One of the best things you can do when traveling Southeast Asia is to snorkel. A lot of places in this region have incredible snorkeling sites where you can find various species of corals, fishes and wildlife such as sea turtles, stingrays and even baby sharks. Here we’ve compiled the best snorkeling sites you can find in Southeast Asia!
- 1. Apo Island (Philippines)
- 2. Koh Tao (Thailand)
- 3. Gili Islands (Indonesia)
- 4. Komodo Island (Indonesia)
- 5. Tomia Island, Wakatobi (Indonesia)
- 6. Binukbok View Point (Philippines)
- 7. Koh Similan (Thailand)
- 8. Manukan Island (Malaysia)
- 9. Raja Ampat (Indonesia)
- 10. Coron, Palawan (Philippines)
- 11. Apo Reef Marine Park (Philippines)
- 12. Ang Thong National Marine Park (Thailand)
- 13. Gaya Island (Malaysia)
- 14. Nusa Penida (Indonesia)
- 15. Padang Bai (Indonesia)
- 16. Moalboal, Cebu (Philippines)
- 17. Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)
- 18. Menjangan Island (Indonesia)
- 19. Mabul (Malaysia)
- 20. Redang Island (Malaysia)
- 21. Karimun Jawa (Indonesia)
- 22. Tulamben, Bali (Indonesia)
- 23. Pulau Weh (Indonesia)
- 24. Atauro Island (Timor-Leste)
- 25. Koh Ta Kiev (Cambodia)
- 26. Tioman Island (Malaysia)
- 27. Panglao Island (Philippines)
- 28. Koh Ngai (Thailand)
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1. Apo Island (Philippines)
Apo Island is a volcanic island in Dauin, Negros Oriental. It’s a protected marine area and is part of the Coral Triangle, where you can find one of the richest marine life on earth. From the port in Dauin, there are many boats offering day trips in Apo Island. A day trip includes snorkeling in 3 different locations, where you’ll get to see and snorkel with sea turtles (some of which are about 50 years old), corals and fishes. You can also choose to dive here if you prefer.
To get to Apo Island, you need to take a local flight to Dumaguete City. From there, make your way to Malapatay. You can find boats offering day trips in the port. You can also join tours in Dumaguete City which also covers transportation.
2. Koh Tao (Thailand)
By Destinationless Travel
Many people know the Thai island of Koh Tao as a scuba diver’s paradise. However, many don’t realize that you can also snorkel some of the many reefs and bays that surround this small island. The shallow, crystal clear waters and reef areas are perfect for exploring from the surface of the water. Some of the best places to snorkel around the island are Shark Bay, Hin Wong Bay, Koh Nang Yuan and Mango Bay.
There are specific tours for those who want to snorkel or you can join a dive boat. If tours arenf’t your style then you can actually just hire equipment in town and walk to some of the snorkeling areas around the island. Snorkeling in Koh Tao is sure to be a highlight of your Southeast Asia trip!
3. Gili Islands (Indonesia)
By Vicki Viaja
The Gili islands were one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots we were ever able to experience. While many snorkeling spots on the neighboring island Bali are extremely popular and crowded, the Gili islands usually have way fewer tourists.
Besides snorkeling by ourselves near the shore of Gili Air, we also joined a snorkeling tour which brought us to different snorkeling spots around the three islands.
Our absolute favorite spot was a spot between Gili Air and Gili Meno which is full of green turtles. The turtles seem to be used to humans and therefore just keep sleeping, eating, and swimming or whatever they were doing when we arrived. This way, you have a chance to fully observe them and even swim with them. It’s simply an amazing experience.
Another unique snorkeling spot is the underwater statues near Gili Meno. The statues have been put there in order to create a man-made reef and attract fish to live there in the future. But already now it’s an amazing underwater place to discover.
You can get to the Gili Islands either by boat from Lombok or Bali.
4. Komodo Island (Indonesia)
Komodo for a long time has been a snorkeling and diving destination of choice because of the rich marine life and healthy corals which can be found there.
The gateway to this amazing underwater paradise is through a town called Labuan Bajo (Lionair and Wingsair run affordable flights to Labuan Bajo from Bali and Lombok) in the island of Flores. It is a popular tourist destination so accommodation and places to eat will be easy to find.
Finding a snorkeling trip will not be a problem as well as almost all the dive shops in Labuan Bajo run them continuously. Typically, your snorkeling tour will include anywhere from 2 to 4 different spots and might also include stops in neighboring islands such as Rinca, Komodo (Komodo dragons) or Padar.
Now snorkeling in Komodo is guaranteed to blow your mind. It’s not uncommon to see turtles, manta rays and sharks in one trip and you are also guaranteed to observe various kinds of fish and other marine life such as sweet lips, napoleon wrasse, octopus and more! Day trips to Komodo National Park typically start early in the morning and finish just before sunset although always double check the details with the tour organizer. Note that pick up from your hotel and breakfast might also be included.
Finally make sure you bring your underwater camera if you have one and if you are comfortable with freediving don’t be shy asking about borrowing a weight belt and a little bit of weight. Enjoy!
5. Tomia Island, Wakatobi (Indonesia)
Wakatobi is one of the quieter parts of Indonesia, although it’s popular to divers’ circle. However, you need not get the full gear to appreciate the underwater world of Tomia Island. You can simply hire a boat to take you to the best snorkeling spots in and near the island. Here is where I found the most beautiful coral walls I’ve seen as of yet — rows of pristine, thriving corals where fishes and other sea creatures are abound. During my trip, there was no other tourists in the area which again made me feel like discovering a virgin-ish paradise.
There are various ways to get to Tomia Island, depending on where you’re coming from. If via air, the nearest flight is via Matahora Airport.
6. Binukbok View Point (Philippines)
Binukbok View Point is a marine sanctuary in Bauan, Batangas. It’s one of the best places to snorkel in this province. It’s frequented by avid snorkelers, freedivers and scuba divers. Binukbok View Point has pristine & well-preserved corals, which is home to various colorful fishes. There are boats that can take you to snorkeling spots. You can also snorkel near the pebble beaches.
To get here, you need to commute or drive from Manila to Lemery in Batangas (about 1.5 hour) and then take a boat to Binukbok View Point. From there, basic accommodations await you.
Related Read: Summer Cruise: Budget Dive Resort in Batangas
7. Koh Similan (Thailand)
Koh Similan is a group of islands in the Andaman Sea, off the coast of Thailand. Due to the exceptional beauty and fragility of the islands, they do not have accommodations on the islands themselves so you will have to find lodging on the mainland. Phuket and Khao Lak are the most convenient locations to arrange day trips to the islands or to secure an overnight liveaboard on a boat.
The Similan islands feature 5000-year-old coral reefs with an abundance of marine life. The turquoise water is exceptionally clear, with a reputation for unprecedented visibility. The main beach that most tourists go to can get quite packed, but the snorkeling is still spectacular! It’s popular for a reason and is definitely worth the hassle. However, if you get to some of the other islands, you won’t have to deal with crowds and the snorkeling is equally magnificent.
8. Manukan Island (Malaysia)
By The Happy Kid
Manukan Island is the place you see on Instagram pictures and think it is too awesome to be real: a tiny island covered by lush green jungle, surrounded by white-sand beaches and blue, crystal-clear waters. The second largest island in Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Manukan is an awesome destination for snorkeling. You can easily get there as a day trip from Kota Kinabalu or stay overnight on the lodges over there.
The reef if quite close to the shore and the water is clear, with great visibility. South China Sea hosts a large variety of colorful fishes, but also sting rays and even small reef sharks. In Manukan Island, you can try snorkeling right from the beach, but also at some of the diving sites; there are plenty of boats doing trips to the neighboring islands.
9. Raja Ampat (Indonesia)
By Time Travel Turtle
Raja Ampat, an archipelago of about 1500 islands, has the richest marine biodiversity on earth. It’s the reason that this isolated area off the coast of Indonesia’s West Papua region has become such a hit with divers and snorkellers.
It’s estimated there are about 1500 species of fish and 550 species of coral around the islands of Raja Ampat. With amazingly-clear water, you’ll be able to see a lot of them with just a snorkel and a pair of goggles.
To get there, you fly to the airport at Sorong and then take a boat to the islands. There is a range of dive lodges and homestays you can choose from and you’ll find amazing snorkeling opportunities at any of them. But island hopping to different sites is one of the best things to do in Raja Ampat.
10. Coron, Palawan (Philippines)
Coron is not only one of the most beautiful places in the country, it’s also a haven for snorkelers. To get to the snorkeling areas, you need to hire a private boat or join an island hopping tour. The best ones are the WWII shipwreck sites, Coral Garden and Banana Island where you can find giant clams and lots of variety of fishes. There are other coral sites near various islands if you have time to explore.
To get to Coron, Palawan, take a local flight to Busuanga and then a van to the town center. From there, you can find boats for hire or island hopping services to avail.
11. Apo Reef Marine Park (Philippines)
Apo Reef Marine Park is a protected area in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. It’s a favorite destination of snorkelers, freedivers and scuba divers. You can camp overnight in Apo Island (one of the 3 islands in the park) and then spend your day snorkeling in different spots around the island. You can see different types of corals, fishes and sea creatures such as sea turtles and white-tip sharks. My favorite snorkeling spot in Apo Reef is the coral wall in front of the lighthouse.
You can also take a little boat ride to see a shipwreck site and/or do a side tour in Pandan Island, which is home to sea turtles.
Apo Reef is reachable from Manila. Simply take a ferry from Batangas Port to Abra de Ilog and then a bus/van to Sablayan town proper, where you can rent boats going to Apo Reef.
12. Ang Thong National Marine Park (Thailand)
Ang Thong National Marine Park is a 42-island protected archipelago located off the eastern coast of Thailand. It’s an incredibly beautiful park with limestone cliffs, waterfalls and white-sand beaches. It was actually the location of Alex Garland’s novel, The Beach, and has some amazing snorkeling!
Ang Thong is about an hour-long speed boat ride from Koh Samui, and you can get there through the many group tours offered or a private charter. Since the park is protected, only government-approved boats are allowed, so we went with a group tour and got to do some hiking and kayaking in the park as well. Our snorkeling experience was in the northern part of the park around a coral reef. Exploring the reef was amazing and we got to see a lot of colorful ocean life, but the highlight was an underwater cave teeming with fish that we got to swim right through. Ang Thong offers one of the most unique landscapes in Thailand, and you definitely won’t want to miss it!
13. Gaya Island (Malaysia)
By Globe Trove
One of the things that Shawn and I love doing together is snorkeling. There is nothing quiet like the peaceful pastime of wading through the warm waters of South East Asia while watching the marine life before me. Needless to say, we have snorkeled in a number of different locations. One that really stands out is the snorkeling on Gaya Island. The private island does allow people to visit just for snorkeling and they have their own conservation point that teaches you about sea life and its recovery.
One of the most interesting things that you will see while snorkeling are a variety of clams. This is because a lot of their conservation work is centered around their preservation. I highly recommend visiting the conservation area before your swim, it makes you look at the marine life in a different perspective.
14. Nusa Penida (Indonesia)
Nusa Penida is known for Kelingking Beach and Thousand Island, which are beautiful spots, but travelers who stay more than a day here get to discover its hidden snorkeling gems. You can take an island hopping tour in Nusa Penida to see these. Explore Manta Point to see manta rays in the wild, Gamat Bay and GT Point to see corals and fishes and, finally, the Underwater Buddha Temple, which is an amazing underwater sight to behold.
Nusa Penida is a boat away from Bali, Indonesia.
15. Padang Bai (Indonesia)
By Bartender Abroad
On the eastern coast of Bali, a small fishing town sits nestled on the rocky shoreline. This is the town of Padang Bai. Not a big attraction for tourists but if diving or snorkeling is on the agenda, you’ve come to the right place. The Blue Lagoon — a cove of crystal clear blue waters protected from the waves of the open ocean. Black volcanic rock lines the shore — a perfect backdrop for the colorful fish, and a white sand beach makes for the perfect day of ocean exploring. You’ll find preserved coral reefs in a rainbow of colors, sea crates, parrot fish and clownfish, and a plethora of other sea animals can be seen just 10 feet below you.
To get here: Most people stay at the hostels/hotels lining the coast of Padang Bai’s main street. From here it’s a short 10 minute uphill walk to the North. It’s an unmarked beach cove but locals and tourists will be able to point you in the right direction.
Another perk: This is a much less traveled side of Bali. And with a little luck you could have this little cove to yourself for the day.
16. Moalboal, Cebu (Philippines)
By Everywhere With Ferna
The small town of Moalboal boasts different sites for snorkeling. One of these is the Tuble Marine Sanctuary, where turtles can also be spotted, apart from which there are massive corals in various shapes, forms and colors. The depth of the water is shallow near the shore, but the reef can be easily reached out from that point. There’s no beach sand nearby, and instead there are corals and volcanic stones.
Another snorkeling site is the Turtle Sanctuary and the very small island named Pescador. The turtle sanctuary is located near Panagsama Village in Moalboal, where more turtles can be seen as well as amazing fishes lurking around. The same goes for Pescador Island. There’s a larger variety of sea creatures here other than turtles.
From Cebu City, Moalboal can be reached via bus. From the town center, a tricycle will take you to Pinagsama Village. You need to hire a local boat to get to the snorkeling sites. This activity can only take half a day or a whole day depending on your pacing.
17. Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)
By Live Less Ordinary
Located on the less-developed east coasts of Malaysia, The Perhentian Islands are famous in the region for their snorkeling.
While there are many tour options on offer, which circle the main snorkeling spots including barracuda and sea turtles, the best area to stay for snorkeling on the island has to be Teluk Pauh Beach along the northeast coast of Perhentian Besar (the Big Island). Where just a short paddle from the beach finds some of the most diverse and abundant marine life that I have ever come across in Southeast Asia. And in a short swim along the shoreline reefs, we lost count of the number of species which included lots of clownfish, a stonefish and a ray. In fact, pretty much all the highlights of the island were found near this beach, and many of the snorkeling tours end just off the coast with the sea turtles. It is also easy to reach by boat from the mainland leaving Kuala Besut.
18. Menjangan Island (Indonesia)
By Unearth the Voyage
Bali isn’t all about seeing the rice terraces and staying at the amazing infinity pool resorts in Ubud. If you head up to the northwest coast of Bali, you’ll find the island of Menjangan. Menjangan Island is part of a protected marine reserve in the Bali Barat National Park. Menjangan has gorgeous snorkeling and scuba diving all around its gorgeous coral reef gardens. On the south side of the island, there are drop-offs that are a popular place for snorkelers and divers looking to experience some variety in their coral reef exploration. The island is also home to a population of Barking Deer, giving it the delightful nickname of “Deer Island.”
Getting to Menjangan island is relatively simple. All you need to do is book a day tour from Pemuteran/Labuhan Lalang. Day trips generally speaking cost around $35-40 and include not only the 30-40 minute motorboat ride to the island but also lunch and a guide to take you out snorkeling. If you’re interested in getting PADI certified, you can do that locally as well. Or if you are already certified you can go straight to diving. If you are looking to experience some beautiful marine life while on Bali, Menjangan Island is one island you won’t want to miss!
19. Mabul (Malaysia)
By Safe and Healthy Travel
If you go snorkeling, you want to see a lot of sealife and not having to swim or paddle far for it, of course. In Mabul, I was so overwhelmed because of all the different species and colors just 1 meter of the coast. I went there to go diving at Sipadan, which is the world’s number 1 spot to go diving according to CNN. Mabul is the best spot to stay and wait for the opportunity to buy a permit for that purpose. The best way to spend your days on the island is to explore the surroundings and in a small island as Mabul you quickly go into the waters and enjoy all the colors and wildlife. I couldn’t get enough of that!
To get on Mabul island I took the boat from Semporna (Borneo – Malaysia) to relax for an hour and to be delivered on the docks of my hotel. What better way to start your snorkeling trip?
20. Redang Island (Malaysia)
It comes with no surprise that Malaysia is blessed with tropical treasures and marine life, making it one of the ideal spot to snorkel in. On the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in Terengganu lies Pulau Redang, you’ll get to see a school of colorful reef fish and parrotfishes.
The best way to reach Pulau Redang is to book a flight into Kuala Terengganu and take a ferry from the city center to the island. There are plenty of touristy spots on the island itself and most people opt for a 3 Day 2 Night package which pretty much covers everything.
21. Karimun Jawa (Indonesia)
Karimun Jawa islands archipelago is a lesser-known place in Indonesia where you can experience all the beauty of tropical islands without much of the tourist crowds. It is located around 80 kilometers northwest of Jepara, Java, and can be reached by a speed boat or a ferry.
Snorkeling day trips can be easily booked on the main island. Boats leave the port before 8 in the morning, and there is a whole day program with multiple snorkeling spots.
Around two-thirds of the islands in Karimun Jawa are a part of a marine reserve. For snorkelers, there is a variety of corals, plants and colorful fish to see. If you are lucky, you might even see some turtles.
A snorkeling day trip in Karimun Jawa includes a lunch of a local fish and fruit, after which there is some more snorkeling. The day ends with watching a sunset from a small uninhabited island.
22. Tulamben, Bali (Indonesia)
The liberty wreck at Tulamben is about a 20 minute drive outside of Amed, which is itself a 3-hour journey from the airport and a beautiful spot to stay in Bali away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist areas.
The water is very calm and you access the snorkeling site by walking straight in off the beach. After just a 25-meter swim out you will see the beginning of the wreck. The ease of access and close proximity to the beach make it a great spot for kids and people not so confident in the water.
The wreck actually runs about 120 meter long with the shallowest area being about 5 meters deep going down as deep as 30 meters, which is where the scuba divers will be exploring. Visibility is usually excellent and you will see an abundance of colorful fish and beautiful corals without even having to dive down deep. I’m a freediver, so diving down to the wreck for a closer look wasn’t an issue but if you aren’t as used to diving try to go on low tide so you have a better chance of seeing things a bit closer.
My top tip would be to go in the early morning or outside of tourist season to try and miss the busy periods and large amounts of scuba divers (although they enter and exit at a completely different area so won’t be in the way).
23. Pulau Weh (Indonesia)
By Surfing the Planet
Pulau Weh is a small island just off the coast of the Western end of Sumatra, and it’s one of the best experiences to have in a paradise island while visiting Indonesia. Most people avoid this area, since Banda Aceh, the city on the mainland is where the terrible earthquake happened that lead to the devistating SE Asia tsunami back in 2004.
Pulau Weh is quite different from what you find in a typical paradise island. It has some beaches, but it’s much more amazing as a snorkel or diving destination. Most of the accommodations are small bungalows on the seaside and you can jump directly into the crystal clean water. There is a beautiful reef just off the shore where we saw octopus, lionfish and many other colorful fish. The best place to stay is the area of Iboih Beach.
You can get to Pulau Weh taking the ferry from Banda Aceh. Banda Aceh has an international airport. Or you can take a bus from Medan, the major city in Sumatra.
24. Atauro Island (Timor-Leste)
Home to one of the best-preserved coral reefs in Southeast Asia, Atauro Island off the northern coast of Timor-Leste is one of the region’s premier snorkeling sites.
Timor’s reef constitutes part of the Coral Triangle, aka the ‘Amazon of the Ocean’, where at least 500 species of reef-building corals have been discovered. The waters off Timor are also among the most bio-diverse on earth. On an average day, snorkelers can expect to see an array of marine life, including sea turtles, dugong and some of the 253 species of reef fish scientists documented off Atauro Island in 2016 (a new world record).
Atauro is located 15 miles from the mainland and makes for an easy day trip from Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. Excursions typically involve a couple of hours snorkeling over shallow reef, admiring vivid landscapes that seem to have survived coral bleaching (for the time being, at least). Tourism in Asia’s youngest nation is still in its early stages, so there’s a good chance you’ll have the reef all to yourself.
Saltwater crocodiles are prevalent in Timor’s coastal waters, so it’s essential to snorkel with a professional guide. It’s also highly recommended to choose a company with eco-tourism credentials. Snorkeling, diving and PADI courses off Atauro can be organized through local agencies in Dili.
25. Koh Ta Kiev (Cambodia)
By A Lovely Planet
This isn’t your average snorkeling location. The reason to come to Koh Ta Kiev — other than for it’s tranquility and beauty — is to snorkel with the bioluminescence.
Koh Ta Kiev is an island reached by boat, usually organized through your accommodation. We stayed at Kactus, who arranged our boat transfers from Otres Beach in Southern Cambodia.
You arrive onto Plankton Beach — a beautiful sandy beach — and the home of the bioluminescent plankton. To see the plankton you have to wait for the sun to go down. Once it’s pitch black, make your way to the beach and head out into the water. As you swim, the water lights up in front of your eyes! It’s a magical experience and the island is the perfect place to get away from it all.
26. Tioman Island (Malaysia)
By Singapore N’ Beyond
Tioman Island is a short 1.5-2hr ferry from Mersing/Tanjung Gemok on Malaysia’s east coast. It is more rugged and untouched by tourism than the western islands. What you’ll find on Tioman is a laid-back Malay community, traditional food, lush greenery, zero import taxation and, of course, pristine snorkeling. Tioman’s west coast is where all the infamous spots are located. It is also more accessible and where all the major resorts are. The east coast has rougher waters. While you can walk directly into the water from just about any beach and be welcomed by an array of fish species and corals, the good stuff is only accessed on an excursion (around RM75 per person) to one of the many surrounding islands such as Marine Park, Coral Island and Malang Rocks. Renggis Island is very close to Tekek village where you will be greeted by greenback turtles, blacktip reef sharks and blue spotted manta rays. Fish species range from the cheeky parrot fish to cutesy clown fish to barracuda and cuttlefish. If you’re searching for Nemo, this is the place to find him.
Getting to Tioman is easy through booking your ferry online. Just be there an hour before your ferry leaves and check if the weather is good before heading out.
27. Panglao Island (Philippines)
The snorkeling is great around Panglao, which is a small island off of Bohol in the Philippines.
The fish are plentiful and very colourful, and you can swim among them easily. While my husband and I were snorkeling here, a school of at least 300 jackfish swam only a meter away from us.
If coming by boat from Cebu, you will arrive at Tagbilaran pier. From there it’s a short tricycle ride to the bus station where you can catch a bus or jeepney to Aloha Beach. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia and is where most bars, restaurants and dive centers are located.
28. Koh Ngai (Thailand)
Thailand boasts some of the best snorkeling sites in the world and the beautiful island of Koh Ngai is no exception.
Located in the Andaman Sea, Koh Ngai is surrounded by a barrier reef that can be easily reached from the shore. Here you can view a variety of colorful fish, coral and even black-tipped reef sharks if you’re lucky enough to spot one!
Stay in one of the small resorts that line the island’s coast and you can snorkel as often as you’d like! The beauty of Koh Ngai is the tranquility of the tiny island paired with a fantastic snorkeling experience.
To reach Koh Ngai you can take a ferry from nearby Koh Lanta or from the Hat Yao Pier on the mainland. Alternatively, you can take a day trip to Koh Ngai by hopping on a 4 island snorkeling trip in Koh Lanta.
What other snorkeling spots in Southeast Asia would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).