With a coastline stretching over 2,000km, Peninsular Malaysia boasts marine parks and excellent dive spots for both the beginner diver and those training to be instructors. Head to the east coast for amazing underwater ecosystems, great visibility and even WWII wrecks. The best time to visit is between April and September, before the monsoon season.
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Comprising Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil, the Perhentian islands are the most visited islands in Malaysia and need no introduction. They’re famed for crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and several renowned dive centres; plus, diving here caters for all levels. Kecil is the less expensive island and has more accommodation, restaurants and a hectic (but condensed) night scene. Besar is quieter, has more expensive resorts and is better for families. Beginner divers and those taking specialist courses and instructorships are all catered for with most sites being an easy five- to ten-minute boat ride away. Go further out to see epic marine life like bamboo sharks and barracuda at Tokong Laut, Shark Point and Batu Nisan. For wreck diving, the Sugar Wreck is a 90m cargo ship which sank in 2000 during a storm and has adapted to the surrounds with large schools of trevally and snapper making regular appearances.
Photo: Tourism Malaysia
Another popular tourist destination is Pulau Redang which is located within an archipelago that comprises Pulau Lima, Pulau Lang Tengah, Pulau Pinang (not Penang) as well as the Perhentian islands. Again, the water here is incredibly clear when the season is right leading to excellent visibility. The reefs teem with marine life and it also has the largest boulder coral in peninsular Malaysia. Famed dive spots in the area include Big Mount for advanced divers due the depth and currents, and Tanjung Tokong to catch a glimpse of green and hawksbill turtles and eagle rays. There are also good house reefs where beginners can have their first dives, including night dives, and is ideal for snorkelling.
Located within the Seribuat archipelago off the east coast of Johor, Pulau Tioman is actually part of the state of Pahang. It’s the largest of nine islands that make up the Tioman Marine Park and offers a great variety of dive sites to suit every level. Renggis Island and Pirate Reef are suitable for the less experienced diver and for night dives with its calm, shallow waters; there are even fishing boat wrecks to explore. Venture further out to Chebeh where advanced divers may be lucky enough to spot whale sharks and Manta rays usually during May and October. Tiger Reef is in deeper water with stronger currents, but this is where moray eels, blacktip sharks and barracuda can be found. Approximately six hours away by boat lie the WWII wrecks of the British battleships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, which were sunk by the Japanese in 1941. They are well preserved enough to see turrets, guns and even the torpedo damage that sunk them.
Photo: Tourism Malaysia
This isn’t first island that comes to mind when thinking of visiting the east coast. It’s a tiny stunning island weighing in at 3km by 2km and located within the Terengganu National Park. It’s where you go purely for the diving or if you want a couple of days of absolute peace. There are over 20 dive sites and visitors have said that the underwater life is fantastic. Most dives are easily managed by beginners, but advanced divers also have their pick of more challenging options as the maximum depth is around 35m. The Turtle Point house reef is perfect for beginners with its calm conditions, while Amazing Grace located on the neighbouring island of Pulau Nyireh is where to go to spot turtles, stingrays and Shovelnose sharks. What’s really interesting is that the island is on the elusive whale shark’s migratory route usually at the start and end of the season – March, April, September, October.
Photo: Tourism Malaysia
A privately-owned island in the state of Johor, Pulau Rawa is located within the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park. There are only two resorts – Alang’s Rawa and the Rawa Island Resort – on the island which means you never have to face crowds, especially when snorkelling and diving. Marine life here thrive due to the limited number of visitors, which is a huge advantage. Most diving is done via shore entry with varying depths of up to 12m. There’s a house reef on the west of the island, which beginners will enjoy exploring. Dragon Rock is another popular spot where nudibranchs and Harlequin Sweetlips (tropical reef fish) are found in abundance. Snorkel around the jetty where schools of saltwater perch and batfish gather.