The Perhentian Islands in the North East of Malaysia are many people’s go-to spot when they want to learn how to dive. The prices are cheap, the visibility is good and there are plenty of things to see, from sharks to shipwrecks, turtles and beautiful coral reefs. For both the novice and experienced diver, the Perhentians offer the perfect package -an experience that is both enjoyable and inexpensive.
However, as a non diver, is there really a huge reason to visit the Perhentians?
Of course, if you’re new to travelling and haven’t seen many beautiful beaches, then you should definitely pay the Perhentians a visit if you find yourself in Malaysia. But what if, like me, you’ve been to countless islands and seen hundreds of pristine white beaches? Are the Perhentians going to be anything special?
For starters, unless you have the money to stay in an expensive resort, you’re going to have to slum it, and I mean really slum it. I’m no stranger to basic living conditions – the place that I called home for 6 months had no hot water, A/C, flushing toilets and very very limited WiFi. I’m used to dealing with tropical storms, forest fires and walking through sewage on my way to work. I wasn’t even deterred when I contracted diphtheria from the bacteria in the water!
However, the prices on my island reflected the less than desirable conditions, with dorms going for $4 per night. On the Perhentians, however, I found myself paying $15 a night for an 8 person dorm with horrendous toilets, no WiFi, no blankets or towels and no electricity between 8am and 6.30pm. Not ideal.
The prices are only this high for non divers. Those that purchase diving packages get discounted, or even free accommodation, which is great for them, but somewhat of a deterrent to anybody not planning on diving. This elitest attitude from the divers towards the non divers seemed to permeate every facet of my time on Perhentian Kecil – dive instructors who taught my friends would laugh and drink with them at night, but make no effort to get to know me because I wasn’t “one of them.” People my friends shared classes with would look at me blankly when I said that I didn’t dive, before turning away to talk to someone who did dive. The question that I got asked the most, often accompanied by a look of complete bewilderment, was “But what do you do all day?” as if I were some sad loner with no hobbies.
Er, I do what I do on any other paradise island: I read, I swim, I sunbathe and I write. Sometimes I listen to music. Y’know, like people do on beaches.
That said, Long Beach, the “main” beach of the island, really wasn’t all that special. As I sunbathed, I could see in excess of 50 cigarette butts in the sand around me, and another 50, and another 50. The water was nice, but it was by no means the clearest or bluest I’ve seen, and I found all of the parasols to be an eyesore. Don’t get me wrong, it beats Benidorm but it’s certainly not what I’d call paradise, not by a long way.
That isn’t to say that the Perhentians have nothing to offer. There is some good snorkelling, the Beach Bar with its nightly fire show is a cool place to hang out, and the seafood BBQs are incredible, but for me, the positives just didn’t outweigh the negatives.
I don’t mean to sound like some ungrateful traveller who’s seen it all. I am well aware that I am extremely lucky to be able to work and travel permanently. However, I am also aware that if I really want to see all there is in the world, then I cannot be wasting my time on yet another beach that I’ve seen a million times before. Whenever I visit a new island, I want it to be better or different in some way, to islands that I’ve seen before, whether that is by beauty, activities or atmosphere. An island with a mediocre beach, elitest crowd and rip-off accommodation just isn’t somewhere that adds anything to my life!