Scuba right into Malaysia’s must-dive destinations

A snorkeler heads into the water. Source: Eric Wong

MALAYSIA may not yet be as well-known as the Maldives or the Philippines for its diving spots, but with an increasing number of tourists visiting the nation each year, travelers and marine enthusiasts are keen to discover what life exists below the warm crystal waters lapping at Malaysia’s shore.

The country consists of a vibrant peninsula, a section of Borneo and hundreds of stunning islands surrounded by incredible waters, lush corals and thousands of species of tropical fish.

Here are some of the best places to get up close and personal with intriguing marine life and top up your diving skills.

Redang Island

Redang island is situated in the Terengganu Marine Park along the eastern peninsula of Malaysia.

Equipped with several luxury resorts, Redang is the perfect place to strike a diving and relaxation balance.

Diving courses are very reasonably priced on the island which is great if you’re new to the scuba life and want to learn the ropes quickly and cheaply.

Under the swirling waves, expect to see the huge clownfish, sea cucumbers, starfish, stonefish, parrotfish, turtles and soft and hard corals.

Outside of the marine park in open water, you may encounter blacktip sharks. They might come by to say hello but these timid creatures won’t hurt you.

Sipadan Island

Perhaps the best place to dive in the whole of Malaysia is in the waters surrounding Sipadan island off the coast of Borneo.

You need a daily permit to scuba dive here, but the stunning resorts on the island offer packages for all budgets which will take the hassle out of planning.

Check out the world’s fifth best dive site at Barracuda Point and witness great barracuda shoals swirl in tornado formation.

Head over to Lobster Wall to see lion-fish, ghost-pipe fish, seahorses and bright lobsters going about their business.

For the adventurous, check out Turtle Cave full of impressive turtle skeletons of those poor gentle creatures who have entered and simply not been able to find their way out.

Tioman Island

Further down the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula is Tioman island.

Tioman island is incredible for diving, snorkeling, kayaking and sunbathing. It’s an all-around paradise island.

For as little as RM7 (US$1.50), you can enter the marine park and see families of turtles roaming the waters.

If you’re keen to get your diver’s license, then Tioman island is one of the best and cheapest places to earn it in the region.

The shallows also provide an ideal setting for young ones to find their snorkeling or scuba diving legs.

The deeper waters offer experienced divers incredible topography with bales of turtles swimming effortlessly, harmless sharks cruising past, swaying soft corals and tiny nudibranchs putting a rainbow display.

Pulau Payar

The west coast of the Malaysian peninsula is often associated with less than perfect diving conditions. The Malacca Strait has been used as a major shipping route, alas resulting in murky waters.

However, up north closer to the coast of Thailand is the paradise island of Langkawi, and just an hour’s boat ride from here brings you to the diving Nibbana of Pulau Payar.

While you can’t stay on the island, frequent excursions from Langkawi’s port can deliver you there.

Adorn a snorkel or diving apparatus and be prepared to be astounded by the variety of marine life below.

Swathes of hard coral act as a home and feeding ground to dazzling clownfish, grouper, baby blacktip sharks, sea horses, rays, turtles, lobsters, and even octopus, depending on how deep you go.

Perhentian Islands

This island is probably the best place to get your diving course certificate out of the listed spots due to its calm water conditions and abundance of marine life.

Located just 10 miles off the coast of northeastern Malaysia in the state of Terengganu, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil make up this beautiful ocean-dwelling region.

Alongside all the other stunning fish you can see in other waters across Malaysia, there are also the larger blacktip sharks, whale sharks, blue-spotted rays, triggerfish, puffer fish and sea turtles.

At certain times of the year, you can see turtle nests full of eggs, soaking up the sunshine, but make sure you don’t get too close.