*it’s almost normal to get the bus driver singing out every stop along the journey*
Great, we are here! My legs were asleep from the 8-hour bus journey and my bottom was appreciative of the stretch too.
“You have ferry ticket?”
“Follow me. 70 Ringgit one person, include return”
That was all he said and he was the only one there that early in the morning.
*The little town of Kuala Besut was still sound asleep. Not so much as a squeak was heard*
Kuala Besut is a little fishing town is the state of Terengganu, on the east coast of Malaysia. It’s the main gate way to the Perhentian Islands. Although it’s main income is from fishing, the popular lure of the islands has made tourism its second main income. Most of the holiday makers that flock these islands, believe it or not, are locals.
Being local and being able to speak the native language made things a little easier but these guys do understand and speak average to good English. Having being fussed over does feel kind of good I have to admit!
An hour later we were heading down to the pier.
As we powered out, the mist was just starting to lift while the sun slowly rose in the horizon. As we cruised to the island, something in me clicked and I knew this was going to be a good trip. Despite the fact that we have no place to stay and that everything was almost fully booked.
*Sheer blind confidence that we will find a place to stay.
I later found out that weekends and public holidays are usually booked out weeks and sometimes month in advance by local holiday makers.
Perhentians is divided into two islands. Perhentian Besar (big island) and Perhentian Kecil (small island).
*I will admit, I was a tiny bit worried… and was even well prepared to spend the night sleeping under the stars.
Both Coral Bay and Long Beach is connected via a brick lane than goes across the forest. It’s about 15 minutes walk from one end to the other.
The waters are crystal clear down at Coral Bay. Although you can snorkel on either side of the island the best one is known to be down at Golden Bay, which is close to Coral Bay. Belle and I decided to take the day off doing nothing but snorkelling and catching up on sleep at Golden Bay!
The water was warm and the marine life is beautiful. There was hardly anyone that early in the morning on this side of the beach that we had the luxury of having the whole place to ourselves. It was brilliant!
The ambience here is peaceful, relaxing and just brilliant! Shaded by trees from the morning sun, and cooled by the blowing breeze, falling asleep on the lounge chairs to the sounds of crashing waves, was easy.
I snorkelled almost every day here, and the whole truth was that I just wanted to spot the Eagle Ray that has taken up temporary resident here and I wanted to swim with the shark cubs. I mostly ended swimming with the shark cubs in circles; I imagine I gave the impression of a crazy-do-not-know-how-to-coordinate snorkeler swimming in one spot in circles.
*Finally, I have found paradise.
Anna is the person to look for at Quiver as she handles all the bookings and she knows about almost everything you need to know about the island. She managed to book me into dives for the next day and gave me a few tips on what to do and where to go on the island.
Feeling adventurous we headed down to Long Beach. Now everyone on the island told us that it's 'really far' but in reality it's just a 15 minute walk. To get to the other side you'd have to go through Ombak resort and follow the bricked lane.
The marine life here is somewhat healthy. Managed to spot a Spotted Moray Eel, Blue Spotted Ray, schools of Yellow Tail, various types of Puffer Fish, Razor Fish and the list goes on. Clearly I was happy and to top it off I had a really good dive master, Minah!
Where to stay on Coral Bay?
Shari-La Resort would be on of the most expensive accommodation on Coral Bay to stay at. Their standard room comes with hot shower, air-conditioned as well as fan, and breakfast and cost about RM170 a night for two. They do have budget rooms that are all right, air-conditioned and cold showers for about RM80+ (almost RM90 if I can recall) a night for two. I have to admit, the budget rooms do lack windows so airing the place out would be a wise idea. This place is pretty big so expect to have your own bungalow, except for those taking on the budget rooms.
Senja Bay has a standard room for two that cost about RM130 minus breakfast. This includes hot water showers with fan. You have a number of places serving breakfast so I don’t see a point paying RM50 more for breakfast. Its on the hillside, so you could request a room with a view. The place is a little run down but it’s adequate for a few nights if you’re not too fussy.
Ombak is a dive centre that also provides accommodation. I heard from others that its pretty nice, plus walking through their compound (you’ll have to do this to get to Long Beach) gave me the impression that they do have a variety of accommodation to choose from depending on your budget.
Maya Chalet is the cheapest on the island with basic rooms and cold showers. I’ve been told that it’s less than RM100 a night but its clean and comfortable. Do expect the electricity to go off during the day and only come on in evenings till early mornings at this establishment.
There are a few café’s around so you’re not short on variety for food. Mama’s kitchen has a mean BBQ at nights and its definitely worth your dollar!
Scuba Diving Companies
There are about 3 dive companies on this side of the island (Coral Bay), unless I’ve missed out a few, which is impossible unless I am blind, as the beach is small.
Quiver Dive Team, Angel Divers and Ombak. I only dived at Quiver as it was recommended by a friend plus the dive team here are just friendly and was a joy to dive with. Minah has to be one of my favourite guides as she gets to know her group and plans the guide accordingly. She is actually one of the best Dive Master I’ve ever dived with.
*Or rather that is what I've observed.
The big island is mainly filled with resorts that make your stay a comfort and you're sure to be waited on, on hand and foot. There is a stretch on the main beach where all these resorts are planted, which is to the west of the island, but I headed out to one that is secluded from the rest, having it's own private stretch of beach for some quiet time.
Yes, I have to highlight hammocks, as it seems a very rare commodity around the islands in Malaysia. No one realises that hammocks are a must and its that silent island rule that islands MUST have hammocks. Bubbles must be the only resort I know that abide by these rules and they have plenty of hammocks for everyone!
The people running the place and the staff are great. They are friendly, funny and all around hilarious. I wish I stayed longer as it felt like home. Even the other guests were wonderful to interact with plus the atmosphere is rather relaxed. You could leave your things lying around over night and still find them at the same spot the very next day.
*That is unless a monkey takes them away… The point is, its a safe place.
After dinner almost every evening there is a turtle talk. Here they educate you on the different turtles, the do’s and the don’t when you spot a turtle and so on. Its quite educational plus it’s a hit with the children. After that, you can put your room number down so they will come around to give you a wake up call to let you know when a turtle has shored for nesting.
Part of the beach is, in a way, off limits after dark as this is where the turtles come a shore to lay eggs. There is always someone on the beach from the turtle conservation group on night watch on the beach.
Its hard living in paradise, especially if isn’t an island surrounded by beautiful crystal clear waters and beautiful marine life. I’ve officially become a beach bum, and a lazy one at that too. The sea is just alluring that I manage to get myself out of the hammock and into the water for a snorkel. Adam, a dive master was kind enough to take me on a little tour to a few snorkel spots.
It was great. We manage to spot a Puffer Fish being cleaned, a few Clown fishes and a Blue Spotted Ray. The coral here is pretty too. We swam for quite a while plus the thermocline (sudden change in water temperature) is a blessing as the water here are a constant 29 – 30 degree Celsius. So a slight temperature drop is always welcomed!
Didn’t realise I was out on the water for more than an hour when I finally go to the edge and looked over a drop that Adam swam over. Only then did I turn around to realise we were pretty far from shore. The swim back to shore was a tad bit difficult as I was worn out and it was too hot.
As a result from the 2-hour snorkel and only wearing a rash vest, I had a nice funny tan. My upper body is nice and olive, while my lower half is super tanned and I look true to my nature of being mixed raced; where my upper body looks Chinese and the lower half looking Indian. Awkward.
Getting to Kuala Besut ferry terminal.
There are a few ways to getting into Perhentian. First you would have to get to Kuala Besut.
Driving: if you have a car, it is about a 7-8 hour journey up north to the state of Kuala Terengganu. There are many rest stops along the way for you to take a break so don’t fret. Also there is a parking spot near the ferry terminal where you can park your car, and its safe.
Bus: The best is to take the night bus from Hentian Putra (close to the Putra World Trade Centre, PWTC). It leaves about 10pm and gets you into Kuala Besut at the strike of dawn, roughly about 5-6am. There is a direct bus that takes you to Kuala Besut, which saves you the hassle to having to change buses in Kuala Terengganu. Sani Express is one of the bus companies that has direct buses to Kuala Besut.
Flight: Air Asia as well as Firefly, fly directly from Kuala Lumpur into either Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bharu (State of Kelantan). It’s a 45-minute flight. The best if to fly into Kota Bharu and take a bus or cab to Kuala Besut because Kuala Besut is closer to Kota Bharu airport than it is to Kuala Terengganu airport.
Catching the ferry
Most ferry operators will charge you around RM70 for a two way return ticket. Almost all of them operate on an open ticket basis so to do take down their phone number and call them 24-hours before hand to inform them when you want to get back to the mainland.
Island boat taxi: These are small little taxi boats that gets you from one end of the island to the other. Now the prices may vary so learn the art of bargaining. It cost us each about RM25 one way from Coral Bay to get to Bubbles Dive Resort as it was on the far end of the big island.
Bubbles Dive Resort
If you are staying with bubbles, email them earlier to arrange all your transportation needs as they can arrange land transfer as well as ferry to an from the resort. They are actually cheaper than the local operators found on the mainland so I suggest you use them. The land transfers are usually to the airport or bus terminals.
There is a buffet spread that they have for all meals, and breakfast is inclusive in the price quote for the rooms. But if you are not a big eater like me then skip the buffet and go al-a-carte, it works out cheaper.
Diving around the island cost about RM90-Rm100 per dive, inclusive of diving gear rental. This depends on the dive company you are with.
The dive sights I’ve been too:
Sugar Wreck: A sugar transporter that crashed into the ocean hence the name ‘Sugar Wreck’. It’s a shallow wreck at about 18m-20m deep and one of the highlights of this place is that you are sure to spot Bamboo Sharks as well as Baraccuda, Stonefish, Scorpion fish and various types of Puffer fish.
Three Rocks or T3: One of the best dive spots I’ve been too. Goes down to about 30m and has a lot of swim troughs which are fabulous! On clear visibility its fantastic, the marine life here is superb and we manage to spot a Bump Head Parrot fish and a few Blue Spotted rays.
Tokong Laut or Temple: Beautiful dive sight with lots of corals and a wide variety of marine life. You’re sure to spot a few Bamboo Sharks, Nudibranch, Boxfish, Puffer fish, schools of Yellow Tail and if you’re lucky, turtles!
Shark Point: You’ll first hit a sandy bottom with a pinnacle to swim around before your Dive Master takes you out to shallow waters to looks for Black Tip sharks. It is known to have surface current so a buoy line is used to get to the bottom. At the shallow area, your dive computer would most likely go out as its about 5m so take note of the time you get into the water and keep an eye on your clock. Keep good neutral buoyancy as the corals are close to you! It’s the best place to look for Black Tips as we manage to sit a float and watch them swim around us.
Sea Bell: Some of the best corals I’ve seen on the island. The coral garden is pretty vast plus expect to see some turtles and Blue Spotted rays. A relatively easy and relaxing dive plus you can spot one or two Nudibranch.
Vietnamese Wreck: An American landing craft that sank in 1978. Its said to be landed face down, and has a few holes in the hull to allow divers to explore the wreck. Though I didn’t get to dive this site, its said to be a beautiful wreck dive and its almost popular with the infamous Titan Triggerfish that loves to attack divers. The one here is a tiny bit more hostile than the rest and a bit nuts according to the Dive Masters. This wreck is about 24m deep.
There are a few more other dive sites but the one that is of particular interest is Secret Reef or Hidden Reef. Everyone I spoke too doesn’t know its exact location but a few divers and very few dive companies know its location. Its said to be a beautiful site, as the name suggest since its hidden, but it’s a deep dive that goes down to 30m with exquisite corals.
Apart from that Bubbles Dive Resort seem to have another little secret location charted on their dive map. If you want to find out, you’d have to ask them.
View gallery for more photographs.