Discover the Underwater World of Southeast Asia!
You’ve sunbathed on gorgeous beaches sipping a fresh coconut by the sea and you’ve zipped from island to island on a speedy long tail boat, but beneath the turquoise waters of Southeast Asia lies another world entirely… Open only to those adventurous enough to strap a tank to their back, don a mask and suck on a regulator, the underwater World lies untouched and undiscovered in comparison to the well-trodden ‘banana pancake’ route on land. For the amateur or the expert, these year-round warm, crystal clear waters and exquisite corals teeming with aquatic life, are not to be missed!
SCUBA = ‘Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.’
When choosing a dive school, make sure that they are certified by either:
- PADI: PADI, the most common certification you will come across, stands for the ‘Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ of which there are many dive schools across the world currently holding membership. They ensure quality in education, equipment and experience, with a consideration for the environment.
- SSI: Scuba Schools International (SSI) is a premier business and education support company for dive companies all over the world. Any schools certified by SSI ensure the “ultimate dive experience.” Today, SSI certify over 2,500 dive schools in 110 countries.
Dive Courses in SE Asia…
Where are the Best Places to Learn to Dive in Southeast Asia?
Diving in Thailand:
The Gulf Coast of Thailand – Koh Tao
If you’re on a backpacker budget, the tiny island of Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand, has long been considered THE place to learn to dive. With over 50 dive schools on the island, offering PADI and SSI courses at cheap prices, thousands of backpackers over the years have gained their underwater licenses here. From the impressive Chumphon Pinnacle to the Trident Wreck, there are many interesting underwater dive sites to keep beginner or advanced divers occupied.
The island is named Koh ‘Tao’, meaning turtle island in Thai, after it’s previously plentiful local population of hawksbill and green sea turtles. Despite their numbers having significantly diminished, turtles can still be spotted whilst diving many of the island’s famous 20+ sites. Mostly visited in the days following Full Moon antics on the nearby island of Koh Phangan, it’s reputation as a not only a diving hotspot but an island with a lively backpacker vibe has rocketed in recent years.
Watch out for: Koh Tao’s namesake, the hawksbill and green sea turtles, the rather protective ‘triggerfish’, plenty of ‘Finding Nemo’ and if you’re lucky, even the gentle giant – the whale shark, which graces Koh Tao’s waters from March-April.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao: Koh Tao’s ‘off-season’ is barely worth mentioning, though the best times to avoid are November and December when the visibility is lower and the swell can be a bit stomach-churning. March, April and May are divers paradise, with calm clear seas and the best chance of spotting a Whaleshark!
Worth noting: September and October are known as ‘quiet season’ with slightly lower water temperature but superb long days and perfect seas.
An Idea of Prices: If you just fancy wetting your whistle and seeing what the hype is about, then a One-Day or Half-Day Discover Scuba course is perfect for you. Done in just a day it is bound to get you craving more… and this taster only costs about 2,000 THB (50 GBP or $75 USD).
To gain your Open Water Diver Qualification (PADI or SSI) the price ranges from 9,000 to 10,000 THB. This takes about four days to complete and qualifies you to dive anywhere in the world up to 18-metres! For the more experienced diver, there are heaps of speciality dive courses to be conquered, from wreck diving to underwater photography to rescue diving, Koh Tao has many different courses on offer (prices vary).
Dive Schools in Koh Tao
Roctopus Dive School offers a fun, safe and practical 3-day SSI Open Water Learn to Dive Course. At the end of the three-days, you’ll be able to dive up to 18 metres and will hold in your hands a certificate which will enable you to dive anywhere in the world! The 3-day course includes all learning materials, dive equipment, taxi pick-up, 3 nights’ accommodation, and refreshments on the boat. Find out more about their Open Water Course here.
The Andaman Coast of Thailand: Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta
Hop to the other side of the mainland and you will find the gorgeous (but wildly popular) Koh Phi Phi, infamous for being the set of The Beach which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Look further than the beaches of this tropical paradise and a real adventure awaits, with hundreds of Dive Schools eager to fulfil your every craving! Located within a National Marine Park, the two islands of Koh Phi Phi Leh and Koh Phi Phi Don provide dramatic soft coral walls and an abundance of sea life, unlike Thailand’s other dive sites. Relax after an exciting day’s diving by watching the sunset from Koh Phi Phi’s postcard-perfect viewpoint. What could be better?
Look out for: Sharks – both the leopard and black-tip reef varieties!
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in Koh Phi Phi: Like Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi can be dived all year round. However, the conditions are at their best from February to May when the temperature is warmer both in the sea and out of it. Other times of the year the dive sites are more limited due to the monsoon winds and increased swell, so most diving takes place on the island’s western coast.
An Idea of Prices: Probably due to the distance of the dive sites from the shore, the prices in Phi Phi are slightly higher than on Koh Tao. A Half Day Discover Scuba course can be snapped up for around 3,000 THB, while the four-day PADI or SSI Open Water Diver Course will cost you around 12,000 THB.
If you can’t stand the backpacker party vibes of Koh Phi Phi, then you might prefer to learn to dive on the nearby quieter island of Koh Lanta where many dive schools offer try dives or longer courses.
The Similan & Surin Islands, Thailand
Found 100 kilometres from the popular holiday island of Phuket, these nine granite islands provide another popular dive site in Thailand and are often regarded as the most diverse and unique place to dive in the country. Having gained National Marine Park status in 1982, the Similan Islands often make it onto the top ten dive sites, not only in Southeast Asia, but in the world! For any budding underwater photographers, or those keen to learn, the weak currents and highly populated coral reefs are just waiting to be snapped!
Look out for: Bumphead Parrotfish and white-tip reef Sharks.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in The Similan Islands: November to April is when the conditions are best here. Other times of year their exposed location makes them prone to heavy swell which can affect the conditions.
An Idea of Prices: The best way to truly experience the Similan Islands is to visit them on a liveaboard. Stay for four or five days and you won’t have to revisit a single dive site… unless you really want to! There are so many liveaboards to choose from. If you’re strapped for time (or cash!) then one night options are available, by catching a speedboat from Khao Lak out to the main dive boat which will be your hotel for the night. Prices vary hugely for both options, depending on whether you’re a flashpacker or a budget backpacker, so the best advice is simply to shop around.
Diving in Vietnam:
Nha Trang is undoubtedly the country’s capital of diving and the place where many travellers choose to get their first diving qualification with a 3-day Open Water Course. The shallow, calm reefs of beautiful Hon Mun Island are the perfect place for beginners, so the whole of the three-day diving course is done out in the sea from the dive boat.
Look out for: A variety of colourful tropical fish from pufferfish to moray eels, parrot fish and butterfly fish.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in Nha Trang: The main dive season in Nha Trang is from January – October, with April – August offering the best conditions and visibility for divers.
An Idea of Prices: Learning to dive in Vietnam is low-cost with a one-day try dive costing around $70-$90 USD and a 3-day PADI or SSI Open Water Course costing $250-$300 USD.
Dive Schools in Nha Trang
Check out the Russian-owned school, Nha Trang Fun Divers, who offer try-dives and day courses at good prices.
Diving in Malaysia
The Perhentian Islands
The beautiful coral-fringed Perhentian Islands lie just 10 miles from the Northeastern coast of Malaysia and are home to a number of species of turtle and shark (the non-man eating types, unless you look particularly tasty!). It is made up of two main islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, and a number of smaller uninhabited ones. Besar is slightly more family-friendly, while Kecil is the most popular with backpackers due to its abundance of cheap accommodation. However, both of the islands are gorgeous and are both protected with Marine Park status.
Look out for: Huge Puffafish and Green turtles.
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive in The Perhentian Islands: Unlike the Thai dive sites which can be dived all year round, the Perhentian Islands are only open between April and October. For the rest of the year, monsoon season shuts the islands down entirely, making the seas too rough to cross.
An Idea of Prices: Here, Discover Scuba will set you back around 250-300 Malaysian Ringgit (approx. £65/2500 Thai baht), while to complete your PADI Open Water Diver course costs 1,100 Malaysia Ringgit (approx. £260/12,000 Thai baht) which is similar to Thai prices.
Diving in The Philippines
Coron Island, Palawan
Most famous for its Japanese wrecks which sank during World War II nearly seventy years ago, Coron Island’s calm 12 give even the least experienced divers the opportunity to swim with the fishes. With over twenty-five dive sites and twelve wrecks out of a possible 24 discovered, there are miles of exquisite ocean floor to keep you busy. Wreck dives do need planning though and some of the harder to reach sites are for the more experienced divers only…
Look out for: It’s all about the wrecks!
Best Seasons to Scuba Dive at Coron Island: Off season spans from May to August, but the rest of the year conditions are great, with very little current within Coron Bay.
An Idea of Prices: Discover Scuba costs around 3,100 Philippine Peso (approx. £50/2,000 THB) and PADI Open Water rings in at 15,000 Philippine Peso (approx. £250/11,000 Thai baht). An opportunity not to be missed, gain yourself a ‘Wreck Diver’ speciality qualification for 13,000 Philippine Peso (approx. £200/9,000 Thai baht). Where better to learn than here, at World War II’s graveyard…
Armed with your newfound scuba skills, the world is your oyster. South East Asia has some of the best diving locations in the world, perhaps you will catch the diving bug and NEVER leave…
Dive Master Courses in Southeast Asia
Do you want to take your SCUBA Diving Skills ONE STEP FURTHER?
Become a Qualified Divemaster – Can you imagine turning the thing you love into your job? If diving is your passion then this is the course for you! This Dive Master internship, offered by Roctopus Dive School in Koh Tao, is a two-month course and is the first professional dive qualification to allow you to become a qualified Dive Instructor. This course takes place on the beautiful island of Koh Tao, in South Thailand, renowned the world over as a divers’ haven. During your course, you will meet tons of like-minded people and become part of our friendly diving family, as well as getting a qualification that will change your life forever!
Make sure you have travel insurance before embarking upon adventure activities in Southeast Asia.