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Borneo Diving in Malaysia

Sipadan and Borneo Dive Adventures

Schooling chevron barracuda at Sipadan, Malaysia - photo courtesy of Borneo Divers

Blessed with some of the richest waters in the world in Borneo, Malaysia scuba diving offers a variety of experiences depending on where you are: being surrounded by hammerheads at the pristine coral atoll of Layang Layang, cavorting with turtles and swirling tornadoes of barracudas in Sipadan Island, or discovering the weird and wonderful world of Malaysia's incredible macro dive sites.

Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) is the basis of Malaysia's claim as a home to world class diving. The best dive resorts are on the beautiful islands of Sabah which are fringed with white sand beaches and coconut trees - a beautiful setting to complement the excellent diving.

If you're looking for a memorable diving holiday on the equatorial islands of Sipadan, Layang Layang or Lankayan, where English is very widely spoken and with white sand beaches coupled with outstanding underwater marine beauty and diversity, then Malaysia is bound to have something for you. Just budget plenty of spare time - there are so many outstanding opportunities on offer for scuba diving in Borneo!

Highlights

Sipadan, the little island off the east coast of Borneo is the number one reason why divers come to Malaysia. Formed over thousands of years by living coral growing on top of an extinct volcano, it lies in one of the richest marine habitats in the world.

Deep water currents well up against the walls of this world famous oceanic island bringing in the nutrients which support an incredible ecosystem where the sheer abundance of sea life can be astounding. Its high numbers of turtles, grey and whitetip reef sharks, and large schools of bumphead parrotfish, barracuda and trevally are famous the world over.

Sipadan Island is the first word on everyone's lips when discussing diving in Borneo and it truly is one of the finest dive spots on the planet but there is much more, such as Layang Layang - a little speck of an atoll off the north coast of Sabah which is fringed by some of the best coral fields you are likely to see. However it is for the huge schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks that patrol around the island that Laying Layang has developed the reputation as a 'must see' diving destination of Malaysia.

Lankayan Island is a frontier diving destination in the Sulu Sea, it is rich in biodiversity and boasts a wide range of marine life. Large healthy corals dominate the pristine reefs and an abundance of colourful schooling fish can be seen on every dive. There are also several interesting wrecks. The macro highlights include frogfish and ghostpipefish as well as numerous nudibranchs. Larger species such as blacktip reef sharks, marble rays, bamboo sharks and leopard sharks are not uncommon sights. At the right time of year you might even spot a migrating whale shark cruise past.

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How to Dive Malaysia

Although there are some decent sites in Peninsular Malaysia we try to recommend the best to our customers and if you are coming here for diving then you simply must come to dive in Borneo for that is where it all happens.

Diving in Malaysia with Soldierfish - photo courtesy of ScubaZoo

Borneo is surrounded by lots of tiny little islands which are home to dive resorts right in the heart of all the best Malaysian dive destinations: Sipadan Island, Mabul, Kapalai, Layang Layang and Lankayan. Special local rates apply in many of the destinations for Malaysians, Singaporeans and expatriates living in those countries with work permits.

Nearby resorts are the most popular way to dive Sipadan and Mabul and they offer the space and facilities that liveaboards cannot match. There is also 1 liveaboard operating in the area. This is suitable for those who wish to maximise their dive time at Pulau Sipadan and are happy to sacrifice the comfort of a beach resort.

Diving Season

Scuba diving in Malaysia is good all the year round but seasons do vary from location to location. Sipadan is a year-round destination with the optimum overall conditions being from April to December. July and August are often described as the best months with visibility sometimes exceeding 40m around the island. Mabul never experiences such good visibility but, as a macro destination, it doesn't need to.

January and February in particular can see unsettled weather. These months are the start of the rainy season in Sabah and although Sipadan and Mabul might not experience much rain, the air and water temperature can be a little cooler and visibility can be low during this period. There are fewer divers here at this time and it is still possible to enjoy excellent conditions, depending on your luck. The normally calm seas can also be a little unsettled at this time.

Advanced booking is recommended for the resorts in the Sipadan area. If you wish to travel during March to August, Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year, please let us know as soon as possible.

The picture is different in Layang Layang, off Sabah's west coast, where the diving season runs from March to August. March to May is considered the best time to see the marquee creature of this destination, scalloped hammerheads. Constant currents waft over the island's reefs all year round which bring in the marine life. The seas can be rough, even during peak season, beyond the calm lagoon where the resort sits. Visibility is generally very good, averaging 30m+ with the normal range considered to be from 10 to 40m. The resort closes between September and February.

Reef Summary

Good for: Large animals, small animals, dive value-for-money, advanced divers and beginner divers
Not so good for:
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 5 - 40m
Currents: Gentle
Surface conditions: Calm
Water temperature: 25 - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >135
Access: Sabah dive resorts
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 3 weeks

More on Malaysia

For more details have a look at your Borneo dive destination of choice:

  • Sipadan Island • Layang Layang
  • Kapalai • Mabul
  • Lankayan

Useful References


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