In episode 2 of Diving Dykes (hop over to our Tioman adventure for the pilot episode), Priya and I head to Perhentian islands! Plural because it’s made up of 2 creatively-named islands, Besar and Kecil (big and small in Malay). While it’s a destination that’s quite talked about amongst Caucasian expats, it surprised me to find out that some Singaporeans still haven’t heard of it.
Even though we flew, it took us some time to get there. We chose a flight over a 10-hour overnight bus because the price difference wasn’t that much. The AirAsia flight to Terengganu airport cost $114, and only took 1.5h. BUT the cab to Kuala Besut ferry terminal took another 1.5h and cost RM120. It would’ve been OK if it was split 4 ways, but it was just Priya and I, and we felt the pinch.
The ferry towards Perhentian was insane. Firstly, we were packed onto the speedboat with three mainland Chinese families (the first of many, many more to come), and when the boat picked up speed and tore through the currents, the lady beside me started yelling “救命啊! 救命啊!” (help! help!) right into my ear. She did have reason to call for help because the ride was a series of ass-assaulting bumps that gave me a throbbing backache after. It was kinda fun though. Haha. When we arrived at Coral Bay on Besar island, I was quite disappointed because I expected the same turquoise waters as Redang (a nearby island that I visited some years back), but the waters here were more green than blue.
We took a dive package with Pro Diver’s World for RM667 each, which included 4 fun dives and 3 nights accommodation with Coral View resort. Works out to be RM152/night for the room, and around RM85/dive. (Check out their dive packages here.) Loved our cosy hilltop room, especially the indoor porch area. The only downside was that it was quite a climb up, and there was no hot shower. Which really bring us tough dykes down.
DAY 1 was spent exploring the beaches near our resort on foot.
Walked further down Tuna Bay beach, which was far from crowded although it was peak season, and arrived at some really gorgeous waters.
We ventured passed Abdul’s Chalet, went around the bend via a stone walkway, emerged at an abandoned place named JD Palace, and arrived at an even more deserted beach. I believe it’s called K.K. Beach.
According to all the accommodations’ room rates, July is apparently Perhentian’s “super peak season”. We Singaporeans definitely have a very different understanding of what peak seasons mean! Very surprised and appreciative of this wonderfully peaceful peak period.
Headed back to Abdul’s Chalet for dinner as they have seafood at lower prices. As it was Ramadan, we had to wait for the staff to break fast, and they only started serving at 8pm.
Dinner consisted of kailan ikan masin (way too salty), salted fish fried rice (fabulous), butter garlic crayfish (had lovely garlic bits in it), and some drinks. Total bill: RM55. P.S: Don’t expect “Malaysian prices” on Perhentian.
It was way too dark to go back the way we came (through the bushes), so we had to take a RM16 water taxi back. The tide at our resort was comically low, so the boat started to scrape the seabed when we were about 200m away from the beach. And when our boatman could push the boat to further, we had to hop off and make our painful way across the rocky seabed towards our resort. DAYS 2 & 3 were spent diving, eating, and bumming at the beach.
Apologise for the lack of photos because I’m still not in possession of the pricey GoPro camera. But here’s a lowdown on the 4 dives that we did with Pro Diver’s World, and I beg you to put those imagination brain cells to good use for the time being.
TIGER ROCK The name Tiger Rock is derived from tiga (3 in malay), which indicated the 3 rocks that jut out above the surface of the sea. Pretty good visibility, but the dive experience was hampered by my foggy mask. Followed the local dive master through a tiny hole between the rocks. Quite scary and exciting at the same time because you have to swim into darkness and simply follow the person in front.
BATU LAYAR Great viz, and teeming with marine life. Had a good mask this time around. Saw tall reefs that were densely populated by healthy corals. My favourite view while diving is when you look up and see the sun shining through the water, and can admire how the dancing light creates mesmerising backlighting against the corals’ silhouette. Enough words. Here’s a nice video taken at the site.
SUGAR WRECK Was so absolutely stoked about diving at a shipwreck. This 90m x 12m ship used to transport sugar, but was sunk in the monsoon period of 2000. We first descended into murky silt-filled waters. It somehow added to the mysterious scene surrounding the sunken ship, which is tilted towards its starboard (right side). There were huge sea urchins all around and I had to take extra care when navigating under the masts. As we approached its stern, Titanic’s Celine Dion theme song started playing in my head. The feeling of floating above this massive submerged structure was incredible, and the sight that opened up before us as we went around to the ship’s port (left side) was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The waters on this side were crystal clear, and you could see the entire hull, right down into the ocean depths. This is where the real peak season is: massive schools of different varieties of fish either hovering above the hull, or criss crossing each other at aquatic traffic junctions. I simply couldn’t get enough of this National Geographic moment.
Spotted: Lion fish, giant pufferfish, baby barracudas, leopard shark (a baby one resting in a crevice), many many many other miscellaneous fishies
TANJUNG BUTUNG We made the mistake of not booking a day in advance, and the rest of the day’s dives were fully booked. But Stan, one of the dive masters, was kind enough to fit us in with a private dive with a French family. There were less varieties of fish at this site, but it had enormous rocks and loads of corals. Started to really appreciate the beauty of alien-looking hard and soft corals at this site. But I was extremely annoyed at the bad manners that a couple of the family members displayed. They wandered off on their own, kept shoving the GoPro camera into the fish’s face, and was more occupied with getting to wherever the dive master pointed out to first and getting the best shot than enjoying the environment slowly and peacefully.
Spotted: Clownfish, boxfish, Giant purple clams, and loads of other corals
(Phew! I need to build my underwater vocabulary!)
Aside from the wondrous views underwater, here’s what we saw on land…
What you can’t experience from these gorgeous photos are the Chinese families on the beach, who made their presence heard loud and clear to all the other beach goers. I wouldn’t say it’s music to my ears.
We also had some amazing seafood!!! Not cheap, but still very affordable if you earn in SGD.
At the very homely, kampung-like Mama’s Chalet, we had fresh grilled fish and fried noodles. I’m not a fan of the texture of grilled fish without gravy, but Priya really enjoyed it. I preferred the fried noodles, which was bursting with flavours and at just the right level of oiliness. But I was really shocked when the bill came up to RM58.80. It’s the kind of price that I’ve never encountered for seafood in Malaysia. The fish itself was RM45. Yikes! We did go back the next night, however, because I wanted to try their fried squid.
I didn’t like how the staff tried to work his way around the orders so that we’d pay more and get less. After some negotiations, we got our squid, a small dish of veggies, omelette, and drinks for a total of RM57. After that incident, I felt extra stingy, and decided to scrutinise the hotel bill. There was some confusion because even though we bought a dive+accommodation package, we had to pay the bills separately. And it’s only when I pointed out to the hotel staff that there was an extra RM140 boat fee for a boat transfer we didn’t take, that they removed it from the bill. Hmmmpf! Not appreciating these deceitful doings. But I will focus on the good memories… After four amazing days on Perhentian Besar, we island hopped onto Perhentian Kecil for the second part of our holiday.