Learning to dive gives a whole new dimension to life. With the reef wall on one side and pure blue one the other, you really do feel as though you’re on the edge of the world.
The thought of swimming 25m deep for a whole hour can at first seem daunting, but the rush of adrenaline you feel when you look up and can’t see the surface and down and can’t see the bottom makes you realise just how small and insignificant the human race really is.
Water covers around 71% of the earth and it is tragic to think that some people will only ever stick to the familiar but overcrowded 29%.
Location: Northeast coast, Peninsular Malaysia
Closest airport: Kota Bharu (KBR)
Without even knowing it, we’d chosen the best place in Malaysia to complete our PADI Open Water Certification. When learning to dive, the first couple of classes are usually held in a swimming pool to avoid disruption from the currents in the sea. Where the South China Sea meets the Perhentian Islands, the water is so calm that introductory divers are able to walk out into shallow waters when they first put their diving gear on- a real treat! The only real disruption is the fascinating amount of sea life blocking your view of the instructor.
We completed our Open Water with Turtle Bay Divers (Long Beach, Kecil Island), who we cannot recommend enough for divers of all levels. Reasonably priced, with friendly and approachable staff, Turtle Bay Divers is one of the few companies on the Perhentians who permit fun divers to dive without completing a refresher course .
Top dive spots: Batu Nisan, D Lagoon, Batu Lagur
General visibility: 15m
Expected sea life: Sea turtle, Spotted eagle ray, Bluespotted ribbontail ray, Western clownfish, Parrotfish, Pufferfish
Location: East coast of Borneo, Malaysia
Closest airport: Tawau (TWU)
Sipadan: Borneo’s answer to the Galapagos Islands, and regarded by many as the best dive site in the world. Unfortunately permits are hard to come by, especially if you are trying to book a spot last-minute. Priority is given to those completing their Advanced Open Water Certification which generally includes 2 days of 3 dives: one day at Mabul Island, one day at Sipadan Island. Most tour companies run from the underdeveloped port town of Semporna, where there is little choice in terms of hospitality (although there is a Maybank ATM) and the town is overpowered by a strong smell of stagnant, unclean water.
We booked our course with Sipadan Scuba, who were keen to ensure we passed with flying colours, and were extremely helpful in general.
Top dive spots: Baracuda Point, Lobster Lair, South Point
General visibility: 12m
Expected sea life: Baracuda, Whitetip reef shark, Sea turtle, Lionfish, Coral reef snake, Grouper, Jackfish
Komodo National Park
Location: Northwest coast of Flores, Indonesia
Closest airport: Labuanbajo (LBJ)
Diving in Komodo National Park is not for the faint hearted. With ferocious currents and schools of Manta Rays, experience is crucial if you are to get the most out of this experience. The strong currents mean that most deep dives require you to kick down to the sea bed within 1 minute in order to not drift from the dive spot, therefore anyone who struggles equalising quickly may be disappointed upon arrival. The strength of the currents obviously lead to higher air consumption, which can also be a problem for anyone who consumes 150 bar of oxygen on a normal (50mins) dive.
It is easy to organise a boat trip around Komodo National Park by either booking online or visiting the port town of Labuanbajo. There are plenty of companies ran by different nationalities and most trips last between 3-6 days.
Top dive spots: Manta point, The Cauldron, Crystal Rock
General visibility: 10m
Expected sea life: Manta ray, Whitetip reef shark, Sea cucumber