Malaysia has several great dive locations. The top dive sites in Malaysia are located in the southeastern region of Sabah (Borneo Island). Dive site that is easiest to reach are the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, but this area is prone to the yearly monsoon season between October and March. Below are the top 10 based on our tour guide recommendation, criteria based on the bio-diversity, dive conditions, and attractiveness.
- Sipadan Island
Sipadan Island was at the top of Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine Gold List for ‘The Top Dive Destination in the World’. In fact it shared its top spot with 2 other destinations known for the amazing diversity of their marine life – the Galapagos Islands and Truk in Micronesia. Blue skies, clear waters, convenient diving and tropical scenery, but it is below the surface where this island really excels. The list of attractions is quite staggering and all the more exceptional as it involves plenty of big fish encounters – barracudas, large schools of trevally and marauding bumphead parrotfish. This is one of the big fish capitals of the world! Everywhere you turn at Sipadan, you’ll see turtles, munching on the sponges and algae, or lazing on the wall ledges. If you take the time to look closely at the walls you’ll see a wealth of macro life and fish species to rival most destinations, although this is often overlooked due to the other major attractions vying for your attention. Bear in mind that it is not that easy to dive at because of the restricting rules that are in place (daily permit).
Sources: dive-the-world.com, wonderfulmalaysia.com
- Mabul Island
Mabul Island, may be Sipadan’s lesser known neighbor, yet it offers some of the best muck diving in the world. Many divers think the challenge of finding a camouflaged frogfish, mimic octopi, and hidden harlequin shrimp is far more satisfying than bumping into a giant school of fish. Mabul Island is just 26 kilometers or a 45-minute boat ride from the nearest town of Semporna. However, divers can also stay at resorts on Mabul Island and make their way to Sipadan, which is just 15 kilometers or a 20-minute boat ride away.
- Lankayan Island
Lankayan is a small island located north of the city of Sandakan in eastern Sabah. It has been declared part of an immense Marine Protected Area to adopt the eco-tourism concept. Lankayan only has one (luxurious) resort and it’s all about diving and relaxing. Accommodation might be quite expensive for non-divers, they might be better off at numerous other islands. Described as a true macro-world paradise, there are also larger marine creatures such as leopard sharks, marbled stingray and giant grouper as well as schools of bumphead parrotfish, yellowtail barracuda and scads. Lankayan Island is also a nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles as Turtle Islands Park are nearby. You can watch as the baby turtles are released back into the sea. The availability of jungle interior and interesting diving attracts both divers and non-divers alike to Lankayan.
Image Sources: tripadvisor, sabah.edu.my, sabah-borneo.com, itsnature.org, dive-the-world.com, dive-and-cruise.com
- Layang-Layang Island
Layang-Layang is not a tropical island per se. It is a concrete landing strip with one resort and a marine base, located on a big sand bank located just below sea level. Layang-Layang is located in a remote area, where the underwater world has not been affected by human beings. Corals are in pristine conditions. Layang-Layang is a place to see big species and big schools of fish. No issues are encountered with getting a permit over here (unlike Sipadan where only a certain number of people are allowed to dive per day). Between the 1st of April and the 15th of May a surcharge (10%) is asked because of a big number of hammerhead sharks that swim around the island in that period. There is also a big chance of spotting whale sharks. Layang Layang has splendid diving conditions; corals are in pristine condition. The waters are unspoilt and unpolluted; there are no fishing activities and almost no other disturbances.
Image Sources: pandamart.com.my, bluewaterdivetravel, malaysia.avillionlayanglayang.com, sedunia.com.my, n1.x-mortgage.com
- Sibuan Island
Just like Mabul to the south of Semporna, Sibuan is seen as one of the best muck diving (macro divers paradise) spots in Malaysia. Here you can enjoy encounters with many amazing underwater creatures; like pygmy seahorses, nudibranches, mandarin fish, crocodile fish, lion fish, scorpion fish and frog fish. There are a few nice dive sites around Sibuan Island, the most popular are; Left Shoulder, Mandarin Point, Mandarin Bay, Froggy’s and the Drop-Off. Nearby Sibuan you can find Mantabuan Island; with a couple of fabulous dive sites. If you have the chance, definitely go dive at these sites. Though most of the dive sites around Sibuan are good for all types of divers, some other sites are a bit more challenging because of the currents. Especially during monsoon (Dec/Jan) visibility is bad and the currents are strong.
Image Sources: wongfookyee, flickriver, mojostudio.lofter.com
- Redang Island
Redang is the first island in our list that is not located in Borneo. Redang Island lies within the Terengganu Marine Park, nearby the city of Kuala Terengganu at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Redang offers great dive sites and perfect dive conditions. It is a great place to start with your diving adventure, as prices of a 4 day PADI course are very affordable. Redang cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.
Redang offers 80% of species found in the ‘coral triangle’ (an area bounded by the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea known to have the highest number of marine species in the world). This biodiversity makes Redang one of the top dive sites in peninsular Malaysia. There are more than 20 dive sites to suit all skill levels, including beach dives and challenging deep dives, with a good mix of coral gardens, wall dives as well as sandy bottom offering plenty of opportunities for macro photography. The dive sites are all located nearby and are quickly accessible by speedboat. Most resorts have dive centres which offer leisure dives and PADI dive certification courses. The PADI open water course theory and open water sessions can be completed within a 4D/3N stay, though it’s recommended to stay at least 5D/4N for a more leisurely pace and to have time for a few extra leisure dives after that. For non-divers who want to have a taste of what scuba diving feels like, some dive centres offer ‘discovery dives’ where a dive instructor or divemaster will conduct a short briefing on how to use the scuba equipment before personally bringing participants out on a shallow reef dive lasting about 30 minutes.
Image Sources: dive-site.com, gayatravel.com.my
- Lang Tengah Island
Located between the more popular islands of Redang and Perhentian, the smaller island of Lang Tengah offers great diving opportunities. There is a good deep dive here dropping down to 30 meters with big shoals of snappers, fusiliers and rabbitfish, a thermocline often drops the visibility which can be upto 30 meters. Bamboo sharks, turtles and shovel nosed rays have been spotted on occasion around the island. There are a couple of shallow bays ideal for night diving where crustaceans and nocturnal reef critters are abundant. Some of the more popular dive sites are Tanjung Nibong Laut (26m), Yellow Reef (Terumbu Kuning, 25m), Tanjung Telunjuk, Karang Nibong, Batu Bulan and the House Reefs. The island has a few nice resorts, and is also suitable for non-divers. Lang Tenggah cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.
Image Sources: summerbayresort, trekearth.com, tripadvisor, groupon, cuti.my, hovandoholidays
- Tenggol Island
Tenggol Island is located at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. In general, dives around Tenggol Island are current drift dives. Visibility during good weather is between 15-20 meters but deteriorates rapidly with bad weather. Depth of water for all the dive sites is generally 25-30 meters.It offers splendid diving conditions, but it is perhaps not suitable for beginners due to the currents that often play a big role in dives around the island. Pulau Tenggol is located along the whale sharks migratory route normally from August to October every year. It is much anticipated by divers as not many places in the world that these whale sharks stays longer at a certain place. The surroundings of Pulau Tenggol are rich in its marine life and coral haven and this might be the reason that whale sharks choose Pulau Tenggol as their playground. There are a few nice resorts on the island. Tenggol cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.
Sources: asiadivesite, tenggoldives
Image Sources: journeymalaysia, cuti.my
- Perhentian Island
Perhentian is the best island in Malaysia to do a diving course. They belong to the Terengganu Marine Park. The diving conditions are splendid for beginners, and there are many dive spots available to enjoy immediately after finishing the PADI course. Perhentian has calm waters and an abundance of marine life. Besides diving it is probably one of the best islands for snorkeling, with shallow reefs with pretty nice corals and great marine life (also big fish and many turtles). At Perhentian prices for fun dives and for the diving course are probably the lowest in Malaysia. If you are a beginner, Perhentian Island is definitely the place to be!
There are about 20 dive sites around the small archipelago accessible within a short boat ride. There is a good wreck dive called the Sugar Wreck. It is easy and shallow and will offer you good underwater photography opportunities. However the site is close to the mainland and visibility is not always good. Another wreck is the Vietnamese wreck which is upside down. Another popular dive site is the Pinnacle also called Tokong Laut. The marine life is rich with all the usual reef fishes of Southeast Asia. You can also spot pelagic fishes, lots of turtles and reef sharks. If you are very lucky it is possible to encounter Manta rays and even the tail of a Whale Shark!
The Perhentians islands are almost completely closed from November to March with irregular boats, and most of the hotels, resorts and diving centres closed. In the other months the Islands are fully booming with nice tropical weather.
Image Sources: asahjayaphoto.wordpress, tripadvisor, tourism.gov.my, beforeitsnews.com
- Tioman Island
Diving conditions at Tioman are similar to the other popular islands at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Especially great about Tioman is that besides diving it is also a great place to do snorkeling, sunbathing and kayaking. The island is big enough to do numerous other fun activities. Possible downside might be that is not that easy to reach compared to other islands (unless you are willing to pay dearly for the direct KL -> Tioman flight operated by Berjaya Air).
Tioman Island offers very good diving opportunities with more than 25 dive sites. There is also good wreck diving such as the Soyak Wreck. Scuba diving is suitable for all kind of divers and it is a popular place for diving lessons. It is also a good option for night diving and macro underwater photography. For more advanced divers, there are also more challenging dive sites offshore of the main island such as around Soyak island. Another famous spot is Tiger Reef. This underwater pinnacle is a highlight of the area.