Ever since famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau first broadcasted the waters surrounding the island of Borneo to the world several decades ago, Malaysia has been a must-visit destination for scuba divers.
Find out why the Southeast Asian nation needs to be in your vacation plans, whether you’re a rookie or veteran of the sea.
What makes Malaysia so popular for scuba divers?
Simply put, the variety of options place Malaysia near the top of any scuba diver’s bucket lists. There are dives for experts and beginners alike, as well as diverse marine life, depending on the region. You can catch glimpses of hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, eels, barracudas, and more, or just admire the beautiful coral that lines the seafloor.
The best part is travelers can be flexible with their schedules. Because weather patterns differ from one region of Malaysia to another, quality scuba diving is available all year round.
What to Pack
Malaysia is hot and humid throughout the year, which poses a dilemma for travelers. Pack short sleeves and shorts, and you’ll leave your skin exposed to both the sun and mosquitoes. Pack long sleeves, and you’ll overheat.
With that in mind, here’s a shortlist of items you’ll want in your luggage:
- Basic first-aid kit with additional medications like Imodium
- Travel-sized sunscreen
- Rain jacket, especially if you’re traveling during the wet season
- Lightweight long-sleeve shirts and pants, preferably with sweat-wicking materials
- Bug spray
- Small bottle of vinegar in case of jellyfish stings
Before you leave…
This may only apply for beginners, but it’s crucial to be scuba certified before you leave. Identify the kind of dives you’re interested in and research appropriate courses for them. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors, PADI, is a great place to start, with certifications offered even in inland cities.
Once that's settled, where should you go? These six popular spots stand out:
Lankayan Island, located just off the northeast coast of Borneo Island, promises a perfect balance of activities for scuba-diving enthusiasts. There are shipwrecks you can explore—the Lankayan and Mosquito to name two—in addition to wonderful marine life. Whale sharks call the waters home, with April and May providing the best chances of spotting the largest fish on Earth. After an invigorating dive, retire to the beaches for relaxation and reflection.
Half the adventure in scuba diving around Layang-Layang Island is actually getting there. But the island’s isolation makes it such an intriguing destination, especially for experienced divers. Untouched coral dominates the shallow floor with hammerhead sharks, in addition to turtles and large pelagic fish lurking below. Head here between March and October for ideal diving conditions.
This is the destination for scuba-diving enthusiasts and World War II buffs. The wrecks of Japanese ships sit on the ocean floor, although they’ve been ravaged by metal salvagers in recent years. The ruins still make for an illuminating and chilling underwater experience. The spring and summer (April to October) offer the best dives. If you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on proximity), you’ll meet eyes with the fearsome barracuda.
Let’s put it this way: If it’s good enough for Jacques Cousteau, it’s good enough for you. The famed French documentarian showcased Sipadan with spectacular wonder in “Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle.” In addition to the aforementioned sea turtles, divers will find reef sharks, barracudas, and parrotfish. The mix of colorful coral and variety of marine life, not to mention Cousteau’s co-sign, has earned Sipadan the reputation as “The Best Place for Scuba Diving in Malaysia.”
Located off the eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula, Tenggol Island is an ideal romantic getaway for experienced scuba-diving couples. Pristine beaches line its shores, so you can find time to relax in between your aquatic explorations. You’ll discover shipwrecks, exotic rock formations, untouched coral, and possibly, whale sharks. Tenggol also provides quality diving nearly year-round, with the stretch from November to February the only downtime on the calendar.
Still getting your feet wet? Tioman Island is a good jumping-off point for beginners. Its shallow waters provide a unique and authentic experience for divers, without the challenges of deeper dives. Plus, there’s much to explore on the island itself. Venture into the jungles to find a variety of wildlife—rare amphibians, reptiles, and mammals—that can give the marine life a run for its money in terms of diversity.