Diving in Malaysia

Malaysia Diving
Scuba diving in Malaysia is getting more popular as there is a lot of publicity being done about this underwater sport in the last few years. There has also been a very large increase in the number of divers over the last five years too. 

In a recent statistic report from PADI, a whopping 15% of the dive certifications worldwide are coming from Malaysia. However, this was shared from one of the senior divers in Malaysia recently. There is no official full report issued out from PADI currently.

This article is created for anyone planning to do some diving in Malaysia as it highlights the best dive locations in Malaysia, what to expect and what kind of diving is available. 

Where to Dive in Malaysia

There are in fact many places where you can dive at around Malaysia, and on both Peninsular and Malaysia Borneo. The most popular place that divers would have heard about is no other than Sipadan Island in Sabah Borneo. 

The infrastructure for scuba diving in Malaysia is very international standards, and facilities are top notch with very up to date equipment available. Those who prefer branded diving equipment will be pleased to know that this is available at some of the dive centers in Malaysia. 

For divers visiting Malaysia, your port of entry will be via the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or better known as KLIA or KLIA2, which is the budget long haul terminal. KLIA is located in the state of Selangor, and there is no diving available here. 

Usually, you will transit to catch a connecting flight to your diving destination around Malaysia and there are numerous airlines that provide this. Most frequent flights to many smaller cities would be AirAsia, followed by FireFly Airline, Batik Air Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines.

Mantanani Island Diving
Divers exploring the macro world in Mantanani Island, Sabah
Types of Diving in Malaysia

For divers, there are many types of diving available all over Malaysia. However, the most commercial would be leisure diving which is found at almost all of the popular islands in Malaysia.

Most dive sites are open water level certification, and if you need to do your scuba license, you can easily do so at a number of dive centers throughout Malaysia.

The beauty about diving in Malaysia is that you can choose from leisure to technical diving, depending on how long you spend here.

You can also just walk-in to some of the dive centers to book your dive. Others include buying a dull stay and dive package from the resorts.

Malaysia Diving Photos
Coral art, what you can find in the waters of Malaysia
Below are the types of diving in Malaysia offered;
  • Leisure Diving - Found at almost all islands on Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysia Borneo. 
  • Advanced Diving - Same as above, with the inclusion of wreck, drift and deep dives. 
  • Wreck Diving - Available around Malaysia. Some dive sites have wrecks as shallow as 16 meters. Kuching in Sarawak offers some of the best wreck diving in Malaysia, followed by Labuan Island in Sabah. 
  • Drift Diving - While the currents around Malaysia are not too strong, there are some dive spots where you can do drift diving in Malaysia.
  • Night Diving - Most resorts and dive operators around island offer night diving to those with advanced level certification.
  • Macro Diving - There are many notable dive spots around Malaysia that offer some great Macro diving. Also depending on what you want to photograph or see.
  • Diving Photography - A number of dive centers around Malaysia offer dive photography trips for underwater photographers. Camera equipment can also be rented at some centers. 
  • Live On Board Diving - A limited number of live on boards or LOB's are available around Malaysia and you need to book directly with them. Usually they are found in the waters of Sabah and the East Coast of Malaysia. 
  • Cave Diving - Selected dive operators provide cave diving in Malaysia. However, you need to book this with the operator directly.
  • Rebreather Diving - Only very selected dive centers offer this and you need to check with them.
  • Nitrox Diving - Quite a few div centers offer Nitrox diving in Malaysia, or Trimix diving, for those who want to do wrecks or deep dives. 
  • Technical Diving - Selected dive centers offer technical diving in Malaysia. However, there has been an increase in technical diver certification over the years here, so it is not new. 
Malaysia Best Diving Places
Perhentian Island, the quiet side
Best Places for Diving in Malaysia

So, what kind of diving would you like to do? This is the tricky question that most divers will be asking. At the end of the day, it all depends what you want to see or experience during your diving. 

There are divers who only want to see large fish, while others want to see macro life like nudibranches, pygmy seahorses and other macro life.

Most leisure divers are just happy to dive in a beautiful dive site rich with corals and fishes. The most popular places for diving in Malaysia is also very subjective, but I will list them down in no order.

Dive Sites of Sabah Map
A map of Sabah showing the popular dive sites
Diving in Sabah Borneo

Sabah is currently the number one spot for diving in Malaysia. Why? Because the world famous Sipadan Island is located here. Sipadan is also known as one of the top three dive sites in the world, ranked by many dive magazines, CNN and even Lonely Planet. 

Sabah's dive sites are divided into two sides - East Sabah where you will find Sipadan Island, Mabul Island, Lankayan Island, Mataking Island, Kapalai Island and many other smaller islands.

The dive sites here are some of the best in the world where you can choose leisure diving or muck diving. At Mabul Island, some of the dive sites are minutes away from the resort, so you can imagine how easy it is here.

One thing that first time divers to Malaysia should try is staying at the Seaventures Dive Resort. This unique experience lets divers stay on the world's only diving oil rig resort. The oil rig is parked just minutes off Mabul Island too.

Sargassum Frogfish Malaysia
A Sargassum Frogfish seen while diving in Mabul Island, Sabah
West Coast Sabah is where Kota Kinabalu, the capital is located. Here you can do quick dives at destinations that are nearby. Popular dive spots include Sapi Island, Manukan Island, Mengalum Island, Mantanani Island, Tiga Island and a few more. These are the more commercial diving sites.

Some divers have actually made their way up north to do diving in Kudat. However, I would not recommend this as the diving here is not recommended due to the rip curls and strong currents.

Oil Rig Dive Resort
The only oil rig dive resort in the world called Seaventures is located at Mabul Island, Sabah
Labuan Island is popular for wreck diving and the wrecks are quite far out. Advanced open water divers and above can dive around Labuan. You need to take a ferry from the Kuala Penyu area to Labuan Island or fly there. 

For the extreme divers, there is Layang Layang Island, which is touted to be one of the best dive sites in Malaysia where you can spot schools of hammerhead sharks during the season from March to May.

Sabah is connected via frequent flights from Kuala Lumpur and many other large cities in Malaysia. No, you cannot take a bus or train to Sabah as it is located on the island of Borneo.

Perhentian Scuba Diving
A school of large Puffer Fish spotted during a dive at the Perhentian Islands
Diving in Terengganu

Located on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, you will find some of the most beautiful resort islands. Terengganu is a 5-6 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur or a one hour flight to Kuala Terengganu. 

The popular islands here are the Perhentian Islands which come in Perhentian Kecil (Small) and Perhentian Besar (Big). These are one of the most popular dive destinations in Peninsular Malaysia, but only operates from March till October. The rest of the months are the monsoon season from November till February.

Malaysia Nudibranch
A beautiful nudibranch photographed during a dive in Perhentian Island
Nearby is Redang Island or Pulau Redang, which is one of the best beginner diver spots in Malaysia. The island has it's own marine park and diving here is easy and casual. Redang is also well known as a romantic island but can get crowded during the peak season with snorkelers. 

Another island off Terengganu is Lang Tengah Island or Pulau Lang Tengah, which is less busy but offering some decent dive sites. This island is more of a laid back type of place for divers. 

Tenggol Island is a smaller island and further down south that offers some intense diving, depending on the diver. They have simple dive sites, and some really challenging ones. There is one dive resort called Tenggol Island Beach Resort which is noted as probably the best option here.

Dive Sites in Terengganu
Dive sites at the islands of Terengganu
For luxury divers, there is the Tanjong Jara Resort on the mainland in Dungun area. They operate dive trips to Tenggol on request. 

There are other smaller islands like Gemia Island and Kapas Island which have independent resorts and offer diving as well. You need to book directly with the resorts here.

Banded Sawblade Shrimp Malaysia
A Banded Sawblade Shrimp or Tozeuma Shrimp, photographed while diving in Perhentian Island
Diving in Johor

Johor is the state bordering Singapore and on the east coast of Johor, you will find Tioman Island, which is one of the very popular dive sites for locals. In general, locals drive five hours from Kuala Lumpur to spend a weekend diving here. 

Other islands around here include Rawa Island (Pulau Rawa) which is a private island with their own resort, Pemanggil Island (Pulau Pemanggil) and Aur Island (Pulau Aur) which are more local and not so commercial.

Dive Sites for Tioman Island
Dive sites for Tioman Island
Other less commercialized dive spots in Johor are Aur Island and Dayan Island. Both islands are mostly visited by divers from Singapore and is not commercialized as Tioman Island.

Islands closer to the mainland are Sibu Island and Tinggi Island, which has three resorts that offer scuba diving. Mostly muck diving, the best times to dive at these two island is from March to June.

Tioman and other islands here also observe the monsoon season, therefore from mid October to mid February, it is off season. Some resorts still operate during the monsoon and may offer diving.

Sarawak Scuba Diving
Sarawak offers some amazing scuba diving as well (Photo from Sarawak Tourism Board)
Diving in Sarawak 

Sarawak is one of the lesser known dive destinations in Malaysia, but in recent years, two notable spots have come up on the dive radar. One in Kuching and one in the resort city of Miri, just bordering the Kingdom of Brunei.

However, you should know that diving in Sarawak is not as commercial as other parts of Malaysia. There are dive operators in Sarawak, but just a handful of them. In most cases, you need to contact the dive centers to check when the weather is good before diving here.

Diving in Kuching - Most serious divers come here to explore the many historical wrecks found in the waters of Kuching. Apparently, there is also a submarine wreck, but this place is not recommended by the dive operators.

I recently did a dive at Satang Island, 40 minutes boat ride from Santubong, however, due to weather, the waters were not clear. I was getting a visibility of 2 to 3 meters, which was really bad. This was during the dive season here and in July 2017. Anyway, I plan to go back and try again.

Dive Sites in Kuching, Sarawak
Dive sites of Kuching, Sarawak
Most of the wrecks are World War 2 Japanese wrecks which are hundreds of meters long. So you need to be and advanced open water (AOW) diver to see them.

Diving in Miri - This is more commercial and there are two dive operators located in the city of Miri. Coco Dive is one of the pioneer centers who organises trips to the many dive sites around Miri.

My last dive here was in May 2017, healthy corals, reef fish, macro life and occasional large fish. I saw  a lone Bumphead Parrotfish one one of my dives. Read about my recent Miri dive experience.

To get to Sarawak, you need to fly from Kuala Lumpur or some other larger city. There are many flights a day to both Miri and Kuching.

Diving in Langkawi Island

Yes, you can dive in Langkawi Island. However, it is not as popular as the east coast or East Malaysia. So, if everything else fails and you can only visit Langkawi, you can book a dive here.

There are a few dive operators in Langkawi that offer dive trips to the Pulau Payar Marine Park, which is probably the best place to dive in Langkawi. For serious divers, you can talk to the dive center on other places to dive around Langkawi Island.

Diving in Pulau Payar Marine Park - To be honest, I am yet to dive here, but from reviews and articles, it is said that visibility can go up to 20 meters from April to August. But always best to double check with the dive operators there.

A number of divers I spoke to have informed me that Langkawi is decent diving, but nothing compared to those of Sabah's dive locations. Seeing photos of Pulau Payar's dive sites, it looks quite decent, so not all is lost.

To get to Langkawi, you can fly from Kuala Lumpur and it takes only an hour. If you are traveling overland, you can take a bus, train or rent a car. From the mainland, you can take the ferry across. But to be honest, it is much faster to fly in and rent a car to move around.

The beautiful Pulau Perak or Tukun Perak Island. Photo from www.xnuripilot.blogspot.my
Diving in Perak

Among these lesser known dive spots in Malaysia, Pangkor Island, Sembilan Island and Jarak Island are a few of them. Located off the coastal town of Lumut, Pangkor is well known as a resort island, nearest to Kuala Lumpur.

Reports state that diving here is generally entry level, and visibility is decent. There are numerous resorts, guesthouses and homestays available on the island and on the mainland.

There is also one or two dive operators who provide dive packages to these islands. One of them is located on Marina Island, which offers frequent dives to Sembilan Island. There are five main dive sites ate Sembilan Island too.

Diving in Perak Island
Tukun Perak diving photos. (Images were compiled by Pulau Perak Dive Expedition 2014 Video)
Pulau Perak or Tukun Perak is one of the very exotic dive sites of Peninsular Malaysia. The island is also known as Fairway Rock, and is actually a sandstone rock that rises from the Straits of Malacca. However, Pulau Perak is situated around 150 km from the Island of Penang and takes about 8 hours by boat.

This island is or was used as a military base, as there are some structures at the top of the island. In a dive video, Giant Manta Rays were seen swimming openly in the waters here. Visibility is up to 40 meters. Other rare small crustaceans which are rare can be found here too.

Tukun Perak sits off the island of Penang, but is under the Perak state. Only specialized dive trips to Perak Island are made here by selective dive operators.

Lumut is about 3.5 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. If you are going to Pangkor Island, you need to take the ferry from Lumut.

Underwater Photography Malaysia
A Pipefish photographed in Mabul by me during one of my dives
Diving in Port Dickson 

Honestly, if nothing else works, you can still dive in Port Dickson or PD. But let it be known that this is probably going to end up bad. Meaning, visibility is not good here. There are a couple of dive sites in PD, but the best seems to be at the Blue Lagoon area or 12th mile of PD.

Diving in PD requires some serious addiction, if you are on a budget. There is one operator who provides 2-dive packages at the Blue Lagoon in Port Dickson. Prices are around RM160 per person including boat fees and others.

I saw a video of scuba diving in PD and let me just share with you, the visibility was maybe 1-2 meters. But the macro life here is pretty decent, so if you are a macro diver, there is still hope.

Port Dickson is only 1.5 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. Once known as the most popular beach destination in Malaysia, on weekends, PD can get really crowded with beach goers.

Malaysia Stonefish Photo
A nicely camouflaged Stonefish
Diving in Melaka

Probably unheard off, but there have been people who have done scuba diving in Melaka, with very low visibility. There are currently two places to dive in Melaka, which is Pulau Undan and Pulau Besar Melaka.

One local operator is known to do dive packages which cost RM300 per person including 3 boat dives, lunch, fees and so on. Best to bring your own equipment, or they can be rented.

One of the dive schools tend to bring their open water certification students to Pulau Undan for the open water examination. Contact +6 019 4908677 for diving in Melaka or Port Dickson.

The place to depart for diving in Melaka is from the village of Umbai and it takes about two hours to drive here from Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Underwater Photography
Me taking a close look at a Hairy Seahorse during a dive at Mabul Island, Sabah
Dive Conditions In Malaysia

Because Malaysia is a tropical country, there are multiple seasons to observe for diving here. The biggest factor on the Peninsular side is the monsoon season. This is when it rains hard and seas become really bad.

It is during these times that most boats do not go out to sea, depending on the weather conditions. And most resorts on the islands will close. However, there are some resorts that remain open and offer discounted rates.

Diving during these times are also a gamble, as you may book your discounted package only to find that the five days here is just pouring with rain.

On the other hand, there have been many cases where the weather is good for a few days or a week, with great diving conditions.

Over in east Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak observe the rainy season. Sabah is well known for their world-class diving sites, and offers diving throughout the year.

Sarawak however, is dependent on the weather conditions, as the rain messes up the visibility of the waters here.

Malaysia Whale Shark Photo
Whale Sharks are commonly spotted all over Malaysia (Photo from YTL Hotels)
Best Time to Dive in Malaysia

Again, Malaysia is divided between the Peninsular and Malaysia Borneo by the South China Sea. So, there are two different diving conditions. Sabah and Sarawak are on Malaysia Borneo, while the other places mentioned here are on the Peninsular.

Best Time to Dive in Sabah

East Coast Sabah - Islands of Mabul, Sipadan, Lankayan, Mataking, Kapalai, Pom Pom, Sibuan, Siamil: The best time to dive here is from July to August, as visibility is at its optimum, and if you are lucky, 40 meters is not a problem.

Macro Diving in Mabul - Mabul Island is home to the best macro or muck diving in Sabah, and you can do this all year round.

West Coast Sabah - Islands of Manukan, Mamutik, Sulug, Sapi, Mengalum, Tiga, Mantanani: The best time to dive at these islands is from March to October, when the season is dry with very little rain.

Layang Layang Island - Best time to dive in Layang Layang Island is from March to May, when chances to spot the schools of Hammerheads. There is only one resort here which closes from September to February.

Malaysia best time to scuba dive
Some of the dive sites in Malaysia provide excellent visibility underwater
Diving in Peninsular Malaysia

The peninsular observes the monsoon season and also rainy seasons so you need to check carefully when you want to dive in Malaysia.

East Coast Malaysia - These are the states of Terengganu, Pahang and Johor where most of the islands are located at. The monsoon season here starts in mid October till mid February.

This means, during the year end and beginning of the year, it is off season for diving. So for anyone planning to visit these islands at the end of the year, you can avoid it.

Some resorts may remain open throughout, but weather wise, it is totally unpredictable. It is a gamble if you want to dive during this time of the year.

West Coast Malaysia - States of Perak, Penang and Langkawi offer some diving and the best time to dive is from November to April. These are the driest months with little rain.

You can visit these places anytime of the year, but expect showers during other months. September and November are the wettest months of the year.

Malaysia Night Diving
Night dives in Malaysia are quite common
Diving Prices in Malaysia

Some divers claim that Malaysia is one of the cheapest diving spots in the world, and probably due to the currency exchange. At the more popular dive destinations, the price ranges anywhere from RM100 to RM150 per dive. This is converted to US$25 to $45 per dive.

Most divers would rather go for diving packages as resorts or operators will provide a 3-dive, 5-dive or 9-dive package for a very good price. These packages usually include all in.

More expensive resorts in Sabah charge more for dive packages, so depending on which resort you stay at, the dive packages may vary in pricing.

On Peninsular Malaysia, dive prices are a little cheaper compared to Sabah. For example, one dive will cost around RM90-RM120 (US$22-$30). But if you take more dives, the price can drop to around RM60-RM70 per dive.

Most divers prefer to take the diving package offered by the resorts as it includes stay, food and dives at one price. A 3 Day / 2 Night dive package with 5 dives will cost you around RM400 to RM600 (US$100 to $150) per person, depending on the type of room you choose.

If you have your own equipment, the price may be discounted slightly, but most visitors would just use the operators equipment, which is quite up to date and safe.

Sipadan Island Scuba Diving
Some of the amazing diving in Sipadan Island. (Photo by Sabah Tourism Board)
How much is it to Dive in Sipadan?

The golden question. Well, if you take a full package from some operators around Mabul Island, they will include 3 dives to Sipadan. But the dive packages consist of 3-4 nights stay, full board meals and everything. So you only pay one price and have the opportunity to dive at Sipadan Island.

However, there are many guest houses or budget hotels on Mabul that offer ad-hoc bookings for diving in Sipadan Island. The prices range from RM700 to RM800 (US$180 to $200) for 3 dives, including boat, meals and everything else.

You must know that Sipadan Island is a fully protected marine park and there are only 120 visitor permits issued on a daily basis. These permits are divided among the dive resorts in the area and there is no lodging available or allowed on Sipadan Island.

Barracuda Vortex Sipadan Island
One of my epic diving moments, trying to get into the Barracuda Vortex in Sipadan Island
Other Diving Information in Malaysia 

Overall, Malaysia offers tropical diving as the waters are 28-30 Degrees Celsius. You can dive in your shorts, t-shirt or bikini if you prefer. If you are bringing your wet suit, you just need a 3-5mm thickness and no need for a hood.

Most of the dive sites are leisure diving while there are wrecks, caves and deep water diving available. The marine life is rich due to the tropical climate, so there are many things to see throughout the year.

There are many dive centers found on most of the islands in Malaysia. They come fully equipped with all the necessary equipment needed, so you need not lug your equipment around.

Perhentian Islands Diving
Divers making their way back after a dive
Dive photography is also big here, so some dive centers offer camera rentals or GoPro rentals. There are also dive videographers who will record your diving experience and compile a dive video for you.

More complicated diving is also available, especially for side mount divers, technical divers and rebreather divers. But you need to check with the dive operator if they have this.

For selective divers, there are PADI, NAUI and SSI dive centers available which offer all kinds of dive certification and courses. Prices are one of the cheapest in the world too, when you compare the currency exchange.

Diving Insurance in Malaysia

As any diver out there, you should have your own dive insurance when you travel overseas. If you ask me, I would say that it is better to be safe than sorry.

There are a number of companies that offer diving insurance in Malaysia. Some of them are reputable and some of them are internationally known. So, do get your diving insurance as it does not cost very much.

MIDE Malaysia
A scene at the Malaysian International Dive Expo in Kuala Lumpur
Dive Expos in Malaysia

Over the years, there was only one main diving expo which is called MIDE or Malaysia International Dive Expo, which takes place just before the middle of the year. This is where dive operators, dealers, re-sellers, resorts and distributors will make their mark. The last Malaysia dive expo was also held in May, and in Kuala Lumpur.

A new dive expo called DRT Malaysia or Dive Resort Travel Expo will take place in Malaysia from 2-4 February in Kuala Lumpur. This will benefit the dive industry here as all this while, there was only one. With the emergence of this new dive expo in Malaysia, consumers will have more options.

Dive Warnings in Malaysia

You should only dive with certified and professional dive operators in Malaysia. There have been cases where freelance dive operators without proper licenses or insurance have been operating.

They offer really cheap dive packages to unsuspecting tourist via online platforms like Facebook, Instagram or even personal blogs. If anything goes wrong, no one is going to help you. So, please avoid diving touts and go for the recognized dive operators.

Diver in Malaysia
That's me, always curious underwater. Checking out a Frogfish in Mabul Island
Overall, this article is created for those who have interest to do scuba diving in Malaysia. And if it is your first time, you should do your research on what kind of diving you want to do here.

Sabah is still known as the best place to dive in Malaysia, due to the world-class dive sites available here. There are many other dive sites in Malaysia, but depending on where you are heading. You can also read more about my scuba diving adventures.

Some divers will plan their trips purely for diving, while others will try to mix and match their vacation with sightseeing and diving. I mean, if you are coming half way around the world to Malaysia, you would definitely want to see some of the amazing places in Malaysia.

0 comments