Having been scuba diving in various countries around Asia, I am often asked where is the best place to scuba dive in South East Asia. Taking into account countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, here are my top scuba dive sites and the marine life you can spot during the dives such as sharks, manta rays, whale sharks and turtles. The following places are the best dive sites in my personal experience and I can’t wait to add more to the list. Consider these diving destinations when booking your next scuba diving trip for some impressive underwater adventures.
Scuba Diving in Komodo National Park
To this date, Komodo remains the most exciting and awesome place
to scuba dive that I have been so far. Healthy, brightly coloured corals and a whole
range of marine life from manta rays, to sharks to turtles and macro life,
Komodo has such an incredible underwater world. After a holiday trip here, I
decided to do my divemaster course here and enjoyed every dive. There are strong
currents so it’s a great place to improve your skills. You will be expected to
pay extra national park fees whenever you enter Komodo National Park whether it’s
for scuba diving or snorkelling trips. The
most impressive dive sites are probably Batu Balong which is always a clear
favourite, and you will see why once you jump in the water, but also the North
of Komodo for crazy currents and lots of sharks.
Manta Rays in Nusa Lembongan
Indonesia is one of the best countries to scuba dive in, both
for learning to dive, like doing the Open Water course and also for the
diversity of marine life you can see there. Nusa Lembongan boasts manta rays
all year round and you would be extremely unlucky not to experience a dive or
even a snorkel with a manta ray there. It also has some enjoyable drift dives
and some dive sites with fairly healthy coral and a lot of frogfish!
Dive with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Cebu – Philippines
If, like me, you are a shark addict then definitely head to
Malapascua, Cebu in the Philippines to dive with the thresher sharks. There’s
an extremely high chance of seeing these 3metre long sharks at around 25 metres
so this is aimed for Advanced divers or those who have completed a deep dive
speciality. The tails are so impressive and I’ll never forget the early morning
experience of kneeling in the sand at the bottom of the sea being circled by
these amazing thresher sharks.
Richelieu Rock and Koh Bon, Thailand to Dive with Whale Sharks
Scuba diving Richelieu Rock is arguably one of the best places to dive in Thailand. Not far from the Similan Islands or Koh Similan off the west coast of Thailand, it has lovely purple corals and a fairly good chance of whale sharks when in season. You can only visit during dry season, approximately October to May as this area and the Similan Islands are closed over the monsoon period.
For those seeking turtles, head to the Gili islands off of Bali and the dive site they nickname ‘turtle city’. I was told by my dive instructor that if I only saw 10 that was considered unlucky!
Tulamben, Bali – World War 2 Wreck Dive – The Liberty Bell
One of the best wreck dives that I did in Bali is the
Liberty Bell in Tulumben, close to Amed and the jumping off point to the Gili
Islands. The wreck is a shore dive so I strongly recommend diving at sunrise as
there were no other divers around when I did and these huge bumphead/humphead
parrotfish circle around the wreck in a school.
On my future list are Raja Ampat and certain atolls in the Maldives so watch this space! Where is the best place that you have scuba dived?
I started scuba diving around four years ago and completed my Open Water in Koh Tao, Thailand, like many others. So far I have dived around Asia extensively in Thailand and Indonesia but also in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan so this scuba diving packing list is advice meant for diving in tropical waters. For me, scuba diving is an addiction and the more I do it, the more I want to do. A few people have asked me about what to take diving, so I thought I’d make a useful scuba packing list of what I take on a dive boat. Below are useful items that I always use for diving and pack in my dry bag. Many of these useful dive items I wish I had known about in the beginning of my diving career!
What to take on a dive boat:
1. Gopro. There are many other similar video cameras for diving but the Gopro is still a popular, small and useful item for diving. It took me too long to get mine and I missed out on some great footage of diving with turtles in the Gili islands in Indonesia.
Scuba Diving Tip: When learning to do your Open Water or Advanced qualification and doing other dive courses you are, generally speaking, not permitted to use cameras. Compare prices for GoPro HERO4 BLACK and Gopro Hero 5 on Amazon here.
2. A red filter for the GoPro. It took me a long time until I cottoned on to this as before I received my red filter (thanks Dad!) all my photos and videos were so blue and not showing the real beauty of the coral. You lose red colour the deeper you dive. See which red filter fits your underwater camera here.
3. Gopro selfie stick, a recent purchase that allows me to get closer to animals or corals without disturbing them with my bubbles or presence. Buy a similar one like this Selfie Stick GoPro Hero on Amazon.
4. Bikini or swimwear. I personally prefer to wear a bikini under my wetsuit as it is easier when you need to go to the toilet on the dive boat.
Scuba Diving Tip: I usually wear a bikini with straps so that I won’t flash anyone while peeling off my wetsuit but I also make sure it doesn’t have any ties near my neck that might irritate me when my wetsuit is zipped all the way up.
5. Rash vest, if you are a wimp like me and get cold even when diving in warm waters that average 29C/84F degree sea water then consider a rash vest to wear underneath your wetsuit.
Scuba Diving Tip: When diving in countries like Thailand and Malaysia, most dive centres only provide short wet suits and even might charge extra for a long wetsuit which I am not prepared to pay. Browse brand name rash vests here
Scuba Diving Tip: choose a rash vest with a zip all the way up the middle – makes it so much easier taking it on and off!
6. Tiger balm/ decongestant – you cannot equalise with a cold or blocked nose so these are useful for keeping your sinuses open. I have used Actifed as a very strong decongestant which always helps me equalise but you shouldn’t use it for diving consecutive days. There is also a risk of reverse block so use with caution. Buy your tiger balm and nasal sprays on Amazon or wait until you arrive in Asia as they are equally cheap here.
7. Socks! – you might not look like the coolest diver out there but if you’re wearing fins without booties for days on end then socks will stop them from rubbing (and protect my nail varnish!)
9. Spare contact lenses – if like me you need to wear contacts to actually see the fish then make sure you take a spare pair with you. I find that clearing your mask underwater particularly stings when wearing contacts and changing them between two dives can help. I use daily contacts for diving.
Scuba Diving Tip: only soft contacts can be used for diving.
10. A hoody – maybe just for people who feel the cold but multiple dives lower your body temperature so at the end of the diving day I’m often feeling the cold.
11. Suncream – I know we shouldn’t be wearing suncream to protect the reefs but I am still about protecting my skin from damage and I usually top up in between dives. I figured climate change will probably destroy the reefs more than my suncream – but maybe that’s just me being selfish.
12. GoPro extensions – something to make your gopro float that doesn’t include air. I’m still looking for a GoPro floating selfie stick so if anyone knows where I can buy one then let me know please. I used to have one of these orange devices that float but you it means you cannot see the screen on my GoPro Hero 4. Buy a floating GoPro device here.
13. Your log book – recently I’ve made sure I write in my log book in between dives – especially when doing three dives a day, to help me remember and write about the moment.
14. A sarong – I never bother with heavy beach towels nowadays and I prefer to travel with lightweight, quick drying sarongs instead. I might not always head straight home after a dive and I don’t want to be carrying around a wet, heavy towel to the bar for post diving beers. I love a turtle themed one like this one
Thailand has some great dive spots and while some of them may not be as incredible and colourful as they once were, the reasonable prices and wide availability of dive centres will always keep me coming back for more diving. As far as I know Koh Tao still claims to be one of the cheapest places to do your Open Water certification, which is where I did my first diving certificate 4 years ago, and it’s been an obsession ever since. I have over 70 dives and most of them have taken place in Thailand. I still have a few more dive places to try out in the near future though.
While I’ve dived off many islands and beaches around Thailand the following are my top dive sites that I have returned back to many times:
Diving Koh Phi Phi
Known as a party island, Koh Phi Phi often surprises her divers with some great underwater marine life. Some of the best diving I’ve done in Thailand has been around Phi Phi Marine Park. One dive, my sister and I spotted a turtle, a black tip reef shark AND a leopard shark – all before midday. The coral is generally in pretty good shape, though the waves can make you feel a little queasy on the way out to the dive sites. I recommend using travel bands like these from Amazon Travel Sickness Wristbands (Black)
Stay: I have yet to find a great place to stay in Koh Phi Phi (after around 5 trips at least), I recommend showing up and using the little accommodation office near the pier. Give them your budget and they will find you a place.
Don’t miss: the beach fireshows – after I have been spoilt for fireshows living here, I still think they are impressive and the best in Thailand.
Diving Koh Similan / The Similan Islands
Diving the Similan Islands is usually on the bucket list for divers in Thailand. While the Similan islands are no longer covered on coral and marine life, they still have some great dive sites. Whale sharks and manta rays can be spotted around this area. Day trips here are extremely expensive (when I went we paid 6000 baht for two dives, compared with 2500 baht average in other dive spots around Thailand). Liveaboards are very popular here and you can often get great deals at the end of the season (April, May) if you can be flexible. This whole area is closed off during the rainy season (end of May to October) and even in October you are not guaranteed diving (my liveaboard was cancelled due to enormous waves one October). If you are considering a liveaboard then make sure it includes Richelieu Rock or at least Koh Bon for a chance of manta rays.
Arguably the best dive site in Thailand, I was lucky enough to spot my first whale shark here and therefore it will forever by up there in my memories of great dives. The dive site has lots of pretty purple coral and is claimed to be one of the best spots for whale sharks in Thailand. ( If only we could hold the whale sharks to that…!). North of the Similan Islands, it’s about a two hour, fairly bumpy, speed boat ride to get there.
Same details for Khao Lak, see above.
Diving Koh Phangan
Diving on Koh Phangan can be both great and disappointing in my experience. Sail Rock dive site has a lot of shoals of fish so if you’re looking for quantity then diving here can be impressive. The coral is fairly pretty, although expect a lot of divers underwater around the time of the Full Moon Party. The visibility is always worse around Full Moon and, unsurprisingly, there is no diving on the whole island for the day after the Full Moon party. For Full Moon Party Tips, read my post here as I’ve been to 5!
While diving on Koh Tao has seen its reputation take a nose dive (!), it remains one of the cheapest places to get your Open Water Certificate and there are 75+ dive centres to choose from. If you just arrive on the island, use your negotiation skills to get your diving qualification and accommodation throw in together. Be prepared for it to get very busy underwater.
Don’t miss: a trip to Ang Thong Marine Park- I’m yet to go but have heard great things.
Ao Nang Islands, Krabi
Many dive shops in Krabi will also advertise taking you to Koh Phi Phi Marine Park, but a cheaper alternative is to stay and dive the local islands. Visibility is not always the best but when I went I saw two bamboo sharks and I was lucky enough to see this amazing seahorse. I find there can often be lots of marine life to see even when some of these dive sites don’t shout about it. Ao Nang also offers a great jump off point for island hopping around Railay, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Koh Yao Noi and more.
I never go diving without my Gopro Hero 4. I’m convinced the moment I do is the dive when I will see five sharks, 10 mantas, some dolphins and a whale. Buy GoPro HERO4 BLACK from Amazon here
It took me a while to figure this out but your underwater dive photos and videos will look shit unless you include a red or orange filter. (Should have listened more on that colour loss part of the Advanced Open Water!) Get yours here Polarpro Red Filter and make sure you remember it when you dive. Or your photos will look like my whale shark one above – very blue!
If you get cold easily then I recommend using a long sleeved rash vest under your shorty wetsuit. I am yet to find a dive shop in Thailand that would give me a long wetsuit (for free). I always use my billabong rash vest to keep warm on those longer, deeper dives. And especially for liveaboards when multiple dives means a lower overall body temperature. Buy a similar one here from Amazon, Dakine Women’s Persuasive Snug Fit Long Sleeve Rashguard
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