From beautiful corals to spectacular sea life and wrecks, these dive spots will give you an unforgettable glimpse of life underwater
We get it. We’ve been feeling that urge to escape somewhere in Southeast Asia too… like your holidays with a bit of adventure and have an affinity for the underwater world? Sure we all love snorkelling in beautiful seas, but if you want to take things deeper, you’re going to need your scuba gear for that. These are the best scuba diving spots in the region for exploring coral gardens, wrecks, and spotting sea life. We’ve got novice scuba divers and pros covered, of course…
Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia
The pride and joy of Malaysia, this pristine island is like something out of Robinson Crusoe. This divers’ haven boasts more than 3000 species and a vibrant mix of corals. Make it a point to visit the famed Barracuda point, where apart from its trophy creature, swarms of jackfish will envelope you. Turtle lovers listen up: the turtle cavern, a dive site renowned for its expansive caves and bountiful slowpokes will be sure to wow you. If it’s your lucky day, you might even get to see mantas and hammerhead sharks! One thing to note? Only 120 permits a day are available so make sure you’re not only there for a day or two.
AirAsia flies direct from KL to Tawau. From there, take a taxi to Semporna and then a boat ride to Mabul, where most of the resorts are. Subsequently, take another boat to Sipadan. Bet you’re thinking it sounds rather complicated. But hey, no one said the most beautiful places in the world were easy to get to…
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Most people would know this verdant landscape for its many Komodo Dragons, but for the diving community, this is paradise. The Komodo National Park is part of the coral triangle, meaning it has one of the highest densities in marine life. Immerse yourself in the crystal clear water and take in the corals, an abundance of tropical fish, and a breathtaking amount of manta rays: yup you heard that right. These pristine waters are revered for being home to these majestic creatures, and if you think they’re abundant from the boat, wait till you head down into the deep blue. A popular dive site in the vicinity is Cannibal Rock, where you will be treated to an array of macro life – scorpionfish, pygmy seahorses and even the occasional octopus.
Take a flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo. From this sleepy town, you can book a private boat to take you around the surrounding islands and the Komodo National Park.
Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
Mergui Archipelago is made up of over 800 small islands with azure waters just begging to be explored. The waters were closed off until 1997, so divers can expect a non-touristy oasis featuring boulders, caverns, tunnels and drop-offs. Naturally, this crystalline sanctuary is packed with a multitude of marine species, from batfish, ghost pipefish and a vast amount of squid species. For the ultimate experience, pay a visit to Black Rock. This lonely looking rock stands in the middle of nowhere, but don’t be deceived by its foreboding appearance. Your venture there will be well rewarded with encounters with giant creatures such as manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks and even whale sharks.
The most convenient way would be to take a flight from Bangkok to Ranong. From there, cross the border by taking a short ferry ride over to Kawthaung, which will grant you access to the Archipelago thereafter.
Similan Islands, Thailand
This group of nine islands is the crown jewel of Thailand’s diving scene, as well as a marine national park. Its crystal-clear waters are home to a number of huge granite boulders, which, coupled with the vibrant corals, provide a backdrop worthy of a National Geographic cover. Don’t miss out on the many dive sites, especially Elephant Head Rock. The topography of this rock is pretty self-explanatory, and this scuba divers’ playground is revered for its numerous shark sightings. Another notable mention is the beautiful Christmas Point, where the arches and many swim throughs will make for a thrilling experience. If you’re observant and a little lucky, you may even catch glimpses of Napoleon wrasses and eels. Heads up: these islands are usually only open from November to May, and best accessed from a liveaboard, so plan early!
Fly into Phuket and take a car/bus (timings differ depending on what vehicle you take) to Khao Lak. From there it’s a journey by boat to the islands.
Apo Reef, Philippines
Ask anyone if they’ve heard about Apo reef and you’ll probably get a blank look. Unbeknownst to them, this isolated and majestic reef is both a Unesco World Heritage site and also known to be the second largest coral reef in the world. These immaculate waters are home to an insane amount of marine species and endangered creatures can be found in abundance here. You’ll get a chance to swim among thresher sharks, hammerheads and large fishes. If you’re an experienced diver, have a go at Apo 29: its swift currents make for one of the more challenging dive sites. Do note that Apo Reef is generally more for advanced divers. So beginners, it’s back to the Phi Phi islands.
The fastest way to Apo Reef is from Sablayan. Take a 45-minute flight from Manila to San Jose, followed by a three-hour bus journey to Sablayan. The total cost will not come cheap, but for the experience, it will be well worth every penny.
Subic Bay, Philippines
Here’s where you can dive into the past, literally. Subic Bay is renowned for being one of the best places to wreck dive, with over 12 sites. Apart from shipwrecks, you might also stumble upon a F4-Phantom fighter jet. However, the star here has to be the USS New York, which was built in the 1890s and utilised during both World War 1 and World War 2. It’s not the land of the lost though, these waters also boast a plethora of marine life, from schools of jackfish to eagle rays and tunas; their lively behaviour a stark contrast to the forlorn wrecks. The best part about Subic Bay is that the currents aren’t strong and dive conditions are fairly alright all-year round, making it perfect for both beginners and advanced divers.
It’s fairly convenient. Simply fly into Manila and take a two-hour bus ride from the airport.
El Nido, Philippines
Sorry, its the Philippines again. But you can’t blame us, this country boasts an insane 7,641 islands and a multitude of scenic diving spots. El Nido in Palawan ranks highly on our charts, and if it isn’t on your radar, add it to your bucket list, pronto. A protected marine reserve that’s undeniably one of the world’s most beautiful places, this is perfect for newer divers as you don’t even have to be underwater to have your mind blown: soak in the vibes at the palm-fringed beaches, explore the stunning limestone islets, and take a swim through the twin rocks where you see a vivid mix of corals and marine life. No coral bleaching here: you’ll see the underwater gardens in their full glory. Look out for the enormous blue starfish and famous jackfish, which change from silver to black when they’re ready to feed, FYI. Frankly, you’ll wish you had more than two eyes! The more advanced divers can also have a go at the challenging 40-metre tunnel at Dilumacad Island. For the best view of this breathtaking oasis, visit from May to November where visibility is up to 20m.
Fly into Manila, followed by a one hour flight into El Nido via Air Swift. Subsequently, it’s a 15-minute tricycle taxi ride into the town. Do remember to play ir safe and allocate at least four hours between your arrival time in Manila and your Air Swift flight, so as to avoid missing your connecting flight.
Located conveniently North-East of Bali, the island of Tulamben is perfect for a getaway trip from the touristy mainland, and is also home to some of the best dive sites Indonesia has to offer. Wreck divers, heads up: the USS Liberty will present a real treat. Every nook and cranny is inhabited by a variety of corals and more than 400 species of reef fishes. At just three metres below the surface, it’s easily accessible and suitable for both beginners and seasoned pros. Don’t worry muck divers we didn’t leave you out: the Seraya secret dive site has a 10-metre black sand bottom, and hours can be spent scouring the sea beds for the wide array of organisms, ranging from the pygmy seahorse to even the mimic octopus. If you’re looking to take your diving up a notch, have a go at a night dive into the USS Liberty, you won’t regret!
Fly into Bali. Subsequently, you will need to take a two to three-hour ride by car to Tulamben.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
This pristine island may be famous for its year-end raucous music festival, but the waters also contain some of the best marine life in Vietnam. The Dry Island and Nudibranch Island are perfect for beginners looking to clock dives, and one will be able to witness scorpion fish, pufferfish and moray eels foraging through the waters. Advanced divers, the An Thoi islands at the Southern end will present a steeper challenge. Claim your reward in the form of bamboo shark sightings. While the waters here may not contain the same charm as Komodo or Similan islands, you can take comfort in the fact that this area is generally untouched. First dibs, anyone?
Direct flight from Singapore to Phu Quoc. Bliss.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
We just can’t get enough of Indonesia. Little wonder why: it’s clear waters and shoals of glittering fish create nothing short of a majestic kingdom. With its complex marine ecosystem, Raja Ampat is the king of them all (coincidentally, Raja Ampat means four kings). Teeming with reef life and glowing corals, you’ll easily find yourself swarmed by a gargantuan school of fish, but that’s all part of the experience. Be sure to pay a visit to Dampier Strait, where the strong currents bring out the wobbegong sharks. Within the Strait lies Cape Kri – this epic place holds the world record for the most number of species recorded in a single dive, a whopping 374. For any hardcore diver, these deep blue waters are your tranquil haven.
Making your way to Raja Ampat is by no means easy, but nothing worth it ever comes easy. Truly off the beaten path, you’ll need two flights and a ferry to get there. Land in Makassar and catch a second domestic flight to Sorong. From there, you’re a 1.5-hour ferry ride away from Raja Ampat.
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