Diving in Malaysia

Malaysia has been the home for local divers for many years however only in the last 20 years or so, since the discovery of Sipadan island off the east coast of Sabah, it has become a top Asian diving destination. Malaysia offers a vast array of scuba diving locations ranging from vertical walls to fringing coral atolls to wreck dives and even macro and muck diving.

Malaysia is over 800km long, has a mountainous center with spectacular limestone outcrops, a long neck and tapering tail. East Malaysia comprises the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah. Diving is possible all year round in Sabah as it sits below the typhoon belt. Boasting a multitude of coral reefs to explore, there are countless sites to head to. In recent years, it is this wonderful environment that is driving the Malaysian tourism industry. To the divers, it is the idyllic pearl-like drops of coral islands in the South China Sea off Sabah & Sarawak that are the great attractions. The diving at Sipadan, Kapalai and Layang Layang conjure thoughts of swirling schools of barracuda and jacks to divers the world over. However the Malay peninsular has plenty of its own underwater gems to explore including Redang and Tioman.

Diving spots are extremely close to the island; you can even swim to a few of them. Although you are unlikely to find the big fish and turtles you would have at Sipadan, it is still a great experience and a beautiful dive site. Here are some popular diving sites in Malaysia.



The Sipadan Island claims to be the world’s best dive site. While this is a big claim, the diving here is certainly world class, with more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species that have been classified in the ecosystem. In 2002, resorts around the island have been closed to protect the environment, so visitors will need to stay on nearby islands, such as Mabul or Semporna, and take a boat into Sipadan to dive. Because Sipadan is now a protected site, only 120 dives are allowed daily, so it’s best to dive as early as possible to beat the crowds and increase your chances of getting on the dive roster. Be sure to check with your dive operator that the dives are done with permits, as some companies have been caught diving without permits. Sipadan is surrounded by very rich reef life with sea turtles and white tip reef sharks seen on almost every dive with visibility ranging from 10m to 30m and above.


Perhentian is the best island in Malaysia to do a diving course. The diving conditions are splendid for beginners, and there are many dive spots available to enjoy immediately after finishing the PADI course. Perhentian has calm waters and an abundance of marine life. Besides diving it is probably one of the best islands for snorkeling, with shallow reefs with pretty nice corals and great marine life (also big fish and many turtles). At Perhentian prices for fun dives and for the diving course are probably the lowest in Malaysia. If you are a beginner, Perhentian Island is definitely the place to be!





Layang Layang is a breath taking coral atoll lying 300 kilometers off the coast of Sabah. It is part of the 600 island, reef and shoal group in the South China Sea known as The Spratley’s. The 13 linked coral reef atoll isnt that large at only 14 square kilometers however it surrounding waters drop to around 2,000 meters deep which makes for some very interesting marine life.





Tioman Island has been a holiday island for many years, it is very popular with locals, Singaporeans and international tourists. It is the largest island on the east coast of the Malay peninsular and has a vast array of resorts, hotels, beaches and natural parks. Similar to other islands along the east coast of Malaysia, Tioman is protected for conservation by the authorities. Diving here offers a wide range of sites from sheltered bays to volcanic rocky outcrops and pinnacles. The waters around Tioman also harbour several wrecks and a extensive array of marine life to satisfy any scuba diver.




Kapalai is a water village resort sitting atop a shallow reef a few minutes north of Sipadan by speed boat. Kapalai is unique as guests can see from their resort accommodation straight down into the clear waters, it doesnt have an island any more as erosion has reduced it to just a sand bank. It is another macro paradise but unlike Mabul the visibility is usually better here. Most diving is done in shallow clear water so it is ideal for beginners. In a sense it is like being on a spacious immobile liveaboard. There are many dive sites around Kapalai, we have just covered the popular ones.




The island of Redang is rapidly growing in popularity as a dive destination. Its waters offer ideal conditions for coral growth and there are many species of hard and soft corals found here. Conservation on the island is a serious issue which is good news for divers as fishing and collecting from the reef is prohibited. There are several different levels of dive sites suited to both beginners and more experienced divers and most resorts around the island have their own dive operations and facilities. We have covered most of the popular dive sites around the islands or Redang, there are more out there.





A small island located north of the city of Sandakan in eastern Sabah. Lankayan only has one (luxurious) resort and it’s all about diving and relaxing. Accommodation might be quite expensive for non-divers, they might be better off at numerous other islands. After Sipadan, Lankayan probably offers the best dive spots and diving conditions in Malaysia.






Though not as great as diving conditions at the nearby islands of Sipadan and Mabul, the area surrounding Mataking, Pom and Sibuan still offers quite a few amazing dive sites (especially Sibuan is known for great muck diving). Mataking is a wonderful place to stay. There is a very luxurious resort from where you can enjoy dive trips in the area.






Tenggol Island is located at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It offers splendid diving conditions, but it is perhaps not suitable for beginners due to the currents that often play a big role in dives around the island. There are a few nice resorts on the island. Tenggol cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.




>>> Next Page: Nightlife in Malaysia