but it was fresh and tasty and service was good. For dinner in addition to the regular menu there is a barbecue station serving lovely platters of meat and fresh seafood. The portions were very generous and prices on par with KL, with salads ranging from 18-25rm, main courses from 20rm and the BBQ platter at 88rm with fish, chicken, beef and two sides; enough for two.
Alcohol is also served all day with beers, cocktails and wine all on offer. It should be noted that the poor couple next to us in the bar looking for Laurent Perrier was utterly disappointed, so when we say a ‘fully stocked bar’ it most definitely means rustic beach resorts standards and won’t be competing with Shangri-La any time soon. This is the case with most Perhentian island resorts.
What to do
During the day we found so much to keep even the most active of families busy, we headed out on a snorkeling trip round some of the neighbouring islands. Having done a fair amount of snorkeling in South East Asia, I can say it really was some of the best we have seen. The guides were knowledgeable and each stop had a slightly different seascape and something to search for.
For those willing to do a bit of exploring head hiking through the jungle over to turtle bay where you can grab lunch at one of the other resorts and enjoy searching for turtles. No need to worry if the kids get tired, you can always take a water taxi back. Water taxis are a relatively inexpensive way to explore different areas of the islands.
If you’re the adventurous type that wants to find that somewhere special, not accessible via water taxi, walk along the beach at Tuna Bay, continue along what seems to be an out-of-use and quite dilapidated walkway,and within twenty minutes of walking you’ll hit other beaches. Keep going and you’ll find a completely secluded bay where no boats can get to. It was a little piece of paradise and we spent two afternoons here with the entire beach to ourselves. There are sections requiring a bit of clambering over rocks (and earplugs for whiney children in my case!) but we managed with a toddler and baby in tow! There is fantastic snorkeling here and if you do the swim along the edge of the bay to shark point you won’t be disappointed.
Interested in Diving? We can highly recommend Universal Diver Perhentian, situated next to Tuna Bay resort. We took part in an intro dive course and were so impressed with the professionalism of the centre that we trusted them with our children the very next day to do the Bubblemaker course. Prices were exceptionally reasonable and nothing was too much trouble for our instructors Ali and Antonio. Both were dive masters with a lot of experience and we would not hesitate to recommend them. With a great house reef, experienced staff and a high quality resort right next door I’d seriously consider this as a prime location for anyone interested in any of the padi courses. We would advise prior booking as they are popular and can get very busy.
Getting to Perhentian Islands
To get to the jetty it is around a 6 hour drive from KL, so if you’re up for a road trip then key Tuna Bay office into Waze and it will take you straight to their door at Kuala Besut. During peak holidays, such as Chinese New Year, the roads can be packed, turning your easy 6hrs into an 8 hr journey. We have so often been caught out trying to return to KL on the last Sunday of a holiday, not to mention that as a group with 6 kids in tow, this was not a risk I was willing to take this time, even with the road trip game changer of iPads! So we decided to fly and hopped on a flight from Subang to Khota Bharu, very quick and easy.
Ready arranged bus transfers took us to Kuala Besut. This took around an hour but with air con on board and a good book it was bearable even with small kids in tow (parenting confession: greatly aided by a large supply of Oreos and a deck of cards, but I got through 6 chapters in peace! Win-win.)
On arrival at the office you will check in and walk to the jetty, where your bags will have already been loaded on board. You then make the 45 minute boat journey to the island. More information regarding travel options, jetty fees, bus transfers etc. are all excellently explained with prices included on Tuna Bay’s website.
- Although all chalets include a veranda I’d opt for a beach view if possible, because for me nothing beats the convenience of sitting with a coffee on the porch while watching the kids play. We should say that although we didn’t have a beach view chalet we were no more than 10 steps to the beach, so we are most definitely speaking first world problems with this one!
- Head upstairs to the bar for a great sunset view. Children were welcome here and there was even sport on to keep the older children in our group entertained!
- If you head to the private bay speak to the restaurant staff nicely like we did as they let us borrow a cooler which we filled with drinks and snacks and spent the loveliest afternoon there.
- If you have your own snorkel gear, bring it along. The house reef in front of the beach is fantastic and we saved so much money not renting daily. Snorkels are now a staple for all beach holidays.
- Going diving? Bring your own mask if you have room. Although all equipment is always included a good fitting mask is a must and I prefer to have my own.
- Note that at Khota Bharu there isn’t much in the way of ATM’S and shops so I’d advise making sure you do any shopping or cash withdrawals before leaving KL. Next to the Tuna Bay office there are a few 7/11 type shops so no worries on the essentials front: snacks, water and even beach toys could be found here.
- At the resort itself there is a small shop hidden round the corner next to the dive shop stocking basics like sun cream and local snacks. Don’t bank on it having what you need but it’s good to know about. Certainly solved our redheaded family issue of even 3 bottles of factor 50 not being enough!!
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