Discover pristine reefs, pinnacles, walls and world-famous islands where marine conservation comes first and the marine life is second to none. From enormous schools of pelagic fish, hammerheads, whale sharks and mantas to abundant macro treasures and nesting sea turtles, Malaysia seemingly has it all.
Pahang is the serene, scenic gateway to some fantastic diving in Malaysia. Off the coast of Pahang there are multiple islands which are surrounded by flourishing reefs and many marine species. Whether it’s muck diving, colourful reefs, macro species or large marine species, with the many dive sites here, all types of divers will have a great diving experience here.
The charm and the attraction of the Terengganu region is that there are multiple islands scattered along the coast which are all idyllic paradise islands which are the ideal holiday destinations to relax on while exploring the waters teeming with marine life.
Diving in Malaysia
Much of the diving in Malaysia is concentrated along the east of the country with a clutch of specially protected islands found on the eastern peninsula closer to Borneo. This area has been well-protected by the Malaysian government in order to preserve the impressive array of marine life that can be found here. This protection has kept the reefs pristine and the flow of pelagics steady, but it is worth remembering that the best dive sites require permits that have to be attained in advance of a visit. Once you take a look underwater and see the density of marine life and the beauty of the reefs and pinnacles it is easy to see why the Malaysians make preservation a high priority.
With permit in hand, you will be able to enjoy most of the sites which are very easy diving, accessible to beginners but still plenty to wow even the most seasoned divers. This is a great place for dive courses with a number of dive resorts and liveaboards offering the chance to learn while surrounded by sharks, mantas and huge fish shoals. The resorts offer a wide range of options depending on your budget, everything from inexpensive beach guesthouses to luxurious water bungalows. Liveaboards are also popular although it is worth noting that they are usually around two to three days long thanks to many of the best dive sites being only a stone’s throw away from each other. Some are however much further from the other sites requiring a flight to reach the other hotspots for diving.
Sipadan Island, Mabul Island and Kapalai Island are all within easy reach in a day and both Sipadan and Mabul are lined with dive sites. On the East of Malaysia, Tioman Island and the Perhentian Islands are also protected areas for marine life with mantas, turtles and whalesharks found around these tranquil tropical islands. The islands are also well-loved by divers and marine enthusiasts as turtle nesting sites.
Best time to dive
Due to its fortunate position the eastern peninsula of Malaysia, where divers will find the Semporna Islands offers year-round diving with little weather change throughout. November to February is the best time to see hammerheads here and July through November is the most active period for turtles. On the east coast of Malaysia however, Tioman and the Perhentian Islands are seasonal with the end of November through to the start of February leaving dive resorts and hotels closed due to the monsoon season. For the rest of the year, the weather and diving conditions are perfect with nesting turtles from May to July on the Perhentian Islands.
Types of diving
Diving around Malaysia is largely reefs, pinnacles and walls with a beautiful variety of marine life large and small. There are ample macro photography opportunities especially in the Semporna Islands as well as large pelagics like mantas and whalesharks and hammerheads. The diving is known to be fairly easy with calm waters, shallow bottoms and only a little current. This is a perfect location for a dive course, the perfect conditions and abundance of beautiful reef fish are ideal for new and experienced divers to learn new skills. There are also a number of excellent wrecks from the Second World War many of which are within the reach of recreational divers.
What to see
The marine life is the real draw for diving in Malaysia, the government has carefully protected the national marine parks against damage from mass tourism. The reefs are mostly in pristine condition and many of the islands offer education for locals and visitors on the marine ecosystems of the islands. It is possible to see hammerheads, mantas and whalesharks in the Semporna islands and huge numbers of turtles and reef sharks in the Perhentian Islands and Tioman. Sipadan and Mabul are also well known for their macro life with huge numbers of crustaceans, nudibranchs and sea snakes found around both islands.
Best places to dive
On the eastern peninsula of Malaysia, Mabul is part of the Semporna Islands and home to some of the very best diving in Malaysia inside of the protected national park. The impressive marine diversity of Mabul draws in divers, especially underwater photographers to this tiny island. There is an artificial reef directly in front of the island’s resort which is a haven for critters of all kinds. It is worth noting that stays in Mabul are restricted with a minimum stay of three days required.
Sipadan Island, Borneo
One of the best places to dive in Malaysia, it is worth spending some time in Sipadan as you may have to wait for the opportunity to dive. Only one hundred and twenty diving permits are given on any one day in Sipadan. The government are keen to keep this precious area preserved and as beautiful as it is now. The stunning reefs are home to plentiful critters, turtles and great numbers of reef sharks. There are also colossal fish shoals including huge barracuda which often surround divers blocking out the light from above. It is also possible to see mantas and whalesharks as well as hammerheads at certain times of the year.
Made up of two main islands Besar and Kecil as well as a small cluster of uninhabited islets, the Perhentian Islands are true tropical islands with white sand lined shores and cerulean blue waters. There are dive centers and a number of dive resorts on both islands. Besar is home to the more luxurious resorts and Kecil is more on the budget end to cater for all diving groups. The islands are home to numerous reef sharks and nesting hawksbill and greens.
One of the larger tropical islands of Malaysia’s east coast, Tioman is great for easy diving and home to black and whitetip reef sharks as well as plenty of macro including seahorses year-round. As with other parts, there is also the chance of seeing mantas, whalesharks and large numbers of turtles. Tioman is also fortunate to have several WW II wreck sites for divers to visit. Several are within recreational limits and several others are open to technical divers. The island is home to a significant number of excellent dive resorts and dive centers which cater to a variety of different budgets and tastes.
The subject of a number of marine conservation projects, Langkawi is home to numerous reefs where divers can witness the efforts that are being made to preserve this beautiful part of the world.