Scuba diving is one of the primary reasons people visit the Perhentian Islands and, with more than 20 dive schools to choose from, it is very well catered to -- and quite price competitive.
For the region, diving in the Perhentian Islands is best described as non-challenging, making it a good place for those new to diving to do an introductory course or an Open Water certificate, while those already qualified will find a number of interesting sites worth diving. Most sites that the shops are pushing require only Open Water certification -- the only one we were turned down from was to the Vietnamese Wreck, which required Advanced Open Water (due to the depth of the site) -- not all diveshops were strict in this regard.
Most (though not all) resorts have an affiliated diveshop and most of these shops offer tuition in multiple languages. There is some variation in price from one shop to another -- we paid from as little as 75 ringgit up to 100 ringgit for simple fun dives with none of our own equipment. Of all the diveshops we talked to across the two islands, nobody could recall a single fatal accident in their time on either island.
We dove with Turtle Bay Divers (Long beach on Kecil and West beach on Besar), Quiver Dive Team (Coral Bay on Kecil), Angel Divers (Coral Bay on Kecil) and Alu Alu Divers (Teluk Dalam on Besar) doing 10 dives in total. We were particularly impressed with Turtle Bay Divers and would not hesitate to recommend them -- ask for Yaakub, Luis or Ben. We found their gear to be of a good standard, the briefings comprehensive and informative and the divemasters we dove with sufficiently experienced. Quiver Dive Team were also professional.
While more than a dozen dive sites are frequently visited, there are three "top shelf" sites that you should consider: Sugar Wreck, the Pinnacle and Terumbu Tiga (better known as T3). All are available for Open Water divers. Other dives we did included the police wreck, Batu Butuk, Teluk Seringgi, Romantic beach and Batu Tokong and Terambu Kili (both off the coast of Redang Island). Visibility was up to 15 metres on a good morning at Pinnacle but the Sugar Wreck on both visits was five to 10 metres and the police wreck under five metres! Redang was 15 metres.
Of the top three, Sugar Wreck is in particular a great dive. It's a fair-sized (90-metre) cargo ship that sank in 2000. The hatch covers are off so it is possible to dive through the cargo hold as well as around the entire site -- the vessel still has its deck cranes attached so there is lots of cabling and so on. On the downside, visibility can be quite poor. The Pinnacle (also known as Tokong Laut or Temple of the Sea), is a good pinnacle dive, but can get extremely crowded -- when we were there at one stage we counted 40 other divers in the water within eyesight -- they need traffic lights! Terumbu Tiga (T3) is off the southeast coast of Perhentian Besar and is basically a pile of massive boulders that features some good swim-throughs. Batu Butuk, a little to the south of T3, is similar and featured enormous schools of fish when we visited.
If you have the time and can rustle up the numbers, a full day trip to Redang Island is well worth it for the better visibility, smaller crowds and bigger fish. Batu Tokong in particular is impressive. Most diveshops will require a minimum of three people to go to Redang and trips cost around 300 ringgit for two dives, 380 ringgit for three. Your best bet for these trips is one of the bigger outfits like Turtle Bay or Quiver, who have enough people coming through to ensure a group can be rustled up.
Most of the diving is off the small boats, with you needing to lug your gear to and from the boat and backroll in. Most diveshops accept credit cards -- which is handy, or as was the case with us, results in you doing a lot more diving than initially planned.
Other prices include PADI Open Water courses for 990 ringgit, Advanced Open Water for 890 and dive master for 3,000.
Turtle Bay Divers http://www.turtlebaydivers.com/
Quiver Dive Team http://www.quiver-perhentian.com/