It may not be common knowledge to most, but diving in Southeast Asia is actually known to be at the top of the list of must-visit places for diving aficionados.
With numerous world class dive sites spanning the region, it’s easily a paradise for many a diver. The dive sites listed below all warrant a place on your diving bucket list, so make sure you visit at least one – or as we would recommend, visit all!
1. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Remotely located off West Papua and relatively undisturbed by human activity, Raja Ampat – meaning “four kings” – offers some of the most pristine dives in the world.
The marine ecosystem around this “last Eden” has the highest recorded marine diversity in the world, with scientists discovering some 1,500 fish species, more than 500 coral species and almost 700 mollusk species.
In short, Raja Ampat is probably the greatest dive spot in Southeast Asia – and quite possibly on earth.
Most dive sites here require the Advanced Open Water certification, and many operators offer Basic Open Water and Advanced Open Water certification courses.
Mid-October to mid-April is the best time for diving here, while May to September is also possible despite it being a light rainy season.
2. Komodo Island, Indonesia
Komodo may be best known for its deadly and unusual Komodo Dragons, but make no mistake, it’s also one of the top dive spots in the world.
Teeming with colourful schools of fish and bright florescent corals, diving in Komodo gives you the opportunity to spot manta rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, dugong, tiny pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs and frog fish.
Advanced Open Water qualification is recommended as currents are very strong on almost every dive. Beginners may dive in calmer areas, but the sights may not be as spectacular. Dive operators in Komodo do offer both beginner and advanced courses onsite.
The months between March and October offer the best dive conditions. The best time to spot manta rays is during the rainy season between December and February.
3. Sipadan, Malaysia
Sipadan is probably the most well-known and internationally-renowned of all dive sites in Malaysia, and for good reason.
Divers can see schools of barracudas and vortex-like trevally formations, to various pelagics such as reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks and manta rays. Not to mention countless hawksbill and greenback turtles.
An Advanced Open Water certification is recommended to dive in most sites around Sipadan and its surrounding islands – Mabul and Kapalai. A Basic Open Water certification can get you by, but most of the good dives require the advanced qualification. Courses are available by dive operators onsite.
Sipadan is also blessed with having no monsoon season, therefore diving is great all year round. However, conditions for best visibility occur between the months of March and July.
4. Layang Layang, Malaysia
Layang Layang is a remote Malaysian island situated 300km north of Sabah, and is part of the disputed Spratly Islands claimed by China, Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan.
Beyond the geo-politics of the region, Layang Layang, or sometimes known in English as Swallow Reef, is an “elite dive spot” that’s dubbed as Southeast Asia’s “wall diving Mecca”. Due to its remote location away from human activity, Layang Layang boasts tremendous visibility of about 50 to 60 metres.
The sites allow divers to see many large creatures such as sharks, turtles and manta rays, as well as a vast array of intact, unbleached hard and soft corals. However, the main draw for most divers is undoubtedly the chance to spot elusive schools of hammerhead sharks.
Layang Layang is a spot for experienced divers, so Advanced Open Water certification is required for most sites. It is possible to get advanced certification onsite.
Dive season is from March through to August. There is the seasonal monsoon the rest of the year. Do note, also, that hammerhead mating season is between April and May (which would be the most popular period of visit, so be sure to book your accommodation well in advance).
5. Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
Well-known for muck diving, strange little critters and underwater macrophotography, the Lembeh Strait in Manado is one of the most popular dive spots in Southeast Asia.
Due to its popularity, dive guides here are extremely seasoned and well-trained and will do their best to help divers seek out the most interesting lifeforms they can find. A Basic Open Water certification is sufficient to dive in the Lembeh Strait.
Macrophotography is a big focus for most divers who visit Lembeh Strait. View the video above for a taste of what you can spot.
Dive season is all year round, but the months from December to February are rainy, although it doesn’t really affect underwater visibility and macrophotography.
6. Similan Islands, Thailand
Beneath the crystal clear waters of these unassuming islands lie one of the top dive spots in Southeast Asia, and indeed the world as well (yup, yet another one in this region).
The Similan Islands offer the best underwater visibility anywhere in Thailand, and divers can see a diverse range of fish, including schools of blue fin trevally, jack tuna, bumphead parrotfish and – if you’re lucky – manta rays and even a whale shark.
As this area is largely uninhabited, divers will either have to join a live aboard boat trip, or take long arduous day trips from Phuket or Khao Lak.
An Advanced Open Water qualification is recommended for diving here.
Dive season is from December to April, with March being the best month to visit due to calm winds and clear waters. The area is closed between the months of May and November due to the annual monsoon.