With tropical islands galore and long stretches of sandy coastlines, lapped by crystal clear waters teeming with colorful and fascinating submarine life, Asia is the ideal destination for divers. Pack your underwater camera as we run down some of the continent’s finest sites to plunge in.
Underwater treasures in Thailand
The gorgeous beaches and tropical islands of Thailand have long been favored by divers. Excellent facilities and pure, deep waters lure underwater explorers from all over the world. The glittering Gulf of Siam is home to island paradise Koh Phangan and famous dive destination Koh Tao, and equidistant from their coasts lies Sail Rock, arguably the best place to explore the depths of that area. Home to a five-star instructor development resort, it’s a great place to learn and its waters packed with rare sea-life including whale sharks. Nearby lies Koh Samui, the perfect destination to decompress in luxury at world-class resorts including The Banyan Tree, Four Seasons and W Retreat.
Over in the Andaman, off Phuket, lie the twin islands of Koh Phi Phi, where you can launch yourself off craggy cliffs, bathe in turquoise waters and plunge into the deep. Cruise around the limestone karsts of nearby Phang Nga Bay on your own private speedboat and come up for air to enjoy a picnic on the beach. Alternatively, pick your ideal sites as you fly overhead in a helicopter before you dive in. Why not charter your own private yacht and head across to the Similan Islands, a destination quickly garnering popularity for its excellent diving. The gorgeous and remote archipelago was declared a national park in 1989 and it is only possible to land on two of them: pick your spot and make a splash in the clear waters whose corals teem with manta rays and exotic fish. For your tour of the sparkling Andaman waters, why not base yourself at the fabulous Iniala Beach House, set right on Phang Nga Bay.
Muck diving and more in Malaysia
Head into the the waters off Malaysian Borneo’s east coast and set your course for the gorgeous island of Sipadan, whose surrounding waters are considered some of the world’s best for diving. This oceanic island was formed over millennia as the coral grew over an extinct volcano, and now the hard and soft reefs are rich in fantastic marine life: look out for sea turtles, manta rays, eagle rays, reef, hammerhead and whale sharks. Since the island itself is protected to preserve the many rare and exotic species that live in the water, you can stay nearby on Mabul where the sandy seabed is the original destination for the now increasingly popular “muck-diving”. The shingle is home to tiny sea creatures, and muck diving reveals amazing macro life popular with close-up photographers who capture these miniscule and fascinating life-forms. Nearby Kepalai, meanwhile, boasts five shipwrecks just off the coast where you can find frog and leaf fish, blue-ringed octopus, stonefish and ghost pipefish.
Submarine legends in Indonesia
This sprawling archipelago comprises many tropical islands whose waters are packed with fabulous exotic and colorful underwater life. Among the finest in Indonesia is Raja Ampat, a string of four islands believed to have hatched from ancient eggs. PADI calls this legendary destination “the world’s most biodiverse underwater seascape” and the 450 square miles of protected waters are home to more than 1,300 species of fish, 700 species of mollusks and 537 species of coral. There are wrecks to explore, the karsts of Kabui Bay to sail between and the gorgeous white coral beach of Sawandarek to relax upon: stay at Misool Eco Resort in a luxurious over-water cottage built from local resources and be part of the effort to preserve this submarine landscape. Alternatively, visit the eponymous dragons of Komodo National Park: these islands lure divers with the promise of stunning scenery above and below the waterline. Meet the rays at Manta Point and see sharks, turtles, dolphins around Castle Rock.
Island hopping in the Philippines
This huge archipelago offers a number of options for diving, so why not explore the best ones on a cruise? Plunge into the waters around Apo Reef on a magical night dive and explore between the twin peaks of limestone rocks in the Siete Pecados. Discover the wrecks on the seabed at Sangat Island, as well as the Akitsushima, a Japanese warship that lies in the depths in the North Cay Islands. Look out for the nearly extinct seacows at Dibotonai and round off the adventure at gorgeous Tara Island and Club Paradise reef.
Learn the ropes in Cambodia
Off Cambodia’s west coast and the beaches of Sihanoukville and Kep lies the Koh Rong archipelago and within it, Song Saa: these twin islands are joined by a bridge that was built to protect the many different types of coral that surround the area. Stay at the luxurious private island resort to explore its marine reserve and discover the myriad of exotic sealife preserved there. In the turquoise ocean beneath your glass-bottomed bungalow, you can see seahorses and turtles, and get a deeper insight into the different species from the resort’s in-house marine biologist. The crystal clear waters, teeming with exotic, tropical fish, makes Song Saa an exciting destination for divers at any level, but the calm conditions and expert team of instructors make it especially ideal for beginners. What’s more, the gorgeous resort makes the perfect base to relax after a long day exploring the depths.