Perhentians,it means stopover in malay, There are few acounts on how the islands came about the name but mainly,the more popular version and probably more acurate one is that these islands were where local fishermen would go to for shelter in the advent of a storm or stopover to replenish their provisions when they are out at sea.
Located at the north-eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. About 21 km off shore the remote town of Kuala Besut. Two lovely tropical islands lie amidst exquisitely clear waters. Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian) and Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian) comprise the Perhentian Islands. A rocky virgin jungle provides hours of adventures for trekkers who may chance upon flying fox, long-tailed macaques and monitor lizards, while the marine life shows off a splendid garden of coral. The diving season runs from March to October.
The sea in Early march and late october can be still a little rough. No particular month has the best condition for diving but July and August are the most busy months.
The water temperature is consistently warm so wetsuits are not essential. A 3mm shortie will provide additional comfort.
Backpackers usually head to the small island,or Pasir panjang (long beach)Perhentian kecil.
Accomodation here is very affordable but very basic,most just a fan and a bed with mosquito net that runs from rm30 to rm50 a night depending on location.There are more comfortable lodgings which ranges from rm80 to rm150 which gets you air conditioning and attached bathrooms.
Two beaches are on the small island , long beach and on the other side is coral bay.
Accesible or connected by a 15 min trek thru the jungle.
Learning to scuba dive i'd recommend staying at long beach.Dive schools are located through out the beach and if you are looking for a good price for a dive course,ask around 1st.
This beach can be considered one of the most competitive in peninsular malaysia because the rates vary greatly from whats published even on the written boards.
Constant price war is the norm here esp. among the dive schools trying to sign up
But if i were to sign up for a dive course ,the 1st thing i'd consider is location of the school and proximity to the beach. Personally i'd prefer selecting the dive schools at the very tip of the beach where the jetty is because thats where the house reef is and most of the training for beginners is done right there.
Basically you'd just don your gear and wade in the beach at a very relaxed pace of learning,if the dive school is just there.
If you were learning from a dive school from the center of the beach ,they'd send you there by boat,of course ,meaning you;d be subject to time constraints because the boat will have schedules to send divers out diving.
The reef itself is an excellent training site in terms of clarity and depth and it also qualifies as a dive site on its own merit.
Make sure that you will not be short changed by the dive school. Usually a complete open water course involves 5 dives. 3 off the beach or something similar and 2 boat dives.Last one being a leisure dive where no skills are performed,just scuba diving for fun.
Some dive schools will just take you out on a boat just off the beach and dive in(more cost effective for them) when they are suppose to take you to another regular dive site.
At least make sure your dive log can show a max depth of 15m.More for personal experience.
Over at Perhentian besar or Big Perhentian island ,it has a slightly different environment. You will not come across any undercutting of course fees here,the whole
perhentian besar island's dive schools have very consistent courses fees which doesnt fluctuate much from each other.
If it is cheaper (wont be by much) and probably has more to do with personal negotiation because published rates are very similar.
In terms of facilities,or structure ,you get a higher sense of professionalism in the dive schools scattered throughout the big island.
Long beach(small island) is the party beach ,more for budget conscious backpackers who want cheap booze and cheap food,cheap diving etc whereas big island is more geared towards the better heeled or those looking for very quiet R n R Island time.
Personally if i want the perfect quiet and idylic R n R at Perhentians ,i'd either select to stay at coral bay beach at small island or if i have deeper wallet i go for Teluk Dalam bay,way on the quiet side of the big island,there is a sense of seclusion at this bay away from the major boat traffic
areas of both islands.There is a small affordable resort to a 4 star resort on this bay.And need i mention very relaxed pace learning to dive here,all dive schools all right nect to the beach.
Or alternatively,at the big island ,and still cost conscious about price of dive course ,look for accomodation at the stretch of beach opposite the village.Room and Board is decent and comfortable ,bit pricier than small island but course fees at this stretch is more flexible, also beaches here more quiet less hectic feel,cleaner even than long beach.
AS for dive sites ,almost all the dive centers(both islands) go to the same sites throughout,so at certain times ,some of the sites can be congested with divers,esp the more popular ones.
Signature sites being Temple of the sea , Tiga rocks Tanjung Basi and of course the very popular "sugar wreck" and the other more challenging "vietnamese wreck'
You will not be taken to theses dive sites during your dive course,only after you are certified,will you will be considered to be taken to dive there counted as extra dives,of course.
At the end of the day,it boils down to how much time you have allocated for your stay,the best way to get a feel for the perhentians is to stay at both islands and get a sense of just how different they are,Few days at long beach than just take a water taxi across and check in wherever the other side.The crystal clear waters and brilliant white sandy beaches of the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia have for many years captured the hearts and imaginations of the backpackers and travelers.