Malaysia is a scuba diver’s dream located in one of the best diving areas this world has to offer, the legendary Coral Triangle. South East Asia is a fantastic area to visit for an abundance of reasons, from interesting cultural experiences to exotic foods, beautiful beaches and lush forests, and Malaysia lies is in the heart of all this excitement. The Coral Triangle is considered to be the centre for marine biodiversity and as such is a protected area that boasts an abundance of marine life. By land, Malaysia borders with Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei and by sea it borders Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines, so it is extremely well-connected with the other diving hot spots in that part of the world. The two land regions of Malaysia are Malaysian Borneo and Peninsula Malaysia and these are separated by the South China Sea.
Malaysia boasts a high level of diversity both above and below the water’s surface. On land, Malaysia is rich in all sorts of animals including exotic reptiles, birds, frogs and bugs and actually accounts for nearly 20% of all animals in the world. The mountainous region of Malaysia is covered in dense forest and boasts magnificent green hills and valleys that extend far along onto beautiful coastal plains. Malaysia is also famed for hosting the largest cave system known to man, the Mulu Caves on Borneo. These caves were originally just igneous and granite rocks and have been shaped by the courses of many rivers to now be a system of caves visited by millions of tourists.
Many endemic species of fauna and flora can be found in the region, with a great deal to explore on foot before heading to the depths of the warm waters. Once in the water, an abundance of different fish species will astound you and add an extra splash of colour to an already-colourful and interesting underwater landscape. Malaysia is a destination famed for its fantastic scuba diving opportunities. The diving here is sure to surpass all expectations with warm waters, phenomenal visibility and a rich variety of underwater life. The underwater topography is hugely varied here, with pinnacles, caves and dramatic walls all within close reach of each other, not to mention pristine coral reefs teaming with unique underwater life. Turtles and sharks are often seen and critter diving is also on offer in some locations.
Best Diving Destinations in Malaysia
Malaysian Borneo easily earns a nomination in the contest for the world’s best scuba diving destination. It boasts a plethora of coral species in immaculate condition thanks to well-protected environments. It is also home to a large number of pelagic species and a diverse range of marine creatures that thrive in the nutrient-rich waters. Schools of fish, turtles, manta rays and a number of shark species are often amongst the highlights seen in Malaysian Borneo.
In the Sabah Province, Layang Layang and Sipadan Islands are known hot-spots for hammerhead sharks and reef sharks specifically. Hammerheads often school in the depths of these waters during the months of April through to August, which is when many visitors flock to the area. The strong currents still allow for excellent visibility and the conditions are often only suited to advanced divers.
Sipidan is another area that is famed for unbelievable variety in marine creatures, especially some of the large and highly sought-after pelagic encounters. Visibility is off the charts in Sipidan and is often in the region of 40 metres with very little current to speak of. The main exception to these mild currents is Barracuda Point, a popular dive site where barracuda in their thousands can be seen swimming as schools in the area’s strong currents. Aside from the barracuda, another highlight is the regular reef shark and leopard shark sightings in the waters surrounding Sipidan. The reefs are well-protected by enforced diving restrictions, so divers are recommended to book in advance, especially during peak season. If you hold the correct certification (which can be obtained whilst in Malaysia), enjoy exploring the cavern systems in Turtle Cavern and Turtle Tomb nearby.
Muck diving enthusiasts won’t be missing out when visiting magnificent Malaysia either as there are plenty of muck diving opportunities too! Many sites can be visited from the shore and are relatively shallow shore dives in the region of 15 metres. The currents are mostly insignificant in the area, and with a number of sites located off shore, these mild currents make for an easy boat ride out. Conditions are often ideal for underwater macro photography opportunities and divers are likely to see a number of colourful nudibranchs only too willing to be a great subject for a memorable picture. Odd-looking creatures including the giant frogfish, mimic octopus and flamboyant cuttlefish can all be seen around the islands of Kapalai and Mabul in Sabah Province. Night dives on Kapalai island is very popular thanks to the vibrant Mandarin fish mating ritual done near Mandarin Valley. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, a number of elusive ghost pipefish have been spotted in the area too.
Getting to Malaysia
Malaysia is well-connected internationally with major airports in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabula. From these airports, visitors are able to reach the diving hubs of Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsular of Malaysia. To reach Malaysia from the UK and Europe takes around 12 hours with many visitors choosing to stopover in Dubai, Doha or Singapore. For domestic connections, there are a number of smaller airports offering internal flights to a variety of destinations spread widely throughout the two regions. Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines run many of these frequent flights.
Malaysia also boasts a well-developed road transport system, with trains and busses available from Singapore and Thailand and good internal bus connections within the country too. Rental cars are a popular option and are freely available in a number of locations.
Where to Stay in Malaysia
Many divers opt to advance their qualifications in the ideal conditions found in Malaysia and with great training centres scattered all over the region, it is easy enough to do. Speciality courses, technical diving courses and all levels of recreational diver training are possible in Malaysia. The Turtle Tomb cave system is well-worth exploring and many visitors opt to receive the cave and cavern dive training whilst on holiday in Malaysia.
A few dive centers have achieved 5 star status from PADI and are reputable ventures associated with industry giants such as the National Geographic. Good options include those centers that run daily tours to Semporna Marine Park, where visitors are treated with visits to the world-famous areas of Sipidan, Kapalai and Mabul.
Peninsular Malaysia is also a popular choice amongst divers, especially when you consider that the 30 sites around the area are easily accessible by guided boat trips. These boat trips run daily and can be arranged directly with the many highly-acclaimed dive operators in the region.
A number of dive centers are available on Tioman Island, serving the sites around Salang Bay and the ABC beach as well as offering training opportunities and daily guided trips.
When to Visit Malaysia
Malaysia has two distinct rainy seasons, one from April to October for the south-west region, and one from October to February for the north-east region. Aside from these annual rainy seasons, Malaysia is generally humid and experiences high air temperatures in the range of 25-32°C. Water temperatures are very pleasant throughout the year and can be between 26-30°C. The dry season boasts better underwater visibility which can reach an impressive 60 metres.
Feeling inspired and raring to go? Check out our Malaysia travel guide and start planning your next diving trip!