Our journey to the Perhentian Islands starts with a sweaty walk from our Chalet in Kuala Tahan to the busstop. We decided to go to the islands some days before, because it is the cheapest place in whole south east Asia to make the PADI Open Water diver course.
Perhentian is a group of two main islands Perhentian Basar (“Greater Perhentian”), Perhentian Kecil (“Lesser Perhentian”) and a small uninhabited called Susu Dara. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perhentian_Islands). They are located on the north east side of Malaysia’s peninsular. It’s blessed with white sandy beaches and turquoise water. Diving is a big thing there. There are more diving schools than guesthouses it seems.
We enter the local bus in Kuala Tahan to make the first hop to Jerantut, a medium size town with a bigger bus station. Because we’re not sure which bus we will get we are arriving in the early midday to be safe. The best option they tell me at the counter is to take the bus directly to Khota Baru. It’s another town from where we can take a 1,5 hours local bus ride to Kuala Besut. That’s where the ferries to the islands are leaving. The bus departs at 09:00 PM, now it is 12:00 AM. We have 9 hours to wait at the bus station! This is going to become a long day 🙂
Helen is using the time to read and I’m working on a web project, so the time passes fast.
This time the overnight bus is not a sleeper. Normal seats but in very good conditions. At 4:00 AM in the morning we arrive at the new bus station in Kota Bahru. The Taxi drivers directly try to sell us a ride to Kuala Besut. We know the offer they make is way too high. Especially in comparison to the 7 Ringit we have to pay for the local bus.
After some time sitting at the bus station a guy tells us that the local bus is leaving at the old bus station in the city. A short look on Google Maps, it is only 30 minutes away by foot and so we are starting a nice night walk through Kota Bahru. The bus station is easy to find and after another half an hour waiting we are sitting in the last bus for this trip.
A nice Australian couple, both teachers are sitting next to us and they tell us a lot about their travels in the last decades. Finally we reach Kuala Besut and we are lucky. A ferry is just about to leave and so there is only time for a short toilet break before we sit on the speed boat in the direction of the Perhentian Islands. It’s really a speed boat. It is so fast that every little bigger waves lifts us meters over the water and under the influence of the gravity we are hitting the water hard after every jump. Most bumpy boat ride ever. Helen is not enjoying it at all. The last part of this really long trip then is a taxi boat that bring us from the speed boat to the beach.
To don’t carry around our big backpacks, we first go to the diving school we contacted upfront. The name of the school is “Turtle Bay Divers” (http://www.turtlebaydivers.com/). We directly meet Birgit, a German woman working there. She is really nice, offering us some water and giving us tips where we can find cheap accommodation. Systematically we walk along the beach and check out all the places Birgit recommended. At the end we take a bungalow at a spot called Lemon Grass.
The same day we start with the course. First we meet our instructor Chrys. She is from Switzerland, very good first impression. We are not alone in the course. Lili, a Portuguese girl, is part of our group. To get the course done in 3 days instead of four we take the course book and videos to our bungalow and start learning right away. We have to watch two videos and complete two questionnaires.
Proud that we finished our learning the evening before, we start the real diving stuff the next morning. Chrys is already waiting and Lili arrives some minutes later. Together we’re going through all the questions of the first two chapters and then the real deal starts. We’re preparing our diving gear the first time. Chrys gives us clear instructions and shows us everything up front. After everything is set up Chrys is giving us details about the dive. It is a skill dive where we learn things like clearing the goggles, breath with the alternate air source of another diver and so on. Shortly after the instructions we take one of the boats and here we go!
It’s nice to be under water again. Last time was an introduction course in Turkey with bad visibility and cold water. This time it’s 30 degrees warm and the water is clear. Everywhere around us different, colorful fishes. Learning skills in this setting is a lot of fun.
Next morning, we start with another skill dive. We learn how to take off and on our equipment in and under water and to breath with a constant stream of air bubbles. Really amazing is our first open water dive in the afternoon at Batu Nisan. We see a lot of corals, barracudas, clown fishes and a giant clam. We like it a lot!
The last skill dive starts the next day and in the afternoon we are going to D’ Lagoon. It’s a resort one beach further north. Again it is a lovely dive. Unfortunately, Helen has problems with equalizing the pressure and has to abort the dive. She is nervous now, because if she cannot finish all four dives successfully she won’t be certified. Chrys proofs her flexibility. Directly after we arrived at the schools she arranges a third dive for Helen the next day.
Shark Point is our diving spot the next morning. People are feeding sharks here so that scuba and free divers can see them. Instead of sharks we see a big see turtle and we are happy J This time Helen has no problems and everything works well. While the next dive at Batu Laya, Chrys tells me to guide the dive and I like it. Sometimes I get a little too fast… We see a trigger fish. They are aggressively defending their territory. But I don’t get it and get really close. Chrys tries to call me back but I misunderstand her hand signs. Fortunately, nothing happens. The fish stays calm, all fingers still were they belong.
Lili and I have now finished our fourth dive, but Helen has to make another one. I join so that she is not alone and for sure I like to have another dive. It’s again taking place at D’ Lagoon. Everything works out great and Helen has her four dives, too.
Everybody of us did the exam at different times and we all had close to 100% percent. Chrys enters all our data at PADI and just minutes later we have an Email with our temporary divers card. Great, we did it!!! We are Open Water Divers now. And special thanks to Chrys! we learned a lot. Thank you!!!
Beside all the diving we haven’t done much. We enjoyed the good restaurants around and learned a lot in our bungalow. Happy to have our certificate we leave the island the same way we came at the next day. This time we are not sitting at the tip of the boat, where it’s most bumpy 😀