Discover the Underwater World of South East Asia!
You’ve sunbathed on gorgeous beaches sipping a fresh coconut by the sea and you’ve zipped from island to island on a speedy long tail boat, but beneath the turquoise waters of Southeast Asia lies another World entirely. Open only to those adventurous enough to strap a tank to their back, don a mask and suck on a regulator, the underwater World lies untouched and undiscovered in comparison to the well trodden ‘banana pancake’ route on land. For the amateur or the expert, these year round warm, crystal clear waters and exquisite corals teeming with aquatic life, are not to be missed.
- SSI: Scuba Schools International (SSI) is a premier business and education support company for dive companies all over the world. Any schools certified by SSI ensured the “ultimate dive experience.” Today, SSI certify over 2,500 dive schools in 110 countries.
- PADI: PADI stands for the ‘Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ of which there are many dive schools across the world currently holding membership. They ensure quality in education, equipment and experience, with a consideration for the environment.
Where are the best places to scuba dive in South East Asia?
Koh Tao, Thailand
If you’re on a backpackers budget, Koh Tao is the place to dive.
Named Koh Tao, meaning turtle island in Thai, after it’s previously plentiful local population of hawksbill and green sea turtles, this Southern Island is one of South East Asia’s dive hotspots. Despite their numbers having significantly diminished, turtles can still be spotted whilst diving many of the island’s infamous 20+ sites. Most visited in the days following Full Moon antics on Koh Phangan, it’s reputation as a not only a dive hotspot but an island with atmosphere, has rocketed in recent years.
Look out for: Koh Tao’s namesake, the hawksbill and green sea turtles. Possibly even a gentle giant, a Whale Shark too!
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao: Koh Tao’s ‘off season’ is barely worth mentioning, though the best times to avoid are November and December when the visibility is lower and the swell stomach-churning. March, April and May are divers paradise, with calm clear seas and the best chance of spotting a Whaleshark.
Worth noting: September and October are quiet season – slightly lower water temperature but superb long days and perfect seas.
An Idea of Prices: If you just fancy wetting your whistle and seeing what the hype is about, then the Discover Scuba course is perfect for you. Done in just a day it is bound to get you craving more… and this taster only costs about 2,000 baht.
To gain your PADI Open Water Diver qualification the price ranges from 9,000 to 10,000 baht. This takes about four days to complete and qualifies you to dive any where in the World, to 18m deep!
For the more experienced diver, there are heaps of Specialty dive courses to be conquered, from wreck diving to underwater photography…capture the sights and spectacular colours to show off to your pals. Koh Tao has many on offer (prices vary).
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Hop to the other side of the mainland and you will find Koh Phi Phi, infamous for being the set of The Beach which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. But look further than this tropical paradise and a real treat awaits, with hundreds of Dive Schools eager to fulfill your every craving. Located within a National Marine Park, the two islands Phi Phi Ley and Phi Phi Don provide dramatic soft coral walls and an abundance of sea life unlike Thailand’s other dive sites. Relax after an exciting day’s diving by watching the sunset from Koh Phi Phi’s postcard perfect viewpoint. What could be better?
Look out for: Sharks – both the leopard and black-tip reef varieties.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in Koh Phi Phi: Like Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi can be dived all year round. However, the conditions are at their best from February to May when the temperature is warmer both in the sea and out of it. Other times of the year the dive sites are more limited due to the monsoon winds and increased swell, so most diving takes place on the Island’s Western side.
An Idea of Prices: With the nightlife coming as a premium, the prices here are slightly higher than on Koh Tao. Discover Scuba can be snapped up for 3,400 baht, while the four day PADI Open Water Diver course will cost you around 12,900 baht. Check out the highly recommended Viking Divers in Koh Phi Phi for more information about the types of courses available.
The Similan Islands, Thailand
Found one hundred kilometers from Phuket, these nine granite islands provide another popular dive site in Thailand and are often regarded as the most diverse. Having gained National Marine Park status in 1982, the Similan Islands often make it onto the top ten dive sites not only in South East Asia, but in the World! For any budding underwater photographers, or those keen to learn, the weak currents and highly populated coral reefs are just waiting to be snapped. Not to be missed.
Look out for: Bumphead Parrotfish and white-tip reef Sharks.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in The Similan Islands: November to April is when the conditions are best here. Other times of year their exposed location makes them prone to heavy swell which can affect the conditions.
An Idea of Prices: The best way to truly experience the Similan Islands is to visit them on a liveaboard. Stay for four or five days and you won’t have to revisit a single dive site…unless you really want to! There are so many to choose from. If you’re strapped for time (or cash!) then one night options are available, by catching a speedboat from Koh Lak out to a main dive boat which will be your hotel for the night. Prices vary hugely for both options, depending on whether you’re a splurger or a saver, so the best advice is simply to shop around.
Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
These beautiful coral-fringed islands are just 10miles from the Northeastern coast of Malaysia and are home to a number of species of turtle and shark (the non-man eating types, unless you look particularly tasty!). It is made up of two main islands Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil Island and a number of smaller uninhabited ones. Besar is slightly more family-friendly, while Kecil is the most popular with backpackers due to it’s abundance of cheap accommodation. However all are protected, with Marine Park status.
Look out for: Huge Puffafish and Green turtles.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in The Similan Islands: Unlike the Thai dive sites which can be dived all year round, the Perhentian Islands are only open between April and October. For the rest of the year monsoon season shuts it down entirely, making the seas too rough to cross.
An Idea of Prices: Here Discover Scuba will set you back just 240 Malaysian Ringgit (approx. £50/2500 Thai baht), while to complete your PADI Open Water Diver course costs 1,100 Malaysia Ringgit (approx. £225/11,135 Thai baht). These are a steal compared to the prices in Thailand!
Coron Island, the Philippines
Most famous for it’s Japanese wrecks which sank during World War II nearly seventy years ago, Coron Island’s calm waters give even the least experienced of divers the opportunity to swim with the fishes. With over twenty five dive sites and twelve wrecks out of a possible twenty four discovered, there is miles of exquisite oceanfloor to keep you busy. Wreck dives do need planning though and some of the harder to reach sites are for the more experienced only…
Look out for: The wrecks! Could you be the diver to discover a new sunken Japanese warship…?
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive at Coron Island: Off seasons spans from May to August, but the rest of the year conditions are great, with very little current within Coron Bay.
An Idea of Prices: Discover Scuba is a steal at 3,100 Philippine Peso (approx. £45/2,225 Thai baht) and PADI Open Water rings in at 14,850 Philippine Peso (approx. £210/10,400 Thai baht). The Philippines are even cheaper than Malaysia! An opportunity not to be missed, gain yourself a ‘Wreck Diver’ specialty qualification for 13,450 Philippine Peso (approx. £190/9,400 Thai baht). Where better to learn than here, at World War II’s graveyard…
Armed with your newfound scuba skills, the world is your oyster. South East Asia has some of the best diving locations in the world, perhaps you will catch the diving bug and NEVER leave…