Hey there divers, underwater photographers, and to anyone who’s always hungry for some underwater adventure. You know how awesome the Southeast Asia is from cheap exotic food to its pristine beaches. You also know how this part of Asia is a killer when it comes to its underwater creatures, reefs, walls and wrecks. But if you’re confused with the countless dive sites it offers, this list can help you start an adventure to go around and see the 20 must-see diving spots in Southeast Asia.
1. Coron Island, Philippines
Located near the sword-like island of Palawan, Coron features peaceful white sand beaches and caves which makes a one-day exploration not enough. Brace yourself as you jump in the clear turquoise waters and see the colorful coral gardens. If you’re into wreck diving, Coron won’t fail you with its 26 sunken Japan naval ships.
2. Malapascua, Philippines
The name Malapascua might sound new for some, but for the hammerhead sharks — it’s their favorite hangout spot. So if you want to see these sharks up-close, together with whitetip sharks, mandarin fish and the island’s coral gardens, Cebu’s Malapascua is your next destination.
3. Gili Islands, Indonesia
The “turtle capital of the world”, Gili is one of Indonesia’s top areas for snorkeling and diving. You won’t miss here the countless hawksbill and olive ridley turtles. Moreover, you can swim with the white tip reef sharks, manta rays, lion fish, and head parrot fish which appear every full moon. You might even encounter a whale shark.
4. Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
Raja Ampat means “Four Kings” which describes its 4 main islands in the eastern region of Indonesia. It is also known as the richest place for marine life on Earth, so expect this diving experience to be jam-packed with weird underwater creatures like the Wobbegong sharks.
5. Similan Islands, Thailand
Just nearby Phuket, Similan Islands is one of the famous islands in the Andaman Sea and it deserves the popularity due to the variety of its marine life which could be more than what the usual diving spots in the world offer. Coral walls, big rocks, sea fans, barrel sponges, harlequin shrimp, manta rays, whale sharks, schools of blue fin trevally and jack tuna can be found here.
6. Sipadan Island, Malaysia
With more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of species of coral; this island created by living corals on an undersea volcano is a diver’s paradise.
7. Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Tao, also known as Turtle Island, is just about 70 km north of Koh Samui. For short wall dives, it has the Southwest Pinnacles colored beautifully by the underwater plants and resided by leopard and whale sharks, giant groupers and porcupine fish. For advanced divers, go deep in Samran Pinnacles to meet giant barracudas face-to-face.
8. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Ko Phi Phi has been made famous by the film, “The Beach”; but even though without this fact, you’ll know easily why this island is a must-see. Beyond white sand beaches and limestone cliffs, Ko Phi Phi keeps amazing underwater coral reefs and fringing reefs. Also see here the huge whale sharks, grey reef sharks and leopard sharks.
9. Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
Myanmar has yet to grow as a diving destination unlike its neighbors, but for all these years, it has been keeping this undisturbed portion in the Andaman Sea — Mergui. Expect to see armies of barracuda, dogtooth tuna, batfish, unicornfish and trevallies, shrimp, lobsters and crabs, all enjoying the calm and boat-free waters.
10. Banda Islands, Indonesia
If you want an island underpopulated by humans but overpopulated by marine life, the remote islands of Banda is the place you should visit. With mild currents and good visibility, Banda Islands’ waters offer you enormous schools of fusiliers and thousands of redtooth triggerfish, mandarin fish and the native Ambon scorpion fish. Whale species, including melonhead, pilot, blue, and humpback whales can also be seen here.
11. Anilao, Batangas, Philippines
The marine-protected sanctuary Anilao, lies in the southern part of Luzon. It has more than 40 dive sites to choose from that can be enjoyed by both beginners and advanced divers. It is famous when it comes to macro photography in the Philippines and boasts more than 250 coral species.
12. Puerto Galera, Philippines
What people love about Puerto Galera, which is located at north-eastern tip of Mindoro, is the variety of diving you can do in its over 40 diving sites. There’s muck diving for underwater photography enthusiasts, wreck diving, and high-voltage drift diving for the advanced and adventurous diver.
13. Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
When it comes to muck diving in Indonesia, Lembeh is your best bet. Clownfish, crinoid shrimps, small frogfish, pipefish, seahorses, nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, various octopus, snake eels, mantis shrimp, gobies, sanddivers — there’s too many to mention, so it’s best to jump in and witness all with your own eyes.
14. Mabul, Borneo, Malaysia
Only 15 minutes away by speedboat from the beautiful Sipadan, Mabul is known to be Malaysia’s go-to spot when it comes to muck diving with its shallow reef profile, sandy bottom, sea grass and an exotic marine life. See cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, mimic octopus, gobies and frogfishes, moray, snake eels and the whole scorpion fish family everywhere.
15. Koh Rong, Cambodia
You wouldn’t think of scuba diving when you visit Cambodia, but it has an island named Koh Rong that is planned to be developed into an ecological resort. But while waiting for its development, you can jump in a speedboat from SihanoukVille and be in this island after 40 minutes. It doesn’t have humongous fishes, but it can beat the rest with its outstanding diversity of marine life.
16. Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Just like Cambodia, Vietnam isn’t popular as a dive site, but if you get away from all the hustles and bustles in the mainland and go to Phu Quoc Island, you’ll definitely give yourself a treat for discovering this gem. See here schools of scorpion fish, nudibranchs, cuttle fish, huge blue-ringed angle fish, bamboo sharks and blue-spotted rays.
17. Wrecks, Brunei
Is wreck diving your favorite? Then go ahead and visit Brunei. You’d be surprised to know that this small and rich land of Brunei has more treasures under it: the Blue Water Wreck, Cement Wreck, the Australian Wreck and the American Wreck.
18. Dili, East Timor
Might be unknown to most divers, Dili is East Timor’s marine life paradise. There are soft corals, sponges, pygymy seahorses, large patch of garden eels, rare white mushroom coral pipefish, ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, leaf scorpionfish and anemonefish in this unpopular site.
19. Layang Layang, Malaysia
Layang Layang is Sabah, Malaysia’s wall diving mecca with an ocean floor that drops to 2000 meters from the edge of the atoll. But other than its deep waters, get mesmerized by its coral gardens inhabited by various pelagic and tropical fishes, and also anemones.
20. Bali, Indonesia
The ever famous Bali isn’t holding its popularity title for nothing. It’s the perfect place for snorkeling and muck diving. For wreck divers, there’s the Liberty Ship Wreck which is one of the best and easiest wrecks in the world. And for those who want to spot rare underwater creatures, Bali’s the place where you can have a chance to see the heavy Mola Mola.
So, where’s your first stop?
When On Earth Magazine is for people who love travel. We provide informative travel guides, tips, ideas and advice regarding places to see, things to do, what to taste, and much more for world travelers seeking their next dream vacation destination.