A lovely island to go diving, snorkelling or do nothing.
The Pulau Perhentian islands off the coast of Terengganu are a good place if you want the simple pleasures of sunshine and beaches of fine, soft-as-cotton, white sand ... or, if you are looking for some good diving experiences and an adventurous getaway from the bustling city.
There are actually two islands – Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil – and they are surrounded by seas which form a marine park.
The name Perhentian means “stopping point” in Malay and in the old days, it was a resting spot for fishermen out at sea before they returned to the mainland.
Our bus from Kuala Lumpur stopped at the small fishing town and port of Kuala Besut, in northern Terengganu.
You can also take a flight to Kota Bharu, and then a one hour taxi ride to Kuala Besut.
We then took a boat through strong currents for about 45 minutes to reach our destination – a paradise of clear waters.
Soon, we headed out to find the Quiver Dive Team. Tourists can choose scuba-diving or snorkelling packages. There are dozens of dive sites around the island, ranging in depths, from 10m to 30m, to suit all levels of diving expertise. Each boat dive cost us RM80.
I spoke to one of the internet centre owners, who has been living on the island for five years.
“The island has developed. Nowadays, there are more resorts, restaurants and a new jetty at Coral Bay. Having more tourists visiting the island is good for business, but it also has its dark side,” he said.
“The joy of staying here is to have the sea right in front of my house. I wake up, open my bedroom door, and the beach is there. I think it’s one of the most beautiful scenes and city folks can only dream of this. Luckily, I moved here and left city life behind,” he added with a laugh.
Comparing other islands, he feels that Pulau Tioman is “a bit over-developed” and has lost some of its Malaysian touch since a lot of the businesses are owned by foreigners.
As for Pulau Redang, he says it’s more of a place for rich visitors on tour packages, what with the airport and a golf course.
“Redang is not meant for backpackers. However, Perhentian caters to all levels of tourists, from backpackers to those who want high-end resorts. It has good dive sites and the sea water is clear. You can see a lot of fish.”
We did our first dive at a site called the Light House. As we moved to deeper waters, I saw plenty of marine life and a mixture of hard and soft corals, giving us many opportunities to indulge in macro photography.
Then, we went to check out a site known as Temple of the Sea. It is one of the best dive sites around the island. Visibility was good at between 5m-10m, plus there was plenty of marine life, a healthy mixture of hard and soft corals, Scopionfish and schools of yellow snappers as well as boxfish, puffer fish and nudibranches. Of course, let’s not forget forget the cute clown fish, as dramatised in the movie Finding Nemo. We spent about an hour there, and did lots of underwater photography.
At another popular site, known as the Vietnamese Shipwreck, divers can easily swim through the sunken boat (at a depth of 22m) and observe the marine life within. There are always strong currents here, and the site should be tackled only by experienced divers.
Before I went for dinner, I met a non-diver, Leong Dee Lu, who is the owner of the Corezone Outdoor shop in Petaling Jaya.
“I took my scuba diving licence when I was in Krabi, Thailand, 10 years ago, but I have stopped diving since then,” she said. “My friend wanted to take up diving and she asked me to join her, so, I just followed. Later, I found that it was just not my cup of tea.
“Some people find mountains intimidating, just as I find diving intimidating,” she added. “But, I think everybody should try diving if you have the opportunity. Diving leads people to travel and see the world.”
The best way to do this is to sign up for a “Discover Scuba” test dive, where one is accompanied by an experienced diver.
“One should try activities like rock climbing, white water rafting or sea kayaking at least once, to see if you like them or not,” she advised.
However, she finds that marine life is not what it used to be at some islands.
“When I last dived some 10 years ago, I went to Pulau Redang and the fish were so big.”
But when she went there again over two years ago ago she didn’t see many big fish.
“If you want to see large fish now, you have to dive in deeper waters, whereas, last time, you could see them just by snorkelling in shallow areas,” she recalled.
After our Malay dinner at the fishing village, we ended our day with a spectacular sunset, followed by a party at Perhentian’s famous Long Beach.
It was an awesome trip and I told myself that I have to return to this lovely island.