Whether you’re learning to dive or a scuba aficionado, there’s no shortage of the best diving destinations in Southeast Asia to discover on your next vacation.

From Raja Ampat’s macro life to megafauna in the Similan Islands, Southeast Asia has long been acclaimed for its outstanding biodiversity and pristine reefs. Indeed, much of the region spans the Coral Triangle – home to 75% of the world’s coral species and over 6,000 fish species. What’s more, in addition to bucket-list marine life, you’ll find intriguing WWII shipwrecks in the Philippines and thrilling drift dives in Komodo.

Without a doubt, this corner of our blue planet should be on every diver’s bucket list. Keep reading for our picks of the best diving destinations in Southeast Asia.

A thresher shark at Malapascua Island in the Philippines, one of the best places to go diving with sharks in Asia

1. Cebu, Philippines

In the central region of the Philippines, Cebu will certainly delight beginners and advanced divers alike, with dazzling reefs, dramatic walls, exciting wrecks, gentle shore dives, and fast-paced drift diving. Along the way, you might come across sharks, eagle rays, dolphins, batfish, sweetlips, cuttlefish, and seahorses. Unlike its South African counterpart, you can also witness Moalboal’s spectacular sardine bait balls throughout the year.

However, the jewel in Cebu’s crown is undoubtedly Malapascua Island. This is one of the world’s top shark diving destinations and is celebrated for its reliable, year-round sightings of thresher sharks at Monad Shoal’s cleaning station.

A pink pygmy seahorse camouflaged in pink corals in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, one of the best diving locations in Southeast Asia

2. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

An eastern Indonesian gem, Raja Ampat is famed for its unspoiled biodiversity. Nutrient-rich currents flow through the Dampier Strait, where Cape Kri holds the record for the most fish species seen during a single dive. As a result, this is one of the world’s best dive sites.

The reefs here are teeming with vibrant corals and fish. Peek under ledges and inside crevices, and you might catch a glimpse of rarer species, such as wobbegong sharks, epaulette sharks, or pygmy seahorses.

The ideal way to explore Raja Ampat’s array of islands and reefs is by liveaboard, with peak season falling between October and April.

A whirling tornado of barracuda schooling near the surface in Sipadan, Malaysia, one of the top 10 destinations in Asia

3. Sipadan, Malaysia

Around an hour’s boat ride from Borneo lies the pelagic paradise of Sipadan Island. It’s the only oceanic island in Malaysia, where volcanic topography combined with ancient coral gardens and 50m (164ft) visibility make for some of the most breathtaking dive sites in Southeast Asia.

Barracuda Point is a photographer’s favorite, where gigantic schools of barracuda form iconic vortexes. Meanwhile, Hanging Garden is marked by staggering walls that plunge over 600m (2,000ft) deep. You can also expect to see several shark species, turtles, triggerfish, eels, and octopuses. If that’s not enough, the muck diving hotspots of Mabul and Kapalai aren’t far away.

Sipadan offers some of the best diving in Southeast Asia throughout the year. However, it’s a permit-only destination, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Two scuba divers watching a sea turtle in the Gili Islands, Indonesia, which has some of the best diving in SE Asia

4. Gili Islands, Indonesia

North of Lombok, you’ll find three small islands characterized by laid-back vibes and impressive-yet-easy diving for everyone. Indeed, with its diverse range of sheltered sites, the Gili Islands is one of the best diving destinations in Southeast Asia for beginners.

With regular appearances by their namesakes, you won’t want to miss out on the epic dive sites known as Shark Point, Manta Point, and Turtle Heaven. What’s more, with countless hawksbill and green turtles, the Gili Islands is the “turtle capital of the world”. The area is also home to a plethora of critters, such as octopuses, scorpionfish, pipefish, mantis shrimp, and ribbon eels.

Book your trip between September and November, when it’s not too busy with tourists but the weather is still excellent.

Pygmy Blue Whale underwater, migrating from Timor Leste towards Australia

5. Timor-Leste

After gaining independence from Indonesia in 2002, Timor-Leste (aka East Timor) is Southeast Asia’s newest country. Its diving infrastructure is still developing, but this off-the-beaten track destination promises an uncrowded, unspoiled haven above and below the surface. In 2023, to encourage tourism, the NRDTL Kamanasa shipwreck was sunk to create an artificial, easily accessible reef.

One of the most popular scuba diving destinations is Atauro Island. Here, amid crystal-clear visibility, you can explore rugged seascapes paved with gorgonians, where turtles, dugongs, whitetip reef sharks, and pods of dolphins might pass by. Visit from September to November and you could even spot migrating whales, including the mighty blue.

6. Palawan, Philippines

The western Filipino destination of Palawan is packed full of kaleidoscopic coral reefs, tropical fish, and pelagic visitors, such as whale sharks.

In particular, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tubbataha Reefs is an open-ocean site where strong currents draw in sharks, dolphins, mantas, turtles, whales, and over 600 fish species. Meanwhile, Coron Bay is world famous for its wreck diving, with a Japanese fleet of WWII shipwrecks and their weaponry lying 10-40m (30-130ft) deep.

You can only access Tubbataha Reefs by liveaboard between March and June, so book during this time to get the most from your Palawan trip.

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7. Similan Islands, Thailand

Nestled in the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands offer some of the best scuba diving in Southeast Asia. Granite boulders, white beaches, and lush rainforests are surrounded by calm, azure waters and exceptional coral reefs.

The Similan Islands are open from October to May. However, plan your visit between December and April for the greatest chance of seeing the seasonal whale sharks and manta rays. Other underwater residents you can see year-round include ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, mantis shrimp, numerous sharks (including blacktip, whitetip, and leopard), barracuda, snappers, and four species of turtle.

A diver watches a manta ray behind them while diving in Komodo Island, one of the best diving destinations in Southeast Asia

8. Komodo, Indonesia

This UNESCO World Heritage Site blends exhilarating adventure with abundant marine life and perfect conditions. Komodo is known for its dragons, but beneath the surface you can encounter barracuda, moray eels, turtles, dugongs, and hammerhead sharks. In addition, you’ll likely be surrounded by several manta rays while diving Manta Point.

Although there are plenty of beginner-friendly sites, Komodo really comes into its own for seasoned divers. Strong currents rush along the many walls and canyons, creating a drift divers‘ playground at sites such as Siaba Kecil.

You can dive Komodo year-round, but April to November is considered the best time to visit.

A topside aerial view of islands in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, which is one of the best diving destinations in Southeast Asia

Discover the Best Diving Destinations in Southeast Asia

Looking for the best diving destinations in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle? PADI Travel® offers bucket-list adventures, the largest collection of liveaboards and dive resorts, and options to travel in a way that truly makes a difference to local communities and our shared blue planet. Contact one of our Scuba Travel Experts 24/7 via chat, email, or phone, and they’ll help pick the perfect Southeast Asia scuba diving vacation for you.

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