Imagine rolling off a boat into a funnel of barracuda then gliding over pristine coral reefs full of sharks, turtles and macro critters. This is Malaysia.
With hundreds of tropical islands to choose from, diving in Malaysia is sure to satisfy even the pickiest of divers. Along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, you’ll find protected reef diving in Tioman, Redang and the Perhentian Islands. These same locations feature open ocean pinnacles for more advanced divers. Further south, Borneo delights divers with its well-trodden hotspots like Sipadan and Layang Layang. Furthermore, adventure-seekers can get off the beaten path in Kuching where sunken ships from World War II await.
When to Dive Malaysia
If you would like to dive in Borneo or the peninsular east coast, plan your trip between May and September. For the west coast, pick October to April.
From October to April, the northeast monsoon rages in Malaysia. This monsoon affects all of Borneo as well as the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Although it’s still possible to dive in Borneo at this time, it’s far less comfortable. Water and air temperatures fall. Visibility is reduced and rain can occasionally be expected.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to dive on the east coast of the peninsula or to reach the islands in the area from October until March.
This is the best season for diving Langkawi in the northwest of the peninsula.
From May until September, the southwest monsoon takes hold of the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Fortunately, this monsoon also brings dry weather to Borneo and the east coast of the peninsula. During these months, the water is calm, the skies are dry and visibility can occasionally top 40 meters!
March to May, in particular, are great months for Layang Layang. At this time, dozens of scalloped hammerheads arrive in the area.
July and August are considered the best months for diving in Sipadan.
Where to Dive in Malaysia
Unless restricted geographically, most experts agree that Borneo has the best diving in Malaysia. If you’re on the peninsula, head to the east coast.
Between funnels of barracuda in Sipadan and the hammerheads of Layang Layang, Malaysian Borneo contains some of the most diverse waters in the world.
Less known than Thailand, its neighbor to the north, peninsular Malaysia is home to swaying palm trees, colorful coral reefs and crystal clear water.
Dive sites in Malaysia
Between the peninsula and Borneo, there are plenty of dive sites to fulfill every desire. If you’re looking to get in the water with pelagic species, consider heading to Sipadan, Pulau Lima in Redang or Tiger Reef in Tioman. Currents and nutrients in all three ensure these are fantastic sites for schools of barracuda and the occasional shark.
Do you love macro? Then Pulau Sibuan in Semporna, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park near Kota Kinabalu or Pulau Saga in Lamut are great options for you. All three set strange critters against a beautiful coral backdrop.
Malaysia’s presence in WWII means there are fascinating wrecks in its waters. If you’re interested in wreck diving, seek out the Atago Maru in Miri or the Katori Maru and Hiyoshi Maru in Kuching.
Snorkeling in Malaysia
While it might not be fair to say that snorkeling is as good as diving in Malaysia, snorkeling is still wonderful. Along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, you’ll find excellent snorkeling in Tioman and the Perhentians. It’s also possible to snorkel many of the sites in Borneo including Sipadan and Miri’s WWII wreck.
What to See in Malaysia
Malaysia is a part of the coral triangle. As such, you’ll see a wonderful diversity of marine life here. Heavy hitters like hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, huge schools of barracuda and hundreds of sea turtles define the underwater atmosphere.
The healthy coral reefs of both Borneo and the Peninsula are great for macro as well. Be sure to search out the colorful mandarinfish, the deadly blue-ringed octopus and the ornate ghost pipefish. Other local favorites include butterflyfish, mimic octopus, reef sharks, bumphead parrotfish, groupers, rainbow runners, emperors, boxfish and schools of snappers.