Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand

Think of lush green mountainsides, palm trees and isolated beaches with sugar white sands and not another soul in sight. Think exotic and affordable. Now throw in a few thoughts about the most bizarre macro creatures imaginable, diving on an active volcano, swirling schools of tropical fishes and some adrenaline pumping encounters with pelagics, and what you have is Southeast Asian diving.

Indonesia, the largest archipelagic nation in the world, with some 13, 675 islands. Of these, roughly 6,000 are named, and only 1,000 are inhabited. Perhaps the most widely known isle is that of Bali, a land famous for its volcanic landscapes, luxuriant rainforests, gentle people and traditional culture. Bali is also a perfect choice for macro photographers who want to create images in rich flourishing coral gardens.

While many destinations in Indonesia can be enjoyed from land-based resorts, a live-aboard is also a good choice. Regardless, Sulawesi’s Lembeh Straits should not be missed. There you can enjoy the thrills of muck diving while searching for a Mimic Octopus, seahorses, Leaf Scorpionfish, frogfish, Snake Eels and more.

The waters off the islands of Sangalaki, Derawan and Kakaban to the east of Borneo provide excellent odds for swimming eyeball to eyeball with turtles, sharks, and Manta Rays. The shallow reefs nearby are well known for numerous cleaning stations.

The pristine underwater world surrounding the islands east of Bali including Lombok and Komodo take on a more Australian flavor in terms of flora and fauna, as is the case with Wakatobi to the northeast of Komodo.

In the last decade or so, increasing numbers of vacationing divers have began to explore the Malaysian waters of Southeast Asia, including Sipadan, Mabul, Labuan, Layang Layang and the Malay Peninsula.

The tiny, oceanic isle of Sipadan to the east of Borneo is probably the best known of Malaysia’s diving gems. It’s been made famous by its resident turtle populations, colorful fishes and excellent beach dives.

Nearby, Mabul Island, home of a wonderful variety of nudibranchs and other intriguing invertebrates, rises from the continental shelf below. Labuan is known to divers as the shipwreck capital of Malaysia. Battered wrecks from World War II, along with a number of modern wrecks that are more intact, provide a lot of variety. Upright in easily accessible depths, the wreck of the Tun Huang is a featured dive.

North of Borneo, the atoll of Layang Layang supplies a mix of easy, shallow lagoon dives, exploration along sheer walls adorned by enormous sea fans, current cuts and drift dives. Encounters with dense schools of barracudas,
jacks, Manta Rays and schooling Hammerhead Sharks in provide superb photo opps.

Marine parks in the waters surrounding the rich archipelago of Pulau Redang and Tioman Island flourish with healthy coral gardens inhabited by numerous tropical species.

Thailand’s Andaman Sea, especially around Similan and Surin Islands, is known worldwide for pristine reefs with healthy populations of fish species and myriad invertebrates. Prolonged encounters with Whale Sharks and many of their cartilaginous cousins, especially Leopard Sharks and Shovel-nose Rays, are common at Richelieu Rock. A thrilling Nurse and Silvertip Shark dive is also found at distant Burma Banks.


Dive Resorts and Operators
Layang Layang layanglayang.com
Sipadan Water Village www.sipadan-village.com.my