Travellers from all over the world visit South East Asia for its mesmerising diving locations—The Gap Year Travel Guide selects five top locations for you.
Similan Islands, Thailand
Widely regarded as one of the best diving locations in the world, the renowned Similan Islands are one of the most desirable locations in Thailand. Similan is derived from the Malay word which means ‘nine’—each of the Similan Islands has a number as well as a name.
The islands were created by upwellings of hot magma 65 million years ago, then smoothed by glacial ice and erosion by the sea. The coral reefs are about 5,000 years old making them the oldest in Thailand.
The nature of the tide on the west, north and south points form a series of fascinating arches, tunnels and swim-throughs at Christmas Point and Elephant Head Rock.
There are astounding colourful coral reefs swarming with fish life which are often visited by whale sharks and manta rays.
Liberty Wreck, Indonesia
Bali’s most famous dive site is steeped in history.
Built during World War I, the Liberty, a cargo ship, was torpedoed by the Japanese off Lombok in January 1942. Seven decades later, the shipwreck is now completely covered in coral, with plenty of structural holes to fulfil an adventurous diver’s appetite.
The wreck is 120 metres long and because it is broken up, you can still explore the guns, toilets, boilers, anchor chain and many other parts of the ship.
The location is very popular with photographers as the wreck is enshrouded in anemone, gorgonian sea fans and corals. There’s an incredible variety of marine life, including a school of big-eyed trevally and over 400 other species of fish.
Night-diving the wreck, especially on a full moon is a memorable experience. Spanish dancers (a type of sea slug) and flashlight fish can often be seen. This dive site is suitable for all levels of qualification and experience.
Sipadan was only discovered as a dive destination in 1984 but in its short time has gone on to establish itself as the highlight of Malaysia’s diving spots.
Located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah, East Malaysia, Sipadan was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop.
Sharks, turtles and manta rays are likely to be seen along with several of the spectacular dive sites dotted around Sipadan’s local reef system.
The best way to dive here is by staying in one of the resorts on the nearby islands of Mabul or Kapalai and travelling over by boat.
The location was thrown into the spotlight when French filmmaker Jacques Cousteau spent several weeks here filming Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle in which he claimed Sipadan was an untouched piece of art.
Regarded as Indonesia’s best dive spot, Sulawesi provides an excellent and memorable diving location.
The islands are situated in the Sulawesi Sea which reaches depths of up to 6 km. Visibility on the dive is usually good at 25-30 metres and biodiversity is extremely rich making the spot one of the best hotspots for marine life in the world.
The reefs have been monitored systematically for nearly 30 years now and new species are still discovered on a regular basis.
Whilst you’re on the island of Sulawesi, head a little further inland and discover all kinds of adrenaline activities, including volcano climbing and white water rafting.
The Bunaken National Marine Park has established itself as a world leader in sustainable tourism. Every diver must pay a park fee which is then shared among local communities.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Located in the Gulf of Tonkin and famous for its scenic rock formations, Ha Long Bay is a spectacular location for diving in Vietnam.
The beauty of Ha Long Bay allows you to see its geology from the inside—including grottoes with stalactites and stalagmites, and towering karsts that scrape the sky.
Popular diving spots include the Me Cung area to discover the magical coral reefs and sea life. Titov Island is where you can enjoy the relaxing feeling of swimming, sunbathing and kayaking in an area that provides panoramic views of the whole bay.
April through to October, the summer in Northern Vietnam, is the best time for diving in the area.
Ha Long Bay was first listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 because of its outstanding aesthetic value. Six years later the location was additionally recognised for its fantastic geological and geomorphological value.
Do you have any favourite dive sites in Southeast Asia? Let us know in the comments below.