Best scuba diving in Asia
Asia,  Guides and Itineraries

17 BEST Scuba Diving in Southeast Asia You Need to Check Out

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Scuba diving is one of the best things you can do in Southeast Asia. This place offers many opportunities for diving where you can spot a wide variety of marine life and explore house reefs, cliff walls, and even shipwrecks. It’s also cheap, and there are dive centers where you can get PADI certified for a reasonable amount or advance your diving experience. Here we’ve listed the places for the best scuba diving in Southeast Asia, as recommended by travel bloggers.

1. Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

Tubbataha Reef in Palawan

Tubbataha Reef is ranked by CNN as the 8th best dive site in the world and it’s considered the most biodiverse marine area in the Philippines. It’s located in Sulu Sea, east of the province of Palawan.

It covers almost 100,000 hectares of pristine reef. You can see various types of corals and underwater species including sharks (white tip, black tip, grey reef, hammerhead sharks and more), manta rays, turtles and fishes. The only way to explore the Tubbataha Reefs is through a liveaboard, where you can stay for 1 week or more. Diving in Tubbataha Reef is only for advanced divers.

  • Dive season: mid-March to mid-June
  • Dive experience level: Advanced divers

2. Komodo Islands, Indonesia

By Torn Tackies

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Komodo Island, Indonesia
Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Komodo Island, Indonesia

If you’re looking for the best scuba diving in Southeast Asia, head straight to the Komodo Islands in Indonesia. You’ll be diving with manta rays, sharks, turtles as well as other tropical marine life. Not to mention the bright, vibrant coral that hasn’t yet felt the effects of global warming and over tourism.

Whilst Indonesia is a diving mecca, the currents around the Komodo Islands are notoriously strong. Beginners should dive with extra caution and ensure there is constant communication with your dive master and buddy. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge that resulted from these strong currents and found each dive exhilarating!

My favorite dive sites around the Komodo Islands include Crystal Rock and The Cauldron but each is vastly different and offers a unique experience. After one dive, you’ll want to keep going back for more so it’s best to explore the dive sites over a few days by booking a scuba diving liveaboard. Budget liveaboards costs $175 per diver per day which includes all your meals, accommodation, and a minimum of 3 dives per day. Dive Komodo is a great dive center which provide a budget diving liveaboard with all of the extras you’ll find from a more expensive package.

It’s best to book your trip to the Komodo Islands for the dry season which is between April and September where you’re almost guaranteed to have long, sunny days without too much humidity.

  • Dive season: April and September
  • Dive experience level: All

3. Koh Tao, Thailand

By Ecoconscious Traveller

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Koh Tao, Thailand
Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao, in my opinion — and the opinion of many others for the record — is definitely one of the best places in Thailand to go diving. All the courses involve studying by reading and watching educational videos and of course diving.

What’s great about diving in Koh Tao are all the beautiful underwater animals you’ll see when you’re down there — check out those colorful reef fish! The island itself is beautiful so it’s well worth relaxing on the beaches once you’re finished your dive course. It’s also a bit of a party island with pub crawls organized almost every night of the week which is perfect for a blow out once you’ve finished your dive course.

  • Dive season: You can dive all year in Koh Tao but the best time to go is from March to September with July and August being the busiest months.
  • Dive experience level: All

4. Phil Phi Islands, Thailand

By Gretas Travels

Phi Phi Islands in Krabi, Thailand

If you’re looking for a beautiful diving destination in Southeast Asia, you have to add the Phi Phi islands to your bucket list. It was my first time ever scuba diving but it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the  best spots in Thailand for scuba diving.

From Phi Phi Don, the main island in the archipelago and only island with a town, it’s about a 15-20 minute boat journey to the Phi Phi Marine National Park where you will be diving. The natural beauty of the islands is stunning both over and under water, with the steep limestone cliffs above and coral reefs below.

Being my first time I was doing the DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) and I could only dive up to 10 meters depth. Even at 10 meters I was still able to see loads of colorful corals and fish, among which Nemo!

There are also a number of wrecks in the islands that you can dive at, as well as night dive opportunities.

  • Dive season: January to April
  • Dive experience level: All

5. Sipadan Island, Malaysia

By Dreamers Who Wander

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Sipadan Island, Malaysia

Pristine water, white sand beaches and a rich underwater biodiversity make this tiny island off the coast of Borneo, Malaysia, one of the best dive spots in Asia. Sipadan has been regularly ranked as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and we can assure you that its sudden drop offs, wall dives, caves and diverse marine life will leave you speechless. This little diving jewel is only 1-hour boat ride away from the town of Semporna and it is well worth your time if you’ re looking for unique and excellent dive sites.

Some of the most outstanding dive locations are Hanging Garden, Drop Off, Barracuda Point and the well-known Turtle Tomb. Visiting this stunning volcanic island and its underwater treasures requires a permit issued by the Sabbah Government. Therefore, it’s advised to plan your diving here in advance, so that your resort or dive shop of choice can apply for the authorization on your behalf. To reduce the strain on the reef and delicate ecosystem caused by excessive tourism, the maximum number of permits available each day is 120.

In 2005, the beautiful Sipadan Island was officially declared a marine reserve and it has since then been fully protected. Don’t wait any longer and dive this breathtaking hidden gem of Malaysia.

  • Dive season: Between March and October when visibility can reach up to 50 meters!
  • Dive experience level: Advanced Open Water

6. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

By Be My Travel Muse

Raja Ampat in Indonesia
Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat in West Papua, Indonesia has some of the best diving I found, and I’ve had the pleasure of diving all over Southeast Asia. Mostly undeveloped and pristine islands, visiting Raja Ampat feels like crossing into a world of Robinson Crusoe. In order to hit the best dive sites, including Misool, Penemu, and the Dampier Strait, most people take a live aboard dive boat, which tend to last 11 days or so. Alternatively, a more budget friendly option is to stay on a dive resort island like Arborek.

The currents are quite strong in Raja Ampat, so it’s required that divers have experience and at least their advanced open water certification. The season runs from October to April, when the currents are not as strong and the visibility is at its best. What I loved most about this region is that apart from diving, the islands are beautiful, full of lagoons with lots of hidden swimming spots and almost no other people.

  • Dive season: October to April
  • Dive experience level: Advanced divers with open water certification

7. Malapascua, Philippines

By iTravel Rox

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Malapascua, Philippines

Malapascua Island is part of a peninsular barangay of Logon, Daanbantayan, Cebu. It is one of the best places to dive especially if you want to see the thresher sharks. The thresher sharks can be seen all year round and it is the only place in the world where you can see the thresher sharks up close.

To see the thresher sharks, you need to wake up before 4 AM to go to Monad Shoal. From Malaspacua Island, it will take you 30 minutes to get here. Monad Shoal is also known as Shark Point and it’s now a famous dive site in the world. It is also the cleaning station of the thresher sharks. Before diving, you may witness a beautiful sunrise. The visibility is good at 10-15 meters but with a maximum depth of 24m when there is a strong current.

Here’s my experience. After my Open Water Dive Course, I took the Deep Diving Adventure to see the thresher sharks in the same week. Thresher sharks are shy creatures so it is important to stay quiet as possible. As they say, sightings are not guaranteed, but I was lucky that, on my first dive, I saw them at 28 meters. On my second dive, I saw them at 3 meters. It was a jaw-dropping experience that you have to make sure the thresher sharks won’t stay away from you.

  • Dive season: All year long
  • Dive experience level: Advanced divers with Open Water Certification

8. Moalboal, Philippines

Diving with sardine run in Moalboal, Cebu
Sardine run.

Moalboal is a sleepy town in the southern part of Cebu. Unlike other places in Cebu, it’s not visited for its beaches but for its underwater beauty.

There are several dive spots in Moalboal. The most popular one is Pescador Island, which is fringed with a shallow house reef with a drop-off reaching 55 meters below. You can see corals, fishes, sea turtles and even white-tip sharks. Other great places to dive include the Sunken Island and Airplane Wreck.

Aside from these dive spots, you can also dive on the house reef along the coast of Panagsama Beach where you can see the sardine run. This is one of the most magnificent experiences you can have as a diver — thousands and thousands of fishes moving in harmony underwater. The sardines form a ball to protect themselves from larger prey.

  • Dive season: All year long
  • Dive experience level: All

9. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

By The Travel Scribes

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

If you’re heading anywhere near Bali or Lombok, then Gili Trawangan is a must-visit island on your itinerary. The island, part of a trio known collectively as ‘The Gilis’, is part of an amazing marine park which includes other islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air. And, beyond the chilled island life (Gili T has no motorized vehicles), fantastic partying and delicious, healthy eateries cramming it’s streets, Gili Trawangan is particularly great for one thing: diving.

While you can snorkel off it’s shores (actually the very famous ‘Gili underwater statues’ are a quick snorkel away), the diving is of incredibly high quality off the island. The coral reefs that surround itself support a plethora of marine life and, on an average day, you’ll see white-tip sharks, spot hundreds of coral fish like lionfish and soldier fish and float unfazed through the depths of the sea with hawksbill and green turtles. Actually, the turtles are a key part of diving around the Gilis, as there are so many of them and they love to accompany you on your dives.

Key dive spots around Gili include Shark Point (all levels), Halik (great for drift dives), the Meno Wall also known as Turtle Heaven, and Deep Turbo (a very difficult current area where you need your Advanced Certificate).

  • Dive season: All year
  • Dive experience level: All

10. Koh Lanta, Thailand

By More Life in Your Days

Koh Lanta in Thailand

Koh Lanta is a pretty island off the west coast of Thailand with a really relaxed vibe that makes it a perfect place to come for a diving holiday. It makes a great base for divers of all abilities but is particularly suited to beginners and novices.

You can do anything here from half-day beginner dives to PADI certification and multi-day liveaboard adventures.

One of the best destinations is Ko Haa (five islands). There is an impressive cavern that is almost like being in a cathedral and some amazing coral. It is a good place to come for beginners as there is a large lagoon that slopes gently down into deeper waters allowing you to explore further as your confidence grows. It is ideal if you have non-diving friends that fancy coming along to do some snorkeling. You will be likely to spot seahorses and octopuses hiding among the coral.

Other nearby destinations include Ko Rok, where you can see black-tip sharks and hawksbill turtles, and Ko Bida, where there is a good chance of spotting leopard sharks.

  • Dive season: November to April
  • Dive experience level: All

11. Similan Islands, Thailand

By Two Wandering Soles

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Similan Islands, Thailand
Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Similan Islands, Thailand

Located in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand lies the Similan archipelago, which consists of 11 islands. And while there are postcard-worthy white sand beaches, the most impressive thing about this area is what lies beneath the water.

These islands are part of the Mu Koh Similan National Park, covering more than 140-square kilometers. Authorities are trying to protect this fragile ecosystem by limiting the number of daily visitors and by closing the National Park during monsoon season (May – October). Additionally, there is no overnight accommodation in the islands, so you can visit on a day trip or by staying on a scuba liveaboard where you have the opportunity to dive several times each day.

Known for clear warm waters and chances to spot whale sharks, sea turtles and all sorts of other marine life, the Similan Islands is one of the best places to go diving in Thailand.

  • Dive season: You can only visit the Similan Islands from mid-October to mid-May
  • Dive experience level: Conditions are suitable for beginners; however, some liveaboards require guests to have previous experience or certifications.

12. Anilao, Philippines

By Oceans to Alpines

Diving in Anilao, Philippines

Anilao is a popular dive location for those seeking macro life. Anilao offer easy access to numerous muck dive locations where divers can find a variety of ocean life from nudibranch, juvenile frogfish, bobtail squids, and octopus. Most divers enjoy the challenging of trying to spot the smallest of creatures in the murky sandy water.

One of the most popular dive sites for muck diving would be Secret Bay – which is not much of a secret anymore. Here you will find numerous divers with their underwater camera setups taking pictures of little creatures like nudibranch. Another popular dive site is best dove at night time: Anilao Pier. Here you can find bobtail squid hiding in the sand, or coconut octopus hidden in little shells. If lucky a blue ringed octopus may be out on the hunt during the night.

If interested in more vibrant dives there are options for more traditional coral dives at The Cathedral or out by Kirby Rock.

Here are the best Anilao beach resorts.

  • Dive season: October to May – outside of the rainy season in Philippines.
  • Dive experience level: Advanced – most of the dives in Anilao are for those interested in macro life and therefore have to have an appreciation for the little harder to spot creatures. This also required a level of diving experience to not kick up the sand.

13. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

By Fox in The Forest

Best dive spots in Southeast Asia - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

The tropical oasis of the Perhentian Islands, located off of the East Coast of Malaysia, offer some of the best opportunities to spot sea turtles and dive coral reefs. Accessible only by boat, these sleepy islands are divided into Pulau Besar and Pulau Kecil. The gentle currents and shallow waters make Perhentian Islands an excellent choice for beginner divers. All 20 of the dive sites are located within Terengganu Marine Park.

Coral bleaching is present, but there are several new reefs beginning to grow with the help of local conservationists, making it an interesting choice to dive if you’d like to see how the ocean is changing. Do your part and travel responsibly by wearing reef-safe sunscreen and purifying your drinking water instead of buying disposable plastic bottles. You can even help pick up beach trash. At the dive sites there are several different schools of fish, a growing number of sea turtles, stingrays, and even harmless black tipped reef sharks. Aside from coral gardens there are also two interesting ship wrecks to explore.

Remember, there are no ATMs on this island chain, so come with all your cash in hand.

  • Dive season: April to October. Most dive centers and hotels close down from mid-October until April. The Busy season is July and August.
  • Dive experience level: All

14. Mengkabar Bay, Malaysia

By Monkey Rock World

Situated in a secluded patch of North Borneo coast just 1 hour north of capital Kota Kinabalu, Mengkabar Bay is one of the best places to consider putting on your offbeat Sabah itinerary.

Set in a hidden cove not far away from Kota Belud town, Mengkabar Bay is perfect not only because is a whale shark passage during the spring (sightings are almost guaranteed), but also because it has remained off the tourist radar and is the best alternative to the congested dive sites in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park off Kota Kinabalu.

Bigfin Divers is the only operator in the bay, also offering scenic accommodation in a cluster of chalets and tents, and never catering for more than 20 people at a time. The experience will be as intimate as possible. Dive wise, there are about 20 different sites, ranging from reef with steep drops like Mayne Rock to areas where it’s best to let yourself float along with the current as you observe the corals like Ella’s Garden.

  • Dive season: February to July
  • Dive experience level: All

15. Redang Island, Malaysia

By A Rai of Light

Crystal clear waters, abundant life and white sand beaches makes Redang Island, one of the largest Islands off the east coast of Malaysia, a good choice for diving. The island offers many different dive sites, all within close proximity of the beach resort and easily accessible by speedboat, to suit recreational divers of all skill levels.

Diving season is between March and October with visibility between 18 and 20 meters and the light can penetrate down to 30 meters. It boasts beautiful hard and soft coral gardens, sandy bottom sites — some shallow, some deep, as well as muck diving. In addition to your typical tropical marine life, expect a diversity of tropical reef life as well as an abundance of sea life including cuttlefish, nudi branches and pipefish. Even though the sea can get rough at times, divers will be rewarded with wonderful finds. Diving in Redang Island is a must-try experience.

  • Dive season: March to October
  • Dive experience level: All

16. Nha Trang, Vietnam

By The Sabbatical Guide

Best dive spots in Southeat Asia - Nha Trang, Vietnam

We went scuba diving in Nha Trang on the coast of Vietnam whilst on a 3-month sabbatical through Southeast Asia. This was our first time diving but was something we both wanted to do, and decided to book it as a wedding anniversary present to ourselves.

We booked with Vietnam Active onto their PADI Open Water Diver course which was $350 per person.

Day 1 was a half day in the pool, with days 2 and 3 out in the ocean with two dives a day. All equipment was provided by the company and it was amazing how quickly we went from being scared first-timers to fairly confident amateurs!

The diving was at a marine reserve just off of the small island of Hon Mun. We saw a variety of vibrantly colored fish, small octopus, and a huge moray eel. The water was pristine and clear, meaning we could see for long distances. We even got to go through a small underwater arch on our final dive.

I’d highly recommended Nha Trang for a diving experience. This is a fantastic dive spot and was one of the biggest highlights of our trip.

  • Dive season: February to June
  • Dive experience level: All

17. Siargao, Philippines

By Alajode

It may be famous for its surfing spots, but there are plenty of other things to do in Siargao — both in and out of the water! Diving is one of the most popular activities, and is easily accessible from the General Luna area. A little south of the famous Cloud 9 waves, the waters around General Luna are much calmer and perfect for diving. Under their surface, you’ll find beautiful reefs, caves and plenty of tropical marine life, including puffer fish and banded sea snakes.

  • Dive season:  Visibility tends to be pretty consistent all year round, so it’s always a good time to book a diving trip to Siargao, but you may want to avoid the wet season if you plan on exploring the island too.
  • Dive experience level: Diving here is suitable for all levels, with depths ranging from 9-33 meters.

That sums up our list of the best places for scuba diving in Southeast Asia! Do you have anything else to add? Let us know in the comments below.

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One Comment

  • Eduardo Maresca

    The Mediterranean pales in comparison: we do have crystal clear water but not that many corals and other stuff underwater

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