Despite having visited Malaysia at the beginning of our time in Asia in October 2017, we hadn’t got the chance to go to the Perhentian Islands which are a cluster of islands just off the east of mainland Malaysia. These islands are meant to be stunning but October is nearing the rainy season so everything was either closed or shutting down as the rains were on their way so we decided to save going here for later on in the trip as we knew we’d be in the vicinity at a later date.
On Friday 1st June 2018 we got an overnight flight at 11:35pm (although it didn’t end up leaving until 12:30am) to take us back to Kuala Lumpur where we then got another flight an hour later to Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu is the place on mainland Malaysia where you go to get a boat to the Perhentian Islands and we had organised with our hotel, Flora BayResort, to pick us up from the airport here making it a relatively easy journey.
Flora Bay was located on Kuala Besur which translates to mean Big Island. This is one of the main islands to visit in the Perhentian’s with the other island being called Kuala Kecil (Small Island) but we found that island to be a lot harder to sort out accommodation and when we later went past the island it looked a lot more built up compared to our secluded paradise. We reached Kota Bharu at 6:45am but didn’t get picked up for an hour after a miscommunication about our flight time. We got a minivan to the jetty which took around an hour and then got the 9am boat from the mainland to our hotel, arriving at 9:40am.
Our room was ready for us when we arrived and was basic with a fan over the bed (so it got quite hot as there was no air conditioning) but it did the job fine and the hotel put on a good buffet breakfast so we were happy. It was Ramadan whilst we were on the Perhentian Islands and the islands are predominantly Muslim so between the hours of 6:30pm-8:30pm our hotel ended all service so that they could observe the ending of their fast for the day. We had no issue with this and there were a few other places on the beach to go and get food if we wanted to eat outside of these times so it really wasn’t an issue. We also had no WiFi when on the island so spent a couple of days ‘off the grid’ which wasn’t a problem as we knew this would be the case (the hotel offered it for a fee so we didn’t bother) and we didn’t find the lack of connectivity a problem at all.
We hadn’t slept much since the day before so I ended up falling asleep in our room until around noon. We had arrived in Kota Bharu to cloudy skies which is very disheartening when you’ve specifically travelled somewhere for a beach break but, thankfully, by noon the skies had cleared and we got some sun and blue skies. We were so pleased and the beach looked lovely in the sunshine.
We spent a few hours sunbathing and then, at around 3ish, it became slightly overcast so we spent some time in hammocks that the hotel had strung up between some nearby trees. We both ended up falling asleep here for a couple of hours which wasn’t hard as the beach was so peaceful – sometimes the only thing you could here was the very small waves moving up onto the beach. The sea was also very calm and it was so lovely to be there relaxing just looking out to sea so I’m not surprised that we drifted off to sleep to be honest.
We woke up late the next morning to catch the end of breakfast which ran until 10:30am. It was nice that the only thing we needed to get up for was to get food instead of to get a day of sightseeing done as the past few weeks had really taken it out of us. The breakfast was great and we were incredibly full after our feed meaning it was around noon before we mustered up the energy from our food coma to get to the beach. It was a beautiful day, the skies were completely clear and the sea was a bright turquoise. It looked even better than the day before and we were thrilled about it. We spent the day doing absolutely nothing which was fantastic.
At around 4ish we went out snorkelling but this wasn’t very fruitful as the sea didn’t have the best visibility. This is something to do with there having been a full moon recently and also because of the rain they had just before we arrived. We got to see a few fish and actually saw a lot of clown fish whilst snorkelling which was so cool as we saw them clearer and closer than we had before even on our dives. All the clownfish we saw were always a pair so maybe Finding Nemo was more accurate than we thought?! (This was one of the rare occasions I didn’t have my GoPro to capture the clownfish so you’ll have to forgive me for the lack of pictures here).
Aside from soaking up as much sun as possible and relaxing to our hearts content, we also wanted to go diving as the Perhentian Islands is meant to be a good diving spot in Malaysia. We hadn’t dived since being in Southern Thailand in February and so were looking forward to being able to get back under the water. We booked with a dive shop that was owned by the same company as our hotel and met them at 8:45am on Monday 4th June, our final day on the island, to go on our first dive of the day. We were really happy with the service we got at Flora Bay Divers as they were really professional, gave us a good briefing before we left and went through what we saw after our dives for our dive log books. These were our 17th and 18th dives (all since qualifying in March 2017) and that day we had struck lucky by being taken to two of the best dive sites in the Perhentian Islands. We had heard that the visibility hadn’t been the best over the past few days but we just had to hope we’d get some good conditions for our dives.
Our first dive was to Tukun Laut which gets nicknamed ‘Temple of the Sea’ or ‘the Pinnacle’. We ended up having good visibility here which we were relieved about and got to see a tonne of brightly coloured fish. My favourite part was getting to see a lot of species of clown fish throughout the dive but we also saw some eels, stingrays and a small bamboo shark sleeping under a rock. The colours aren’t really clear from the pictures on my GoPro but there was a lot of bright colours around the dive site including glowing blue coral and it was all really pretty. We got told the visibility can be a lot better which I imagine would give you exceptional surroundings full of even more fish. I was happy with the dive though and we both really enjoyed ourselves.
Our second dive was a site called Terumbu Tiga. This was a collection of rocks that you could swim through and around all covered in coral. This site was especially known for its small sea creatures like shrimps and nudibranch’s. Our guide showed us as much as she could find including a lion fish (pictured below, middle in the left) as well as many small creatures like the swollen phyllidia nudibranch pictured below.
The visibility wasn’t as clear as on the first dive but that wasn’t as crucial for the stuff there was to see there. It did get clearer in some parts of the dive though, particularly as we got shallower and although neither of us are as bothered by the smaller creatures in the ocean – I don’t know if that’s something that happens the more you dive – we still enjoyed seeing everything. It’s also incredible some of the things that the dive guides are able to spot on tiny pieces of coral when the entire point is for the creatures to completely blend into their surroundings!It was great to be back diving again and getting to do it in another country (our fifth country to dive in) was also great, particularly when we had good dive guides unlike our last couple of dives in Thailand (see Koh Tao post).
After having some lunch we were quite tired and so didn’t do much the rest of the day. As the dive sites were so close to the island (the first one was a 20 minute speedboat, the second one only 10 minutes) we had been brought back to the island between dives which was nice to be able to have a little break on land. The dives both lasted just under an hour and so we had the afternoon to enjoy the island before we left the following morning. We had such a nice time on our island being cut off from the world and doing relatively little. We chilled in a hammock and napped for the rest of the day and then got the first boat off the island the following morning.
We had been really lucky with our weather and we were both very glad we had chosen to come back instead of trying our luck in October when the season was ending. You don’t want to be stuck on an island when it’s raining all the time and we had managed to have three hot and sunny days during our stay which was perfect.
Our next stop was into Malaysian Borneo where we would be starting in the state of Sabah in the state’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu.
Sending love x