Perhentian Kecir – a paradise above and below the water

Consisting of a number of small islands, Perhentian Kecir lies off the North East coast of Peninsular Malaysia

marc_casolani
Marc Casolani
30 September 2016, 8:17am
There are few resorts with beach-front huts that allow you to wake up and roll into the sea
There are few resorts with beach-front huts that allow you to wake up and roll into the sea
Perhentian Kecir, translation “small stopping point”, is one small archipelago that is worth washing up on.

Consisting of a number of small islands, Perhentian Kecir lies off the North East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Two are inhabited and the rest are open for exploration yet you may find them too small to bother with. 

I’ve looked for a long time on this expedition for some pristine coral to snorkel around, and Malaysia in general is quite disappointing on this as their conservation plan is near appalling and leaves much to be desired. However in saying this, Perhentian Kecir has shown a glimmer of hope. 

This was by far the largest, most colourful and teeming with life piece of coral that I have come across while snorkelling or free diving. Fish as well as different species of coral are largely abundant and take the snorkeler into a different world that stimulates the imagination. And all of this at no more than two to 10 metres below the surface – perfect for even the most amateur of snorkelers or divers. 

The best of this lot though can be found in Rawa Island and the islands surrounding it
The best of this lot though can be found in Rawa Island and the islands surrounding it
The best of this lot though can be found in Rawa Island and the islands surrounding it. Apart from the shoals of tropical fish, you can also find yourself snorkelling among black tip reef sharks, turtles, giant bump head parrot fish, sting rays and a scuba diver’s ‘best friend’, big triggerfish. These ill-tempered fish viciously guard their nest in a cone shape starting from the nest and moving upwards towards the surface. If you do meet a triggerfish with a vengeance be sure to swim horizontally as swimming upwards will only put you deeper into the fish’s territory!

This is a snorkeler’s paradise, however there is much to be said for going deeper. Get yourself a set of aqualungs and check out the sugar cane trader wreck and the underwater pinnacle, which boasts a huge array of species of marine life. Make sure you find out how good the visibility is on the day before you book your dive to avoid disappointment. 

Check out life above the water too. Kayaks are available to rent on most of the beaches on both islands. You can set off for a whole day for approximately €5 per person. It is a lovely way to discover the islands’ beaches through and through whilst doing a healthy activity and getting a tan.

The jungle is pretty safe if you stick to the paths that have been laid out across both islands
The jungle is pretty safe if you stick to the paths that have been laid out across both islands
The islands are both covered by jungle where on a good day you can find a number of different species of snakes, butterflies, lizards, macaque monkeys, and even the great monitor lizard (I stumbled across a 3m monitor... a must-see!). The jungle is pretty safe if you stick to the paths that have been laid out across both islands. Taking the road-less-travelled is a little more risky as it is home to a number of species of snake and spider. The pathways will provide you enough of a sense of adventure anyway as they are pretty run down with fallen trees sometimes blocking the path so you have to climb over or take a little detour around them. 

Between May and September sea turtles pick any one of the beaches to lay their eggs, though Turtle Beach, which is found in the North West of the larger island, is their favoured destination. 

It is an amazing sight to witness and the turtles are protected by the marine park, who patrol the area, however the authorities are struggling to cope with the large number of local or Thai poachers who get onto the beaches and dig up the eggs to sell to Chinese patrons for a meagre sum. 

The rest of the beaches are nice, but for different reasons I would leave them at just that – nice
The rest of the beaches are nice, but for different reasons I would leave them at just that – nice
On a positive note, for the small sum of €5, a boatman will take you to a spot called Turtle Point where you can swim with the turtles that come to feed on the algae specific to this area. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to see turtles while diving on two occasions, but this was something else. I came across about seven turtles, one of which I managed to free dive around for about an hour. This was definitely a personal highlight.  

There’s so much marine adventure here that I’ve nearly forgotten to tell you about how accommodation works here on these islands. First of all, book in advance. There are few resorts with beach-front huts that allow you to wake up and roll into the sea that are decently taken care of. The major beaches of both islands offer a lively area suitable for all travellers. I would recommend Mira beach, Petani beach, D’Lagoon beach on Perhentian Kecir and Perhentian Islands Resort beach on Perhentian Besar for that feeling of paradise. Perhentian Kecir would be your value for money whilst at Perhentian Besar you would need to splash out a bit, but for all the right reasons, one of which is that this is where the turtles lay eggs and graze the seabed. The rest of the beaches are nice, but for different reasons I would leave them at just that – nice. 

Getting there and away will take a bit of effort if you are backpacking. You would need to either catch a bus from Kuala Lumpur, two or three buses if you are coming from anywhere else, to Kota Bharu. From there catch either a taxi or another bus to Kuala Besut. Then all it takes is a boat from the jetty to the islands. Or, catch a train from Thailand, Singapore or Johor Bharu in Malaysia to Kota Bharu. 

If you are pressed for time or don’t mind spending a bit of cash, catch a flight from any major city in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore to Kota Bharu and then a taxi or island resort transportation to the jetty. 

At the jetty make sure you choose a reliable company as there have been cases in the past of boats capsizing in bad weather. We came pretty close to this ourselves and being a seasoned seaman, I was concerned with the way the skipper – who was all of 15 years of age – handled the boat. However we did take the risk of getting back to the mainland in bad weather – something I would not recommend or will ever be doing again!

These are definitely must-see islands in my books, so get your calendar out and make some time for these islands. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.