Penang-Perhentian Peregrination – a few tips on driving to the Perhentian Islands

at the beach

at the beach

Kuala Besut, the harbour from which you catch a boat to the Perhentian islands, is about 350  KM by road from Penang.  That’s a little over five hours drive, plus whatever time you stop for breaks – so I allowed six hours total.  You can also go by bus, organised by talking to a travel agent or to bus companies at Butterworth or Sungai Nibong terminals.  Finally, you can fly.

On our first trip to the Perhentians we drove:

For last year’s trip we flew:

This year we decided to drive again.  The time taken is only slightly more than flying, but we can align our schedule to the hotel check-in time, and luggage handling is simply loading it into the car, and then dropping it off at the jetty.  With a flight you load the luggage into the taxi at home, unload at the airport, load onto a trolley, load onto the airline conveyor belt, offload the luggage on arrival, load into the taxi, and then unload at the jetty. Three or four times more handling.

Boats to the islands leave quite frequently, although the return trips have a more restricted set schedule – 8AM, 12 noon, 4PM in the case of our resort.

Check in time at our resort was 2PM, so we aimed to be at the Kuala Besut jetty around 1PM at the latest, which would have us leaving home about 7AM at the latest.

Another parameter to bear in mind is that it gets light around 7.05 (on the equinox), and I believe it is better to either drive when it is light, or at least not hit the end of the dual carriageway until it is light. As it is about 35 minutes drive (45KM) to the end of the dual carriageway, then the earliest to leave home would be about 6.30AM. The reason for not driving in the dark is that some vehicles have no working rear lights, and it is possible to drive almost into their rear before you see them – especially if they are driving very slowly. So, the earliest to leave is 6.30AM, and the latest 7AM.

just after sunrise

just after sunrise

  • I worked out all these timings as a result of the trip, and we actually left slightly earlier, at 6.10AM.
  •  But actually on Sunday there is quite a lot of traffic.  Any other day would be better, but these were the only days we could get the hotel booking.
  • We reached the bridge at 6.20, and were across it at 6.30.
  • At about 6.45 we reached the end of the dual carriageway.
  • At about 7.05 it became light, and we stopped a little later for coffee by the side of the road – from our thermos – our coffee is better than anything you can buy on the way
  • We later stopped at a petrol station for a break
  • And then we stopped at the summit hawker centre for more coffee and sandwiches.
  • We arrived at Kuala Besut at 12.05PM – 360 KM later
  • We parked at back of the hotel and walked to agent, who gave us boat tickets
  • Their agent rode his bike to our car
  • We drove to the jetty and unloaded luggage
  • We left luggage with Mrs Tropical Expat and I followed the bike to parking and parked
  • Then I rode on the back of the bike to the jetty and we boarded the boat

And a few other comments:

  • Some bad drivers will not wait their turn. You wait until it is safe to overtake the slower vehicle in front, and just when you judge it is safe, one or more vehicles from behind overtake you and cut you off  – in the end you miss the chance to overtake
  • At traffic lights many cars will take the right turn lane and overtake you.  If they are driving faster than you this isn’t a problem, but if it’s a slow car you have already overtaken once you might want to ensure they don’t succeed.
  • The road marking engineers largely have little idea of their craft.
  • Local traffic in the east may drive very slowly – about half the speed of through traffic.
  • At least once every trip an oncoming car overtakes despite the fact there isn’t space, and forces you off the road
  • Still, driving is easier and more relaxing  than flying

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