Home to the world-famous Coral Triangle, a marine ecosystem that encompasses the waters of Timor Leste, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the Asian continent boasts numerous world-class diving destinations. From encounters with hammerheads in Japan to diving with mola mola in Indonesia, here are five Asian diving locations that offer unforgettable experiences.
1. Similan Islands, Thailand
Although Thailand is home to numerous stunning reefs, one region that stands out is the Similan Islands. Consisting of nine islands in total, the Similan Islands are frequented by many liveaboards, with more than two dozen exciting sites for divers of all abilities. Here, marine life is abundant, with reef and leopard shark, manta rays, barracudas, and turtles frequent visitors.
Situated approximately 50 kilometers west of the Thai mainland, the Similans are only accessible by boat. Forming part of Mu Koh Similan National Park, the area just off the coast of the Similan Islands is restricted from to November to April.
With visibility typically above 25 meters, the Similans offer impressive views across rock formations, coral gardens, and boulders, presenting an exciting playground for divers. With stronger currents on some days and an exciting mix of coral, boulders and wall diving, dives tend to exceed the 40-meter recreational dive limit, making the Similan Islands a better choice for advanced divers.
2. Yonaguni, Japan
Japan’s westernmost island, Yonaguni is a dive resort with a cozy atmosphere, surrounded by green rolling hills. Beneath the waves, rocky reefs and open-ocean currents await, presenting the opportunity for scuba divers to surround themselves in all manner of pelagic species, including the mighty hammerhead shark.
The ocean surrounding Yonaguni is unique, and the island is closer to Taiwan than Japan. Here, huge hammerhead shark school above the mysterious underwater ruins in huge numbers, with schools of 100 plus specimens enticing divers from all over the world. In addition to hammerhead, sailfish, whale shark, dogtooth tuna and barracuda are all commonly sighted nearby. With excellent visibility — more than 50 meters at times — the waters off Yonaguni offer the chance to see and get close to sea creatures of all kinds.
3. Pondicherry, India
Situated in the Bay of Bengal, the coastal city of Pondicherry, or “Puducherry” as it is known locally, is extremely popular with domestic tourists, with overseas visitors outnumbered by approximately 10 to one. Some of the most interesting marine life in the world can be found in Indian waters, including dolphin, various kinds of shark, turtle, whale shark, and manta ray.
With a reputation as one of India’s best drift diving sites, Aravind’s Wall earns its name from a huge rock formation stretching 2.5 kilometers from north to south. A deep diving spot reserved for advanced open water divers, Aravind’s Wall is home to more than 30 different coral species as well as snapper, banner fish, jack fish, and gargantuan manta ray.
4. Bali, Indonesia
The waters surrounding the island of Bali are home to the mola mola, or Bali sunfish. The creature’s iconic body shape and sheer size makes it one of the most unexpected sights in the ocean. With a huge, flattened body and a comparatively small mouth and eyes, the mola mola is the heaviest bony fish in the world. The species moves through the water by synchronously flapping its dorsal and anal fins, which look like giant paddles, propelling it along at a surprisingly fast pace.
In addition to mola mola, the wrecks and reefs surrounding Bali are home to a diverse range of marine species, including vividly colored corals, barracudas, schools of tuna, and majestic manta rays.
The wreck of the USAT Liberty ranks among the most popular dive sites to be found in Bali, if not the whole of Southeast Asia. In 1942, the ship was torpedoed and stranded near Tulamben, then washed back out to sea by the eruption of the Mount Agung volcano in 1963. Smothered in corals, gorgonian fans, and tube sponges, the Liberty’s ledges and overhangs are home to angelfish, batfish, butterflyfish, sweetlips, bream, trevally and colorful anthias.
5. Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
One of the world’s most photographed dive sites, Taprobane Reef, or “Swami Rock” as it is otherwise known, is home to an impressive range of marine life, including schooling fish and large rays, which can be found lurking amidst ancient statues from a temple that was destroyed in the 17th century.
Located a bit of a way from the shore, Taprobane Reef is an untouched marine wonder that was immortalized by Arthur C. Clarke in The Reefs of Taprobane. Here, large reefs are punctuated by massive domes. Ranging from 3 meters to 16 meters deep, Taprobane Reef is a famous place for open water training. Divers must remain alert, however, as fishing boats often visit the site to perform a ritual that involves cracking a coconut on the temple wall for good luck.