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Diving the Perhentian Islands - Malaysia

Posted by Rick Hartley 10 years ago

In 2008 a very lovely Irish girl in Thailand showed me some amazing photos from the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. Ever since then it has been on my to-do list for diving. Earlier this month I made it there.

The Perhentians are made up of two islands called Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil which are literally Perhentian “Big” and Perhentian “Small”. You are going to read lots of stuff on the internet that tells you Besar is quieter and more expensive and Kecil is more lively and cheaper. This seemed to be roughly true to me but there were exceptions with a couple of resorts on Kecil in the ‘premium’ category as well as places on Paradise Beach on Besar (where I stayed) that were in the ‘Budget’ category. And, as far as ‘lively’ goes, yeah, the interwebs are correct. Besar is definitely very quiet and Long Beach on Kecil has a few nightspots with music.

Getting There

I traveled by way of Kuala Lumpur. There are several options to get to the Perhentians from KL including bus, train, and plane. I chose overnight train and you can see a photo of the second-class berth that I had in the album. It cost just over RM50 ($18) for the 12 hour journey. I enjoyed the trip and it was a comfortable night’s sleep. You can get first-class berths that have beds for just 2 people (instead of the second class car that is full of bunk beds) for about RM110 per person. Those were sold out the day I traveled though. Try to use the ktmb website to book early and get a bed in the middle of the car away from the doors. I took the train to Tanah Merah and then got a taxi to the ferry port at Kuala Besut (about RM60) for the 45 minute ferry ride to the Perhentians (RM70 return).


The most popular option seems to be an overnight bus. The prices are roughly similar to the train but the main benefit is that many of the buses take you all the way to Kuala Besut saving you the trouble and expense of a taxi journey.

The other option is to fly to Kota Bharu and Air Asia will likely be the best option and not too much more expensive than the train. The place I stayed actually has a great FAQ that was really helpful for planning my travel.

Places to Stay

I stayed at Watercolours Resort on Paradise Beach on Perhentian Besar. I stayed in a few different rooms there which were the basic ‘Garden View Fan Rooms’. The rooms were clean and comfortable (for being on a small island with generator power etc.) and wifi was free in the restaurant!! I can happily recommend staying there. Do yourself a favor and take Rasman, the manager, some comic books and you might get a better deal on your room. Along with the free wifi in the restaurant the food is really good too. The Indian Noodles with vegetables for RM7($2.50) make a nice light but filling lunch between dives.


There are a few other places on Paradise Beach on Besar including Mama’s Place where I stayed for one night when Watercolours was fully booked. They all seemed pretty good but the wifi at Watercolours is what sold me and the friendly staff and nice menu at the restaurant is what kept me there.

Diving the Perhentian Islands

There is a dive shop at the Watercolours Resort which was a real pleasure to dive with. They have a professional and fun staff. In fact, several of the “Simple Suggestions for Dive Operation Managers” came directly from things that I liked at Watercolours.

Perhentians Dive Sites Map

My logbook highlights from about 20 dives in the Perhentians are topped by the Coral Cat Shark. Unfortunately, I saw them on a night dive and do not have a photo of my own. There is a decent shot at Wikipedia. They are an absolutely beautiful fish and any time I get to see a new species of shark, I’m thrilled.

I also saw Grey Bamboo Sharks as well as the Brown Banded version along with Black Tip Reef sharks on multiple dives.

Grey Bamboo Shark

In the non-shark category, we saw a Jenkin’s Whipray that was a real treat.

Jenkins Whipray
Jenkins Whipray Swimming

Another favorite was the Spiny Devil Fish which has a brilliant fin display.

Spiny Devil Fish

The coral seemed to be extremely healthy and was especially beautiful at a few sites.

Perhentians Coral

My Favorite Sites

  1. Seabell – When I was in the Perhentians the tidal gods were smiling on me and made Seabell easily my favorite site. The dive staff told me that it can quite often have bad visibility because of current but I was lucky and only saw the fantastic coral and fish thriving in all of that current.

  2. Terumba Tiga – I only got to dive this site one time and conditions were not the greatest but I definitely got a glimpse of its potential. I described it to my friend Drew (that I was extremely happy to finally get to dive with in the Perhentians) as the ‘Hand of God Dive’ because the site is made up of massive boulders and rock formations that seem like they were piled there by a higher power (that liked scuba divers). Swimthrough city.

  3. Tokong Laut – Temple of the Sea – This is a pinnacle that is great for Bamboo Sharks and just a pleasurable dive in general.

  4. Lighthouse – Two dives in one. First, you drop down and get to look for Pipe Fish, Nudis, etc. and then you move shallower to some very nice coral.

  5. Sugar Wreck – The most popular wreck in the area (Vietnamese Wreck is also worth seeing though). It’s a wreck and the fish are 30% larger than you see at the other sites.

Sugar Wreck

I've checked the Perhentian Islands off of my todo list but I hope I make it back there one day. Many thanks to the staff at Watercolours for an enjoyable stay and fun diving.

There is a photo album of several more photos from the Perhentians on Picasa called Diving The Perhentians.