Life’s a beach. Let’s go Scuba Diving !
We love scuba diving although it has been a while since we pulled on wetsuits. Planning to dive in Sulawesi or Sumatra (where currents are strong and conditions challenging), the Perhentian Islands seemed a perfect place to practice our skills.
The Perhentian Islands are in a marine conservation area. This means fishing is tightly controlled and fishing by dynamite is banned (so no nasty bangs underwater as well as protecting the environment). The coral reefs and walls are in near pristine condition and the waters very clear. It is a world class dive spot.
The islands are about 10 miles offshore, almost as far north as you can get on the eastern side of Malaysia. No hoardes of tourists here – the islands don’t have the space to build much to house them. The atmosphere is most definitely “relaxed holiday”. About half of the visitors were Malaysian nationals. It is very much a “no shoes” sort of place.
The diving was wonderful. Nice and easy. Only one dive was a bit choppy getting back into the boat. Visibility underwater was good. All our dives were at different dive sites, The dive boat was uncrowded as the domestic visitors seemed to prefer to stay on the beach and sunbathe/paddle/snorkel in the protected bay. We thorougly enjoyed our dives and amazingly saw nearly all the fish on the local identification card. Clive was quite disappointed that he missed the nearby shark during one dive, but as luck would have it, another larger shark appeared on our next dive. This time the shark circled around Clive giving us plenty of time to watch the smooth elegance of the sharks’ (almost) menacing movements.
The diving was really good fun, but what surprised me most of all is how much I enjoyed the snorkeling. I guess I have always thought of snorkeling as something like “being on the outside looking in” alternative to scuba diving. Our hotel was literally three steps from the sandy beach. The bay has its own coral reef with just enough depth of water to snorkel over the top safely. What really changed my mind about snorkeling (and I am now a convert) was the variety of sea life so close to the beach. While snorkeling. I watched turtle at close quarters, had a barracuda dart right in front of my face and watched a huge Napolean Wrasse attacking some coral for his lunch. Turtles are probably my favourite thing to watch underwater. They are so graceful, moving like elegance but looking like they should not! I even managed to find a greenback turtle each time I snorkelled – although I did remember where to look and they are homebodies at heart I think.
Where to stay
Certainly, visiting The Perhentians is all about the diving, the snorkeling, the beach. It is a marine park after all. There is a choice two separate islands to stay on, although it is easy to catch a small boat between the two :- Besar (“Big”) and Kecil (“Small”). Besar, where we stayed, is the more relaxed of the two and as its name would suggest, is bigger in size. Size does only refer to the land mass of the island and not the number of people/buildings on it!
The sunsets are better on Kecil we are told, along with the hint that Kecil is more geared to the younger, single, backpacker types. Whether that is true I cannot confirm as we did not hear anything across the small stretch of water. We were too relaxed on Besar to investigate Kecil.
Food on the island is necessarily limited to what the boats bring over from the mainland as there is nothing growing on the island and no shops. The small handful of places to eat all pretty much offer the same – BBQ’d fish with a sea view. You can find other food choices, but gourmet food is definitely not on the menu.
After flying in to the nearest airport, a hour away, we jumped in a taxi for another hour and headed for the boat terminal. Not a very eco friendly way to enjoy nature, but at that time we did not realize there were any other choices (14 + hours by bus cross country, via tourist agencies). We had prebooked our accommodation (recommended) and a boat crossing passage (not at all necessary to pre-book).
We had time to wait for our boat we wandered around the small town and enjoyed a very decent cup of coffee near the boat terminal on the mainland. Long tailed boats, tiny fiberglass craft “speedboats”, even wooden rowing boats with attached engines all bobbed about in the harbour as a small ferry took priority at the jetty. More boats than people, but enough facilities to keep visitors amused for a day or two, should you arrive too late for a boat crossing.
Thanks to Flickr.com for the underwater photos.