Although it might be considered a hidden gem in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a jewel not to be missed. This 330,000 square kilometre/127,000 square mile nation is divided into two parts — Peninsular Malaysia, which projects from the southern end of Thailand and Malaysian Borneo, which encompasses the northern quarter of the world’s third-largest island. The dive opportunities here are rivaled only by the nation’s cultural diversity and range from sun-soaked sandy flats teeming with tropicals, to low-vis muck diving that will blow your mind, to electric deep water diving that’ll put you mask to fin with some amazing pelagics.
HOT DIVE SITES
Just off the eastern coast of Borneo in the Sulawesi Sea is the tiny island of Sipadan—one that boasts some of the nation’s best diving. You’ll encounter so many turtles here that you’ll probably find yourself tuning them out simply to take in the forest for the trees. The island is also known for its ridiculously large schools of barracuda that meander through the reefs along with big flocks of bumphead parrotfish and big-eye trevally. Pelagics, including mantas, eagle rays, scalloped hammerheads and whale sharks, are also frequent visitors.
Tun Sakaran Marine Park
Not far from Sipadan and Mabul is one of Malaysia’s most up-and-coming dive destinations, Tun Sakaran Marine Park. It encompasses eight islands and is Sabah’s largest marine park. Those in the know believed the area has more marine biodiversity than its better-known neighbors. Divers here will be treated to walls, reefs and sandy flats that are home to bumphead parrotfish, eagle rays, barracuda and tons of nudibranches.
The Perhentian Islands lie off the northeast corner of peninsular Malaysia just south of Thailand and have been attracting divers for years. Its shallow sandy flats teem with rays, parrotfish and cuttlefish. The islands are part of the Pulau Redang Marine Park, which was established more than two decades ago to protect local sea turtle populations. In addition to the turtles, you’ll find thick schools of jacks, mackerel, sharks and nudibranches.
Depicted in the movie South Pacific, it’s no wonder that Tioman has been long considered one of the world’s most idyllic, picturesque islands. And, it comes as no surprise that the beauty extends below the surface, where extensive coral reefs teem with life, including soft corals and gorgonians, napoleon wrasses, profuse tropical fish and the occasional manta.
Depth : Varies by destination, but ranges from 3-40 metres/10-130 feet.
Visibility : Visibility ranges from 15 to 30 metres/50 to 100 feet in Sipadan, slightly less in the muck sites of Mabul.
Currents : Depends on the location, but can be mild to strong in Malaysian Borneo and mile to moderate in Peninsular Malaysia.
Water Temperature : This close to the equator, you can count on water temperatures from 26-30° C/80-85° F year-round.
Dive Season : You’ll enjoy diving in Malaysia any time of year, but generally speaking, the best time is spring through fall.
Weather : Malaysia enjoys a tropical climate and the northeast monsoon from October to February brings buckets of rain to Borneo and the eastern coast. The nation’s proximity to the equator means constant, warm year-round temperatures.
Access : Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital and largest city, is served by direct flights from around the globe.
Skill Level : There are opportunities for all levels of diver throughout the nation, though Tun Sakaran, Perhentian and Tioman are excellent locations for beginners.
Scuba Gear : Most dive operators provide gear rentals, but it’s always good to pack your own mask, fins and snorkel, as well as your regulator. This will allow you to be ready to snorkel any time you get the chance.
Length of Stay : A week will give you ample opportunity to soak in Malaysia’s incredible diving.
Featured Creatures : In Malaysia, you’ll have the chance to see everything from muck denizens to pelagics and just about everything in between.
Language : Bahasa Malaysia (Malay), English, Chinese and several indigenous languages are spoken throughout Malaysia.
Currency : The Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
Transportation : You’ll likely fly into Kuala Lumpur, then connect with Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo to transfer to your final dive destination.
Major Airports : Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL). Other airports include Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI), , Kuching International Airport (KCH), Penang International Airport (PEN), Langkawi International Airport (LGK) and Senai International Airport near Johor Bahru (JHB).
Documents : You’ll need a passport valid for at least six months from the time of entry, but visitors from most countries can enter Malaysia without a visa. You’ll be issued a 14-, 30- or 90-day entry permit stamp on your passport, indicating your length of stay. You can find information specific to your country on the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs site.
Religion : Islam is the official state religion, but Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism as well as Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions are also practiced.
Electricity : 240V/50Hz, and a British-style Type G plug.
Airport Entry/Exit Fees : There are no entry or exit fees, but make sure you depart before your entry stamp expires as you may be fined or detained for doing so.