Finding paradise on the Perhentian Islands

After another night bus we arrived early in the morning on the east side of Malaysia to catch a boat to the Perhentian Islands. It was only a few weeks before that we had heard of this illusive group of islands said to be one of Southeast Asia’s hidden gems.

We were sitting in a coffee shop in Pai when we got chatting to an Irish couple. They were heading the opposite way to us so in the usual traveller fashion we were swapping stories and tips about the places we had been to.  One of the most beautiful places they said they had visited was the Perhentian Islands. They described the cluster of exotic beaches as the old Thailand before the whole world discovered it. Since backpackers recommendations rarely cease to disappoint we decided to visit this mini Thailand for ourselves.

As we soared through the turquoise water on a speed boat I gazed out into the distance at the small dot we were heading for. The fresh sea air and the wind in our hair seemed to wake us up and lit a spark of excitement in our stomachs as we approached the island. When we reached the jetty and the boat stopped I noticed my eyes bulge out with shock along with everyone else’s.

We looked down into the water below the boat to find a huge scool of tiny fish jumping out of the crystal clear water. We could see everything below us, from the array of multi coloured fish to the coral on the sea bed. The water looked so pure and inviting as it softly edged its way onto a white sandy beach by the jetty. We looked at each other, huge grins forming on our faces. Looked like paradise all right!

There were a few different Islands we could have chosen to go to but we decided to stick to our friend’s recommendation of staying on long beach. We jumped out of the boat and walked along the small beach to ask some for directions. It turned out we were on a small beach called coral bay and the beach we were looking for was on the other side of the island. We were directed to take a path through the forest which was a ten minute walk (easy enough when you’re not walking in 30 degree heat with a 65 litre backpack on!).

After scoping out the rather pricey accommodation we finally found somewhere to stay that was within our budget. As usual it was up a few hundred flights of steps and not totally bug proof but you learn to somewhat embrace the wildlife that share your bed when you’re a backpacker. The view from the hostel certainly made up for it though!

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We couldn’t wait to get in the water so wacked our swimwear on and ran down to the beach like little kids! The island looked like something out of a photo shopped magazine, the difference being it wasn’t photo shopped! It was genuine natural beauty at its greatest. As I looked around I could count the number of buildings on one hand and the number of people wasn’t much more! The island was yet to have been affected by tourism making it feel all the more exotic. I felt privileged to be one of the few backpackers in the ‘secret club’ and subconsciously thanked the couple that recommended it to us. We spent the whole day soaking up the sun and enjoying the peace and energy the Island gave us.

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After two days of long beach therapy we headed to coral bay to go snorkelling for a day. We had been on a few crappy snorkelling trips but after seeing how amazingly clear the water was from the day we stepped off the boat, we decided to give it another go.

We spent the whole day snorkelling in six different locations around the island. We saw coral reefs, baby sharks, fish of all shapes and colours, but the best of all was being up close to a turtle to the point where we could touch it. To be in the presence of one of the oceans most wondrous creatures in the wild where it belongs was something I will never forget.

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After our day of snorkelling we had a shower and headed back to coral bay to eat some delicious barbecued dinner whilst watching the sunset in our usual spot. Everyone goes to coral bay for dinner on the beach. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy your meal under the stars whilst watching the sun fade under the water. Am I making you want to go there? You should! It was turning out to be one of the best places we had visited.

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The following day we were setting up our gear to go diving! This was another recommendation from our lovely Irish couple. They told us if we wanted to go diving then the Perhentian Islands were our best bet for good visibility. They recommended the dive company they went out with and a particular dive called ‘The sugar wreck’. We had already dove a shipwreck before in Koh Tao but it was only small and we were told this one was huge and full of interesting things!

This time there was only five of us on a tiny boat scooting across the water with our gear in place. A much calmer experience then being packed into a big boat full of people throwing gear around everywhere as it rocked side to side for half an hour! The boat was so tiny this time that we had to exit into the water a different way. Rather than stepping out into the water (they call it the giant step), we had to sit on the edge of the boat with our legs in and backwards roll into the water. Out group was then split into two and we descended under with our guide.

As I sank lower into the water I felt more relaxed than I ever had felt when diving. I think stress was a big factor with my ears not being able to equalise as this time I had no trouble at all. We descended a good twenty metres before the silhouette of a large objet began to emerge.

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It was incredible! Although I knew that thousands of people had already seen what we were seeing, it still felt like we were all discovering this lost treasure for the very first time. It felt so mysterious swimming through its chambers imagining what it must have looked like before the ocean swallowed it.

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The ship was home to an array of interesting sea life. There were sea creatures hiding in every rusty gap imaginable. Our guide had talked about what we might see in our briefing and when we were under the water we were lucky enough to see everything. We had our gopro on us but the photos just didn’t do what we saw justice. We came out of the water with beaming grins at what we had just seen.

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We spent the rest of our time on the Island simply soaking up the sun, beauty and atmosphere all around us. It was defiantly the TLC we were both in need of. Some may think travelling is one big holiday but I can assure you it’s not! It’s certainly an adventure but a tiring adventure at that! We fully recharged our bodies in preparation to head back to KL and then on to a rather different place to anywhere we had been before. Our next stop would take us to Tama Nigara, the oldest rainforest in the world.

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