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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Swimming with Sharks | Perhentian Islands | Malaysia

Updated: Mar 11

I had heard great things about the Perhentian Islands. It was pinned as a must-see... so I decided it must be seen by me.

We woke up early and drove straight from the Cameron Highlands. Google Maps had given us an estimation of 3 & 1/2 hours to get straight to the pier. We just made it. We rolled into town at exactly 2:30... with half an hour to spare for finding both parking and the 3 pm ferry. It was a little frantic... going from one parking lot to another, desperate for a human to be standing there to direct us into a spot and take our money. We were not so successful with this simple demand and we visited four before we got an actual real live human being and a proper place to pull in.

As per the norm for Southeast Asia, the 3 pm ferry didn’t leave until well after 4 pm, so we had lots of time.

It was a medium-sized jetboat, and we all piled in with our luggage, sitting silently admiring the beauty of the water as it darted us across the South China Sea to the remote cluster of islands. I had originally been a little bit worried about where we might get dropped off, but the boat staff found out where everyone was staying and pulled up right near the shore for each of us to jump off. Ours was one of the last stops, on Pulau Perhentian. It was the smaller of the two main islands and our departure was at the Fishing Village jetty. We were staying in a homestay, which was significantly cheaper than any of the resorts on the island. At first, we were ecstatic about our accommodation. It was cute and simple, and we felt like a part of a family.

The grandmother was always smiling and waving at us... and apologizing for her lack of English. We would nod and smile back and tell her that she spoke more English than we did Malay. That was our conversation each time we encountered her. Every time.

Well... it didn't take long before we regretted our decision for a cheaper homestay and yearned for a resort room... and a good night's sleep.

What is with us and loud families?

I cannot even begin to comprehend how parents allow their children to be so incredibly rambunctious and LOUD for so long in the evening... and then again, so early in the morning.

It didn't stop. 9 PM, 10 PM, 11 PM, 12 AM, 1 AM, 2 AM.... slight sleeping break... and then back at it for 5 AM, 6 AM, 7 AM...

In addition to the riotous video games and the incessant and unharmonious renditions of Twinkle Twinkle, the crying, laughing, shouting, singing, playing, banging, running and general rummaging about, was beyond bothersome. It was like trying to sleep during a Chucky Cheese birthday celebration.

One would think the parents might have considered asking the minions to bring it down a few notches out of respect for the other house patrons.


A few times, I opened the door to give the mean girl glare... but no one was phased by my passive-aggressive scowls.

Oh well...

There was a trail that pretty much circumnavigated almost the entirety of Pulau Perhentian and we decided that we would do one side on the evening we arrived. On Google Maps, it didn't look like it was too long of a trail. We figured we could follow it to the small down in the middle of the island, Long Beach, have some dinner, and then head back home on the same path... before dark. Unfortunately, we weren't that smart... or lucky.

At first, we were right as rain, bounding along the path and making fun of a man who'd been on our boat and warned us of the trail. He classified it as dangerous and was sure to warn us to stay on the path.

This intrigued me.... and terrified me at the same time.


Pray, do tell...

My mind automatically shifts to snakes, predatory cats and ginormous spiders when I hear the word 'dangerous.'

No... none of the above.


He assured us we would be safe IF we stayed ON the path, though I highly doubt that if the mosquitos were after us, they would care whether we were on or off the path. Turns out there were mosquitos. Two of them. Maybe three. One bit me on the knee and I believe that two managed to bite Sammy. It could have just been one though.

The further down the jungle path we ventured, the worse the trail seemed to get. Of course, all of this was as is because of a recent monsoon which had pretty much wiped out the entire island. Thank goodness we missed that storm, but we did have to endure the rubble of the aftermath.  Electrical wires and lines, as well as branches and trees littered the trail almost the entire way and often made it entirely impassible. Bricks used to complete the boardwalk were either missing, toppled over or caved in, making the entire path an unstable tripping hazard. The trail really began to fall apart. Fatal, at some points.

How the hell were we going to make it to Long Beach?

Or worse...

How were we going to get back to our hotel?

Of course, we could have just turned around and followed the path back, but we'd come so far... and we were famished... and mostly... we just wanted the trail to be over. We didn't want to have to do it all over again, in reverse.

We persevered and lucky for us, despite the tricky trail and the precarious mosquitos, we eventually made it to Long Beach. Along the way, we had devised a cunning plan to have dinner and then pay a local to take us back in a water taxi... but were highly disappointed to see rough seas and zero taxis. Just when we were beginning to contemplate tackling the trail once again, one of the men on the beach suggested we continue our jungle trek to the small village on the other side of the island, Coral Bay.

Coral Bay was decidedly calmer... and there were signs for water taxis everywhere.

After a lovely dinner and a beautiful sunset, we were charged a double fee - due to the darkness - but we hardly cared.

Phew for not having to walk back. Had we, there would have been a guaranteed ankle twist or broken bone.

The following day, we ventured in the opposite direction on the island path. It was in almost the identical condition to the one we'd encountered the previous evening, but this one had less bricks and more uphill.

We made it though... and even took a water taxi back before sunset, to avoid the darkness fee.

So... now I have to touch on my snorkelling excursion.

I was slightly hesitant to do another snorkelling trip, as I was still slightly tormented from the Krabi adventure. I didn't want 700+ tourists sharing my experience. I know that is a selfish thing to say... as I'm a tourist too... but sometimes the tours can be a bit overpowering in their extremities and capacity allowance. There seems to be no cap on quantitiy or space... which tends to ruin what could be a fabulous trip. Things get crowded...

Sammy seemed keen... and we really didn't have anything else planned... so my answer was YES. Yes, I will go...

I crossed my fingers and prayed for the best.

The next morning, Sammy and I headed down to the pier to meet our boat. We looked around, wondering who else would be accompanying us on the trip, but there was no one that looked touristy enough to be joining us. When the boat was ready, we were the only two to jump aboard. We just kept thinking that the boat was either taking us out to meet another boat, or we would be picking more passengers up along the way.

Neither of those things happened. We were the only ones on the excursion. Just us two. We were the only passengers on the boat. It was wonderful! Wonderful... and such a change from what we had been used to. Granted... our guide was not much of a guide. His English was fairly nonexistent and all he knew how to say was "go water," when we would reach a place where we could snorkel.

From a sign at Coral Bay, we knew we might be hitting three bays; Fish Point, Turtle Bay and Shark Bay.

The first stop was Fish Point... and it did not disappoint. There were quite a few fish.

Funny that, right?

Fish at Fish Point.

There were a couple of other boats scattered around, but nothing even remotely as extreme as what we had experienced in Krabi. There were the perfect amount of buffers so that any sharks that happened upon us would be able to feast on all others before they reached me. I made sure I didn't ever venture out too far out as to become bait.

There was one moment I will never forget. I thought a fish wanted to be my friend.

He kept swimming directly up to me... and I felt like we had a real connection. I looked into his eyes. He looked into mine. This little fish loved me... and he followed me everywhere. I had a real friend.

Then I realized what I had mistaken for friendship... was an attack.

And the attacks didn't stop!!! This little shit wasn't afraid of anything and was charging at me and biting me. Telling me to get lost!

Sammy encountered the same thing.

Aggressive little white fish.


Not. Friends.

Not at all.

The next stop was Turtle Bay.

You'll never guess...

There was a turtle!!

When we first arrived, our guide kept searching in the water... and finally, we figured out that he must be looking for a turtle. It seemed an unlikely search, but he eventually found one, much to our delight. We jumped in, but the turtle was swimming along the ocean floor and neither of us was as advanced in our snorkelling and swimming techniques to be able to venture down and take a closer look. We followed it along for quite a while... and just when I was starting to get bored of the chase, he began to surface. This enormous green turtle came up and swan right underneath both Sammy and myself.

Hands down, one of the most magical (and surreal) experiences of my life.

It was absolutely breathtaking.

Our final stop was Shark Point.

Um... hold on a second...

We saw fish at Fish Point.

We saw a turtle at Turtle Bay.

Did this mean that we would be seeing sharks at Shark Bay?




Say it isn't so?

Surely it was just a name. Just for fun.

"No sharks, right?"

So the guide could speak a little more English. He could say, "Yes, sharks," and give off a little giggle as he said it.

NOT funny.

One does not JOKE about sharks.

"Really... are there sharks?"

"Yes, sharks."

"Excuse me??? Take it back. No sharks here."

"Yes, sharks."

"Please no sharks?"

"Yes, sharks."

Hate this tour.

I can’t swim at Shark Point. What the actual F**K????

What kind of a crap tour was this?

Where had this guy taken us?

I wanted my money back.

Then the narrative changed from "Yes, sharks" to "Only baby sharks."

Baby sharks, my ass! Sharks are sharks. Baby sharks are unpredictable and they have to FEED to become adult sharks. I know how this world works.

The guide kept motioning for me to get in the water.

No, thank you, sir.

I could see it all playing out in front of me. I would be nothing but a flabby feast of flesh for these famished predators. Sammy dove in but there was no chance I was submerging myself (willingly) to a frenzy of murderous carnivores. At first, she was all rough and tough with her 'baby sharks' jive... but she certainly shot out of the water like a bullet when a LARGE shark glided past her.

Ya… there were sharks.


Many of them... ranging between 4 and 7 feet long.

Blackfin tip reef sharks.

Get in the water?

Are you high?

As if.

This was... without a doubt... every single nightmare I'd ever had...

Get in the water?


Ok… in the shark's defence, this particular breed is not so dangerous to humans... but mistakes happen. Right? ESPECIALLY when the guides are THROWING dead fish into the water to lure the beasts to the boat! Dead fish, my foot... no big deal. Take a bite.

I will admit, it was pretty cool to see them… from the safety of the bow of the boat. I could watch them circle below, knowing I was somewhat safe from their razor-sharp teeth.

In case anyone is wondering...

  1. I did NOT get in the water.

  2. Everyone involved survived... I think. I don't actually know.

  3. I am still alive too... barely. **This is my swimming with sharks story...

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