So you’re almost ready to go; flights booked, insurance bought, trip planned and bucket list almost written; Bangkok, Angkor Wat, the Mekong Delta, Luang Prabang, Kuala Lumpar, Komodo Island are just some of the most popular places to visit when backpacking South East Asia and there are so many great activities to spend your time and money on; the Grand Palace, Chu Chi tunnels, take a hot air balloon in Bagan to name a few.
But what about scuba?
South East Asia is the perfect place to try scuba diving. The warm waters around south East Asia boast an abundance of amazing marine life and a kaleidoscope of colours providing an underwater adventure you will not forget.
Here is a little guide to spots that you should visit if you are looking at having a wet backpacker trip.
Koh Tao – Thailand
“Turtle Island” (the translation from Thai to English) is known worldwide as the mecca of scuba diving with more people getting their PADI on Koh Tao than anywhere else in the world. It is a great spot to start your scuba adventures and become certified as an Open Water diver. Koh Tao’s dive sites are perfect for novice divers, offering a combination of lots of sheltered, shallow dive sites, along with plenty of marine life such as turtles, stingrays and barracuda.
Another great thing about Koh Tao is price! The PADI Open Water course is the cheapest anywhere in the world and dive centres such as Crystal Dive will also throw in 4 nights’ accommodation in for free! But becoming an Open water diver is only part of the journey. Whilst here, why not go all the way and get your advanced certificate.
Koh Tao has a full range of dive sites for deep dives including Chumphon Pinnacle, Sail Rock & South West Pinnacles, and all sites where we regularly see Whalesharks. Koh Tao boasts a fantastic wreck dive, the Sattakut, and amazing night dives, all within close proximity of the island.
With prices so low, getting both your Open water and advanced certifications on Koh Tao will help your travel budget and mean the rest of your South East Asian backpack will just be about fun diving!
Diving here is available all year round so it doesn’t really matter when you are kicking around Thailand you can always pop over to this little piece of paradise to start your bubble blowing life.
Nha Trang – Vietnam
Not a country that is well known for its Scuba diving but Nha Trang is the home of diving in Vietnam and as you make your way through Asia if you are in ‘the Nam’ then it is worth a visit to add a notch on the snorkel so to speak. So when you aren’t firing AK 47s or crawling through tunnels, make your way to the seaside.
The diving here may not be mind blowing but if you are still fresh from taking your beginner courses then it is definitely worth getting your fins wet. Sites are generally shallow but with excellent marine life at sites such as Moray beach giving you the chance to come eye to eye with giant moray eels and some quality hard and soft corals.
Sipadan/Mabul – Malaysia
Located on the far tip of Malaysian Borneo Sipadan island provides one of the best diving spots in the world – a must see for all scuba divers. Scuba Diving is limited here due to local regulation only 100 people per day are allowed to dive and only certified divers. No training dives are permitted to be conducted. The dives are truly world class with the opportunity to see Hammerhead sharks, Whalesharks, manta rays, barracuda tornados and much more.
To get access to all the sites around the island it is recommended to be at least advanced certified with the sites being deep, in fact Southpoint is situated on a continental shelf with the depth going down to an amazing 600m! Dive companies will usually be located on Mabul Island which is a short distance away from Sipadan – it is actually uninhabited besides a small military detachment!
Mabul Island itself has some great dive spots around it where you can see plenty of turtles and quite possibly the best ‘muck diving’ site (Awas) in the world.
Gili Islands – Indonesia
The Gili Islands are a must visit for any true traveler backpacking their way through Asia. These scenic and laid back islands are not only a small piece of paradise but offer some great scuba diving. The islands provide the chance to see green and hawksbill turtles, Bumphead parrotfish, black-tip and white-tip reef sharks as well as Manta rays.
Again, a higher level of certification is recommended as currents can be strong at times meaning some dives will be drift dives but visibility is generally good at 15-30m most of the year. The best dive sites such as Deep Turbo and shark point are deeper sites which will enable you to see the bigger pelagic species. Once here, take one night off partying and make sure you get underwater in order to fully appreciate these special islands.
Malapascua – Philippines
The Philippines may not be as famous for traveling and backpacking as its cousins Thailand and Indonesia but it is worth a visit for its white sandy beaches, stunning tropical islands and its top notch diving. Diving in Malapascua Island is famous worldwide for being the only place in the world where you can see the very rare Thresher Shark.
Thresher’s generally spend their time at around 20m of depth and are most commonly seen very early in the morning, so no heavy night the evening before! Malapascua is a small island that is found on the Northern tip of Cebu, it has picturesque ‘bounty’ beaches to chill and relax on when taking a day from scuba and the hustle and bustle of the crazy Asian city life.
Author: Neil Davidson (PADI MSDT #294100)