DIVEIN.com’s Complete Guide to:
10 Best Dive Sites in South East Asia in 2023
For those who love to travel and discover new cultures and adventures, Asia has always been top of the list. Its warm waters, crystal clear visibility and huge range marine biodiversity is a scuba diver’s dream. All the way to the west is the Maldives, known for its amazing shark dives. And then across to Indonesia, the macro mecca of the world. Whatever kind of underwater adventure you’re after, Asia will provide!
Here is a list of the top 10 dive destinations in South East Asia!
To help you choose between great and greatest, here’s our round-up of the top 10 dive spots in South East Asia.
Sipadan may be the only oceanic island of Malaysia, but it is jam packed with life! Jacques Cousteau brought Sipadan into the limelight in the 1970s, calling it “an untouched piece of art.” Its volcanic past has created 2000ft/600m+ underwater trenches that attract pelagics like turtles, schools of rays and sharks, and tornadoes of barracudas! Along the reef there are plenty of fishes, nudibranchs and seahorses. Getting there is mostly done via liveaboard–See what’s available.
Season: April – December
Sipadan is so spectacular that it made our top 10 in the world! – top 10 best places in the world in 2023
MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO, MYANMAR
Myanmar only opened up to tourism in 1997 and so its diving spots are untouched. The archipelago comprises hundreds of coral reef islands, just waiting to be discovered. The few that dove here, come back with wondrous tales of lobsters, frogfish, giant moray eels and schooling fish like tuna, barracuda and mackerels. The scenery has sights of huge gorgorian fans, soft corals and a few shark filled swim throughs! If you’re looking to get as far away from humanity as possible, Mergui is your Ocean of Eden! Find the perfect Burmese liveaboard to suit your needs.
Season: October – May
If your idea of diving is “the bigger, the better” than Maldives is for you! Just over 1000km from Sri Lanka, getting to your resort is a bit of a hassle. But when you look out your tiny skyplane window, and see those idyllic atolls scattered across the ocean, you know it’s all worth it. Due to its mid-oceanic location, the currents can get strong and appropriate for the intermediate level. Diving along walls and beside pinnacles, the water pushes you alongside schools of sweetlips, jacks, moorish idols and other colourful reef fish. Turtles are a common sighting, as are monstrous moray eels. There are many cleaning stations that pelagics–whale sharks, sharks, eagle rays and mantas, for example–frequent. And on the ride back, keep an eye out for dolphins! Diving is organised either by your liveaboard or all-inclusive dive resort.
Season: All year
SIMILAN ISLANDS, THAILAND
Imagine diving in Thailand, and most likely you’re thinking of chaotic Koh Tao and party islands like Phi Phi. A little further away, deeper into the Andaman Sea are the sophisticated Similan Islands. Like the rest of Thailand, the Similan Islands have relatively calm conditions and offer easy and relaxing dives. The seascape consists of bommies and mini pinnacles, harbouring plenty of smaller reef fish, and bigger beasts such as groupers, jacks, turtles, trevallies and even the occasional whale shark. For those new to diving and/or who enjoy the kaleidoscope of color of reef scenes, Similan Islands is the perfect place.
Season: October – April
Read more about the Similan Islands or Thailand
Think raw nature and adventure, and probably a Komodo-inspired image is what you conjure up. Mirroring its topside dragons, the surrounding nutrient-rich waters has its own monsters and mermaids. Local sites Pillarsteen and Tatawa Kecil have several swim throughs and caves, with sharks, turtles , groupers and moray eels lurking around. Experienced divers who can tackle the stronger currents are rewarded with large schools of barracuda, jacks and snappers. Cannibal Rock is full of macro life and makes for a relaxing break from drifting. Find your best liveaboard option.
Season: July – October
RAJA AMPAT, INDONESIA
Raja Ampat is a collection of islands on the Eastern side of Indonesia, and the country’s underwater gem. Pretty much smack in the middle of the Coral Triangle Raja boasts a staggering array of biodiversity. The pristine reef has soft and hard coral housing critters such as frogfish, pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs and crustaceans. Hiding under the table corals are the beautifully goofy looking wobbegong sharks and shy reef sharks. There are particular sites which have stronger currents, rewarding divers with schooling fish like jacks, barracudas or sweetlips. Although not popular with bigger beasts, some spots offer the opportunity to see Mantas.
Season: October – April
LEMBEH STRAIT, INDONESIA
Lembeh Strait of Sulawesi is the mecca for macro photographers! Due its mucky dark sandy bottom, Lembeh is the perfect place for the weird and wonderful to hang out. The eagle-eyed guides are insane and can find you just about any fish in the sea! In the odd coral patches you see nudibranchs, crustaceans, harlequin shrimps, frogfish, seahorses and off in the sand, mimic octopus, ribbons eels, flamboyant cuttlefish… The possibilities are endless! The sites around the island are generally shallow, dives starting at 40ft/12m, slowly coming up and up. Lembeh is a great place to kindle your love for night dives. Diving here is best done through a resort, with dives done from a boat.
Season: All year, March – November the best
Check out the top 50 spots of Indonesia
TUBBATAHA REEF, PHILIPPINES
In 1993 Tubbataha Reef was given its UNESCO title, ensuring protection from industrialized fleets. Now it is a powerhouse for biodiversity, a sanctuary for many seabirds and marine life! The reef’s closest neighbour is Palawan, 93 miles away, and with no-land accommodation, liveaboards are the only option. Tubbataha Reef is based around two huge lagoons and atolls, formed by extinct volcanoes. The remaining seascape is never ending sea walls, adorned with soft corals fluttering in the currents. Its open ocean location means mild-to-strong currents are common, and the deep walls can disorientate inexperienced divers. Those adventurous and able enough have the chance to see whale sharks, whitetips, dolphins, 600 fish species, turtles and even whales!
Season: March – June
With over 7,000 islands in the country, the Philippine archipelago offers unlimited opportunities for underwater exploration; 36 reasons why you should go to Philippines
CORON BAY, PHILIPPINES
Although not a marine life contender when compared to the others on this list, Coron Bay is a place in the world for wrecks–no drysuit or technical training required! A WWII battle in 1944 resulted in ten wrecks conveniently settling within 19m/30km. The majority of the wrecks are big battleships and freighters, ranging from 300-430ft in length and 65-115ft deep, suitable for intermediate and advanced divers. Divemasters guide you through their metal mazes, squeezing through doorways and broken ceilings. Inside are still relics like machine guns and its ammunition, hinting at its not so distant history. Morazan Maru has a cool air pocket, so you poke your head “out of the water” at 65ft/20m! Most of the wrecks have a hard and soft coral carpet, laced with lionfish, scorpionfish, clownfish, and the odd turtle cruising past. Be sure to bring your camera and take some amazing wide angle photos!
Season: All year
For more information on diving in the Philippines.
ATAURO ISLAND, TIMOR-LESTE
Being on the edge of the Coral Triangle, Indonesian throughflow rushes past East Timor, providing nutrient rich waters to its reefs. Atauro Island is a convenient 25km north of the country’s main airport, Dili, making it an easier idyllic dive spot to get to. The underwater scenery is deep walls carpeted with breathtaking gorgonian corals and barrel sponges. The mild currents along the walls make for migratory paths of whales and dolphins. Come in closer to the coastline, and there are shallower reef dives. Atauro Island has a dry climate so there is little runoff, resulting in crystal clear visibility year-round. A study in 2012, studying the fish diversity in the Coral Triangle, ranked Atauro Island and its surrounding water 7 out 49, surpassing Raja Ampat! Still new to tourism and a poor country, East Timor and Atauro Island are reasonably underdeveloped, with basic accommodation and infrastructure. Not that anyone is bothered by bamboo huts and a beautiful beach all to themselves!
Season: April – November
South East Asia supports a plethora of marine life, from colourful critters to the big beasts. This is just a small list and the diving opportunities are endless, with superb sights throughout the region. During this pandemic, many of us are stuck at home, dreaming of those warm tropical waters.
Have you been to these sites? Have another one? Where will your underwater adventure take you next? Let us know.