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World | Malaysia | Diving Perhentian:

Perhentian overview



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Perhentian dive site map

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Scuba Diving Perhentian, Malaysia

Water temperature:

27 - 32°C (80 - 90°F)


3mm to 5mm shortie


15 - 25m + (50 - 80 feet) on many sites, although some were 10 - 15m (30 - 50 feet). Below about 22m (72') it can fall to 6m (20').

Type of diving:

Reefs and a few wrecks. Night diving is possible by arrangement/numbers, sundown is around 6-7pm depending on time of year.

Marine life:

Eagle rays, jacks, trevallies, fusiliers, barracudas, tuna, humphead wrasse, Christmas tree worms, sponges, sea anemones

When to go:

March to October

How to get there:

Fast ferry to Kuala Besut via Kota Bharu (Malaysian Airlines / Air Asia from KLIA)

Coastline in Perhentian, Malaysia - courtesy of Tony Gilbert


The Perhentian Islands lie off the north east coast of Malaysia close to the Thai border, and close to the more famous dive site of Redang. The two main Perhentian Islands, Besar (large) and Kecil (small) are only a few kilometres across, and are reached after several different modes of travel. The visitor is rewarded with 'desert islands' of white sand beaches, lush greenery, azure blue sea, which is very warm around 27-32°C: very inviting and once experienced, never forgotten.

Travelling to Perhentian

The Perhentian Islands lie some 30km east of Kuala Besut fishing village, which is reachable by taxi from Kota Bharu's airport. The latter can easily be reached from KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), via Air Asia (budget airline) or Air Malaysia. Kuala Besut is a bustling ferry & fishing port, but you have to keep your wits and ensure the correct ferry is boarded! The journey on a small fast ferry is usually with tourists mostly of western origin, the main clientele of the islands. Quite a number of richer Malaysians also holiday here, often staying for extended weekends. Malaysians have many public holidays throughout the year as a result of the many cultures within the country. The main populations are Malaysian and Chinese, with Hindus and Christians and many others. Muslim & Buddhism features high in society, so please respect their wishes.

Perhentian, the Islands & Resorts

The climate means the diving and island season is from mid to late March to October, after which the monsoon season starts. At this monsoon time, many go diving over to the Northwest Malaysian coast to Langkawi.

The wide sweeping powder white beaches eventually come into view, a small thin line behind which is an ever rising canopy of greenery. This is of course providing the ferryboat skipper doesn't become lost in the sea mists! A small pier allows access into the surrounding scenery of green lush rainforest and smoothed ochre limestone rocks, which perch precariously all over the place.

On Perhentian Besar (big), there are several beachfront resorts to choose, near the jetty or around the west coast side. These are pretty much laid out in a similar open fashion, resembling the Caribbean all-inclusive resorts. As these resorts are geared to tourists, most have credit card facilities, but it's wise to bring some cash along as well, for sundry items. ATMs well, I didn't see any! Currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (1 is about MYR6).

When visiting, we stayed at the Perhentian Island Resort of chalets and all-inclusive facilities (a necessity here). Sand gets everywhere and the forest can be explored; monkeys and lizards are around the complex, and a seafront boulevard allows the visitor to witness breathtaking sunsets. The rainforest behind the resorts is dense and provides much to explore and is full of creatures, but also look out for the wild flowers.

The Perhentian Island Resort (PIR) has its own dive centre, one of many around, and called PIR Divers. Equipment hire is possible, both diving equipment and wetsuits. It is advisable to wear at least a shortie, or a thin steamer mainly for protection from the sun and marine fauna and flora. The diving equipment is of good quality, and the centre provides PADI training facilities. A dive boat is essential because the best sites are offshore, mainly all within 30 minutes of the centre. Most places supply 12ltr aluminium tanks with a universal fitting. If you use DIN fitting, check before you leave for Malaysia that conversion is possible, or take an adapter. Also take your logbook, certification cards and travel/medical insurance.

Dive boat in Perhentian, Malaysia - courtesy of Tony Gilbert


Dive sites are in the main reefs and only a few small wrecks exist. Depths are to 26m mostly on outlying island rocks, or parts of the exposed uninhabited coastlines. There are around 30 dive sites, with more being added. It is possible to bring your own gear (I did, plus camera system) but it involves lots of the lugging on/off boats!

It is possible (by arrangement) to do 4 dives a day, including a night dive, and usual for the boat to return to the dive centre after each dive. This is because many divers vary their schedule, and don't always want to do a lot of diving, or just want to do a couple of afternoon dives etc. If you are doing 4 dives like I did, I left much of my gear at the dive centre. This enabled me to change lenses and ports accordingly, but the surface interval can be short at times. Also lunch can be a rush - I was changing lenses at the same time as eating my lunch! A top-tip would be to take bread rolls with you from the restaurant. Is it worth it? You are darn right it is!!

The bay adjacent to PIR is excellent for the snorkeller providing an ideal location for its House Reef, used for training and night dives. From the beach towards the rocks there are many hard coral formations of lobe, brain and staghorn types. In this area I had numerous sightings of black tip reef sharks and green sea turtles that seem to favour the point.

When the diving for the day is done the resort provides plenty of delicious Malaysian food as well as slightly westernised food. Fruit is plentiful as are fruit juice drinks, but alcohol is limited and usually served by non-Muslims. Also of note is that plugs are UK 3-pin.

My thanks go to the following people who without them, this would not have been possible: my buddy and friend Odett 'Kiki-San' Liew, Sunyu & Tim from the PIR dive centre & friends & colleagues, Theo & Michel.

Tony Gilbert

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