The Perhentian Islands is a good diving destination located approximately 20 km off the coast of North East Malaysia, very close to Thailand. The reefs are beautiful and rich in marine life and with over 20 dive sites within the surrounding archipelago accessible by small boat there are plenty of different sites to dive. The islands offer a lot more than diving with nice snorkeling from shore, trails to hike and beautiful beaches keeping yourself busy here is not a problem!
Malaysia has some amazing activities, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Borneo and a challenge to climb. The country also has some great dive sites, Sipadan Island close to Borneo Malaysia was our favorite, check out in our article why we agree with Jacques Cousteau that it is among the best diving in the world.
Travel the Perhentian Islands
The two main islands are the big island, Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the Small Perhentian Island.
Perhentian Kecil attracts more budget travellers as it is more developed with cheaper accommodation, the island has a backpacker vibe chilled out with beautiful beaches and many dive shops. We have been to the lovely, tropical Kecil Island more than once, chilling out, snorkeling from the beach and doing some of the cheapest good diving in the world.
Perhentian Besar is less developed with more expensive resorts and restaurants, this is a better island for a romantic breakaway or honeymoon.
For more information on the Perhentian islands, accommodation, beaches and food.
Perhentian Dive Season
The diving season in the Perhentians is from April to October with good visibility, the water is warm 27 to 32C all year round. This time the weather is hot and sunny with calm seas and little rain. June to August especially over the weekends the islands gets very busy and accommodation can be fully booked. From November to March the whole island basically shuts down due to bad weather and rough seas.
How to get to the Perhentian islands?
Go to Kuala Besut by bus from any city in Malaysia, night buses arrive early morning at Kuala Besut and from there take a boat to one of the Perhentian islands. If you are coming from Kuala Lumphur the bus leaves from Kuala Lumpur TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan). You can buy boat tickets at Kuala Besut Jetty, we bought open return tickets for 70 RM, you can also buy one way tickets, multiple boats leave everyday, the boat ride takes about 40 minutes.
Boats back to Kuala Besut leave from Coral Bay beach every day at 8 am, 12 pm, 4 pm. Try to arrange everything the way you don’t need to stay overnight in Kuala Besut, accommodation is very expensive here, we took a night bus to KL, bus leaves at 8.30 pm.
Perhentian Kecil accommodation
Camping Perhentian Kecil – We stayed at Maya cabins/camping, nice place right on the beach. We camped for MYR20/US$5 per tent. Camping was super cheap and we camped basicaly in Anti gravity divers, which was nice. It was very hot in the tent, basically unbareable and very basic – No wi-fi, electricity after 6pm, cold shower, kitchen where you can boil water. The owner, Sunny, is a very nice and helpful person. Other campsites on Perhentian; Rainforest and Pirate’s camping. Rainforest camping is 15 minutes walking from Coral Bay beach, at Rain forest beach, kind of hidden in the jungle. The price is MYR60/US$15 per tent. Booking through Hostelworld is compulsory, not allowed to camp with your own tent. The place looked nice but for 60 Ringgit you can get a room on Coral Bay beach. Some people complained about thousands of mosquitoes due to its forest location. For some other accommodation option, these are some of the popular places for different budget on Perhentian Kecil;
Middle price range | Anis Perhentian |
Quiver Dive Team Perhentian has great packages scuba diving (fun dives/discover scuba diving and gear)+ accommodation (4 bed dormitory, a great option to combine a beach holiday with diving. Note! The packages are very popular the place is often fully booked.
There is some very good diving form the Perhentian islands and this is a fantastic place to learn with very pleasant conditions, perfect for relaxed diving. The visibility is good, almost always somewhere between 10 and 20m. The water temperature is always above 27C, usually closer to a toasty 30C diving here. There are a variety of sites located close to the island, so when doing multiple dives you can dive a different site every dive. Since the sites are close to island, small speed boats are used, you don’t have to spend the whole day at sea if you want to go for a dive. Normally the currents are not very strong, nice for easy diving.
You will see beautiful, healthy reef with a huge variety of coral, there is a massive diversity of reef fish, some pelagic fish and small sharks, a variety of the more common macro life can also be found.The marine life is nice, we heard talks of whale sharks, but this definitely not common. I thought the diving was good and relaxed with many of the ‘standard’ marine life found in South East Asia, colorful reef fish, some pelagic species and a variety of soft and hard corals. Most of the marine life is similar to that found on many healthy reefs all over South East Asia. Diving is nice, but not so special that it is worth spending a lot of money for experienced divers to travel here especially for diving.
Perhentian Island Dive Sites
From my Log Book
T3 (Terumbu Tiga)
Dive Conditions: Viz 12m, Max depth 18.9m, water temp 30C
T3 a very popular site is also called the ‘The three brothers’ due to 3 massive boulders at this site. Big rocks, some small swim throughs covered in soft corals make for some nice diving at this site. The reef is patchy with many barrel sponges, gorgonian sea fans, giant clams, and solid table coral. Many small reef fish frequent the reefs, nothing bigger than titan trigger fish. Apparently Barracudas and bigger pelagics are commonly found here, we did not see any.
Good macro life on the rocks, many nudibranches; Anna’s magnificent slug, varicose wart slug and leopard nudibranch. Some coral banded shrimps.
Dive Conditions: Viz 12-15m, Max depth 16m, water temp 30C
Located on the north side of the island this shallow dive site is made up of a collection of big boulders, a good spot to see pelagics such as barracuda and blue fin trevalley. This site has beautiful reef, gorgonian fan coral and solid table corals. Swimming through trigger alley you will be surrounded by trigger fish. There is a rich variety of coral including robust staghorn coral, brain coral and barrel sponges, slipper coral, mushroom coral and more. Many anemones can be seen all over the reef. Most ofl the common reef fish found in South East Asia such af False clown fish, Clark’s clown fish, red breasted wrasse, bi-color parrot fish. giant moray eel and blue spotted stingray is found here. Keep an eye on the reef for scorpion fish, pipe fish, different nudibranches and turtles.
Diving Perhentian a. Clark’s clown fish hiding b. False clown fish around Tanjung Betong
Tokong Laut (Temple of the Sea)
Dive Conditions: Viz 15m, Max depth 22m, water temp. 30C
Many agree Tokong Laut also known as ‘Temple of the Sea’ is the best site to dive from the Perhentian islands. This big pinnacle, rich in marine life was also our favorite site to dive here. The deepest reef in the area drops to a sandy bottom at 22m from the pinnacle, the beautiful pinnacle is surrounded by giant puffers, giant moray eels and many big trevallies. Descending through snappers, squids and bamboo sharks you must keep your eyes on the reef not to miss a variety of nudibranches.
Plenty of beautiful hard and soft coral surrounds the pinnacle. We saw Giant puffer fish, Giant moray eel, bearded scorpion fish, schools of Harlequin sweet lips. Some Blue fin trevallies were patrolling the reef. There was a single bump head parrot fish swimming around the pinnacle. The name ‘temple of the sea’ came from a mispronunciation. The name is actually Tukun Laut meaning ‘outcropping rock’. Tukun Laut was wrongly pronounced as Tokong Laut meaning ‘temple of the sea’, the name stuck.
A single Bumphead Parrot fish at Tanjung Butong.
The Sugar Wreck
Dive Conditions: Viz 10m, Max depth 20m, water temp. 30C
A sunken freighter, The MV Union Star on the west side of Perhentian Kecil, was used to transport sugar. About 30min away, most dive shops charge an extra $5 for fuel. The wreck rests on the sand at about 20m with the highest point 6m below the surface. We saw some lion fish, scorpion fish and bamboo sharks. Visibility was fair at 10m, making the wreck visible from the surface. We could penetrate the cargo hold, there is an air pocket that you can stick your head into. The engine room, wheelhouse and cabins are all possible to access. Big Greater Barracuda on the wreck.
It is a nice wreck, it is cool that it has been made easy to penetrate the cargo hold. There were so many people here during our dive, you had to swim in line, waiting to enter certain areas which kind of spoiled the dive for me.
More Dive sites to check out
The Vietnamese Wreck
Popular site, wreck of Pasir Tani on sandy bottom at 22m, possible to penetrate the wreck. Current can be strong. Large variety of marine life; many fish Barracudas, Bat fish even some big groupers. Scorpion fish and some nudis on the surrounding reef. Also a great spot for macro diving with dive masters spotting sea horses and blue ringed octopus on the sand and soft coral surrounding this site!
Black tip reef sharks, hawks bill turtles and even a resident school of barracuda.
Barracuda, snappers, turtles and bat fish
Good spot to see black tip sharks, also schools of barracuda and bat fish around.
Great site for training and for new divers, shallow site with turtles, morays and schools of glass fish.
Three police boats sunk in 15-18 meters of water, home to chevron barracuda, jack fish and variety of nudibranches
Dive Schools Perhentian
Perhentian is great for dive training with a variety of calm easily accessible dive sites and some nice spots for more advanced diving. It is a beautiful island and a great place to do your training, the dive schools listed below all looked good, read some Tripadvisor reviews for students that recently went to these dive centers. Koh Tao in Malaysia was another great island for dive training, check out our article on choosing the best dive school in Koh Tao.
We dived with Anti-gravity divers on Coral Bay beach. Diving on the island is very well priced. The diving was great and staff fun and professional, important for me, free coffee so we were hanging around the dive shop a lot.
- Price for 3 fun dives: MYR 95 ($23) per dive
- Renting snorkeling gear: RM 20 ($4).
- PADI Open Water Course: RM 1250 ($302)
Sea Voice Divers
- Price for 3 fun dives: RM 85 ($21) per dive
- PADI Open Water Course: RM 1100 ($266)
Flora Bay Divers
- Price for 3 fun dives: RM 90 ($22)
- PADI Open Water Course: RM 1190 ($288)
- Price for 3 fun dives: RM 85 ($21) per dive
- PADI Open Water Course: RM 1050 ($278)
Snorkeling Perhentian Islands
The snorkeling from the beach at Coral Bay where we were camping was shallow, but very nice. The biodiversity is fantastic with a variety of coral and colorful, small reef fish.
Towards Rain forest campsite we saw a couple of small black tip sharks, some small barracudas and a bump head parrot fish. We rented a kayak and paddled to Long beach. We were snorkeling just after Romantic Beach and saw a school of 15 big Bump head Parrot fish. Wear a rash vest or wet suit for the sun and sea lice, I was stung pretty bad on my arms and legs.
Going on a dive trip? – Dive Trip Packing List+Tips
More Diving in South East Asia
The beautiful island country Indonesia is home to the best diving in the world, check out our review of all the best diving in Indonesia. For big fish and beautiful coral reefs Komodo National Park is an incredible experience. There are many options to get from Bali to Komodo. Bali is the beach and party island with some good wrecks and amazing muck diving. The nearby Dive Nusa Penida is great for diving with manta rays all year round. Sulawesi is another island with amazing diving in Indonesia, from Bira in the South, the hidden tropical paradise the Togian Islands in Central Sulawesi and arguably the best muck diving in the world in Dive Lembeh strait in North Sulawesi. Indonesia is a lot more than just diving, see our highlights of Indonesia.
Swimming with whale sharks is a fantastic experience in South East Asia and the Philippines is one of the best places to realize this incredible bucket list experience. Check out our Philippines Whale Shark Swimming Guide to comparing this amazing activity in different sites. Oslob is controversial because the sharks are fed by the boatmen, read more about our experience.
Indonesia is not just diving, here we share our favorite activities in Indonesia. If you are not a qualified diver or you are interesting in more dive training, Koh Tao in Thailand is a great place to go, see our article on dive schools on Koh Tao.
About Author – Campbell
The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic Aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.
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