In recent years, scuba diving has become a popular water activity among many adventurous wanderlusters. For the uninitiated, scuba diving is a form of underwater diving that allows the diver to breathe underwater through a scuba (an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus). Sounds easy, right? But trust us when we say that scuba diving is not for the faint at heart. It is a skill that requires plenty of training, courage, and quick thinking.
Southeast Asia boasts some of the world’s most beautiful islands that are endowed with rich marine life, vibrant corals, and crystal clear water. So it’s easy to see why so many travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing the perfect diving location. To help you out, here are 7 breathtaking diving spots in the region that are definitely worth visiting at least once in your life:
1. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Indonesia has always been a must-travel destination in Asia as it is the world’s largest island country. For those seeking to explore the country’s underwater world, Raja Ampat might just be the perfect place for you. Often described as one of the most extraordinary environments on the planet, Raja Ampat consists of over 1,500 small islands and it is remotely located off West Papua. The name translates as “Four Kings”, referring to the archipelago’s 4 main islands – Misool, Batanta, Waigeo, and Salawati. Besides that, the marine ecosystem in this serene paradise has the highest recorded marine diversity in the world.
2. Sipadan, Malaysia
Sipadan is the place to be for expert divers. Known as a world-class diving site, the island is surrounded by one of the richest marine habitats in the world, with more than 3,000 species of fish including a rainbow of reef fish, sea turtles, and hammerhead sharks. And if you’re lucky, you could even spot a pod of killer whales. Recently, Sipadan became a protected area and all the resorts on the island are closed. Divers are expected to stay in surrounding islands (Mabul, Kapalai, or Semporna) and take a boat onto the island.
Note: Only a limited amount of visitors are allowed per day so be sure to secure your permit in advanced!
3. Similan Islands, Thailand
The ocean surrounding Similan Islands is said to have the best underwater visibility anywhere in Thailand. The archipelago is located off the coast of Phang Nga in Southern Thailand and it is made up of 9 islands. As this area is largely uninhabited, divers are recommended to take long arduous day trips from nearby islands like Phuket or Khao Lak. While the islands boast a diverse range of exotic fishes, the corals have been damaged due to warmer waters over the years.
4. Gili Islands, Indonesia
Dubbed “the turtle capital of world”, the Gili Islands is one of Indonesia’s top areas for scuba diving and snorkelling. There are about 25 diving sites around its 3 main islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. If you’re into macro photography, Haan’s Reef (nearby Gili Air) is a popular muck-diving site that houses an array of critters such as the pink-leafed scorpion fish, robust ghost pipefish, and various coloured frogfish.
Note: Divers will be charge a one-time “reef tax” of Rp65,000 (approximately RM22). The money is used to pay for plastic recycling, reef conservation, and more.
5. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Known for its white sandy beaches and clear blue water, the Perhentian Islands is a popular holiday destination among locals and foreigners. The area was named “Perhentian” (meaning “stopping point” in Malay) because it used to be a staging point for traders traveling from Malaysia to Thailand. Some of the popular diving sites include Tokong Laut aka the Pinnacle and Sugar Wreck, an easily accessible 3500-tonne sugar hauler. You can also opt for a single-day trip to Redang Island.
Note: Diving packages are fairly inexpensive, but divers are advised to carefully inspect scuba equipments when choosing a dive centre.
6. Richelieu Rock, Thailand
Located in the Andaman sea, Richelieu Rock is part of the Mu Koh Surin marine park not far from the Thai-Burmese oceanic border. The horseshoe-shaped rock (or reef), which was discovered by French marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is said to be named after Cardinal Richelieu, a French nobleman. Some locals also argued that it was named after General Richelieu, a commander in the Royal Thai Navy. Best known for its rich purple soft corals, the diving site is surrounded by various marine life ranging from tiny harlequin shrimps to large pelagics like whale sharks and groupers.
7. Apo Reef, Philippines
Apo Reef, the 2nd largest contiguous coral reef system in the world, has been a protected natural park since 1996. Situated in the Mindoro Straight of the Philippines, the extremely popular diving site has an impressive range marine animals such as reef sharks, dugongs, and different species of turtles. Besides that, divers can also find shipwrecks from World War II. According to Viator Travel Blog, the water temperature around the triangular reef is between 25°C and 29°C.
- Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
- Komodo Islands, Indonesia
- Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
- Koh Tao, Thailand
- Lembah Strait, Indonesia
- Anilai, Philippines