The beautiful Perhentian Islands are located approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) off the north east coast of Malaysia, very close to Thailand. As you would expect from remote islands in this region of South East Asia, the coral reefs are awash with colour, marine life is abundant and there are countless dive sites to explore.
The two main islands of the Perhentian Archipelago are the big island, Pulau Perhentian Besar, and the small island, Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Each island has their own personality, unique charm and highlights. Pulau Perhentian Kecil is the more developed island with a wider range of accommodation for all budgets, making it a popular choice with backpackers who are attracted by the white sand beaches, chilled out vibe and affordable options.
Pulau Perhentian Besar is less developed but with higher end accommodation options, which make it a popular choice for honeymooners and those seeking romantic getaways.
Whichever island you choose, they share one thing in common – incredible scuba diving!
Perhentian Dive Conditions
The Perhentian Islands are truly a diving destination for all levels and they will more than satisfy the cravings of wreck divers, reef seekers and underwater photographers.
Visibility is good all season round, ranging from 10 to 20 meters (33 to 66 feet) and often above. Water temperature is consistently around 28 to 30 degrees Celsius (82 to 86 Fahrenheit) and there are sheltered sites with swimming pool like conditions as well as some which offer more current and great drifts. Dive sites are located close to the islands and boat rides are short and generally smooth.
The reefs around the Perhentian Islands are vibrant, productive and home to a myriad of marine species. There is a massive diversity of reef fish, some pelagic fish and sharks, and a wide variety of macro life and critters to boot!
Note: From November to March there is little diving around the Perhentian Islands due to seasonal sea and weather conditions.
Here are some of our favourite Perhentian dive sites to give you a taste of diving in this marine-rich Malaysian Archipelago.
This pinnacle dive site is one of the best known dive sites in Perhentian and many regular Perhentian divers claim this as their favourite site. Known as “the Temple of the Sea”, this site is home to an impressive list of reef species from giant puffers, moray eels and trevally through to bamboo sharks and schooling snappers. If you are looking for critters then boxfish, squid and nudibranch are among some of the regular sightings here.
This site can be dived time and time again and you’ll never have the same dive twice. The pinnacle itself boasts a beautiful array of hard and soft corals and there are endless crevices, ledges and nooks for resting sharks and macro life. Keep an eye out to the blue for passing schools of silver fish and passing predators.
Terumbu Tiga (T3)
Terumbu Tiga (also called the Three Brothers or T3 for short) takes its name from the three large boulders that dominate the site. This is another popular hot spot in Perhentian, and arguably one of the most diverse. Terumbu Tiga features small swim throughs, kaleidoscopic soft corals, rocky reef, healthy hard corals and rubble patches. This diverse range of substrate results in an equally eclectic mix of reef life. The main attraction with diving here is the chance to see some of the Perhentian’s larger visitors including barracuda, passing reef and bamboo sharks and hunting predators.
Underwater photographers are spoilt for choice between impressive wide-angle reef scenery shots and macro opportunities which include various nudibranch, shrimps and pipefish. (Macro Tip: take time to inspect the anemones for anemone shrimps and porcelain crabs).
Located at the north of the small island, this site consists largely of a collection of boulders and it’s a great place to see pelagics including barracuda and blue fin trevally. There is a section of the site known as ‘Trigger Alley’ where you’ll encounter dozens of titan trigger fish – approach with caution during nesting season!
Tanjung Betong has a beautiful reef; sturdy table corals, gorgonian fans, staghorn and brain corals, and anemones are scattered across the reef. This healthy reef attracts many of South East Asia’s commonly spotted reef fish including parrotfish, wrasse, lionfish, butterflyfish, anemonefish, angelfish, moray eels and sting rays. More notable reef fish encountered here include the bearded scorpionfish, pipefish, unusual nudibranch and occasional sea turtles.
Sugar Wreck (MV Union Star 17)
Undoubtedly the most popular wreck dive in Perhentian, this 90 meter (295 foot) cargo ship lies on its side in around 18 meters (60 feet) of water. The MV Union Star 17 was a large sugar hauler which sank in a monsoon in 2000. This wreck’s accessible depth makes it ideal for all levels of divers from those making their first wreck dives to more experienced wreck divers looking for penetration opportunities.
The wreck is a thriving living reef and marine life flocks to the area. Cobias, coral cat sharks, bamboo sharks, scorpionfish, lionfish, giant puffers and boxfish are all frequently spotted here and mackerels and barracuda come to hunt. Look out for the schools of snapper, jacks and trevally that are often circling the hull.
Sunk in the 1970’s, the Vietnamese Wreck offers more challenging conditions as currents often sweep through the site. Resting at 24 meters (79 feet) this is a relatively small wreck so you’ll want to go slow and take your time. The main attraction of diving here is the rare critters which inhabit the sand and soft corals including nudibranch, seahorses and the blue-ringed octopus.
Also known as “Sail Rock”, this submerged reef site offers frequent sightings of blacktips and hawksbill turtles. From the shallow reef top down to 18 meters/60 feet you’ll find healthy, vibrant corals and a wide mix of reef fish including large puffers, angelfish, butterflyfish, boxfish, Moorish Idols and batfish. Highlights here are the large schools of snapper and barracuda and look out for bamboo sharks.
If you are hoping to see sharks (as the name suggests), Shark Point is one of the best sites for a sighting as blacktip reef sharks are often spotted hunting here. It’s not only sharks that can be spotted here, this is also a great place for turtle sightings, barracuda and batfish.
With more than twenty dive sites to explore in the Perhentian Islands it’s not possible to list them all here, however, other notable sites include: D’Lagoon for critters, Jenkins stingrays and passing blacktips; Batu Nisan for turtles, morays and excellent conditions for beginners; Police Wreck offers three police boats in a row and abundant marine life upwards of 18 meters (60 feet); Tanjung Basi for diversity; and Seabell Rock for interesting topography and unusual bottom dwellers.
Is diving in Malaysia on your list of must-visit destinations? If it is then a trip to the Perhentian Islands should definitely be included in your travel itinerary. Locate a PADI dive shop and start planning your Malaysian diving adventure!