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 top diving destinations when booking your next scuba diving trip for some impressive underwater adventures.
Best Diving in South East Asia: Indonesia – 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.
Best Diving in South East Asia – Best place to dive with 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!
Best diving in the Philippines – Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Cebu
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 3 metre 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.
Best place to see whale sharks in Thailand – Richelieu Rock and Koh Bon, Thailand
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.
Best diving in the Gili Islands, Indonesia – “Turtle city”
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!
Scuba diving in 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.
I became obsessed with scuba diving when I completed my Open Water course in Koh Tao in Thailand. Having spent the last 5 years living and working in Asia I have now scuba dived all over Thailand, in Indonesia including Bali and Komodo National Park, across the Maldives and also in Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines. The following scuba diving packing list is a guide for useful items to take on a dive boat in tropical waters. This includes what to pack for diving liveaboard trips and scuba diving day trips.
Scuba Diving Packing List: 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 GoPros on Amazon here. I recommend one with a screen so you can see what you are videoing or taking photos of underwater. Make sure you have a housing for newer Gopros like the GoPro 7 as they are only waterproof down to 10 metres.
Scuba Diving Packing Guide : GoPro Accessories for diving: A red filter
A red filter for the GoPro is an absolute must for my diving holiday packing list. In different waters, the sea is different colours but a red filter will suit most tropical diving. See the below underwater photo with no red filter! They are all blue or green and you lose the colour the deeper you dive. See which red filter fits your underwater camera here.
Packing for Diving Holiday: GoPro essentials for diving – floating stick
I have been on so many dive boats where divers have dropped their gopros over the side of the boat and without a floating device they sink. A floating stick or handle is ideal and I never go on a boat without this floating device. You can also use orange floating devices to stick onto the back of your Gopro but these will cover the screen portion of the GoPro. Compare different floating sticks on Amazon here. Be aware that the floating selfie sticks that extend often have air in the middle so will not be suitable for scuba diving.
Dive Packing List: Best swimwear for diving trip
I have tried diving with a variety of different swimwear and I also wear a wetsuit because I get cold even in 29C water. I always choose a bikini because it is easier to wear under a wetsuit for going to the toilet on the boat. I also make sure I don’t have any ties on the bikini bottoms or a halterneck tie on the bikini top so that it doesn’t irritate me when my wetsuit is zipped up. A bikini like the one I am wearing below is best for under a wetsuit.
Diving Wetsuits: Best women’s wetsuit on a budget for warm waters
This is my exact wetsuit below on Amazon which I actually ordered from www.lazada.com (the Asian Amazon) as I was living in Thailand at the time. I’m a UK size 8 and it fits like a glove. It’s 5mm which keeps me warm as I am a wimp and get cold easily! If I get cold underwater I shiver a lot and I go through my air so much quicker so I definitely recommend keeping warm.
Diving Holiday Packing List: Rash Vest and Leggings
If you feel a wetsuit is a bit extreme for warm water diving then I definitely recommend taking a rash vest instead. It’s a very useful item that I always take on diving or snorkelling trips. I recommend rash vests with a zip up the middle to make it easier to get on and off. Browse brand name rash vests here.
For leggings for diving or snorkelling, I am obsessed with Waterlust leggings, all made from recycled plastic packaging.
Diving Packing Essentials: Decongestant to help equalise ears
Tiger balm is a useful item to pack for a dive boat. You cannot equalise with a cold or blocked nose so these are useful for keeping your sinuses open, especially if you are on a liveaboard dive boat or are doing multiple dives in one day. Buy from Amazon here or if you are diving in Asia wait until you are there to get it much cheaper.
I have previously used Actifed as a very strong decongestant which always helps me equalise my ears but you shouldn’t use it for diving consecutive days. There is also a risk of reverse block so after consulting with an ENT specialist I was recommend this nose spray which I use every day for the week leading up to diving and it really helps with ear equalisation problems of which I used to have many!
Dive Boat Essential Items – 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!) Also very useful for liveaboard diving packing lists because of diving multiple dives a day.
Spare contact lenses – if like me you need to wear contacts to actually see the fish or sharks or mantas 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 but monthlies normally. I prefer to use daily contact lenses when diving. Please note, according to my optician, only soft contact lens can be used for scuba diving.
What to take on a liveaboard boat: Some warm clothes
A hoody or a jumper – maybe just for people who feel the cold but multiple dives lowers your body temperature so at the end of the diving day I’m often feeling the cold.
Diving Essentials: Reef friendly suncream
I am still always looking out for reef friendly suncream with a high SPF and so far I can recommend Sunbum brands and the Cerave suncream.
Dive Boat Packing: Log Book
Make sure to take your log book to log all your fun dives as well as dive courses. 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.
Packing for a dive trip: A sarong
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
The best dive equipment for a low budget
I use this budget dive computer, brand Cressi Leonardo because I thought it was a great value dive computer. I bought it from Amazon after a recommendation from a friend. It is very basic and doesn’t have a free diving mode which I now find frustrating but it suits scuba diving very well. I know instructors who use it and it has a long battery life. I haven’t had to replace mine in 2 years of fairly regular diving trips. One thing to note is that this cheap dive computer is very conservative in that it will flash “no fly” for 24 hours after only one dive. It comes in a range of colours with slightly different price tags. I have the white one.
The best mask for a small face
I bought my Oceanic Ice Mini last year and I absolutely love it. It has a wide range of vision and I love that the mask is all one piece of glass rather than divided into two. I would definitely buy this again and I am very happy. I put toothpaste overnight a couple of times at the beginning to make sure it doesn’t fog and now I have no problems with it. I also love mask strap at the back as my hair never gets stuck in it. I bought my clear one from Simply Scuba in the UK but there is an Amazon version only in black.
For more about diving in Asia, read more of my blog posts:
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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Travel Blog about Thailand, South East Asia & the Maldives