Note from the author: Sorry for the radio silence! It’s been a wonderfully busy Christmas season and we’ve been really busy stuffing our faces with turkey and….well, stuffing 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying the holidays too!
Have you ever tried something that ended up opening up a whole new world for you? I’m not talking about something like discovering you love seafood one day, after a lifetime of avoiding it – although that’s still a pretty awesome turning point in life.
I’m talking about discovering something that literally opens up a completely foreign and beautiful new world that you’ve never before experienced. That’s what happened to me and Jason in Malaysia – specifically the Perhentian Islands.
The Perhentian Islands are off the northeastern coast of peninsular Malaysia and home to beautiful pristine white sand beaches and untouched reefs and sealife. The Perhentian Islands are still relatively undiscovered by mass tourism. Turquoise blue sea surrounds the islands that are covered in tropical jungle, with few trails, no roads, and no ATMs. Hotels and dorm options are relatively basic – you won’t find any 5-star options on the islands. I’m pretty sure this is as close to a secluded island paradise as I’ve ever been but I’m sure it won’t last long.
We arrived here in early October, just before the monsoon season was set to hit. I’m glad we had done our research before settling on a route through Malaysia or we would’ve missed the window to dive in the Perhentians. The weather was perfect for the beach – scorchingly hot and sunny with the occasional afternoon storm to cool things off for the evening.
On the bigger of the Perhentian Islands – Perhentian Besar – we discovered the wonderful world of scuba diving. I don’t know what took us so long to try it. I don’t really blame Jason since he’s never really been that comfortable in the water, but I LOVE water. I was probably a fish in some past life. I grew up immersed in a pool on a weekly basis: swimming classes, life-saving workshops, synchronized swimming lessons – I’ve done them all. I love beach vacations, most of my favourite travel destinations are on the coast, and I live on Lake Shore Boulevard in Toronto. 😛
One exception though – I don’t really like snorkeling. Something about salt water always leaking into my mask and up my nose just turns me off from it. So maybe that’s why I was never really that interested in scuba diving.
However, during our scuba lessons, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that clearing your scuba mask of water was a cinch – so suddenly a leaking mask was no longer an issue. I was also a little nervous for Jason being able to equalize his ears underwater since his ears are a little sensitive to equalization during flights. Again, no issues!
Taking your first breath underwater is a really strange experience, as is trusting that your scuba regulator will continue to deliver air to you as you descend deeper and deeper into the turquoise water. But once you wrap your head around that, this whole new world underwater is unlike anything you’ll have experienced before.
At the surface, it’s often a bit chaotic with the wind and waves and other divers entering the water. Once you go below the surface, all that chaos disappears and you find that the deeper you go, the calmer it becomes. Everything goes quiet and all movement seems to slow down. The feeling of weightlessness is also incredibly relaxing.
And as your eyes start focusing into the blue water, this beautiful world starts emerging from the depths. Impressive sea fans, colourful corals, and hypnotic anemone cover the sea floor and rock walls. Massive schools of neon yellow fish flash by.
Jason and I took our PADI Open Water certification course at Universal Diver. The staff there was so friendly and welcoming. Their divemasters and instructors were amazing. And the dive shop’s operation and equipment were set up so well
Our instructor, Alvaro, was excellent. He was very safety-conscious yet fun, strict yet laid-back at the same time – which was perfect for an Open Water course.
Open Water students are typically brand new to diving and it can be nerve-wracking if you don’t feel like you can trust your instructor. But, Alvaro was incredibly knowledgeable when it came to the theory and very thorough when it came to the practical instruction.
We met two girls from Sweden, Ellen and Josephine, who had just arrived straight from Sweden and kicking off their two months of travel in Southeast Asia. They were very sweet and funny and we had a great time spending the next five days with them in the water and on land over our many shared meals.
Speaking of meals, we were lucky enough to uncover some pretty decent food options on the island. We visited every single one of the beach resorts on the eastern side of Perhentian Besar. The best food was found at Mama’s Place – which required a 10 to 15 minute hike through the jungle.
Tuna Bay Resort also had well-prepared dishes and the best iced coffee but they were more expensive than the other restaurants.
We also had many meals at Cocohut since they were the closest option – fortunately, their food wasn’t half bad.
After a final written exam (94% baby! Yes, I’m a nerd even when it comes to scuba diving), 3.5 days of exercises and assessments, we all got a passing grade from our instructor! Yay – certified Open Water divers!
The four of us celebrated with a dinner at Cocohut and then joined the staff and other divers at the dive shop for a night of raucous behaviour and…things that shall go unmentioned in this blog. Let’s just say that everyone (i.e. both divers and staff) lucked out as I forgot to bring my camera along. I guess what happens in the Perhentian Islands, stays in the Perhentian Island 😉