Whether you’ve dived before, or are looking for a first experience, there are few destinations in the world that can compare with the warm clear topical waters of South-east Asia, particularly those found in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, home to some of the world’s top dive sites.

With stunning backdrops, extensive coral reefs, diverse marine life, awesome visibility, well-established infrastructure, the countries of Southeast Asia offer unrivalled potential for combining your diving activities with cultural, wildlife and historical sightseeing, superb leisure facilities and some truly fabulous beaches.

There are professional dive schools aplenty to cater for the many beginners and experienced underwater enthusiasts that come every year on diving excursions. The standards of dive facilities in Southeast Asia are generally excellent.

As scuba diving remains a novelty with some indigenous populations, most instructors and dive masters are American, European or Australian, who scrupulously observe international safety standards and are all authorised by accredited organisations such as NAUI and PADI.

Although diving is never a particularly cheap activity, prices in Southeast Asia are very favourable, compared with other locations. Attractive prices, warm waters, and the high quality of marine experience on offer, often prove irresistible for beginners who have always dreamed of taking the plunge.

There are a wide range of dive types available from coral sightseeing and wildlife spotting, to more advanced cave, wall, muck and wreck diving. The very best diving and visibility is shared between Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, in an area known as the Coral Triangle, which between them host many of the best regarded dive locations in the world, and offer a range of experiences suitable to all levels.

Vietnam and Cambodia also offer some interesting diving, but with less generous visibility. Although certainly providing a wide and interesting spectrum of marine life, it is rare to see the larger species common throughout the Coral Triangle. For this reason Vietnam and Cambodia are best suited for intermediate divers and beginners, and those wishing to include some diving activity within a wider holiday agenda.

In addition to recreational diving, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines also offer very advanced and challenging diving, dedicated dive cruises and whole holidays designed for the enthusiastic, sport or professional scuba diver.


The most popular scuba destination in Vietnam is Nha Trang, the main general diving spots being Madonna Rock, Rainbow Reef and Moray beach, with wall diving available at electric nose, Tiger Wall and Goat Rock. Whale Island is a favourite base for diving around Nha Trang, with Frogfish, Paperfish, Devil scorpionfish, Dragonettes, Flying gunard, Cowfish, small Manta rays, Stingrays, giant Moray eels and Turtles common sights. Diving is available between January and October.

Hoi An is the base for diving the Cham Islands, the principal dive sites being around Hon Tai, Hon Dai and Rang Manh Pinnacles. The area offers beautiful coral gardens and some deep diving with species such as Parrotfish, Clownfish, Angelfish, Lionfish, Moray eels, Needlefish, Barracuda and Groupers. The best diving is between March and August.

Phu Quoc island also offers diving and is chiefly famous for its occasional sighting of the rare Dugong. Although Phu quoc does not in general attract the larger species and visibility is often limited to around 9 metres, it nonetheless has some interesting reefs with hard corals, Elephant ear and Barrel sponges covered in sea worms and surrounded by small yellow Damselfish, Stonefish, some Blue ringed Angelfish, the occasional coral Grouper and Parrotfish.

Phu Quoc is best suited to visitors who wish some modest diving combined with a laid-back beach holiday, or those who want to do a first time dive without being troubled by the prospect of meeting too many large ocean predators.


The main dive sites in Cambodia are clustered around the islands of Koh Tang, Koh Kon and Koh Rong Saloem, all accessible from Sihanoukville. Most of the sites are fringe reef dives. Night diving is also possible.

Common fish found among the Anemones and corals include Puffer fish, Scorpion fish, Octopus, Groupers, Damselfish, Cobia, Box fish, Parrotfish, Blue-spotted Stingrays, Snappers, Cat sharks and Barracuda.


It is possible to dive almost everywhere along Thailand’s coast and its myriad islands, and with dive schools in abundance it is easy to explore the marine life from almost any beach location, with diving in most locations available throughout the year.

The most revered sites for serious divers are those accessible from Krabi and Phuket on the west coast, including the islands of Ko Phi Phi, Mu Ko Lanta Marine Park, and the Surin and Similan islands of the Andaman Sea. The east coast islands, also offer high quality dives combined with a laid back atmosphere, the most popular dive sites of which are located offshore from Ko Tao.

Ko Lanta offers a great base for excellent diving, with the islands of Ko Rok, Ko Haa and its caverns, Hin Muang, Hin Daeng and Ko Phi Phi each offering a variety of dive sites from Beginner to Advanced and collectively often featuring in the top ten world dive locations.

Dive types include Wall, Overhang, Pinnacle, Cavern and Wreck. Among the multitudinous tropical fish and corals, marine creatures found here are Whale sharks, Black-tip, Grey reef and Leopard sharks, Manta, Eagle and Marble rays, Batfish, Banded sea snakes and Hawksbill turtles.  

Other regular entrants in the hallowed top ten of world dive hotspots are the clusters around the marine parks of Ko Similan and Ko Surin. Far out in the Andaman Sea, these islands are best visited on a dedicated dive cruise, usually lasting from 3-7 days, though day trips and private charters are also available.

With stunning visibility, the most famous sites are Christmas Point, Breakfast Bend, Fantasy Reef, Elephant Head, Richelieu Rock and the world-renowned Burma Banks, actually just over the border in Myanmar, along with the fabulous Myeik (Mergui) Archepelago. Common sights are Turtles, Whale and Leopard sharks, Manta rays, and Giant moray eels which together with a multitude of smaller, more common reef dwellers drift over the vast Sea Fans.

In the eastern islands, the main dive sites are to be found around the northernmost islands in the chain, Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan, with accommodation available on both. Most of the dive schools in the larger islands of Ko Sumui and Ko Phangan also focus their dive trips around Ko Tao, which in high season can lead to overcrowding of the popular sites. Whale, Grey, Black-tip reef and Leopard Sharks, king mackerel, Giant and Yellow tail barracuda, Grouper, Parrot and Trigger fish are all to be found in these clear waters.


Some of Thailand's dive trips take you up to the Burma Banks and the amazing Myeik (Mergui) Archepelago in Myanmar, a delightful, virtually untouched marine haven of over eight hundred, mostly uninhabited, islands, which offer superb diving in fantastically clear waters. As Myanmar opens up to tourism, dive excursions are now becoming available in Myanmar itself.


Peninsula Malaysia’s diving hotspots centre around the delicious Pulau Perehentian, Pulau Redang, Pulau Tioman islands off its eastern coast, whilst truly superb opportunities abound in Layang Layang and Sipadan islands in Borneo.

The best times to dive the waters offshore from Malaysia’s eastern peninsula are between March and November. Between December and February, heavy rain, large swells and beakers predominate.

The Perhentian islands offer fringing reefs, cave and tunnel diving and wreck diving, with Parrotfish, Stingray, White-tip reef shark, Boxfish, Pufferfish, Snappers, Jacks, Fusiliers, Groupers, Wrasse, Sweetlips, Christmas tree worms, Barracudas, Bumpheads, Lobsters and Bamboo sharks among its inhabitants.

Offshore from Pulau Redang, Nudibranch, Sea stars, Sea urchins, Snappers, Rabbitfish, Groupers, Silver barracudas, Clownfish, Triggerfish, Parrotfish, Hammerheads sharks, Leatherback turtles, Hawksbill turtles, Olive Ridley turtles, Green turtles, Whale sharks and Eagle rays are among over 3,000 marine species floating over the soft tree and cup corals, sea fans, and World War II shipwrecks.

More wrecks greet the diver at Pulau Tioman, long a favourite on the travelling divers’ circuit, and renowned for its exceptional visibility Fusiliers, Kingfish, Pufferfish, Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Sting rays, Moray eels, Trigger fish and Giant groupers play among its boulder, staghorn and brain corals.

The west coast peninsula’s most noted dive sites are around Pulau Payar. Green moray eels, Black-tip reef sharks, Groupers, Barracudas, Parrotfish, Pufferfish, Angelfish, Bannerfish, Lionfish, Snappers, Damselfish and Fusiliers are the star attractions. Accessible from Langkawi, diving is available all year round, though visibility suffers between July and October.

Off the Sabah coast in Borneo, the wall dives and caverns of Pulau Sipadan benefit from superb clarity.

The island is yet another of the world’s top ten dive destinations and home to the widest variety of corals on earth.

Hawksbill and Green turtle, White-tip, Grey reef and Hammerhead sharks, Jacks, Barracudas, Clownfish, Trigger fish, Bump-head parrotfish, Leaf fish, Nudibranches, and Mantis scrimp are among the fascinating array of its marine dwellers. For conservation reasons, the accommodation previously available has been removed, and visitors are now compelled to stay on nearby islands, or on a live-aboard cruise.  

Also off the coast of Sabah, northwest of Kota Kinabalu, and likewise with legendary visibility, the island of Layang Layang consists of 13 reefs, scarcely breaking the ocean surface, and are home to a wide diversity of corals, whose inhabitants include Big-eye trevallies, Barracudas, Manta rays, Giant humphead wrasse, Hawksbill turtles, Dog-tooth tuna, White- tip reef sharks, Hammerheads sharks, Butterfly fish, Rabbitfish, and Anthias. As with the eastern peninsula, the diving season in Borneo runs from March through to November.


Lying completely within the apex of the Coral Triangle, the Philippines has some splendid dive opportunities that rank among the world’s best, particularly offshore from Palawan at the UNESCO world heritage Tubbataha Reef, known for its super-clarity and profound ecological diversity, the dive sites of which reveal a host of top predators including Tiger and Hammerhead Sharks, which together with Whale sharks, Manta rays, Dolphins, Whales, Jacks, Tuna, Barracudas, Trevallies and rare Napoleon wrasses provide the interest among a staggering array of other fish species and numerous corals.

Manta rays are a popular feature of diving in the Philippines, and the Manta Bowl in Ticao is a favourite place to see both these and the popular Whale sharks.

Other top dive sites include Apo Reef, Bacuit Bay, Puerto Galera, and Anilao, while wreck diving among the World War II wrecks of Subic Bay and Coron are other areas of great interest to technical divers.