What makes a great diving destination? Ask 100 people that question and you’d probably hear responses like crystal-clear waters, exotic ocean life and a sense that you’re witnessing scenes that have rarely been glimpsed by human eyes.
If you’re looking for a location that ticks all those boxes for your next dive holiday, Asia is the obvious choice, with hundreds – if not thousands – of the world’s best dive spots dotted across the continent. Some are easily accessible from major cities, while others are isolated and practically unspoilt ocean paradises.
Of course, if you head to your local travel agent and ask for a holiday to Asia, they’ll probably ask you to be a little more specific – apparently it’s pretty big.
Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of this helpful list of the best dive locations the continent has to offer. All that’s left to do is zip up your wetsuit and savour these underwater utopias.
Indonesia’s Thousand Islands
Known locally as Kepulauan Seribu, this diving heaven is an archipelago of 110 tiny islands. Before you threaten the Indonesian government with legal action on the grounds of false advertising, rest assured that while there aren’t actually 1,000 islands here, it’s undoubtedly one of the most spectacular dive sites in the whole Asia-Pacific region.
The surrounding waters are a haven for tropical fish and multicoloured corals, while the Thousand Islands Marine National Park is a hatching ground for the rare hawksbill sea turtle – a species rarely found outside this area.
Conveniently, the subsea splendour of the Thousand Islands is located in the Bay of Jakarta and can be easily reached from the Indonesian capital. Most of the islands are only one or two hours by boat from Jakarta’s Aston Marina.
Sipadan Island in Malaysia
Rising 600 m out of the Celebes Sea, Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. In the not-too-distant past, the island found itself at the centre of a dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia, presumably over wetsuit rental or who gets first dibs on sun loungers.
Whatever the cause, the issue has now been resolved, leaving visitors free to enjoy a location considered by many experts to be among the world’s best dive sites.
Commonly seen beneath the waves are wonderfully-named species such as the bumphead parrotfish and big-eye trevally, which sound more like bizarre playground insults than sea creatures. Manta rays, eagle rays and scalloped hammerhead sharks are also regular visitors to the waters off Sipadan.
Underneath the column of the island lies a vast ‘turtle tomb’, a labyrinthine underwater limestone cave containing the skeletal remains of turtles that took a wrong turn on their way to the surface.
Busuanga Island in The Philippines
Busuanga is the largest island in the Calamian Group, situated in Palawan province.
Unlike the rest of the dive hotspots found in this list, Busuanga is more famous for its manmade attractions than its abundance of tropical marine life.
During World War II, the US navy bombed a fleet of Japanese vessels as they took shelter in the natural anchorage of Coron Bay. Today, tourists flock to the area to catch a glimpse of these wrecks, 12 of which are accessible to advanced divers.
Seeing these rusting metallic behemoths lying submerged beneath 30 to 140 ft of water, incongruous with the beauty of their surroundings, makes for an impressive – and moving – sight.
Green Island, Taiwan
A small volcanic land mass in the Pacific Ocean, Green Island is perhaps best known as a penal colony where political prisoners were sent during the period of Taiwanese martial law. Even today, it’s home to the infamous Green Island Prison, rumoured to have housed some of Taiwan’s most notorious gangsters.
Fortunately, your chances of bumping into a gang of Triads on day release are pretty slim and when you get offshore, the island becomes a whole lot more appealing.
Between January and March each year, schools of hammerhead sharks flock to the southern tip of Green Island and are a spectacular sight for any diver brave enough to take to the water with them.
Thailand’s Similan Islands
Famed for its crystal-blue waters and white coral sand beaches, the Similan Islands National Park nestles in the Andaman Sea, only about 50 km from the Thai beach resort of Khao Lak.
Divers in the area have a great chance of spotting shoals of clown fish, which were made famous by the film Finding Nemo and are clearly among the cutest creatures to be found beneath the waves.
The Similans are home to a plethora of rare and endangered marine life, from whale sharks to nesting turtles, and are widely viewed as offering the best diving and snorkelling to be found anywhere in Thailand.
Just one word of caution though – the national park closes from May 1st to November 1st every year and visits are illegal during this period. Don’t be tempted to book a trip with any of the unauthorised dive and snorkel schools that operate in the area at these times.