Best time to go: April – July. Avoid Monsoon between November and February
Duration: 2 nights
Travel time: 3 hours drive from Singapore to Mersing. 20-30 mins boat ride to island.
Pulau Besar is one of a number of small Malaysian islands off the East coast of Johor, just over the Singapore border. Their closeness to Singapore and the fact you don’t have to get on a plane to get there make them perfect for a weekend getaway.
Although door-to-door, it probably takes the same time as it would to fly to Langkawi or Phuket, the fact you don’t have to battle your way through an airport makes it feel just that little bit more accessible, especially for anyone who has arrived in Singapore from Europe to visit family or friends and who may not want to get on another flight .
We went for a normal weekend with Dan’s family who were visiting, and left Singapore around 5pm on a Friday, returning Sunday evening.
We also went in August 2016, careful to avoid the monsoon season and it was actually one of the few trips last year where it didn’t rain once. We did, however, manage to pick the one and only weekend where there was haze that year (see above!). Sod’s law as they would say in Scotland but we still made sure we had fun!
Getting to Pulau Besar from Singapore
There are a few options. The hotel offered a van service, similar to when we went to Pulau Sibu, leaving from Orchard Road at a specific time and where you travel with other guests. As there was six of us this time, we opted for a private car, which gave us the flexibility to leave when we wanted.
You have to arrive in Mersing jetty before 8pm in order to avoid low tides and get a boat to the island. There was a bit of a delay crossing the border, which meant we were behind schedule and led to some wacky-races-type driving to get us there in time.
We eventually made it (and in one piece) and the boat left at around 8.10pm. At one point we hit some shallow water, which left us a little worried as the boat chugged its way through for 10 minutes before finally hitting deeper water and getting us to the island. We were just in time for a nightcap and then we could enjoy the rest of the weekend in peace.
Where to stay in Pulau Besar
Besar accommodation is usually bungalows or chalets . There are a few “resorts” to choose from but they’re all quite similar and we went with the Aseania Resort.
The chalets had a bit more substance to them than the rustic beach huts we stayed at in Sibu, but they didn’t have the charm. It made us realise (surprisingly!) that we’d much rather have cold showers and no aircon like we did in Pulau Sibu, as long as we had the feeling of island life.
When you look online at the Aseania, you’ll see pictures of a swimming pool but the reality doesn’t really live up to the pics I’m afraid. The food was OK – buffet style with a number of different local options, but none that were particularly tasty and certainly didn’t leave you wanting more.
The resort’s main saving grace, however, is that it has an amazing beach on its doorstep and a large decking which you can sit out on and watch the sunset. It also served some pretty good cocktails, which if you’ve been following our other adventures, you will know is a common theme and important factor in deciding whether we enjoy our holiday or not!
What to do in Pulau Besar
In Malay, Pulau Besar translates to “big island” but it doesn’t really live up to its name. In fact, it’s so tiny that there isn’t really anything to do other than walks along the beach, snorkelling, and lounging around with a good book. Which still isn’t too shabby if you ask me!
Even with the haze, the water at Pulau Besar was crystal clear when we were there. You do have to persevere with the snorkelling – it took us a good few attempts to find some decent coral and underwater life but once we did, it was awesome. The best spot we found was around 300 metres to the right of the Aseania Resort. There are apparently around 60 different species of fish you can find in the waters around Besar and we saw a fair few of those, including a very cute family of cloud fish (or Nemos as Dan called them) who kept popping in and out from their anemone as if playing peek-a-boo.
Due to the haze, I don’t think we saw the beach or the water at its best but you can tell it would be a stunning place to chill out and relax for a weekend when the sun is shining. We made the most of it, though, and had plenty of fun with our trusty frisbee and inflatable donuts and stopping off for some more photo taking.
Was Pulau Besar worth the trip? Definitely. Would we go back again? Maybe
If only to see what the beach and the water was like without the haze. But not before we’ve explored the other islands first.
We don’t tend to like going back to the same place twice – there are too many other places in Southeast Asia to explore. But if we were to go back to one of the Malaysian islands again, then it would probably be Rawa, Tioman or Sibu as opposed to Besar.
Read more about us and the Ultimate Travel Diary.