Off the coast of the Malay Peninsula lies a string of islands called the Perhentian Islands. A small paradise on earth, the clear waters and white sand of the Perhentian Islands are the perfect place to learn to dive.
The sound of small waves crashing on the white sandy beach at a constant pace, again and again. The sun that caresses every part of the body. The warm wind that sweeps over the skin, giving a pleasant feeling of well-being. After a while, we wake up slowly from our sleep. We look to the left, the beach of fine sand, with coconut palms. Same idyllic spectacle on the right. Right in front is offered the panorama of a turquoise blue sea, that even the posters of the Clubmed (to quote only them) cannot compete. The only thing to do is to enjoy the view until you fall back into the arms of Morpheus.
Islands with a postcard look
A small corner of paradise lost about 19 km northeast of the Malaysian coast, the Perhentian Islands are a jewel for any lover of diving, trekking and relaxation. They are divided into two main islands: Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar, literally “little stopping point” and “big stopping point” because they were (and still are) a very popular sea route linking Thailand and Malaysia. The tourist activity represents today almost the only source of income of the islands. The other being the fuel oil plant on Perhentian Kecil, with its daily power cuts of a few minutes. “We tried to build a wind turbine, but it is not connected to the island’s electrical network”, assures us one of the local diving instructors. “So, I almost never saw it turned”, smiling at the wind.
Diving remains the main activity of the islands. “The Perhentian Islands are one of the best places to learn to dive,” he continues. Whether it is with a tank or even a snorkel, it is indeed the ideal place to discover the abundance of underwater life, with a surface water of more than 32°. You just have to go 5 meters from the edge of the beach to be able to enjoy the corals and other small fish. For more thrills, there is also the possibility of taking diving courses. The PADI association offers the “Open Water” certification, and allows you to dive to a depth of 18 meters. A real treat for the eyes and the senses, because these islands have countless dive sites, each more incredible than the other. Other activities can be done on the island, such as kayaking, trekking in the jungle or the famous “snoring & sleeping” activity, probably the best of all.
Means of accommodation & transportation
The nearest airport is Kota Bharu, the main entry point for tourists to the region. Then you have to go to Kuala Besut: either by bus, which costs only a few RM/person, or by cab, which is a bit more expensive, but not more than thirty euros. The journey takes between forty-five minutes and one hour and has an irresistible charm: that of seeing the interior of the country up close. The advantage of the cab here is the possibility to stop whenever you want. Once in Kuala Besut, the last step is to take the boat to the Perhentian Islands for a few RMs. There are daily connections (three times a day minimum) with the mainland and the trip takes about thirty/forty-five minutes, depending on the driver’s delay.
Many hotels exist on these islands, including the Tuna Bay Island Resort, on Pehrentian Besar. The particularity of this one is especially the reception. The staff of the hotel takes care of the transport of the luggage until your room, helps you to take the boat and, after your stay in the islands, reserves you a bus to leave on Kuala Lumpur/Kuala Bharu/Taman Negara. On the island, the hotel restaurant is slightly more expensive than the others, and includes many “Western” dishes. “There are a lot of Chinese tourists, so we offer dishes that they are not used to find at home,” said one of the waiters of the restaurant. “But the French are still more numerous to come here! “adds his colleague, in a tone of humor. It is better to go to one of the many restaurants along the beach. Perhentians Besar has no supermarkets, so the art of negotiating prices if you have forgotten your fins and mask in the stores is required.
From the Perhentian Islands it is possible to admire the beautiful sunsets, and especially to see the storms that are raging on the mainland. “Storms rarely come here, the weather is always sunny” concludes our diving instructor. Four days on these islands were definitely not enough to discover everything and to enjoy the richness and the magnificent landscapes of these islands.
PS: Be careful in Kota Bharu in the public toilets. A friend of mine had forgotten his wallet, his cell phone and his passport in the toilet. Of course, he didn’t find them when he went back. Luckily a very nice man helped us (that and the fact that we wanted to call the police). It was a kid who was watching the toilets who had hidden it in a locker room. In the end, 100€ disappeared, but the rest was there. Phew!