Southeast Asia offers some of the best dive spots in the world. Colourful reefs and dramatic drop-offs teeming with sea life are a real treat for the eyes and the soul. Since I returned home to this part of the world a few years ago, I’ve had the privilege of exploring the underwater world in this region. From my experiences under the sea, here are my favourite places for diving in Asia.

My Top Spots for Diving in Asia

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Diving in Moalboal, Cebu (Philippines)

Moalboal, situated on the southwest side of Cebu Island in the Philippines, is about a three hours’ drive from Mactan-Cebu International Airport. Philippines has rich marine life so it’s a great place for diving in Asia, although not quite as well-explored by Singaporeans compared to other islands near Singapore.

Moalboal Philippines - Diving in AsiaPhoto Credit: Bernard Wong, Singapore Freedivers

A small, laid-back town, Moalboal is known for its sardine runs. Freediving into schools of sardines, dispersing them and watching them regroup and reshape is a breathtaking experience. You just have to watch out for the fishermen’s boats and lines, as they fish close to the shore where the sardines congregate.

In a recent trip with Singapore Freedivers, our group also encountered a couple of friendly turtles!

Kawasan-falls-laybeng  - Diving in Asia

Photo Credit: Lim Lay Beng

Taking a break from the diving, you can also check out the Kawasan Waterfalls, which is about 20 km south of Moalboal and a 40 minutes’ ride away. Aim to arrive early, especially on a weekends, and to make it to the third and highest level waterfall by 7 am if you want to avoid the crowds.

Enjoy a leisurely swim in the clear, cool waters; or, if you are more adventurous, try swinging off a tree or jumping off a cliff into the waters. It is pretty invigorating.

Video credit: Bernard Wong 

Getting to Moalboal from Singapore

Cebu Pacific has direct Kawasan Waterfalls. It would be advisable to arrange for private transfer from the airport to Moalboal. Some resorts can arrange pick-ups from the airport as part of their service, with additional fees.

Where to stay

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Wreck Diving in Tulamben, Bali (Indonesia)

Divers usually flock to this northeastern part of Bali for the famed USS Liberty Wreck. The World War II cargo ship wreckage is about 30 meters from shore and stretches about 120 long, with depths ranging from 5 meters to 30 meters.

I have scuba-dived here some years ago. Being a relatively new diver at that time, I wasn’t particularly enamored by the wreck. Having to trudge along shore in my heavy and cumbersome gear for the shore dive also did not appeal to me.

This October, I decided to enroll in a two-day freediving course with Apnea Bali. At the end of the course on the second day, we had a fun dive at the wreck. It was crowded with scuba divers, all trudging into the waters – like me before – in their gear. With only a mask, snorkel, fins and weights, I felt relatively unencumbered to enjoy the dive – even though I was still not able go deep or stay down too long on a single breath. I tried unsuccessfully to find some bumphead parrotfish, which my freediving instructor from Singapore Freedivers had encountered on a few occasions. Oh well, there is always next time!

Wreck Diving in Tulamben - Diving in AsiaPhoto Credit: Bernard Wong, Singapore Freedivers

Getting to Tulamben from Singapore

Jetstar has direct flights to Bali. It is about a three-hour trip by car from Ngurah Rai International Airport to Tulamben. As with Moalboal, it is also advisable to arrange for private transfer, either with the resort where you are staying or a private driver.

Where to stay

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5 Dives in Puerto Galera / Verde Island (Philippines)

Puerto Galera is a hidden gem when it comes to diving in Asia. It is an island resort town about a two-hour bus ride and an hour ferry ride away from Manila. The ferry ride can be rough – OK, very rough – on occasions, depending on the weather and waves. Hiring a private ferry, as opposed to taking the public one from Batangas Pier, can help to ease the ferry ride, if you are willing to splurge a little.

I must have, in the past five years, visited Puerto Galera at least three times – all to scuba dive. One of my memorable experiences was descending into a seascape of giant clams and hovering above them. Venomous lionfish hide in wrecks and a banded sea snake or two will occasionally slither past divers. Cleaner shrimps will give you a manicure if you gently ease your hands against them. Puerto Galera is also particularly close to my heart because it was where I encountered my first turtle!

Me with a turtle, diving in Puerto Galera, Philippines - Diving in AsiaPhoto Credit: Ted Dunn

An hour’s boat ride away from Puerto Galera is the Verde Island drop-off. As one of the resident divers once commented to me, the site is a “fish soup.” Upon hitting the water you are immediately surrounded by a kaleidoscope of marine life – basslets, surgeonfish, hawkfish, cardinalfish and more!

Diving in Verde Island, Philippines - Diving in Asia

Photo Credit: Ted Dunn

There have also been thresher shark sightings – from what I can see from the Facebook pictures of friends I’ve made during my visits. I have yet to see one, which is yet another reason to return to Puerto Galera.

Getting to Puerto Galera from Singapore

You will pretty much need to utilize all modes of transportation. First it’s a flight to Manila, followed by a bus or car ride to Batangas Pier, then lastly a ferry ride to Puerto Galera. A cost-effective way is to take the SI-KAT bus and ferry service from outside Citystate Tower Hotel in to the pier, where a ferry will be waiting.

Where to stay

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Diving in Manta Point and Crystal Bay, Bali (Indonesia)

Bali is definitely a popular option for anyone looking to do some diving in Asia. These are two sites at the southern tip of Bali, in an area known as Nusa Penida.

Manta Point

As the name suggests, at Manta Point, divers expect to see one of the most magnificent creatures of the sea: manta rays. However, much does depend on mother nature, the currents and seasons.

During a trip last October, I saw a reef shark and nine manta rays. Watching the rays glided gracefully across the waters was a jaw-dropping experience (except that one can’t exactly open one’s jaw in the water without the regulator falling out!). I wasn’t so lucky this year, and did not see any.

Manta Point - Diving in Bali Photo Credit: Toto Sugianto

Crystal Bay

At Crystal Bay, divers hope for sightings of the mola mola, a giant fish also known as the sunfish. They are extremely shy, and therefore, extremely hard to just “run (or swim) into.” I almost saw one last year, but by the time I entered the waters, it had already detected the other divers and disappeared into the ocean depths. The takeaway from this is to either be first to enter the waters, or plunge in with everyone else.

sunfish-crystal-point-diving-baliPhoto Credit: Toto Sugianto

Getting to Nusa Penida from Singapore

Jetstar has Bali. The easiest way to Nusa Penida is to take a boat from Sanur beach.

Where to stay

You can stay in Nusa Penida at home stays, or choose areas near to Sanur beach.

Courtyard by Marriott Bali Seminyak Resort

The Breezes Bali Resort & Spa

Find hotels in Nusa Penida

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Dive Spots in Koh Tao (Thailand)

I have yet to visit Koh Tao, but have heard it is known for its abundant “can’t miss” dive sites, where trevally, barracuda and even whale sharks can be spotted. One of the dive sites has mainly “swim-throughs”, allowing divers to practice their buoyancy and find marine life hiding in the caves. I will write more on Koh Tao after my visit, so watch this space!

Diving underwater in Koh Tao, Thailand - Diving in AsiaCC 2.0 / Mikko Koponen

Getting to Koh Tao from Singapore

Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways both have direct flights to Koh Samui. From there, you can take a ferry from Wat Pra Lan Pier to Koh Tao.

Where to stay