Along the east coast of the Malay Peninsula and around the north of the island of Borneo are a host of great dive sites – here are 10 of the best dives in Malaysia
Sipadan Island, Mabul Island and Kapalai Island
Lying just off the northeast coast of Borneo is Sipadan, Malaysia’s only oceanic island. This magical isle was made famous by Jacques Cousteau, in his documentary Ghosts of the Sea Turtle in 1989 and has been attracting divers ever since.
At the Drop Off, a precipitous wall plunges down from five metres offering stunning drift dives. Bumphead parrotfish often rumble past in bison-like hordes. A night dive here can yield a chance encounter with these large fish as they sleep. The reef life that so entranced Cousteau is still stunning. Porcupine pufferfish, clown triggerfish, unicornfish and Moorish idols swarm past you. Giant moray eels lurk in their grottos, observing the traffic going past while huge gorgonian sea fans protrude like the plume of a proud peacock.
The island of Mabul is equally famous – but for different reasons. It is slightly larger than Sipadan, and has a small village. While pelagics are the main stars in Sipadan, Mabul is a macro haven with its diversity of tiny marine life.
Just off the edge of the island’s jetty is Froggy Lair a site typical of the island. The visibility is usually limited to a few metres. But vigilant divers will soon notice the teeming fish life on the seabed and in the holes. They range from the well-camouflaged crocodile fish and frogfish to pipefish, scorpionfish and the colourful mandarinfish. With an average depth of only 10 metres, you will have plenty of time discovering this fascinating array of marine life.
Pulau Lankayan is another gem offering a fascinating array of diving opportunities in a remarkably small area. It is located 90 minutes (by speedboat) from the northeast Sabah town of Sandakan. Of all the islands in Malaysia, it offers the best chance of sighting whale sharks. The best time to see these giants is between March and May. Otherwise, you will have to be content with ogling bamboo sharks, mandarinfish, mimic octopuses, porcelain crabs and ghost pipefish.
To spice your diving menu a little, Lankayan also offers a couple of wrecks. Right in front of the island’s only resort is the Lankayan wreck, a scuttled illegal fishing vessel. It is home to an array of fish which you can only hope relish the irony of their new home. These include yellow pikes, groupers and ghost pipefish.
Layang Layang is a ring of 13 coral atolls in the middle of the South China Sea and is a world-class dive venue. Between March and July, you have a good chance of spotting schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Beyond these months they tend to descend into deeper waters.
The diving here is characterised by walls that descend as low as 2,000m. Hammerheads are visible in almost all dive sites as they swim close to the atoll. Buoyancy control is your key to enjoying the diving here.
Dogtooth Lair, at the eastern point of the atoll, features the large tuna that lends the site its name. These schooling fish are not the only hosts you can find here. Fusiliers, jacks and even turtles can be spotted on a good day. The large and elusive sunfish has been sighted here on occasions.
Gorgonian Forest provides the awesome sight of large sea fans festooned along the wall. Sponges and sea whips add variety to this visual feast.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
The marine park close Kota Kinabalu is named after Malaysia’s first prime minister and comprises five islands, namely Gaya, Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi and Sulug.
About 35 km southwest of Kota Kinabalu lies Pulau Tiga where ‘Survivor’, the reality TV series, was filmed some years back.
Snake Island is where you will get the chance to see banded sea snakes. Although venomous, they are shy creatures near humans.
Pulau Satang & Kuching
Pulau Satang is for macro lovers. It comprises two islands, the larger Pulau Satang Besar and the smaller Pulau Satang Kecil.
Most of the diving at Pulau Satang Besar where two-thirds of the island is fringed by coral reefs. Submerged rock boulders lay on the other parts of the island.
Underwater photographers will love the variety of macro species – blue-ringed angelfish, grouper, snapper, mangrove jack, copper-banded butterflyfish, parrotfish and pufferfish.
Visibility is generally between 5 to 10m so watch out for the sea urchins. There are no commercial facilities on the island. A park fee of RM20 is payable to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.
Getting to Pulau Satang is fairly easy. Visitors can take a short drive from Kuching to Santubong and embark by boat to the islands.
Kuching Wreck Adventure
The popular wreck sites include Katori Maru and Hie (Hiyoshi) Maru both from the Second World War. The wrecks sit at an average depth of 21m with plenty of artefacts such as ceramic ware, ship parts and ammunition. Marine life and corals are abundant.
There are other interesting more recent wrecks including the TK Wreck, Thai Seven and Barge Wreck. Their length ranges from 20 – 30m at a depths between 21-28m.
For its sheer alluring beauty, Redang remains one of the most popular islands in Malaysia, and a must-see for any traveller keen on exploring the best diving in Peninsular Malaysia.
Terumbu Kili is a site that offers typical Redang delights. The great coral variety here – mainly dendronephthya soft corals, mushroom corals and gorgonian sea fans – attracts many reef fish and its fair share of green turtles.
Pulau Chupak to the southeast will enthral you with some of the best coral gardens. The pretty sinularia corals exist in very shallow waters. Deep down it is a cornucopia of colours. Batfish, rabbitfish and white-eyed moray eels can be found. Even the rare loggerhead turtle has been spotted here.
Pulau Kapas and Lang Tengah Island
Close to shore, Pulau Kapas and Pulau Lang Tengah are charming islands popular with day-trippers. Despite their proximity to the mainland, the diving here is quite good, with reef fish such as Moorish idols, butterflyfish and even wrasses easily spotted. Off Pulau Kapas is a World War Two wreck. Additional Thai fishing wrecks make it a varied dive destination.
Between April to August you may spot the many hawksbill or green turtles nesting along the coastline. A wide variety of accommodation is available, ranging from upmarket chalets to the ubiquitous A-frame huts.
Tenggol lies not far from the East Coast mainland and is an exceptional site to the few who have dived here. There over 20 dive site – mostly excellent walls. Teluk Air Tawar is the place to find turtles, and humphead parrotfish are also common.
For those with a penchant for wrecks, the Kuantan Wreck is renowned here and is easily penetrable by divers. It attracts a veritable array of fish life, including batfish, leopard sharks, moray eels and even turtles on occasions. If you are fortunate, between July to September you may catch a glimpse of the elusive whale shark. Tenggol is also famed for its beaches, with fine white sand and lovely views.
Located off the east coast of Pahang, Tioman is easily accessible by boat or by air. Start with the dive site of Pulau Renggis, which lies off Tekek Beach. You’ll find an assortment of reef life in vast gardens of hard corals. Cuttlefish, angelfish, barracuda and turtles are common here.
Pulau Chebeh is a good spot for mantas. Wreck divers will enjoy the Soyak with its many soft and hard corals. Moorish idols, trevally and angelfish abound here in a sunken hull not more than 20m. Labas, or Pirate Island, offers a fascinating topography with its large submerged and semi-submerged boulders.
This marine park is divided into two islands, Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Pulau Perhentian Besar. Dive sites here are at close proximity to one another. Tiger Reef offers the chance to spot green turtles. At Gua Kambing, be prepared for an underwater manicure as cleaner shrimp at some coral bommies excitedly interact with divers. Simply lay your hands down next to the coral and these shrimps will get to work.
To the north of Perhentian Kecil, at D’Lagoon, you will drift dive past a rich bed of soft and hard corals, shared by large angelfish, parrotfish and black-spotted snappers. Green turtles and manta rays make occasional visits here.
Sail Rock is a naturalists’ dream. This little pinnacle offers multi-level diving as you encircle it, checking out the diversity of life. Common are blue-spotted stingrays, boxfish, angelfish and parrotfish. However, you’ll have plenty of time to marvel at the huge staghorn gardens, lettuce corals and table corals.