Situated in the North East of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are a small paradise for underwater sports lovers because of the varied eco-system living under the turquoise coloured sea. While other diving spots around the globe are focused only on one main attraction, in the Perhentian Islands you will find an entire different world, where black tipped sharks and sea turtles live among clownfish, blue spotted rays, cuttlefish and swordfish, inside coral reefs. The entire area of the Perhentians (which include 5 other uninhabited islands) was declared a marine park due to the coral reef community and the diversity of the underwater fauna and flora. This is why there are no water sports around the islands (like jet skiing for example), the boats have dedicated piers to anchor and it is forbidden to touch or pick up the corals, even if they are on the beach.
How to get to the Perhentian Islands
The only way to reach the islands is by boat, from Kuala Besut (which is accessible by bus or by a cheap private transfer from Kuala Lumpur). You can also fly from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bharu, but then you will have to get a taxi to Kuala Besut. There is a boat almost every hour to both Perhentian Besut and Perhentian Kecil, which will drop you off on the closest beach to your accommodation. As it is a speed boat, be prepared as the journey is very bumpy and you will get wet. My advice would be to put your luggage in a big plastic bag to protect it from the salty water, and hold on tight during the 40 minutes trip. If you have extra days, do visit Pulau Besar as well, the uninhibited island just off The Perhentians.
When to go to the Perhentian Islands
The Perhentian Islands have a tropical climate which means that the temperature is constant and stays at around 30 degrees. However, between November and February the monsoon season forces most of the touristic places on the islands to close due to the very heavy rain. I visited the islands at the end of October and the weather was very unpredictable, with heavy rain between a few hours of sun.
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Where to stay in the Perhentian Islands
There are plenty of accommodation options on the islands, for each budget. While most of the expensive resorts are on Perhentian Besut, backpackers can still enjoy budget accommodation on Perhential Kecil, the smallest of the islands. Please keep in mind that the islands are using self-generated energy, and this is why the electricity and the hot water are limited to a couple of hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. Also, due to the small size of the islands, it is advisable to book ahead, especially during the high season.
This was my choice of stay, after a terrible experience on the other side of the island, where the staff of a different hotel stole my video camera. Maya’s Guesthouse offers basic accommodation on the Coral Bay beach and has its own restaurant where the staff makes delicious fresh fish BBQs every evening. Out of season, I have paid only 40RM (£7)/room/night, which was great value for money. I loved waking up every morning with the sea in front of me. The room was actually a little cabin, with a cute porch in front where I could have a cup of tea while it was raining. Maya’s milkshakes were also delicious, and the entire staff made me feel very welcome.
With prices starting at £100 a night in high season, BuBu Long Beach Resort is situated on the Long Beach side of Perhentian Kecil, where the water is shallow, and the beach is sandy. They offer free sun lounges and umbrellas, together with snorkelling equipment for the guests who want to check out the beauty of the marine park themselves, close to the shore.
They also offer free drinks on arrival and a happy hour where each guest receives two cocktails, between 5 and 6PM. Free big breakfast and a complimentary water taxi to the nearby beach of Turtle Bay (on Perhentian Besut) are also provided.
The rooms are basic but very clean with air conditioning units (the other places on the islands have fans). Some of the rooms also have ocean views. They also have one of the best restaurants on Perhentian Kecil.
This resort offers basic accommodation, with spacious rooms, chalets, and a private secluded beach. They offer free breakfast and rent kayaks and snorkelling equipment. Some of the rooms have shared bathrooms.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands
As I mentioned before, the Perhentian Islands are a paradise for scuba divers and there are plenty of companies on the island offering dives starting at only 70RM (£13) if you bring your own equipment. There are over 20 spots to dive around the Perhentian archipelago, where you can explore ship wrecks, do a deep dive or practice you skills on a reef dive. Because of the crystal-clear waters, the underwater visibility is great.
One of the most exciting diving sites is the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90 meters long cargo ship which sank in 2000, lying 18 meters down the bottom of the sea. Experienced divers can enter the engine room and the cabins, noticing how the reef has started already to take over, with corals and shells growing on the metal structures of the hull.
Another great place to dive is the 25 meters deep Tokong Laut, where you can observe pufferfish, tuna, and sometimes even whale sharks. This diving place is known for the boulders and pinnacles covered in colourful corals, inside which you can spot the cute anemonefish and imagine you are peaking through Nemo’s world.
If you fancy a night dive, you can always choose to go to the sharks point, where the black tip reef sharks are swimming 10 meters below the surface of the sea. Would you dare? I did, and it was one in a lifetime experience. You should know that these sharks are not dangerous to humans, unless provoked. I was lucky enough to spot a mama shark with a baby shark following her.
D’Lagoon Bay is another shallow diving spot, 15 meters deep, perfect for beginners. This lagoon is the home to giant stingrays, humphead wrasses and also turtles.
If you are after black corals but also want to see lobsters in their natural habitat, then you should choose to dive at the Secret Reef, which is 28 meters deep.
Another popular diving spot which is considered one of the best in the archipelago is the Three Brothers. Here the boulders on the bottom of the sea have created canyons through which you can swim and spot the Jenkins Whipray among mackerels and barracudas.
What equipment do you need to dive?
First of all, you should know that you won’t be allowed to dive if you do not have a PADI certificate. However, some of the companies on the island do offer 3 or 4 nights packages which training and a PADI Discovery Scuba Diving certificate (which will cost you around £200).
When you choose a company to dive with make sure that their guides are qualified, and that the equipment is in very good shape. To protect yourself from the elements you will need a wet suit, a boiler suit (to offer thermal protection if the water is too cold), gloves and a hood. Check that the underwater breathing apparatus, the life-support equipment and the regulator are in great condition as well. In the end, it’s your own safety that matters, so don’t go for the cheapest, go for the safest!
Here are some diving centres you should check out if you plan on going diving in the Perhentian Islands: Quiver Dive Team ,Turtle Bay Divers, Anti Gravity Divers, Flora Bay Divers, Bubbles Dive Resort.
Disclaimer: Please note that this post has been written in collaboration with Simply Scuba.
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