One of the ultimate ways to explore the vast ocean that makes up two-thirds of our world is by taking the leap and diving right in. Night, cave, wreck or deep diving, Asia has arguably the most extensive variety of dives suitable to all experience levels. I’ve listed some of my favourite locations to discover the colourful underwater world below. So, suit up and get ready to wade into the waters of the best diving spots in the continent!
Only 84 km away from bustling Patong Beach in Phuket, this Thai national park consists of a collection of granite islands – the name ‘similan’ is derived from the Malay word ‘sembilan’ which translates to the number nine. These islands are completely uninhabited except for a single resort and tents available for rent. Divers mainly come here for the great diversity of fish species, including the popular clownfish or ‘nemo fish’, as they are fondly known. The great visibility which can reach 40mm is a big reason why it remains a popular diving location for experienced divers who return year after year.
How to get there: Your best bet is to get to Taplamu Pier in Khao Lak and to take a boat from there (60-80 min by speedboat). From Phuket bus station, almost all buses heading north will pass through Khao Lak (90 min – 3 hours), leaving every hour or so. For a more convenient time, book a day trip to the Similan Islands from Phuket and everything will be taken care of for you.
Flights to Phuket are frequent and inexpensive for most of Asia. At time of writing, a quick search on Skyscanner shows return flights from Hong Kong for a May 2016 weekend come to around US$140.
History buffs and adventurous divers will equally enjoy diving the USAT Liberty shipwreck in Bali. The 3 to 30 meter wreck is suitable for divers of all experience levels; traverse through the Second World War casualty and keep an eye out for the blue spotted stingrays, which are often buried beneath the sand. Spend time identifying lion fish, scorpion fish and moray eels in the outer edges of the wreck, or strap on a torchlight to explore the deep crevices of the ship.
How to get there: Traveling around Bali isn’t always easy. Booking a private car charter online or once you arrive is one option however we’d recommend booking your whole trip in advance including hotel pick up such as this two shipwreck dives in Tulamben activity where qualified divers can explore up to 30 meters and those with no experience can get an introductory diving taster lesson.
Keep an eye out for bargain flights to Bali, Skyscanner found flights from Hong Kong for May 2016 for less than US$200 at time of writing.
Ari Atoll, Maldives
Ari is a diving hotspot bringing divers all over the world as well as liveaboards to its waters. Unlike the wide stretches of barrier reef, Ari features a lot of submerged pinnacles that you can dive in and around. The highlight of diving in Ari Atoll is the reliable sightings of big marine life – manta rays, hammerhead sharks and even whale sharks are some of the sea creatures that you can expect to see on your dive.
How to get there: You’ll have to have a bigger budget for the Maldives. Flights are pricier traveling from anywhere as these islands are more isolated. A brief search came up with few flights cheaper than US$400 from Hong Kong to Male, but keep an eye out, I’ve seen a few last minute bargains.
Only 4 out of 22 islands in Kerama are inhabited, making it a relatively undiscovered paradise with unspoiled beaches and crystal blue waters. The local community consciously protects the rich marine life and clear waters from pollution. With over 400 species of corals and a spawning ground for sea turtles, get ready to greet an abundance of breathtaking underwater scenery.
How to get there: Flights to Naha Airport in Okinawa are getting cheaper and more convenient by the month. May 2016 direct flights from Hong Kong were as little as US$170 on Skyscanner when this post was written. Once in Okinawa, it’s a 35-70 minutes by high speed ferry from Naha. An all-inclusive diving day trip will save you the hassle or organising transport with direct hotel transfers from Naha city included.
Mabul Island, Malaysia
Neighbouring island to the famous Sipadan, Mabul is known as one of the best locations in the world for macro diving. In this muck diving atmosphere, you will discover all sorts of quirky and fascinating sea creatures like frog fish, colourful octopuses and a variety of crustaceans on the seabed. The dive sites are relatively shallow at around 12-18 meters deep but the fun in diving in Mabul’s waters come from getting very close to rare types of marine life.
How to get there: Frequent and cheap flights run from Kota Kinabalu (50 min) or Kuala Lumpur (2 hr 45) to Tawau Airport (that weekend in May had flights for less than US$70). From Tawau, continue by land to the port town of Semporna (1 hr 30) From Semporna, you will continue by boat to Mabul island (45-60 minutes). To make sure you arrive in time for same day transfers, be sure to catch a flight that lands in Tawau before 2pm.
Where did you last dive at? We want to hear about your favorite spots!