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Backpacker Guide to the Perhentian Islands: Malaysia’s Hidden Paradise

Ummm…what is the Perhentian Islands?!

That’s a great question, considering most people who visit Malaysia haven’t even heard of it! The Perhentian Islands consist of two islands, Perhentian Besar (big) and Perhentian Kecil (small) and are off the east coast of mainland Malaysia. Not only do the Perhentians have the cheapest diving (seriously, cheaper than Koh Tao aka $18USD for a fun dive including all gear), but it’s also amazing! The visibility is typically excellent (I saw 20+ meters vis at some sites), and I have seen everything from sharks to turtles to octopi to Humphead Parrotfish to Trigger fish. The Perhentians are a hidden diver’s oasis, but are also great for relaxing on the beach with crystal clear water and white sand. I have a feeling this place will become a lot more popular once more people start finding out about it :).

 

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When to go:

The Perhentian Islands are open from March through mid-October and completely close from November to March during monsoon season. Peak season is June-August but you can find great weather and diving conditions throughout the season.

 

What to do:

Diving is definitely the number one thing to do on the Perhentians, but snorkeling is also popular and even cheaper. Relax in a hammock or on the beach, explore the viewpoints and different bays, go to the beach parties at night on Long Beach, or watch a movie at the multiple places who offer free movie nights. I recommend heading to Ombok Hotel/Restaurant at Coral Bay for their nightly big-screen movie 7:30, which is an awesome way to relax with some popcorn or dinner.

 

 

How to get there:

Part of what makes the Perhentians a hidden gem in Malaysia is that not everyone is willing to go through the effort to get there. However, those who do are greatly rewarded and I am one of the many people who came back for a second time.

Fly: You can fly into Kota Bharu airport and take an hour long expensive taxi ride to Kuala Besut, which must be timed right unless you want to stay overnight to catch the ferry.

Bus: The majority of budget backpackers take the night bus from various locations around Malaysia. I have gotten to the Perhentians from both Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, which are on the opposite side of the country, but it was relatively painless. You can book a bus at easybook.com or busonlineticket.com and simply check in with your emailed boarding pass at the bus terminal of your choosing. The bus ticket cost will vary, but mine was 46 ringgit from KL, which is about $11 USD. Not bad for saving a night of accommodation as well!

After you arrive to Kuala Besut, you can catch one of the ferries to the islands which run from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The return ticket is 70 ringgit no matter where you buy it (doesn’t save you any money to buy a return since one way is 35, it’s just more convenient), and just show up to the ferry terminal 15 minutes beforehand. The boat ride is about 30-45 minutes, depending on conditions and how many stops the boat makes. To get back to Kuala Besut, you can take any of the ferries which run at 8:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., usually the first or last depending on whether you want to take the day bus or night bus back to a main city.

 

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Where to stay:

Perhentian Besar- nicer resorts, more expensive, “honeymoon” area

Perhentian Kecil- cheaper, more backpacker vibe, especially Long Beach

Note that many people are put off by the Perhentians because virtually no accommodation options are listed online, so they think they have limited/expensive options. Not true! Just show up and find somewhere that fits your needs :).

Recommended accommodation:

Matahari Divers (Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil)- 25 ringgit for a fan dorm room and the best dive packages. I highly recommend diving with them whether you stay there or not! To give you an idea of cost, I paid 400 ringgit (a little under $100USD) for 4 nights of accommodation and 4 fun dives with all gear included. How crazy is that?!

Panorama Divers (Long Beach)- Inexpensive dorm rooms are available here (Somewhere around 25-30 ringgit if I remember correctly) with dive packages, but Matahari has better package pricing. This is a much bigger dive resort and has an AMAZING buffet breakfast that you should definitely try once!

Monkey Divers (Long Beach)- 50 ringgit for an air-con dorm room (game changer!) and they also offer affordable diving packages.

Oh La La- Dorm rooms run around 30 ringgit per night and the location is great (right next to Panorama, Monkey and Matahari dive centres. I haven’t personally stayed here but I’ve heard good things!

Maya Bungalows (Coral Bay on Perhentian Kecil)- 50 ringgit for a 2-person fan bungalow on the beach with ensuite bathroom. I stayed here for a few nights last year and thought it was a great deal!

Sunrise Hostel (Long Beach)- 20 ringgit for a dorm room, but I really wouldn’t recommend staying here unless you are desperate for super cheap accommodation. There is zero security and the staff was rude last time I stayed there, even after someone got robbed in my room!

There are also plenty of random bungalows you can walk around Long Beach or Coral Bay to find, but pricing will depend on the place. Bubu Villas are on the far side of Long Beach from the pier if you’re looking for a fancier hotel and Ombak is on Coral Bay which is also on the pricier side.

 

 

Extra tips:

Bring CASH with you! There are NO ATMs on the islands- nope, not one. If you plan to do a big diving course, most places will accept credit cards for an extra fee. However, Matahari does cash advances from a card with a 5% fee for customers and 10% for non-customers (handy to know!). Also, bring your own locks because most of the budget accommodation options don’t have much security (no doors, keys or lockers), so it’s better to be safe than sorry :). Bring plenty of books for relaxing at the beach between dives, because all of the book exchanges on the island require you to trade two books to take one, aka BYO!

 

Have any more recommendations for the Perhentians that I missed?! Let me know in the comments section! If you do decide to visit, feel free to reach out to me and I am more than willing to answer any questions! Thanks for reading and happy travels :).

 

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Diving in Flores: Why You Should Choose Blue Marlin Komodo

If you haven’t heard, Komodo National Park in southeast Indonesia is one of the top dive spots in the WORLD. With unparalleled sea life, including white and black tip reef sharks, gray reef sharks, manta rays, plenty of sea turtles, and hundreds of unique species of fish, as well as ideal diving conditions, there are few places that beat Komodo. Thousands of people visit Labuan Bajo every year specifically for the world-class diving Komodo offers, and it is no surprise.

Planning a visit? You have a few options to go diving at Komodo, but I highly recommend going with a live-aboard trip rather than day dives. Is it expensive? Sure, but day dives also add up. Is it worth every penny? Absolutely. If you’re considering a live-aboard trip out of Labuan Bajo, do not miss Blue Marlin Komodo, a PADI 5 Star Dive Resort, which offers unbeatable, once-in-a-lifetime trips.

 

Blue Marlin offers a variety of options for live-aboards at competitive prices, but I went with the 4 day/3 night trip on the Ikan Biru, and had one of the best experiences in all of my time in Southeast Asia. Imagine spending four days doing nothing but three things: eat, sleep, and dive in paradise with a small group of awesome people!

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Why choose Blue Marlin Komodo?

The shop: Blue Marlin is one of the only dive shops in Labuan Bajo with an on-site restaurant, making it even more convenient to hang out when you’re not diving. They offer both local and western food, and it also happens to be a perfect spot to watch the beautiful sunset over the harbor. As I walked through the town, I saw that many dive shops were overcrowded and understaffed, so I was glad to be welcomed by the friendly staff and people hanging out at the restaurant each time I walked into Blue Marlin.

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The instructors: The three instructors on the Ikan Biru, Sean, Cat and Fai, were all experienced, professional and extremely personable. One of the most unique parts about the live-aboard experience with Blue Marlin is the comprehensive and informative briefings before each dive. I learned more than I could’ve imagined from Sean’s briefings, and even the dive masters who were guests on the boat said they were very impressed. He gave us detailed explanations about sea mounts, currents, splits, the geography and topography of Komodo, and even drew diagrams of each dive site on a white board. I have never seen any other instructor provide that kind of education before! Something else I appreciated was how accommodating they were to all seven of us on board. The instructors catered not only toward varying skill levels, but they also made sure we saw what we wanted to see (mantas, Komodo dragons, sunsets, etc.) and gave us plenty of options for our dives.

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The crew: I was surprised that there were actually more instructors/crew than guests on the Ikan Biru, which was awesome. The crew provided great service, always had our gear perfectly arranged, cooked and served all of our food, did all the dishes, and even served us drinks on the deck whenever we wanted! You don’t always notice when everything runs smoothly on a boat and typically only pay attention to what goes wrong, but I definitely noticed that nothing went wrong. They all did a fantastic job and went above and beyond to make our live-aboard experience unforgettable.

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The equipment: This is something that could easily be overlooked because you always assume your gear will be fine, but I just wanted to give Blue Marlin a shout out for having top notch rental equipment that no one ever complained about. If you’re diving four times a day, you are bound to have some type of issue with your wetsuit, booties, fins, etc. but none of us did. The staff at the shop fits you with all your gear beforehand, so I was glad to leave with not even a single blister!

The food: I couldn’t possibly leave out one of the best parts of the Ikan Biru live-aboard- the food! Our chef made us huge meals with both local and western options: pasta with meat sauce, beef curry, bruschetta, spring rolls, fish curry, coconut soup, chicken with peanut sauce, fresh fruit, fruit juice, tofu, tempeh, huge breakfast with eggs, French toast, pancakes, oatmeal with fruit, just to name a few. We also had unlimited sodas, water, and the infamous Pocari Sweat while on the boat. Even in between dives, our chef served us snacks like fried bananas with Nutella. Yum!

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What I like to call the “ninja” approach: The staff, instructors, and boat crew took care of all the behind-the-scenes stuff without a hitch to make sure we could focus on what we were there to do, which was dive and relax. I can only imagine how much effort and logistical planning must go into preparing for live-aboard trips, and I appreciate how smoothly everything ran from the time we left the dive shop to when we arrived at varying times back at the harbor (some people stayed a few extra nights). On the Ikan Biru, I swear there were ninjas somewhere on board who cleaned and restocked everything, made up our beds, arranged our gear, and cleared away all of the trash when we weren’t looking. But I know it was just the amazing crew!

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Overall, Blue Marlin Komodo is not to be missed, and I couldn’t imagine a single person regretting doing a live-aboard. Even if you choose to do day dives through Blue Marlin, they have an awesome speed boat, Toby, which allows you to do three dives in one day to be back at the shop by 4:00 p.m.

 

Pricing:

Before you go into cardiac arrest, keep in mind that you definitely get what you pay for with the price of a live-aboard, and there is a LOT included. The price of 3,450,000 rupiah per night ($265 USD) includes four days of non-stop diving (I was able to do 12 dives!), incredible food and drinks all day long, a full professional crew, multiple instructors, hotel standard accommodation under the stars, top notch equipment and gear, trekking on Komodo island to see the Komodo dragons, and a truly unforgettable experience.

 

Accommodation in Labuan Bajo:

If you have a few extra nights before or after your live-aboard, Blue Marlin Komodo also offers affordable accommodation right downstairs from their shop and restaurant. Dorm rooms run at 150K rupiah per night, but private rooms are also available.

 

If you have any questions about Labuan Bajo, how to get there, Blue Marlin Komodo, or Komodo in general, I would be happy to help. Or feel free to contact Blue Marlin Komodo directly:

 

Email: info@bluemarlinkomodo.com

Website: http://www.bluemarlinkomodo.com

Facebook and Pinterest: Blue Marlin Komodo

Instagram and Twitter: @bmkomodo

 

As always, thanks for reading! 🙂