Scuba diving has been a popular attraction for people visiting Asia for many years, which is unsurprising given the spectacular things that can be discovered; from pink corals, to hammerhead sharks, to WW2 submerged wrecks. The underwater world is truly sublime, and it consistently entices people to explore below, however the way diving is approached is changing; enter the liveaboard adventure.
Liveaboards offer guests the chance to stay in luxury accommodation onboard a high-spec ship and indulge in multiple dives at many sites over the course of several days, or even weeks. This means that you are offered the chance to explore a range of sites and see so much more biodiversity, and of course it doesn’t hurt being able to spend your evenings eating top quality catered meals, watching the sunset over the sea.
Now, of course, there are hundreds of opportunities for these adventures throughout Asia, and hundreds of spectacular dive sites to be explored, far too many to detail in one place. However we have compiled a list of a few highlights to give you inspiration.
Weather is an important factor in planning your diving trip; between June and October is the ideal time to head over to Indonesia’s archipelago. These islands are home to a fantastic selection of dive sites with a huge variety of wildlife, rock formations and even wreckages to be explored; and with this variety comes the ideal opportunity for liveaboards, a chance to sample several of Indonesia’s islands in one trip. There are too many to name here, but my top two spots would have to be Bali and Lombok.
Bali is a key site, as there are so many creatures to be spotted, including; sharks, seahorses, frogfish, tuna, barracudas, napoleon fish, manta rays and scribbled file fish. However, it’s not just wildlife to be seen, a top attraction is the USAT Liberty; an American army WW2 cargo ship that was torpedoed by Japanese forces in 1942. It now lies 30 metres below the surface and is a popular spot for divers, an eerie, yet beautiful addition to the sea bed and also home to many creatures.
Lombok is a much more remote and unspoiled island, it has been on the tourist trail for a comparatively short amount of time. In Lombok, you must visit the Magnet dive site in Belongas Bay; it is one of only three places in the whole world where you can see scalloped hammerhead and giant hammerhead sharks, plus, of course, loads of other sea creatures too. However, please note that this is quite a challenging dive site, so perhaps better for those with some experience.
Off the coast of Borneo there is a selection of little islands, which are fast becoming renowned for their truly fantastic diving opportunities, making this area a top choice for liveaboards. There is such a large variety of dive sites in and around Borneo that it is hard to choose just a few, but here are a couple of the top highlights that you really should check out. It is good to note that you can visit these islands all year round but the best times are between April and December, whilst July and August are the very best in terms of underwater visibility.
Sipadan is the ultimate destination for scuba diving in Southeast Asia; it is widely recognised not only as an award winning spot for scuba diving, but also for its marine wildlife; its ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the world. It is formed on an extinct volcano, where for thousands of years coral life has slowly grown to create the island as it stands today, and it is thanks to this exceptional set of circumstances that Sipadan’s marine wildlife is so diverse. It’s primarily famous as a mating and nesting spot for green and hawksbill turtles but a host of other sea creatures can be found it is waters, including; travally, parrotfish, barracudas and reef sharks.
All of the islands in this area have an abundance of wildlife in their marine ecosystems, and although Sipadan is the most popular, each spot offers its own unique attractions. Mabul does not have the drop-offs and turbulent underwater geological structure or the larger predatory creatures that Sipadan does, however, this means that it has a remarkable amount of smaller sea animals, ones that perhaps would not survive elsewhere. Divers here are able to see stunning views of a thriving, vibrant, colourful, exotic underwater life.
You can dive at any time of year in the Philippines, however between April and June is the least tempestuous season; other times of the year can bring monsoon weather, however, as different parts of the Philippines experience this weather change at different times, there is always somewhere you can dive.
If you’re thinking of taking a liveaboard trip in the Philippines, there are various companies that do longer excursions around the top dive sites in the Philippines and neighbouring Palau. Both of these countries are made up of lots of smaller islands, and both are renowned for their fantastic underwater wildlife, including; pygmy sea horses, lionfish, parrotfish, triggerfish, scorpionfish, barracuda, squid, octopuses, manta rays and even hammerhead sharks.
As you can imagine there are hundreds of places to dive in the Philippines and Palau, however these are a few of the truly unmissable spots; Yapak, Boracay, is characterized by its sheer drop off, and makes a great spot for watching the sea creatures below; The Canyons at Puerto Galera are a series of smaller drop offs, with rock formations covered in stunning corals and sponges, and are truly beautiful; Morazan Maru, Coron Bay, Palawan, is a WW2 wreck site, where the wreck itself is now home to a variety of flora and fauna, including turtles.
The Andaman Islands lie in the Bay of Bengal, between India and Myanmar, and are home to a wealth of underwater life that provide top opportunities for diving, and of course, this means that they provide the perfect spot for a liveaboard adventure. However, it is good to note that there aren’t as many companies chartering liveaboards in this area compared with the others that we have talked about, so booking well in advance is advisable. Also please note that November to April is the best time to go, however February and March are the very best months, and the dive sites are generally suited to deeper dives (18m+) as a lot of the shallow water corals sustained damage in 2010 due to global warming.
There are many islands to explore here, but Havelock island is a dive spot not to be missed, as it has loads of things to see; both natural and man-made attractions set against an interesting underwater landscape comprised of sheer drop offs, steeped surfaces and underwater canyons. You can explore the wreckages of a small fishing boat, or the twists and trucks of gigantic fallen trees (remaining debris from the tsunami), or marvel at the stunning pink coral, and of course there are lots of sea creatures to behold, including; stingrays, moray eels, octopuses, bannerfish, angelfish, fusiliers, featherstars, anemones, sea horses, fringelip flathead, parrot fish, anenomefish, crocodilefish, scorpionfish, just to name a few!
A Few More Tips
It is impossible to detail each and every place to dive or visit on a liveaboard excursion in Asia, as there are just so many fantastic opportunities, and of course it depends on what you want to see or do. Therefore we can only recommend you do your own research before you go, however here a few more tips from us, for things you will want to add to your list.
- An interesting dive site is the Hotsprings in Sumatra, Indonesia; hot water bubbles up from cracks in the ground, creating unique and beautiful water formations, although sea creatures are fewer in number it is worth a visit as a different kind of dive.
- If you don’t fancy staying on a boat, but want to do a diving trip for more than one day, many of these islands have accommodation for divers, for example on Mabul, Borneo, you have the stunning over-water Sipadan Water Village Resort, meaning you get some of the experience of a liveaboard, whilst remaining almost on dry land.
- Make sure to plan ahead! For the Andaman islands, as well as a visa required for India, a special permit is needed to visit these islands as they lie in a ‘restricted area’, and sometimes these can be booked up months in advance. You don’t want to end up missing out due to logistics!