Diving in the Perhentian Islands
The next part of our journey we are going diving in the Perhentian Islands. We left the Cameron Highlands, heading to our diving destination, aboard a minibus. The journey was in two three hour sections, with a lunch break in the middle. The first section only Greg and I were on the bus so that made for a quiet and relaxing journey. The second part there were three of us and it was a little less relaxing. This was mainly due, though, to our kamikaze driver. I couldn’t believe that we reached Kuala Besut alive and well!
At the jetty, we were dropped off at the Tuna Bay office and transported on their boat. Again, it was just Greg and I. We were looking forward to some sunshine and hoping to escape the rain that has dogged us through Malaysia.
Tuna Bay Resort is on the big Perhentian Island, Besut Perhentian. The smaller island of Kecil Perhentian apparently is the backpacker party island. There were some good and bad things that struck us when we arrived. The good; pretty beach, varied restaurant menu, friendly staff. The bad; quite a self-contained resort, lots of families, the bar is closed for refurbishment.
Our main reason for coming here was to go diving in the Perhentian Islands. Greg plans to get up to PADI advanced open water diver certified and I need to refresh my PADI skills.
I think that the diving section needs a little bit of context here……….
A Little Bit of Diving History
The Jelly Wobbles
I have a fear of the sea and, particularly of fish. This was created when I was around 8 years old and on a family holiday in Malta. My sister, brother and I all went into the sea with a lilo together with friends. I was stung on my leg by a jelly fish – cue me running out of the sea crying to my Mom. After some tender loving care and some hard-core sibling persuasion I ventured back into the sea. Around 7 minutes later I was running back out of the sea crying for my Mom. I had been stung on my other leg by another (or maybe the same) jelly fish.
My brother then did a big brother thing and sat with me playing in the sand to make me feel better. Would you believe it, I was then stung by a burying bee! Who knew they even existed? Bring on the tears and Mommy cuddles once again.
The final nail in the coffin came when the next day my brother persuaded me to go to the sea with him and on the way down to the rocks for jumping off a crab attached itself to my big toe. Seriously, sea animals hate me!! Or love me, it depends what way you look at it. But either way, from this moment on it’s been very difficult to get me in the sea and I’m pretty much petrified.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands therefore wasn’t really part of my dreams growing up.
Roll on another 20 years and in 2008 / 2009 I took myself off backpacking in Thailand for a month. In my wisdom, I decided that I could overcome my fears and meet fellow travellers by signing up to do my PADI open water dive certificate.
Buddha View on the island of Koh Tao was my dive school choice. My dive instructor, Perry, had a few laughs when I told him that I was scared of fish. Apparently, it was a first! I managed, with the encouragement of Perry and of my diving buddies (shout out to Ben, Sharon and Carrie) to pass my open water. I was a fully-fledged diver! Who would have thought it? Certainly, not me, and I think Perry had his doubts!!
I was still scared of fish but marginally less so. I decided to do my advanced open water diver course. Kill or cure! The first challenge was a night dive. I have never been so scared in all my life. I hated every single second of the dive. Convinced this would result in my losing my group and dying in a Hollywood shark blockbuster way. My air disappeared in record time. I figure hyperventilating does that. I surfaced first. Boy, was I glad to get back on that boat.
So, roll forward to today. This is getting a little bit like the Dallas dream scene! I am in the shower (sorry, just joking and only Dallas fans will get it!). As part of our year out, Greg and I discussed our dreams for learnings during the year. One of Greg’s is that he wants to make headway into qualifying as a dive instructor. One of my dreams is to go diving in the Perhentian Islands. No, not really, it definitely wasn’t my dream. I want to qualify as a yoga instructor. Guess which one we are doing first?!?! Right, diving. Yippeee!!!
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day One Refresher
I haven’t been diving for 8 years. “Fun” dives just don’t feature in my vocabulary. We turn up at Universal Diver, next to Tuna Bay and meet one of the bosses, Ali. He is super lovely and assures me that I will be fine. I am not sure that he believes that I am scared of fish. He looked at me like I’d been smoking something.
The next day, bright and early Greg goes off with his instructor, Joachim (I will ask him to write a section on his experiences). I am given to Jay (poor chap!). He is very nice and is funny, which I need as I am absolutely bricking it. We ran through the basics, I took a theory test and then we headed for the sea.
I should mention that since we’ve arrived there has been permanent thunderstorms here – great!
We enter the sea and cannot see a thing, I couldn’t even see Jay. So, we resurface, head further down the beach and try again. The visibility was still quite bad. I started to panic and had to really force myself not to call the whole thing off. We then went through the usual refresher skill training like losing your regulator, removing your mask etc. It was ok, I survived.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day One Fun Dive
Next up a fun dive! Fun, yeh really, people think that it is. I got buddy’d up with a French lady, Gladys. Greg told her about all my fears, and she looked like she was going to pull out, but she didn’t. Gladys was so lovely, she looked after me and made sure that I was ok. Was it fun? Mmmmm, not sure it was, but I wasn’t petrified. I was just quite scared! We saw quite a few blue spotted rays along with many, many beautiful fish, including nemo.
So, as I sit here writing this blog, the adrenalin is running through me. My shoulder and jaw muscles are killing from clenching, but I did it. I’m proud of myself. I will be diving again tomorrow, whilst Greg completes his open water certification.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Two Wreck Dive
Today I turned up at Universal Diver for a dive to the Police Wreck. It is just Jay, as Divemaster, Gladys and I. Poor Gladys, stuck with me twice! On the dive briefing, Jay talked about going inside the wreck and that there would be sharks there. Ok, it’s true, I am panicking!
We explored the wreck. My buoyancy was all over the place so Gladys and Jay were very understanding. We saw a bamboo shark. Luckily for me it was hiding under the boat so I was quite brave…….think Steve Urwin…..then imagine the opposite – that was me. We also saw a couple blue spotted rays under the boat. They are very pretty, plus some lion fish.
All in in, I survived another dive, who’d thought.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Three – New Buddies
So, with Greg qualifying today, we did a dive together as buddies (arh!). We went to Tokong Laut. It was absolutely beautiful. The coral was the most stunning that I’ve seen (although I haven’t seen that much so maybe not much of a judge. Anyway, the coral was so colourful; purple, red, everything. I was still very nervous. Ali, (Mr Senior Diveman) was our Divemaster today as Jay was on holiday. He looked after us very well as did my new buddy!
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Four – Dark Diving
I woke up with a stonking cold today so pulled out of diving. My highlight was being caught by Ali (Mr Senior Diveman) whilst eating garlic bread and drinking wine. He didn’t really think this was the right cure for a cold and I felt like a naughty school girl, hahaha.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Five – The Boy is Advanced
My cold is still around so no diving for me today. Greg qualified as an Advanced Open Water diver today though, I am being totally outshone!
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Six – New Advanced Buddies
Today’s dive was to T3, Tiga Besut. Jay is back and there is a large dive group so Ali took four people and Jay the other four. Greg and I were teamed with a lovely Danish couple, Tom and Marianne. Unfortunately, I had mask issues, which annoyed the hell out of me the whole dive. It just kept leaking whenever I moved my head – handy! Still there were plenty of little fish, including a very cute nudie branch and a large pufferfish.
In the afternoon, Greg and I decided that we were going to do the jungle walk. Hilariously, we freaked out at the thought of snakes and spiders within around 500 metres so turned around! We did make it to Barat Beach via a water taxi, where we had the best meals that we’ve had on the Perhentians. We’d recommend.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Seven – Sinus Seven
I have had a persistent cold so missed out on diving again today.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Eight – SCARED WHO ME????? NEVER!!!!!!!!!!
OMG, OMG, OMG two dives today and I wasn’t scared. This has been a very strange experience for me. So, dive one was Sugar Wreck. A 20-year-old cargo boat wreck. We saw a lot of pufferfish, they are cool. We also saw a baby porcupine fish, which I wanted to put in my pocket. We did go inside this wreck (kind of). I was scared due to the close proportions and the sea urchins that were everywhere. You will be very surprised to learn that I have had sea urchins stuck in the bottom of my feet before, Lanzarote circa 1994. So, of course, I am scared of them! I ended up cutting my leg on the top of the wreck. Typical!
Dive 2 was to Shark Point. With my new found confidence I decided that I should see “some” sharks. We are going to the Philippines next where you can swim with whale sharks, so I better start getting used to them. So, to Shark Point we go. I actually enjoyed the dive. The first one I’ve ever enjoyed! This is such a feat for me. I could not be prouder of myself. I know how scared I am, so to relax and enjoy diving is a massive achievement. We were treated to many beautiful fish on the coral, an eagle ray and a beautiful turtle. I am blessed.
Jay and his buddy, Amanda, saw two sharks but Greg and I missed them.
We caught up with Amanda again for dinner and drinks that evening. She is added to our ever growing list of awesome people that we meet travelling. Another American living in Europe, so it seems we have a friend type! We had a lot of fun and good chats with her. She works for The World Wildlife Federation and opened my eyes to present and future deforestation risks. I may write another blog about that after visiting Borneo.
That evening in the bar were a group of women from Yorkshire. They asked how the three of us met and Amanda replied that we had been diving together. Their response was, “Oh wow normally divers are really boring”. We guessed that this was a compliment to our personalities but reckon it is probably more on our ability to consume alcohol and dive. We hope to now add Berlin to our motorhome stop over points to catch up with Amanda in the future.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands: Day Nine Final Dives
Today we did our last two Perhentian dives, one at Tokong Laut again and one at D Lagoon. Our morning dive didn’t disappoint with great visibility and an acquarium like environment. We were diving we two masters, Jon and Herman. Herman is particularly funny, pulling on fins and pretending to be a great white! Today our dive highlights were a giant puffer fish, 2 sleeping bamboo sharks, a common porcupine fish and an Indian walker.
We bid a sad farewell to the Perhentians, Universal Diver and Amanda. We have new friends, new skills and more appreciation of our amazing planet earth.
On that note, I’ll hand you over to Greggers……….
Learning to Dive in the Perhentians
I’ve always been a water baby and so never having scuba dived by the age of 41 was quite a surprise to me. In fact, I had done it once – a dive sample in the Grrek Islands when I was 18. I remember still being very drunk from the night before and freaking out not long after entering the water cutting that particular experience very short. Perhaps it has been the lingering thought of that which held me back.
Anyway, I wanted to learn to dive on this trip to give me a sense of achievement on top of all the touristy things we have been doing. We had researched where to do this and two obvious choices came up as being beautiful locations, friendly and above all else cheap! Thailand or Malaysia? As Mich had already been to Thailand to learn to dive and as neither of us had been to Malaysia it came up trumps (can we still use this word as a description of something good?).
Within Malaysia, specifically Borneo, is some of the world’s best diving, but the Perhentian Islands also register as being very well regarded hence our choice. I had googled dive shops and one came out top – Universal Divers – so I booked in advance.
Universal Diver Awesome Instructors
I think in the end I was very lucky as I was given Joachim as my instructor who had only joined the crew the day before so was probably being given a bedding in job in me. Not that he was inexperienced – far from it. He spent 5 years in the Spanish Navy as a diver, and the last 9 years instructing around the world and so I was in good hands, and had him 1-2-1 which I believe is exceptionally unusual.
So, after 5 intense but enjoyable days I was Open Water Advanced Diver qualified. 4 of those days I had 3 dives in the day but also had to do some theoretical learning in between. The dives were good fun, but the training was quite tiring. The most rewarding thing at the end being able to go on fun dives with Michelle. I’m definitely better than her already, and I have only just qualified! Might not be the highest ceiling to aspire to, but when it’s just the two of us travelling competition is usually limited….[Note by Michelle, I’d like to disagree, but it’s true!!]
Our Diving in the Perhentian Islands Experience
We both found Universal Divers to be a quality operation with a great crew. It was very relaxed out of the water and suitably professional in it. It was well organised with each diver doing more than one dive being allocated a “locker number” so you had the same kit every dive. The boat crew were always helpful, and the had free coffee, water etc at the office area where you could also chill out in the hammocks for as long as you wanted. On top of that they had the best wifi around and incredible banana cake on constant supply. We spent a lot of time there. I think when we look back at all the dive shops we will encounter over the coming months we will possibly regard Universal Divers as being the best of the lot.
If you have any questions about diving or travelling, get in touch, leave us a comment.
Please note that a number pf the photographs came courtesy of Diving with Martin Morales (Joachim), Greg’s dive instructor.