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GUIDE TO SCUBA DIVING IN MALAYSIA

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Sunset over Malaysian islands

 

Like Thailand, Malaysia boasts extensive coastlines on both east and west shores of its long peninsula, as well as many off-shore islands. Situated in the tropics, these islands and coastlines are packed with beautiful coral reefs.

In addition, the northern section of Borneo island is part of Malaysia. Malaysian Borneo offers several excellent diving locations, including famous Sipadan Island, always voted as one of the world’s best dive destinations.

 

The beautiful Perentian Islands

 

On Peninsular Malaysia, the east coast offers far superior diving to the west coast. The most famous and popular destination is Pulau Perentian- 2 small islands off the east coast about one hour south of the Thai border.Although the Perentians are the most famous and most visited for diving (= crowded, busy, noisy) they are actually not considered the east coast’s BEST diving. That title goes to Pulau Redang, about halfway down the east coast. Further south, close to Malaysian’s southern border with Singapore, lies Pulau Tioman and several small islands scattered about the South China Sea.

 

mountainous Tioman Island, setting for the movie Bali Hai

 

Pulau Tioman is where the old movie ‘Bali Hai’ was filmed. Tioman is a large, mountainous, jungle-clad island with low-key development. Although not nearly as well known for diving as the Perentians, Tioman’s dive sites are stunning! Two or three sites count among the most gorgeous reefs I’ve ever seen.

I worked as a Dive Master at Tioman for one season. While there I  met and worked with fellow PADI Master Scuba Instructor, Grahame Massicks. Grahame has now been teaching courses at Tioman for over 10 years.

If you’re thinking of diving there, I highly recommend Grahame, who I can personally vouch for as a dedicated, professional PADI Instructor with excellent customer service. Find out all about Grahame and his courses on his website Scuba Guru.

impressive lionfish at Tioman dive site

 

The west coast also offers diving up at Pulau Langkawi, close to the Thai border, and where many Langkawi cheap hotels are located. I haven’t dived there myself, but I’m told diving is good.

 

I’m a bit skeptical of that claim. The west coast suffers from heavy industrialization and river run-off, making the sea both unclean and murky. I have been to Penang Island, not far from Langkawi, several times, and can report that I wouldn’t even put my toes into the sea there. It’s so polluted that it stinks terribly and is visibly polluted. I suppose it’s possible that nearby Langkawi waters are clean.

 

accommodation near Sipadan Island

 

As for Borneo, there are several excellent dive destinations. The most renowned are Sipadan Island and nearby Mabul and Kapalai; Layang Layang; and Labuan. Sipadan is world famous for crystal clear tropical waters and its astounding sheer wall that plunges down to over 600M.Sipadan is a haven for turtles, sharks and huge schools of jacks and barracuda. Mabul and Kapalai are famous for amazing macro critters. When I dived there, I saw every macro creature I’d ever hoped to see and then some. Several other great dive sites are also near Sipadan.

 

green turtle, famous at Sipadan

 

Layang Layang lies 300 km out from the Borneo mainland. It’s famous for hammerhead sharks, manta rays, other large fish, and its sheer walls plunging to 2000+ km. Labuan is 8 km off the northern coast of Borneo and is most well-known for wreck dives.

 

 

Besides these locations, just offshore from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Borneo’s capital city, lies the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, consisting of 5 small islands with coral reefs. Although these islands are close to the mainland, the reefs and marine life are in surprisingly good condition.They are certainly worth diving if visiting Kota Kinabalu. Several dive shops are based in the city, offering diving to the nearby marine park as well as other Borneo locations.

Sarawak Borneo, Malaysia’s second state on Borneo, also has dive sites near Miri city and a few other locations. I haven’t dived any of them, but I’ve been told they are excellent, little visited dive sites.

My personal diving experiences in Malaysia are at the Perentian Islands, Tioman Island and Sipadan/ Mabul Islands in Borneo.

Thus far, I’ve written several stories about diving at Tioman Island. Here’s an overview of  Tioman Island.  I will be adding stories about Tioman’s specific dive sites soon.

In the meantime, you’re certainly welcome to contact me about diving in Asia. In many cases, even if I haven’t personally dived particular locations, I have read and/or researched them and heard stories from other dive pros and recreational divers about them. I can probably give you much useful information to plan your next diving vacation.

reporting from the road, Lash

contact me:
1. comments section below
2. Facebook: LashWorldTour

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  1. Suzy

    I definitely wouldn't mind seeing some of those goregeous reefs in Tioman! It is amazing how much sea-life is lurking below the waters in Malaysia.

  2. LASH

    As usual, thanks for stopping by Suzy. I hope you get to try scuba diving one day! cheers, Lash

  3. Dan

    Hi, Thanks so much for your detailed review.. huge help.

    i’m wondering if you can help me out.

    My friend and I (two guys) are planning a trip to Asia in June… and want to do some scubadiving for 2-3 days. We were planning on going to Kipalai (near sipadan) and then suddently started getting cold feet that we might get bored post scuba etc…

    We got our Open Water last summer in Ko Tao Thailand, and loved being able to rent ATV’s and just shill for a few hours.. Kipalai seems to stand on stilts and pretty much nothing else to do..

    What is your experience with this? Is there any place that is similar to Ko Tao but with better diving in June? We are flexible as far as flights are concerned, currently we’re booked into Kuala Lumpur on Sunday arriving at 11am..

    If we go somewhere other then Sipadan, we would like a luxury hotel, with pool, bar etc… having the ability to rent bikes or some other adventure would be a bonus..

    Any help greatly appreciated!!

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Dan,

      Sounds like youv’e got a upcoming trip.

      I dont’ know much about Kipalai, so can’t advise you on that spot. But a few places I can suggest given your description:

      #1. Amed, northeast Bali.

      Amed has amazing diving, just offshore! The area is remote but filled with lovely, upscale boutique resorts. You can very easily rent motorbikes anywhere in Bali and explore the island. There’s white water rafting, hiking, volcaooes, cultural arts, clubbing in south Bali…

      As a bonus, (for my suggestion anyhow) is that I’ve written about 50 posts / photo galleries on Bali. Many are about Amed and diving. so you can find out all about it.

      #2. Manado, Sulawesi and Bunaken national Park.

      I haven’t honestly been there yet, but it’s rated as some of the best diving in the world, even by first-hand accounts of other pro divers I know. BEyond Manado, Sulawesi has many interesting places to visit.

      #3. Stick with your current plan and explore more of Sabah after/before diving. Sabah has loads of things to do / places to see. You can visit Orangutan Sanctuaary, Climb Mt. Kinabalu, so on a jungle safari…. My friends recently went there and said it’s become quite expensive though.. but if you’re looking for luxury hotels, I guess expensive isn’t an issue. :))

      Hope one of these suits you! Let me know where you finally go and how you like it. :))

      cheers, Lash

  4. Dan

    Thank so much for your detailed reply, I really appreciate it! I’m actually going to begin reading through all your posts…

    I’m leaning away from Sipadan as I’m worried it will be too remote and boring…

    I already bought flights from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur so my options currently are:

    getting additional flight and continue to bali, or get a flight from Kuala Lumpur north so I can visit Redang island… how would you compare Bali with Redang? is diving similar?

    Does redang have bike rentals and stuff like that? June weather I understand will be similar and good.

    Also we light a place which has cheap massages and markets etc…

    Thanks a lot again for your time!! your great!!

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Dan,

      Flights to/from Bali and KL are super cheap in June. in case you decide to go over there.

      The whole east coast of Malaysia nd its islands will have great weather and diving in June.

      I can recommend both Rendang and Tioman Islands.

      Howeve, the reason I did’nt mention them is that they’re both fairly small and don’t really have other activities. Tioman is bigger than Rendang and has beautiful reefs. You can hike in the jungle there and taek a boat trip around the island. THat’s about it. It’s not really big enough to have local markets. Same for Rendang.

      You can get fairly cheap massages at both places, though I consider them quite expensive for SE ASia – about 60 – 100 Rm / $20 Us per hour. NOT cheap for SE ASia!

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