You need to book your accommodation before you go and arrange the boat transfer with the resort. The island is relatively small (about the same size as Pulau Sibu, larger than Pulau Rawa) and hosts a few simple “resorts” on the West. The beach is beautiful. For some reason, most people know about Pulau Sibu, Pulau Rawa but don’t know about Pulau Besar. This makes it a perfect destination for a trip away from the crowds.
Just to be clear, we are talking about Pulau Besar, off Mersing, in Johor, Malaysia. The island is sometimes called Pulau Babi Besar. We are not talking about the Perhentians islands further North in Malaysia.
How accessible is it from Singapore?
Pulau Besar is one of the islands off Mersing that you can access from Singapore via car and boat. The total door to door journey is 3 hours and 40 minutes from (your home/office in) Singapore to your room on Pulau Besar assuming average traffic conditions (30 minutes waiting time) at the border.
Regular boat transfers time schedule is not great in most resorts (Going at 12.3o PM, coming back to Mersing at 1PM), so you will probably have to arrange a charter boat to make the most of your weekend. You cannot arrange a boat after 6.30 PM so you will most likely have to go take a half day off on Friday or go on a Saturday morning.
How much is this going to cost us?
Transport from Singapore will cost you about SGD 350 return for a van. This estimate includes the transfer by van only. The boat is usually included in the resort package. However, you can charter a boat for RM 200 per boat. Accommodation wise there is a range of relatively simple options. Most resorts are basic. On the relatively higher end, a full board 2 days and 1 night stay for 2 adults will cost you about RM 1130 at the Aseania resort.
What about the kids?
Pulau Besar is relatively kids and babies friendly. The island is relatively clean and the kids can enjoy the beach. The Aseania hotel has a swimming pool.
How remote and risky is it?
There is no medical infrastructure on the island and we have not seen any staff trained in first aid or first aid kits. If anything serious happens, you will need to take a boat back to Mersing and then a car to Singapore. There is no road on the island (but you may see a few motorbikes on the path around the island).
When should we go?
Most resorts are closed during the monsoon, from December to Chinese New Year (January or February).
Did you know?
This island was called Pulau Babi Besar that translates in big boars island in English because there used to be many boars on the island. Babi has been dropped as there are no more boars or pigs on the island.
Alternatives to Pulau Besar
There are a few islands off Mersing, take a look at this comparison where we compare 5 islands (Batu Batu, Pulau Besar, Pulau Rawa, Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tioman) to pick the one that’s right for you. Click the picture below to discover this comprehensive review in which we compare accessibility, accommodation, beach, snorkeling, diving, etc
Connections from Pulau Besar
Well, Pulau Besar would usually be a destination for a 2-day weekend from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Johor Bahru. But if you have more time and want to further explore the region, you can go to Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tioman, Batu Batu Pulau Rawa or to Endau Rompin National park. These destinations are accessible from Mersing.
Getting to Pulau Besar from Singapore
To reach Besar island you first need to get to Mersing, then your resort will arrange a boat transfer to the island (it is usually included in the accommodation package). The boat ride lasts approximately 25 minutes. You can ask your resort to arrange your boat pick up to match your arrival time in Mersing. Boats can be arranged if there are enough passengers. Also ask about the trip back to Mersing as the timing follows the tides (and a late afternoon return may not be available).
If the timing does not work for you (because the boat to get there leaves too late, you can always ask your resort to charter a boat, RM200 per boat- if the tides permit.
Note that the resorts do not arrange boat transfers at night, this means you will not be able to reach Besar on a Friday night unless you take a half day off (it’s dark around 7pm and you will need at least 3 hours to reach Mersing from Singapore).
You have a few options to go from Singapore to Mersing. From the fastest to the cheapest option.
(click the sign to expand each section)
The most painful part of the trip is to cross the border. You can get an idea of what to expect by checking the traffic webcam on the One Motoring website. Hiring a van with a driver may be the fastest option to cross the border since they have a dedicated lane at the border and go through faster than private cars or taxis.
Driving your own car (or rent one) takes about 2.5 hours if there is no traffic at the border (to be honest, unless you travel in the middle of the night, there is always some traffic at the border so 3h30 is more realistic) . Renting a car will cost you from SGD 300 for 48h rental (check Avis Singapore). You can park your car at Mersing (open air carpark with limited (if any) surveillance, RM 15 per night). The GPS coordinates of the Mersing Jetty are 2.434352, 103.839191 (Jalan Abu Bakar)Woodlands or Tuas? Which is fastest?
If you drive the car yourself, you will have the option to cross the border at either Woodlands Causeway or Tuas Second Link checkpoint.
We found that, generally speaking, there are less vehicles at the Tuas Second Link checkpoint. However, depending on where you start your trip in Singapore, going through Tuas may add up to 50 km to the total journey. The road between Tuas Second Link and Johor Bahru (where you connect with the traffic going through Woodlands Causeway) can be busy. So, if you travel in the night or outside of peak hours, use Woodlands as it’s shorter. If you plan to be at the border on at 7PM on a long weekend Friday and don’t mind burning additional gas, you may want to give a try to Tuas Second Link (but there is no guarantee) and hope that the waiting time is shorter compared to Woodlands Causeway.
Arranging a car with a driver from Singapore (passenger car, minivan, etc) takes about 3 hours if there is no traffic at the border and costs approximatively SGD 350 per car for a return trip up to 4 pax and SGD 450 per mini van for a 10 seaters. You can book via Discovery Tour agency: +65 6733 4333 / Email : firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compared with private cars, taxis and buses, vans are the fastest way to cross the border since they use a special lane and carry less passengers than buses.
Arranging a specially licensed taxi (regular taxis cannot cross the border) is another option. If you use these taxis you will have to transfer vehicle at the taxi station.
- From Singapore to Malaysia:
– (only specially licensed) Singaporean taxis can go to Kotaraya taxi stand (near Johor Bahru City Square).
– Malaysian taxis can take you anywhere in Malaysia but can only be taken from Ban San Street Taxi Kiosk at Rochor Road, in Singapore. This is close to Bugis MRT station. It costs SGD 10 per person or SGD 40 per car.
- On the way back, from Malaysia to Singapore you can take a taxi at Kotaraya taxi stand (near Johor Bahru City Square). The ride from Kotaraya taxi stand to Ban San Street Taxi stand (Rochor road) cost RM15 per person or RM60 per car.
You can book cross border taxi services with SMRT taxis or call the taxi stations at+65 6296 7054 (Singapore) or +60 7 224-6986 (Johor Bahru).
Take a look at taxisingapore.com for more details and contacts.
If you prefer a transfer from anywhere in Singapore to Mersing (or anywhere in Malaysia) with no change of vehicule, you can book contact limousinecab. The transfer is SGD 300 upwards from Singapore to Mersing (depending on the car).
Taking a direct bus from Singapore to Mersing takes 4 hours or more depending on the traffic at the border and costs approximatively SGD 30 / pax for one way. Several bus companies offer daily coach transfer to Mersing. Most buses leave from the Golden Mile Complex near Lavender MRT. You can try Transnational Express (departure around noon / +65 6294 7034). FiveStar does not operate this service anymore.
Taking a bus from Singapore to Johor Bahru and then a taxi from Johor Bahru to Mersing. This is useful if you cannot catch a direct bus as they leave quite early. This option is suitable if you want to leave right after work on Friday for example.
To reach Johor Barhu, you can take the Singapore-Johor Express bus or the Causeway Link Express bus, departure from Bugis / Beach Road and arrival to Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Barhu. A one-way ticket costs SGD 2.5. It runs from 6:30 AM to 11:00 PM at 15 minute intervals. If you have large luggage with you, you will have to pay for a second ticket for your bag. You’ll have to get off the bus at the immigration checkpoint, take all your belongings, keep your tickets.
Taxis from Larkin Bus terminal to Mersing will cost approximatively MYR 100 SGD 40and will take 2.5 hours. Taxis are available at the Larkin Bus Terminal.
Where to stay in Pulau Besar?
There are a few resorts on Pulau Besar. All of them are located on the West side of the island. Most are very simple bungalows popular with local Malaysian families.
On the “higher” end you can check the Aseania Resort. The bungalows are relatively nice and the staff is helpful. Food is OK without being exceptional. Anyway, that’s the best you can find on the island.
Most resorts offer full board packages and buffet food. Drinks are purchased as extras.
When booking with Agoda or Booking.com make sure that you select a hotel on the right island! Some websites consider Mersing as a region and include Rawa, Besar, Sibu and Mersing in the same location.
Or book your hotel with
To see & to do in Pulau Besar
Enjoy the beach
Well, that’s the main reason you are going there, isn’t it? The beach is very nice. It stretches on the whole West coast of the island. Some resorts have some chairs, sun chairs or beach mattress. If not, your towel will do.
Read a good book, look at the waves for hours. Play games with your friends, party or plan your next getaway! We have not encountered any sand flies when we were there but, as a precaution, oil your legs with some sunscreen or oil to limit the risks. Mind your feet when you go swimming as there are some dead corals. Put some shoes on if you want to protect your feet from any cut.
Rent a canoe
You can rent a canoe and go around the island. Ask your resorts for the best places to go and about the currents and tides. They should not be a problem but… better safe than sorry.
You can follow the path in front of the resorts and reach both ends of the island.
There is another option if you have decent shoes and good protection against mosquitoes. Not recommended if you are with children as the path is pretty slippery. You can cross the island and go see the beach on the East side. Ask around to get directions on where the path starts.
It’s too hot to stay on the beach? Put your snorkeling gear on and run into the sea. Don’t expect amazing corals, crazy sea life but give it a try, you’ll see nice things. Water is clear. If you want to do some serious snorkeling or diving, ask the resorts, they can arrange boat trips for you.
More info to prepare your trip
Wifi is available in some of the resorts.
There is no ATM on the island so you need to bring enough cash to pay for your accommodation and drinks. ATMs are available on the mainland at Mersing, Kota Tinggi or in Johor Bahru. Credit cards not accepted in some resorts. Check before you go.
What to pack for Besar
You can rent basic snorkeling equipment from the resorts. Bring your own if you can.
Your main bag
That’s the one you leave at the hotel. Ideally you want to avoid checking in your luggage when flying. So check the weight and dimensions for hand carry luggage with your airlines (some airlines will allow only 7kg, some will allow up to 10kg). From head to toes.
- Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Be mindful that you will be in a different environment so it might be a good idea to adjust your wardrobe.
- Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun (if you’ve stayed for 5 hours on a motorbike with short sleeves you know what I mean) or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
- Pullover. Yes I know, you’re going to a country where the temperature never goes down below 25 degrees and you need to pack a pullover? You will thank us when you’re back. Remember that flight during which you were freezing? Or this museum where the aircon is set to the “polar bear” temperature?
- Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
- Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm.
- Underwear: well, you know. If you plan to walk or ride motorbikes for long hours, take something comfortable as the combination heat + friction can make you regret this sophisticated silk underwear. Cotton is good.
- Shoes: one pair of flip flap and one pair of confortable shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. Forget about high heels and leave your Westons at home.
- Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
- Raincoat and protection for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
- Torch: take a pocket torch with you if you visit countries where the power is not reliable… Can come very handy when stuck in the dark in your room.
- Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm. Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
- Sleeping bag liner (if you plan to stay in very cheap or dirty places, not required if you are staying in a 5-star hotel…)
- Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, chargers, memory card, batteries, etc.
- Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.
Your small bag
That’s the one you keep with you, all the time. Hence, a backpack is the best option.
- Your passport, cash, credit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details. Not a bad idea to put them in a zip-lock bag in case it rains. It will keep your documents dry.
- Your driver’s licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
- Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash
- Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
- Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
- Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
- Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
- Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
- Camera and its protection.
Remember that this one comes on top of the Regular pack (above)
- Beach towel or equivalent (pareos / sarongs are lighter)
- Snorkeling equipment: mask, scuba, (fins?)
- Shoes you can wear on the beach or in the water (to protect your feet from being cut by corals)
- Dry bag if you plan to go on a boat and want to keep your stuff dry.
Well, you will probably adjust your bag after a few trips. Remove the stuff that you have not used and add the one that you missed. Post a comment to share your tips!
Happy packing (it’s the worse part of the trip but it’s worth it…) and travelling!
- Language: Bahasa Malaysia
- Time zone: Kuala Lumpur GMT +8 hours, no time difference between Malaysia and Singapore
- Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
- Phone: + 60
- Electricity: 220V 50 Hz
Immigration and airport taxes on arrival
A lot of nationalities are exempt of visa to enter Malaysia. You can check on the Malaysia Immigration website. If you are arriving by:
- By air: On busy weekends, expect to wait for quite a while at the immigration counter
- By land: If you are driving from Singapore remember to have your fuel tank full to 3/4 when crossing the border. Buy a Touch & Go card (to pay for taxes, tolls and fees) and remember to take it with you when going to Malaysia. More details on the card on the Touch and Go website.
National Public Holidays in Malaysia
|Wednesday||January 01||New Years Day||All regions except Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, Terengganu|
|Tuesday||January 14||Mawlid||Birthday of Prophet Muhammad|
|Tuesday||January 14||Birthday of The Sultan of Negeri Sembilan||Negeri Sembilan only. Always celebrated on 14 January|
|Friday||January 17||Thaipusam||Hindu festival. Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Penang, Selangor only|
|Sunday||January 19||Sultan of Kedahs Birthday||Kedah only. Always celebrated on 19 January|
|Friday||January 31||Chinese New Year||1st day of 1st lunar month|
|Saturday||February 01||Chinese New Year||2nd day of 1st lunar month|
|Monday||February 03||Federal Territory Day (observed)||Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, Putrajaya only. Anniversary of the formation of the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory in 1974|
|Tuesday||March 04||Anniversary of Installation of the Sultan of Terengganu||Terengganu only. Always celebrated on 4 March|
|Tuesday||April 15||Declaration of Malacca as a Historical City||Malacca only. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7 July 2008|
|Friday||April 18||Good Friday||Friday before Easter Sunday. Sabah, Sarawak only|
|Saturday||April 26||Birthday of the Sultan of Terengganu||Terengganu only. Always celebrated on 26 April|
|Thursday||May 01||Labour Day||International Workers Day|
|Wednesday||May 07||The Sultan of Pahang Hol||Pahang only. Marks the death of a state Sultan|
|Sunday||May 11||Mothers Day||2nd Sunday in May. Not a public holiday.|
|Tuesday||May 13||Wesak Day||Birth of Buddha. Observed on the day of the full moon in May|
|Saturday||May 17||Birthday of the Raja of Perlis||Perlis only. Always celebrated on 17 May|
|Tuesday||May 27||Isra and Miraj||Kedah, Perlis and Negeri Sembilan only|
|Thursday||May 29||Public Holiday||Perak only. Mark the passing of the Sultan of Perak|
|Friday||May 30||Harvest Festival||Sabah and Labuan only|
|Saturday||May 31||Harvest Festival||Sabah and Labuan only|
|Sunday||June 01||Harvest Festival||Sarawak only|
|Monday||June 02||Harvest Festival||Sarawak only|
|Saturday||June 07||Birthday of SPB Yang di Pertuan Agong||Kings Birthday. 1st Saturday in June|
|Sunday||June 29||Beginning of Ramadan||Johor, Kedah and Johor, Kedah, Malacca only|
|Monday||July 07||Georgetown Heritage Day||Penang only. Georgetown was given Unesco World Heritage Site status in 2009|
|Saturday||July 12||Birthday of the Governor of Penang||Penang only. 2nd Saturday in July|
|Tuesday||July 15||Nuzul Quran||All regions except Johor, Kedah, Malacca, Sabah, Sarawak|
|Monday||July 28||Hari Raya Aidilfitri||Eid Al-Fitr|
|Tuesday||July 29||Hari Raya Puasa Holiday||Second day of holiday for Eid Al-Fitr|
|Sunday||August 31||National Day||Independence Day|
|Saturday||September 13||Birthday of the Governor of Sarawak||Sarawak only|
|Tuesday||September 16||Malaysia Day||Became a Federal Holiday in 2010|
|Thursday||September 25||State Holiday||Kelantan only. Allow voting in by-election|
|Saturday||October 04||Birthday of the Governor of Sabah||Sabah only. 1st Saturday in October|
|Sunday||October 05||Hari Raya Haji||Festival of Sacrifice|
|Monday||October 06||Hari Raya Haji Holiday||Holiday in lieu. Second day of Festival of Sacrifice|
|Friday||October 10||Malacca Governors Birthday||Malacca only.|
|Wednesday||October 22||Diwali||The festival of lights. Except Labuan, Sarawak|
|Friday||October 24||Birthday of The Sultan of Pahang||Pahang only. Always celebrated on 24 October|
|Saturday||October 25||Awal Muharram||Islamic New Year|
|Sunday||October 26||Awal Muharram (in lieu)||Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu only.|
|Monday||November 03||Public Holiday||Pahang only. Marks football team winning the Malaysia Cup final|
|Tuesday||November 11||Birthday of the Sultan of Kelantan||Kelantan only. Always celebrated on 11 November|
|Wednesday||November 12||Birthday of the Sultan of Kelantan||Kelantan only. Always celebrated on 11 November|
|Saturday||November 22||Birthday of the Sultan of Johor||Johor only. Always celebrated on 22 November|
|Thursday||November 27||Birthday of the Sultan of Perak||Perak only. Always celebrated on 27 November|
|Saturday||November 29||The Sultan of Johor Hol||Johor only. Marks the death of a state Sultan|
|Thursday||December 11||Birthday of The Sultan of Selangor||Selangor only. Always celebrated on 11 December|
|Thursday||December 25||Christmas Holiday||Internationally observed Christian holiday|
* check the exact date as it varies from one year to another. When a public holidays falls on a Sunday, the following day will be Public Holiday. There might be some special public holidays in some states. Please refer to this website.