The holidays are almost here!

That means year-end shopping, spending time with loved ones, and working your schedule around your next dive trip!

If you’ve been craving for a rewarding dive within the region, look no further! Put on your fins because here are 7 Southeast Asian destinations that are a must-try, in no particular order.

1. Timor-Leste

A reef surrounded by fishes in Timor-Leste. IMAGE: Indo Pacific Images

Hidden from many tourists are the waters of Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor. There’ve been daily sightings of blue whales and sperm whales along with the common appearances of pods of dolphins and dugongs.

Diving is all-year round, but the best time to go seems to be between April to November.

A diver swims toward the air. IMAGE: Timor Leste

Experience level: If you have an instructor, you’re in luck because diving lessons are catered to those diving for the first time to experienced divers looking to push themselves further.

Common sightings: Whales, dolphins, and dugongs

2. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

A resort at Raja Ampat, Indonesia. IMAGE: Tobias Zimmer/Condé Nast Traveller

The group of islands in West Papua of Indonesia is famous for being featured in the Indonesian tourism board’s ads. The four main islands are Misool, Waigeo, Batanta, and Salawati, but you may also know them by their nickname: the Four Kings.

Diving season is all year round.

Often describe as the dream diving location for scuba divers because of its status as a marine paradise. IMAGE: Papua Paradise

Experience level: Many diving areas are beginner friendly, but some sites are known to have unpredictable current. Consult your local dive operator if you’re unsure.

Common sightings: Coral gardens, schools of fish, manta rays, blacktip and whitetip sharks

3. Similan Islands, Thailand

East of Eden has one of the best reefs with the most variety in the Similan Islands. IMAGE: Sunrise Divers

With roughly 20 dive sites at the Similan Islands, diving enthusiasts are almost spoilt for choice. From “aquarium” diving to discovering a shipwreck that rests in the middle of the reef, there’s something for everyone.

According to the islands’ official site, the best diving season to enjoy both the calm waters and perfect temperature is late February till mid-March.

Say ‘hi’ to a moral eel while you’re scuba diving. IMAGE: Wicked Diving

Experience level: The area’s very beginner friendly. Mid-level divers will also enjoy moderate currents.

Noteworthy information: Between mid-May to mid-October, the islands will be closed as the Monsoon season causes dangerous weather conditions.

Common sightings: Parrotfish, hard coral gardens, moray eels, frogfish, whales, and dolphins

4. Sipadan Island, Malaysia

A diver encounters a turtle. IMAGE: Dive the World

Sipadan Island, also known as Pulau Sipadan, is a well-known dive site to enthusiasts. From mesmerizing corals to swimming inside a school of jackfish, there is an abundance of marine life to experience right before your very eyes. The island is one of the most beloved, if not the best, spots to dive in the world.

While it is a great location to dive all year, the best months to dive are reportedly April to December. Guests are recommended to book long periods of stays as early as possible due to the limited distribution of permits each dive resort and operator have in the area.

Turtles will be a common sight in Pulau Sipadan. IMAGE: Asia Diving Vacation

Experience level: Due to strong currents being common in the area, it’s recommended that only mid to advance certified divers tackle this area.

Noteworthy information: Beginning 2020, Sipadan Island will be shut down for all sea activities throughout December in an effort to allow the marine environment and ecology at the island to recuperate.

Common sightings: Green turtles, hawksbill turtle, schools of fish, and cuttlefish

5. Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, Philippines

The Tubbataha Reef is home to at least 75 percent of the world’s known corals. IMAGE: Palawan Wonders

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park has one of the highest diversity of marine life. It’s one of the Philippines’ oldest ecosystems and plays an important role not just in the marine ecosystem, but for many Filipinos who rely on the area for their livelihoods.

It’s recommended to visit the area during March to early June to experience peak diving season.

Discover the various corals available at the Tubbataha Reef. IMAGE: Good News Pilipinas/Philstar

Experience level: There’s truly something for everyone at Tubbataha Reef from shallow waters to the deep sea. Beginners to advanced divers are all welcomed.

Noteworthy information: The area is only accessible by a liveboard during a short window from March to June. Because it’s so sought after, it’s highly recommended that you book your dive cruise early, possibly even years in advance!

Common sightings: Whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles, and Napoleon wrasse

6. Malapascua, Philippines

Divers encounter a shark. IMAGE: CharlieVDB/Flickr

There’s a single main feature of Malapascua that continues to bring divers from all across the world to visit: The thresher shark. With its big eyes and long tails, thresher sharks are considered one of the planet’s most attractive sharks. And if you visit Malapascua, you’ll be able to spot one. But don’t worry. If you’re not into sharks, there’s plenty of fishes in the sea.

Visit whenever you can because diving season lasts throughout the year.

Look at that face, it’s happy to see you! IMAGE: Sea Explorers

Experience level: Divers with mid to advanced certification are recommended for the area.

Common sightings: Sharks and rays

7. Komodo National Park, Indonesia

 
There’s plenty to explore in Komodo National Part, both on land and in the sea.

Besides being inhabited by thousands of Komodo dragons, from which it got its name from, the national park is also home to a large marine ecosystem. Various species of fish, dolphins, sharks, and more, can be seen chilling around the reefs.

Diving season is all year round, but the best diving conditions are between March to October. During the rainy season from December to February, divers have spotted manta rays.

 
Snorkel at Siaba Besar where you can see various critters of all shapes and sizes. IMAGE: Remote and Afloat

Experience level: Advanced certified divers only please. There are strong currents in the area that could prove to be overly challenging for beginner-level divers.

Commonly sighted: Whale sharks, ocean sunfish, manta rays, seahorses, and blue-ringed octopus

So what are you waiting for? Grab your diving gear and strap on your flippers now!

Cover image sourced from Sunrise Divers.



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