If you have thought about some break, diving and Asia, then Perhentian Islands on the edge of Thailand and Malaysia is the best place for you, especially as the name of the islands comes from Malaysian “stopping point”. The Islands were ranked as No.13 in CNN’s list of World’s Best Beach destinations.
This little-known destination was formerly known as hippies’ hideaway. Now it offers solitary beaches, rainforests, emerald sea and great diving and snorkeling in the Kingdom of Turtles. You will have a chance not only to submerge together with these majestic reptiles but also to witness how Green Turtle lay their eggs on the beach or small turtles fight for their lives after hatching.
The Perhentian Archipelago consists of 6 islands, where Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Pulau Perhentian Besar are the largest two and the others are quite small and uninhabited: Pulau Rawa, Pulau Susu Dara Besar, Pulau Susu Dara Kecil, and Pulau Serenggeh.
The Perhentian Archipelago became a Marine Park in 1994. You will be able to plunge into the coral gardens, dive around the pinnacles and wrecks. The sea temperature is usually very comfortable, it won’t be colder than 28ºC (82ºF). In this connection, it’s a good idea to take a 3mm wetsuit.
If you are planning some night dives, a torch might come in handy. Moreover, there might be no electricity on the Islands after 11pm, so you can use it to find the way to your accommodation.
Do remember that Marine Park is a protected area, there are fines imposed on those who take corals, shells and other sea-related objects. Fishing and littering are prohibited. Although the locals do not seem to be bothered by these regulations, tourists are those who care more for these rules.
There are some specialized Research & Conservation Centers which provide special volunteer packages including diving, snorkeling and accommodation. You can take part in Turtle conservation programs or reef protection programs.
Best Dive Sites Overview
Now there are about 20 dive sites around Perhentian Islands. Among the most popular spots, there are Tokong Laut, Batu Nisan and Sugar Wreck.
Most of the dive sites give you an opportunity to see a large variety of reef fish, pelagic fish, Turtles and some Sharks. There are many wrecks located near Perhentian Islands. Some of them are rather new while another store older vessels.
Dive Map of Perhentian Islands
Batu Nisan is a great place for all levels as there are no currents and the maximum depth is 15m (49ft.). The place is a rock covered with Anemones, Giant Clams, and Soft corals. This is a wonderful site for photography. You can try to search for Nudibranch, Shrimps, and Crabs or take a picture of a Parrotfish champing the corals. There can be Bluespotted Stingrays in the sandy areas. This dive site is a great place for night diving.
Pasir Tani Wreck (Vietnamese Wreck)
She was a 20m (65ft.) long Vietnamese vessel which sank in 1976 while being dragged to be repaired. The average depth at Pasir Tani Wreck is 15-23m (49-75ft.) and there can be some medium currents. If you have a Wreck Diver Specialty you can go to the swim through point. The top part of the wreck is covered with corals. From time to time Leopard Shark is spotted near the dive site.
Tokong Laut (or Pinnacle)
Tokong Laut is a pinnacle rising from the sand up to the surface of the sea. The transfer to this dive site is about 20 minutes in a boat from Long Beach. The maximum depth is 24m (78ft.). Currents are gentle, so the dive site is suitable for all levels of divers. You can expect to see Boxfish, Cuttlefish, Pufferfish, Nudibranch, Scorpionfish, Squid, Snapper, Green Turtle, Barracuda, Parrotfish, and Batfish. A tiny Grey Bamboo Shark and Nurse Shark are often seen at this dive site hiding somewhere between the rock formations. Also, you can try to find Nudibranch on the pinnacle.
Terembu Tiga (Three Brothers)
You can reach Terembu Tiga within a 30-minute boat transfer. Currents can be strong here and the average depth is 10-20m (32-65ft.). In this connection, the dive site is recommended for advanced divers.
The dive site consists of several huge stones surrounded by Gorgonias, Sponges, and Soft Corals. Look for Nurse Shark in crevices. It is also possible to see Leopard Shark and Blacktip Reef Shark there. A large variety of pelagic fish, as well as Napoleon and Turtle, are residents of the area. You can also try to swim through caverns and tunnels between the rocks.
This is the most famous among the Islands’ wrecks. Sugar Wreck was a 90m (295ft.) long cargo vessel which was transferring sugar. She sank in 2000 due to the bad weather conditions brought by a monsoon. The wreck is traditionally surrounded by Lionfish, Trevally, Sweetlips, Grouper. Those holding Wreck Diver Specialty can try to penetrate cabins, engine room, and wheelhouse. The average depth is about 12-18m (39-59ft.).
Best dive season
The season starts on Coral Beach as of February, while on Long Beach it starts as of March. The highest season is between June and September. You’d better leave the Islands until the end of October. The monsoon season will absorb the Islands during the other months, sometimes even leave them without the boat connection.
If you are looking for Green Turtle Nesting Season, then you should arrive between May and July. Their hatching season usually lasts from June till October.
July and August are the tourists peak season.
Dive conditions are very comfortable during the touristic season. The sea temperature stays between 28-31ºC (82-87ºF). Even though the temperature of the water is very warm, you’d better put on a 3mm wetsuit as a protection from corals.
The average visibility is about 10-20m (32-65ft.). It tends to be the best in June, July, and August.
There are few dive sites with strong current though in general the currents are gentle at Perhentian Islands. Mainly they occur during the change of tides.
Perhentian Islands should be proud of the good condition of their corals, mainly thanks to the fact that the Islands became popular not long ago. They are also not subject to coral bleaching. The only thing which might be spoiling the area is underwater rubbish which local dive clubs always try to clean.
Among the biggest inhabitants you can meet Green Sea Turtle, Blacktip Reef Shark, Nurse Shark, Leopard Shark, and Napoleon. Smaller ones are represented by Grey Bamboo Shark, Bluespotted Stingray, and Moray. Some divers spotted venomous Blue-ringed Octopus at the Islands.
Fish species include Trevally, Sweetlips, Parrotfish, Lionfish, Scorpionfish, Barracuda, Boxfish, Cuttlefish, Pufferfish, Snapper, Batfish, and Parrotfish. The coral gardens are populated by Nudibranch, Shrimps, Pipefish, Seahorse, and Crabs.
You can choose your accommodation on one of the two Islands. Pulau Perhentian Besar is a bigger island. It is offering more expensive resorts for families, newlyweds and couples. There are some nice hidden beaches there. Pulau Perhentian Kecil is more oriented on backpackers who especially like Long Beach.
There are not many liveaboards available in Perhentian Islands. However, the boat operators tend to change their itineraries regularly depending on the customers’ interest.
MV Sri Aman
MV Sri Aman is the main liveaboard operating now at Perhentian Islands. She is 24m (ft.) long ready to take up to 18 divers. This is a budget liveaboard with one shared shower and toilet. Accommodation is made in 3 rooms with bunk beds for 2, 6 and 12 persons. However, you will find all you need for diving aboard including a separate cleaning station for photo and video equipment and possibility to rent all the equipment there.
A typical itinerary of 2 days and 1 night includes a trip from Tok Bali Dockyard near Kuala Besut to the Islands and back, accommodation, all meals, and beverages on board. The boat operator recommends divers to have at least 12 dives to join the liveaboard.
Founded by the divers Alunan Resort seems to be the only resort on Perhentian Islands which is built in contemporary style. It is situated in the very south of Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Though this smaller Island is usually positioned for backpackers, Alunan Boutique Resort is definitely another story. Its terraces cascade from the hill to the beach.
You will enjoy the magnificent views of the sea and the jungle from floor-to-ceiling windows.
Each of 18 Suits has an exclusive design. Suites located on the top of the Resort have a private sun deck on the roof with hammocks. A Family Suite comes with 2 bedrooms for a maximum capacity of 5 guests. There is a restaurant on the territory as well as the possibility to use beach BBQ. The Resort provides a free daily shuttle to the Long Beach and the local village. Diving is provided by Universal Diver Dive Club from which the owners of the Resort come from.
Bubbles Dive Resort
Bubbles Dive Resort is located in the southern part of Perhentian Islands at Tanjung Tukas Bay. You will find Deluxe Rooms and Family Suits located at some distance from the beach. This is made on purpose because the Resort takes care of Turtles, who use the beach for nesting. The Restaurant of Bubbles Dive Resort offers more children friendly food. There is Bubbles Dive Center attached to the Resort. There is a House Reef right next to the Resort, so you can enjoy snorkeling there as well.
BuBu Villa & BuBu Long Beach Resort
Both resorts are part of one Group and they are located in the quietest place in Long Beach at Pulau Perhentian Kecil. BuBu Villa offers 18 Villas of different types: Beach, Family, and Beachfront. At the same time, BuBu Long Beach Hotel offers Deluxe, Deluxe Garden, and Honeymoon Sea View Rooms. There are Spa and 3 restaurants on the territory of the Resorts. Free WiFi is only available in public areas of BuBu Villa.
Blue Temple House & Research Center
There is a Marine Research and Conservation Center which is located on Pulau Perhentian Kecil. It is affiliated with Blue Temple Dive Center. The owners are a couple from the UK who conduct research and conservation projects around Perhentian Islands. They offer very simple accommodation at Blue Temple House with a mixed-gender dormitory. It is equipped with a shower, WiFi, chill out facilities, kitchen, and an indoor hammock.
However, the accommodation and all meals can be a part of 2-week volunteer package together with 8 dives per week, 2 snorkel trips, and transfers. During the volunteer program, you will have an opportunity to learn about ocean processes and conservation issues as well as learn how to differentiate invertebrate and fish in different spots around Perhentian Islands. You will participate in research dives, help out with coral cultivation and eco-classes at a local school, and conduct reef surveys.
Perhentian Island Resort
This Resort occupies the territory of 10 hectares (25 acres) including beach and rainforest on Pulau Perhentian Besar. You can accommodate in Superior Classic, Deluxe Heaven, Premier Garden, Premier Beach Front or Family Heaven room. The Resort owns a restaurant, pool, karaoke room, and tennis court. There are facilities for beach soccer and volleyball. The Resort can organize diving and snorkeling trips. There are several dive clubs situated next to the Perhentian Island Resort, Pro Diver’s World being one of them.
Tuna Bay Island Resort
The quiet west coast of Pulau Perhentian Besar gives an opportunity to enjoy your stay at Tuna Bay Island Resort. There are 46 wooden Deluxe and Super Deluxe Chalets with bamboo furniture to choose from. You might enjoy the Resorts restaurant which is located on a stilted veranda right on the beach. WiFi is provided free of charge in all public areas.
The Resort is serviced by Universal Diver Dive Center which owns 3 dive boats. Thus, they can serve up to 30 divers simultaneously.
Other activities for non-divers
Snorkeling is one of the main activities on the Islands besides diving. There are plenty of places for snorkeling: house reefs at some of the locations and sites within 5-10 minute boat transfers. Among the most popular snorkeling spots, there are Teluk Pauh, Shark Point and Tanjung Basi at Pulau Perhentian Besar and D’Lagoon and Turtle Bay at Pulau Perhentian Kecil.
Another activity by which you can pay a tribute to Mother Nature is Turtle Conservation Volunteering. You can protect Green Turtle’s population during their nesting season. Poaching of eggs is very common. Annually the Islands host around 300 nests. Some specialized travel agencies and organizations offer a Volunteer Package which includes night beach patrols, data collection about turtles and their nests, beach clean-up and recycling programs. The package usually includes all the meals and accommodation, transfers, lessons in Malay and snorkeling trips around the Islands.
Other activities include trekking, relaxing on beautiful beaches.
How to get there
There is no airport on as well as no roads. Thus, the only way to get to the Islands is by a speedboat or a ferry from a terminal in a small town of Kuala Besut on the mainland. A speedboat will deliver you to the Islands within a 30-40-minute trip while transfer on a ferry might take about 1-1.5 hour. Ferries leave every hour during the touristic season.
Please note that between November and February ferries and boats cease their operation due to the monsoon season. So there can be a limited number of boats or even none of them available for transfer.
You can get to the town of Kuala Besut from the nearby places like Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bharu or Jerteh.
How to travel around?
As there are no roads on the Islands, you will need to use footpaths through the jungles. If needed, most of the resorts provide water taxis. Do not forget to take cash with you as there are no ATMs on Perhentian Islands.
Before the departure from Kuala Besut you will need to pay a Marine Park conservation fee of 5 Malaysian Ringgit (~1.2 USD). Some of the resorts also offer the possibility to pay the conservation fee at their counter.
Feeling inspired and raring to go? Check out our Perhentian Islands travel guide and start planning your next diving trip!