Welcome to Pulau Perhentian Kecil! Snorkeling in Paradise!
Beautiful beaches, scuba diving, snorkeling and fire jugglers, what more could a backpacker want in the beautiful Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two remote tropical islands off the coast of North East Malaysia.
Isn’t there something truly sensational about being back out at sea after a long absence? The air smells salty and clean, the feeling of wind tussling hair and the roar of rolling waves bouncing the boat up, down and up again. There’s nothing else like it.
I left George Town via the Central Pinang Station in Butterworth and arrived at Kuala Besut in the early morning of March 21st, 2016. This wasn’t exactly my plan as I booked a bus to Kota Bahru… Luckily, the bus driver offered me the chance to switch buses in the middle of the night for a small bribe of 10 MR ($2.50 USD)… A deal well struck! I had saved 30 MR by booking my ticket through Red Bus and was going to take the local bus for 6 MR to the port town anyway. Success!
First impression: What a dive! Definitely no pun intended, the beach was full of garbage, run down huts and questionable characters. The water is no better; shallow, filled with boats leaking motor oil and suspiciously lacked any vegetation.
But as the sun set, casting a shadow over the this little backpacker’s inlet, the beach came alive! With tatami mats and lantern lit tables only meters from the shoreline, I had a comfortable view of amateur fire baton twirlers! Their moves and hand motioned combined into an exciting fire dance of flame in motion. This is the ultimate hangout spot! Drink range from 10MR beer cans to 30MR pints (300ml) of whiskey, vodka or gin with soda as an extra at 4MR/ Can…Actually very reasonable for an isolated party island, but think ahead and bring your own liquor from the mainland for half the island price.
I stayed at the Tropicana Backpacker’s Hostel between Lonely Beach and Coral Bay. I paid 20 MR/night for a 6 person shared dorm with a fan but with a minimum of three nights stay. It was the low season, the standard price is 50MR/ night during the busy season starting in May. The Hostel was more like a small resort, it was clean and had good amenities and reliable Wi-Fi!
Coral Bay Beach
My biggest mistake was spending the first two days of my stay on Perhentian Kecil exclusively on Lonely Beach. Coral Bay is merely a 5 minute walk across the island, and oh boy! What a difference! Beach side Resorts, professional restaurants and surf shops, including a BBQ joint with views of the pier and the setting sun.
From Coral Bay, smaller and cleaner beaches are just a short walk away through the jungle. Or, a short Kayak ride along the coast!
The highlight of my visit to the Perhentian Islands was an amazing full day snorkeling tour of some of the island’s beautiful coral reefs and popular sighting spots for sharks and turtles!
For 35 MR ($9 USD), booked from my Hostel, I hopped on a small boat with seven other tourists and headed out into the open blue! I love the feeling of being on the water, the water rushing past on either side!The water was warm!!! What a massive change from swimming in the freezing deep blue Atlantic! The water is so clear, with such a rich hue of blue, it was everything I imagined and more!
The snorkeling was something out of the little mermaid fairy tale! Schools of fish encircle me as I free dived into the coral reefs. The variety of stunning colours: Neon greens, sky blues, yellows, reds, deep purples, oranges etc… was breath-taking.
Those who has dived or snorkeled great reefs will understand how difficult it is to describe this natural beauty, or an experience of the briefest moment so perfect, it falls beyond words, beyond logic and rests deep inside our hearts.
The tour ended with a visit to a secluded island to relax at the beach and a visit to the fishing village that has seen huge developments in the recent years. The mosque defines the shoreline from afar, standing tall above the sea on the tip of Pulau Perhentian Kecil.
This was my first time snorkeling in a tropical coral reef, now I can see why people fall in love with Scuba Diving. Now my next step is diving lessons and getting my open water certification.
The Perhentian Islands are also one of the cheapest tropical island destinations in South East Asia for getting the open water scuba diving certification. Half day and full day scuba diving trips can be organised for as low as 70 MR and depart three times per day. I’m no scuba diver, so if that interests you, I recommend this blog for more details on scuba diving in the Perhentian Islands.
This adorable port town reminds me so much of the small fishing villages that scatter my home in the Maritimes. The boats line the marina, the smell of salt and fish fill the air and delicious Mamak restaurants line the boardwalk! Boat tickets to and from the Perhentians can be purchased here for 70 MR, but you can save 10 MR by booking the tickets in other towns through a travel agency.
Tip: A bulk store is located to the left of the bus terminal on the way to the main marina. Everything on the islands cost double, so load up at this store on essentials like water and snacks for those important savings.