The best scuba diving spots in Southeast Asia
It’s hard to describe to a non-diver why I spend so much time, money, and effort on SCUBA diving. It is my chief reason for going to a lot of the places around the world that I find myself in. It’s the one thing in my travels that I can never manage to say ‘no’ to, no matter how expensive or out-of-the way it might take me.
It may seem ridiculous, but I am completely addicted to descending tens of meters under water, breathing in the dry air from my tank as little as possible, and letting the current take me in any direction it chooses. The feeling of weightlessness and the foreign landscape, as if I were on another planet in outer space, is completely addictive. As a traveler, it’s a final frontier that I want to see.
Diving in Southeast Asia is truly excellent. This region of the world has some of the warmest water, most beautiful and pristine reefs, and the rarest underwater specimens this earth has to offer.
Here are my favorite 5 best scuba diving spots in Southeast Asia:
5. Koh Rong, Cambodia
Koh Rong in Cambodia can be accessed by boat from the docks in Sihanoukville off the southern coast of the country. Sitting on the Gulf of Thailand, the warm water is amazingly clear and absolutely perfect for viewing blue phytoplankton at night.
A recently developed island and dive spot, Koh Rong was the perfect introduction back into SCUBA diving for me after a 2-year hiatus. There was hardly any current, the water was calm and warm enough to dive sans-wet suit, and the purple hydrocoral was a sight indeed.
4. Similan Islands, Thailand
The Similan Islands are often lauded as the best diving in all of Thailand. I can understand why, since the national marine park is kept immaculate and only allows divers for half the year. The underwater life was pretty incredible, hosting everything from sea turtles, to octopus, tons of Puffer fish, clown fish defending their anemones, to colorful Triggerfish. The current was semi-strong in some places and not as bad in others.
My personal favorite came on my very last of 18 dives on a liveaboard boat in the area. We finally had a chance to spot some Manta rays majestically swimming overhead. To give a sense of how incredible this is, some Mantas have wingspans of up to 20 feet!
3. Perhentian Island, Malaysia
Perhentian stood out to me as having one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches I have seen in the whole of Southeast Asia. With shallow water and a warm current, it’s a great place for first timers and those with a little more experience. There are wreck dives, sites known for turtle sightings, and a personal favorite of mine, Green Humphead parrotfish!
I felt lucky to see a whole school of these giants swimming around at the Sail Rock dive site – one that we made an impromptu choice to visit one afternoon in May. I had just had a bonding moment floating in the water next to a Puffer fish, only to see the parrotfish pass by moments later.
2. Komodo, Indonesia
Komodo was almost my favorite dive location in the whole of my trip. It had everything that the aforementioned dive sites had, plus an incredibly close encounter with a Manta ray that still gives me chills when I think about it.
Better for more advanced divers given the incredibly strong current, the reefs in this protected marine park are absolutely stunning. The colors are incredible and everything from large fish to tiny nudibranchs (very small and incredibly colorful sea slugs) call this area home. There are tons of (harmless to humans) sharks around the reefs, lots of sea turtles roaming around, and a real treat – Mandarin fish!
The cherry on top is the beautiful surroundings. The grassy islands, complete with Komodo dragons, crystalline blue water, and clear starry night sky made diving here a real treat.
1. Sipadan, Malaysian Borneo
Sipadan wins for my best diving spot in Southeast Asia simply because it has everything. There are loads of GIANT sea turtles, sharks, massive schools of Barracuda and Jack fish, smaller nudibranchs, and a wide variety of awesome dive sites. The list is truly endless for what one can see in Sipadan.
The island itself only allows a small number of diving permits each day. Nobody lives on the island and most of it is sealed off from visitors. This preserves the amazing marine environment and practically guarantees an amazing dive. The island where most of the dive centers operate, Mabul, is equally impressive with great surrounding dive sites and gorgeous beaches. The water is crystal clear, warm, and pretty easy to dive without any strong current.
The sites here are truly mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, and just gorgeous!
As you might have noticed, I personally tried scuba diving because of my ear problems only once – with OK Divers in Bali, Indonesia. But I love the underwater world so my travel friend Kristin Addis put this up for me, together with her photos.