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Photographing turtles in Sipadan. William Warby / Creative Commons

Don’t travel to Malaysia without suiting up and diving its depths: the colorful undersea life and breathtaking views are worth it. Lacking the proper PADI certification? Don’t sweat it, Malaysia’s also the best place to learn.

Diving beginners should head on over to the Perhentian islands off the coast of Terengganu state. These two islands – Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil – host some of the best dive spots off peninsular Malaysia, and a number of inexpensive diving course providers too.
The calm waters allow peaceful snorkeling among the coral-rich waters, but you’ll see more as you descend further below the surface: scorpionfish, rabbitfish, Christmas-tree worms, and an abundance of turtles circle divers as they explore the islands’ many dive sites.

Wreck divers can venture to nearby Pulau Redang, where the remains of two World War II-era ships can be found several metres under water.
If you’re looking for a real challenge (and the amazing underwater views that come with it), head on over to Sipadan. Malaysia’s only oceanic island lies off the east coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah, in waters that graze Indonesia’s and the Philippines’ maritime borders.

The island’s peaceful presence above water belies the marvels found beneath it. Hundreds of coral species and over 400 species of fish thrive in these waters; bumphead parrotfish, barracuda, massive schools of jacks, and thresher sharks, among others.

A trip to Sipadan usually includes visits to nearby Mabul Island, site of some of the world’s best muck diving. Before you can dive at either island, though, you’ll need to queue up for one of 120 permits issued daily – diving in these parts is literally reserved for a select few!.


Turtle in Sipadan. Daniel Kwok / Creative Commons.


Clownfish in Sipadan. Joshua Nguyen / Creative Commons.


Sipadan Water Village. Barry Peters / Creative Commons.


Snorkeling at Perhentian Besar. Image courtesy of Tourism Malaysia.

Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
Divers in Southeast Asia won’t know where to start, with the overflow of diving spots they’ll find across the region. Other key diving destinations include the waters off Brunei; Indonesia’s part of the Coral Triangle; Koh Rong in Cambodia; Tubbataha and Apo Reefs in the Philippines; and Phuket in Thailand.