The Best Diving and Snorkelling Spots in Southeast Asia

The underwaters of Southeast Asia is home to an abundant marine species.

Southeast Asia has become a famous travel region for many travellers. Every year, a huge number of tourists from all over the world flock into the region and travel around. It is not difficult to see why with countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and others. The Southeast Asia countries are very diverse in culture. It has become a backpacker tourist’s heaven with budget accommodation, cheap food, and exciting adventures. From metropolis cities to lush tropical forest, bustling nightlife to peaceful countryside, Southeast Asia have it all in its trove. One of the most famous activities that will always be linked to the region is diving and snorkelling. Southeast Asia is the best place for anyone to discover scuba diving.

Southeast Asia is surrounded by warm tropical waters that has an abundant of marine species including corals and macro life. There are many marine parks in Southeast Asia that has numerous beautiful islands for diving and snorkelling. Divers from all around the world travel to the region for diving every year to witness the amazing marine life. Southeast Asia has many beautiful islands and beaches that offers a wonderful diving experience. The Coral Triangle is also situated here where it is also known as “Amazon of the Sea” due to its biodiversity. Huge packs of marine life can be seen in the area, a scene where every diver dreamt of. The warm and clear waters in the region makes it suitable for diving and snorkelling. Other than a great destination for diving enthusiasts, it is also suitable for family diving holidays or a relaxing vacation with some friends. The region offers the best places to scuba diving for beginners, best wreck dives and, beach snorkelling and also various hidden diving spots or even muck and macro diving.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia is located in the middle part of the Southeast Asia and home to around 878 islands. Among them many are prominent islands that has beautiful diving spots, white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters. For example, Tioman Island, Redang Island, Sipadan Island, Mabul Island and many more are some of the most famous diving or snorkelling spots in the world. Here are some of Malaysia’s most beautiful islands for diving and snorkelling activities:

A school of fishes swims in front of a scuba diver in SIpadan waters.

1) Pulau Sipadan

It is safe to say that Sipadan is one of the most beautiful and magnificent dive site in the world. The island itself is a very small piece of land in the middle of the vast blue ocean and it is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. However, the abundancy of marine life surrounding the island waters are what it is prominent for. The Sipadan Barrier Reef houses over 300 species of coral and almost 1000 species of coral reef fish. There also also 4 out of 7 species of turtle in the world can be found in the reef system here. Other than turtles, you can see white-tipped sharks when you dive here and even hammerhead or leopard shark on lucky days. Due to its biodiversity, it is designated as a marine national park by the government of Malaysia to conserve the area from being destroyed. There is no resort or any sorts of accommodation on the island as nobody is allowed to overnight on the island. Tourists that dive on the island usually stay at the neighbouring island such as Mabul and Kapalai. If you want to dive on the island, you will need to get a permit issued by the Sabah Parks which is limited to only 120 per day.

Best time to dive: April – December

 

A bird eye view of the famous Mabul Island and its surroundings.

2) Pulau Mabul

Just about 20 minutes away from Sipadan, Mabul is a popular place to spend the night for those who want dive at the famous Sipadan. The island has both budget accommodation and also luxury resorts to choose from. Snorkelling and diving activities can also be found on the island. The Green and Hawksbill turtle are often sighted in the area. If Sipadan is famous for larger species of marine life, Mabul would be the home for smaller micro species such as scorpionfishes, frogfishes, pipefish, blue ring octopus and many other interesting marine life. The dive sites at Mabul are shallower and visibility are lower at the muck diving sites. There is also artificial dive sites around the island which had a great effect on the marine life to continue to grow in the area. Besides that, the island is also home to Bajau Laut ethnic which is also known as sea gypsies that lives on the sea most of the time. Mabul known as one of the best place for underwater macro-photography in the world will not disappoint you.

Best time to dive: Open for dive all year round with March to October having the best visibility.

 

Visitors love the beach of Sapi Island with its crystal clear ocean.

3) Pulau Sapi

The Sapi Island is located near the Kota Kinabalu City. You can reach the island by taking a 20 minutes boat ride at the Jesselton Point to the island. The island is one of the islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park which consists of 4 other islands which is Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug. The dive in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is very popular because of its short distance from the city making it very accessible to tourists. It is also a local favourite spot to have a short, fun and relaxing getaway. The island is surrounded by crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches on the shores. Colourful coral reefs and abundant reef fish makes it a great experience to discover scuba diving in Sapi Island. The waters around the island has many interesting marine life such as cuttlefish, eels and stingrays. Thus, making beach snorkelling one of the most popular activity on the island.

Best time to dive: May – September

 

You will get to see the sharks up close during the shark feeding session at Pulau Payar.

4) Pulau Langkawi

The Langkawi Island is one of the most famous islands in Malaysia. It is a tax free island. The diving experience at Langkawi will not be the same as the other famous islands like Sipadan, Boracay and others. This is because the water in the area has lesser visibility compared to those islands. However, the island is a suitable diving site for beginners because the water is not affected by strong currents. As it is not famous as an island surrounded by crystal clear sea waters, the diving experience here is still amazing enough. There are many colourful soft corals and anemones along with fishes like clownfish, barracudas, lionfish and other marine life. The Pulau Payar Marine Park near Langkawi is the most popular diving site in the area. You can also get to see shark feeding activities near the beach area conducted by experts. The shark will swim as near as under your feet. As it may not be as good as world class dive sites, Langkawi still offers a very good diving experience for divers of different levels.

Best time to dive: November – March

 

White sandy beaches and clear blue ocean perfect for a getaway.

5) Pulau Tioman

Located within the state of Pahang, at the East side of Peninsular Malaysia, Tioman Island is one of Malaysia’s most famous islands. Scuba diving, snorkelling and deep water diving are some of the activities that can be done on the island. The island is very beautiful with clear blue waters surrounding it. The soft sand beach is also very comfortable to walk on. Coral reefs can be found along the shallow water around the island. Various marine life can be found when you dive into the clear waters such as angelfish, clownfish, turtles and even sharks. You can also see large schools of fishes wandering in the ocean. It is certainly a divers’ heaven.

Best time to dive: March – May / September – November

 

You will immediately fall in love with the beach and water in Perhentian Islands.

6) Pulau Perhentian

The Perhentian Islands in the east coast of Malaysia is an amazing destination to go on a relaxing vacation. White sandy coral beaches and water with turquoise hues surrounding the islands which is dominated by lush tropical forest is certainly a beautiful sight. The Perhentian Islands consists of two islands which is Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, one bigger while another is smaller. However, the two islands are very near to each other. As compared to Langkawi, Redang or Tioman, Perhentian is slightly less “touristy”, making it an excellent getaway for diving enthusiasts that wants to enjoy a more personal diving experience. Just like most of the islands in Malaysia, the main activities on the island are snorkelling, diving or swimming. The clear waters around the island makes it excellent for snorkelling where schools of fishes and even turtles can be spotted near the shore. If you are lucky, you can spot the black tipped white sharks swimming a few metres away from you. These features have make the island to become one of the best places to snorkel in Southeast Asia. There is a few wreck sites for diving in addition to the islands most famous dive site the Pinnacle. The seabed filled with colourful corals and reef fish will definitely be a feast for your eyes. Spending your diving holidays here will definitely well worth it.

Best time to dive: April – September

 

Redang Island is one of the most famous islands in Southeast Asia.

7) Pulau Redang

Crystal clear waters, pristine white sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs accompanied by the warm tropical weather is the perfect beach getaway. Redang Island located off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia has all of the features above making it one of the most famous island destinations in Malaysia. Compared to its neighbouring Perhentian Islands, Redang is a more luxury island with many resorts dominating the accommodation on the island unlike Perhentian’s budget chalet or hostel. Without a doubt that the most popular activity on the island is snorkelling and scuba diving. Just like all diving tours in Malaysia, due to Redang Island’s amazing Southeast Asian coral reefs which is known for having the highest biodiversity among other coral reefs, it is one of the best islands to go for scuba diving. While you dive into the crystal clear warm waters, you will be able to see a variety of marine life wandering around you. Its amazing visibility and pristine coral reefs will definitely give you a memorable diving experience. If you are lucky, manta rays and whale shark or even the green turtle or hawksbill turtle will turn up swimming around you. The island is very suitable for family dive vacations because of its calm waters and comfortable ambience.

Best time to dive: April – September

 

Hammerhead sharks can be spotted easily if you are at the Layang-Layang Island at the right time. (Image Credit: Flickr//Liz Rogers)

8) Pulau Layang-Layang

A man-made island located far away from the shore of Borneo, Layang-Layang Island is a pristine diving site. The waters around the island are crystal clear and many coral reefs have formed here. It is also known as “The Jewel of Borneo Banks”. Layang-Layang is a very unique island where only one resort operates on the island because of its isolation from mainland making it one of the best scuba diving spots in Malaysia. You can only take a chartered flight to the island because a boat ride will take you almost 16 hours to reach the nearest city. This remote and exotic island offers one of the best diving experience a diving enthusiast can ever get with its amazing marine life. As there are almost no fishing or any human activities near the island, the marine life and corals here are undisturbed. With a clear visibility of almost 20 metres all year round, you can see a huge variety of marine life underwater. Each dive you can get to see so many different marine life such as sharks, turtles, manta rays, schools of large fish accompanied by some smaller creatures like seahorses, cuttlefish and many more. Other than that, the deep water and pristine corals also attract some rare macro life like the famous hammerhead shark, leopard shark and sometimes you can even spot whale sharks and orcas when you dive into the clear waters. The island is without a doubt a diver’s dream with numerous marine life that can be seen easily each dive.

Best time to dive: April – August (April – May for Hammerhead sightings)

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