Written by: Matt Newkirk
Visited: December 2018
Singapore is surrounded by some of the best diving destinations on Earth. Located right on the equator, Singapore offers residents and visitors the unique opportunity to take advantage of year round diving. From November to April, when the monsoons churn up seas in the south, northern destinations such as Thailand and parts of Indonesia and the Philippines are in prime diving season, and during the rest of the year, divers can head south while the northern monsoon is in full swing.
Singapore is not a world class dive destination in and of itself, but with such easy access to world class diving, the tiny island truly is a mecca for scuba enthusiasts.
I have been living in Singapore for three years now, and diving every weekend that I can. I wanted to share my experience with anyone else who is looking to make Singapore their launch pad to explore Southeast Asia's diving.
This is in no way intended to be a comprehensive list of everywhere that you could possible dive from Singapore, but rather a guide to weekend diving, highlighting my favorite spots to go diving for a weekend or a short holiday.
Blue spotted stingray, Bali
Indonesia is basically right in the epicenter of the coral triangle. With over 20,000 islands, the Indonesian archipelago offers some of the best reef diving on Earth. Indonesia is generally pretty inexpensive to visit, but can also offer luxury seekers a truly lavish diving experience.
Bali is easily one of the best choices for a short dive trip from Singapore. Located only a 2.5 hours away by air, Bali is an easy weekend getaway with truly world class diving. It's even possible to fly from Singapore to Denpasar after work on a Friday evening, go diving on Saturday, and still get back in time for work on Monday. Airlines such as AirAsia and Jet Star offer regular flights, and if you keep an eye out, you can pick up a round trip ticket from Singapore to Bali for around $100 USD.
Mola sunfish, Nusa Penida Bali
Nusa Penida is a small island just off of the eastern coast of Bali. Manta rays can be seen at the Manta Point dive site pretty much every day, and between August and November, Mola Sunfish follow the cold currents up from the depths to visit the cleaning stations that surround the island. I commonly see leaf scorpionfish, turtles, morey eels, a large variety of nudibranchs, and pristine coral gardens when diving here. The water can be cold and the currents can be swift, so many of the dive sites here are better suited for experienced divers.
It is possible to stay on Nusa Penida, or the nearby Nusa Lembongan, but regular speedboats from the mainland also shuttle divers to Nusa Penida for day-trips. You can dive Nusa Penida from pretty much anywhere on the East side of Bali. Operators will gladly arrange transport from Padang Bai, Sanur, and even Ubud if you ask.
It is possible to dive in Nusa Penida year round, but in some months currents can be strong, and visibility is not quite as good. I would recommend heading to Nusa Penida from April to November for the best conditions.Your best chance of spotting Mola is from August to October.
For more information on Nusa Penida, check out How To Dive Nusa Penida, Let Me Count The Ways.
Purple hairy squat lobster, Amed Bali
Located on the northeast coast of Bali, Tulamben and Amed offer some great diving for divers of all experience levels. These ever-growing fishing villages are located just a 20 minute drive from each other, so it is easy to visit both in one trip. There are two sizable shipwrecks in Tulamben and Amed, but the most notable is the USAT Liberty, a WWII freight vessel that rests just off the shore. The diving here is mainly from the black rocky volcanic shores, so dive companies don't even need to have a boat to offer guests a great experience. For me the real highlight in Tulamben and Amed is the fantastic muck diving. Hosts of nudibranchs, octopus, and other small critters can be found in the black sand just off of the shore.
To reach Tulamben and Amed just grab a taxi or arrange a car from Denpasar Airport. The drive usually takes between 3.5 – 4 hours depending on traffic.
You can scuba dive in Amed and Tulamben Bali all year round. The best time for visibility is April to July, and October to November. From July to November, the mola mola sunfish can be spotted along the coast.
More on Tulamben and Amed at Holy Muck Diving Tulamben and Amed Bali
Nudibranch, Candidasa Bali
Padang Bai is home to the ferry terminal that connects Bali with Lombok, but the tiny town still maintains the charm of a sleepy little fishing village. From here, divers have the option to explore pristine reefs along Bali's eastern coast, or even hop on a speedboat to dive the popular dive sites at Nusa Penida. Sites like Blue Lagoon, offer mellow shallow diving for beginners, while Candidasa can provide thrilling roller coaster like dives in the turbulent current in the chanel between Bali and Lombok. Either way, there is no shortage of beautiful untouched coral reefs and a huge variety of sea life to check out here.
To reach Padang Bai take a taxi or arrange a car from Denpasar Airport. The drive usually takes between 1.5 – 2 hours depending on traffic.
For more on Padang Bai & Candidasa, read Diving Candidasa Bali, Not for the Faint of Heart!
Maroon clownfish, Bunaken Indonesia
Located on the Indonesian island of Suluwesi, Bunaken and Lembeh are popular destinations for Singaporean divers. Bunaken is home to large pelagic species like black and white-tip sharks, humphead parrotfish and sea turtles, while Lembeh is more known for nudibranchs, pipefish and macro life. From Singapore, Suliwesi is conveniently located, offers great visibility, and provides a solid overall diving experience. I was particularly impressed with the night diving, so if you head to Suluwesi, be sure to bring your flashlight.
The majority of flights from Singapore to Manado are with Indonesian Budget carrier Lion Air. Most routes stop-over in Jakarta and other Indonesian airports. Silk Air offers limited, more comfortable direct flights, but for a premium price tag. From Monado, you can pick up a boat pretty easily and inexpensively to take you one hour to Bunaken. To get to Lembeh, you will have to drive for about two hours, and then take a quick 10 minute ferry ride.
The dry season is from May to October, but Bunaken has a relatively mild monsoon season so the diving is good all year round. The rains can reduce visibility, especially in dive sites closer to shore. The peak season is July and August during summer break.
Fore more information, be sure to read Scuba Diving Bunaken, Sulawesi
The Riau Islands are comprised of approximately 1,700 islands located in the South China Sea between Singapore and Indonesia. The islands of Bintan and Batam are the most well-known as they can be reached easily by ferry for a quick weekend getaway from Singapore’s bustling metropolis. Liveaboards usually stop off at Anabas Island, which is a tiny islet surrounded by lush reefs, and other shallow spots in the South China Sea where the reef has yet to breach the water’s surface to form an island. Most trips also stop off at the Igara Wreck, a sunken freighter ship with huge open cargo holds. It is a nice wreck, but the currents are often swift and visibility can be low. These liveaboards are a good option as you can do a lot of diving, and still be back to work on Monday morning. The price tag can be a bit steep though, and frugal divers may find better value diving elsewhere.
It is possible to dive from the shores of Bintan and Batam. I have personally found most of the dive shops to be pretty unresponsive to inquiries, and even downright flaky. Many of them want outrageous prices to dive the mediocre dive sites surrounding Bintan and Batam.
The best way to dive the Riau Islands from Singapore is by liveaboard. Weekend trips first ferry divers to Batam, and then transfer to the dive boat in order to avoid expensive mooring fees in Singapore. There are a few liveaboard operators that can arrange weekend trips to the Riau Islands. You can contact Nautica Diving to arrange a boat.
The dive season is from April to November. After that, most shops close for the monsoon, and the liveaboards head north to better weather in Thailand’s Similan Islands.
Nudibranch, Mabul Malaysia
Malaysia is arguably home to some of the best diving on Earth. With legendary dive locations like Sipadan Mabul and Kapalai, it is no wonder that so many divers visit Malaysia each year. Most of East Malaysia’s famous dive sites are just a little too far for a long weekend trip from Singapore, but there are still some noteworthy options on the West Malaysia peninsula, and on the islands in between.
Dive boats in Pulau Tioman Malaysia
Pulau Tioman is undeniably the most popular weekend diving getaway for Singaporean locals, mainly because it is the only viable dive destination that can be reached by land. Because you don’t have to fly, this really is the only place where you can go away for a regular weekend from Singapore and still be able to dive for two days (with the exception of liveaboard trips).
I am told that Tioman was once a pristine dive destination, but in my experience, much of the coral is bleached and the diving is just so-so. There is still quite a bit of life, and if it is your first experience diving in Southeast Asia, you will not be disappointed. It’s just not quite as good as some of the other destinations on this list in my opinion. That being said, this is probably the best place to get certifications if you are staying in Singapore for a long period. Also the Singaporean dive community is warm and inviting. Diving in Tioman is worth the trip just to hang out with the Singaporean die-hards that go there almost every weekend during the dive season.
Most weekend trips from Singapore are organized by local dive shops, and start out on Friday at around 6:00 pm after work. Divers are loaded up on buses or coaches, cross the causeway, and make the five-hour drive north to Mersing. From Mersing divers must take a 2.5-hour ferry or a dive boat to Tioman. If it is a holiday weekend, or if there is traffic crossing the causeway from Singapore into Malaysia, you can expect to add 3+ hours to the bus portion of the trip. I have done this trek three times since I have been in Singapore, and I don’t think I have ever gotten more than 3 hours of sleep before diving on Saturday.
It is possible to arrange your own transportation to Tioman with a little leg-work and save a bundle compared to Singaporean dive shop packages. The only drawback is that you will probably have to leave earlier, or loose a day of diving, in order to catch the public ferry to Mersing.
It is also possible to dive Tioman via liveboard from Singapore. This is a more expensive, but more comfortable option that alleviates the arduous bus ride to Mersing. Contact Nautica Diving to arrange a weekend liveaboard to Tioman.
The dive season in Tioman is from April to November. The rest of the year monsoons churn the seas, making recreational diving nearly impossible. From what I hear, the island pretty much closes down for tourists during the monsoon.
Read Back to Basics, Pulau Tioman for more on diving in Tioman
Sunset over Langkawi Malaysia
Langkawi is comprised of 99 small islands in the extreme northwest corner of Malaysia. Langkawi is a popular beach getaway, particularly for residents of Kuala Lumpur. The crowded beaches are lined with jet-ski rentals, and parasailing operators, and there is no shortage of accommodation options. Langkawi has a reputation for inexpensive diving, but most Southeast Asian locals tend to disparage Langkawi’s dive sites as sub-par. I went to Langkawi with fairly low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised. I found the diving around Langkawi to be excellent with no shortage of large fish, rays, and eels in the marine park. There was a fair amount of rubbish, including fishing nets and lines, but overall I found the diving to be really enjoyable and worth a look.
From Singapore budget carriers AirAsia and Scoot offer regular, inexpensive direct flights to Langkawi. If you watch the fares, some fantastic deals pop up from time to time, and the 1.5-hour flight time makes Langkawi a great option for weekend diving from Singapore.
There is diving year-round in Langkawi, but by far the best time is from November to March when the heavy monsoon rains subside, the seas are calm, and the visibility is at its peak.
Read Surrounded by Dolphins in Langkawi for more information on Langkawi.
Boats on Ko Phi Phi Thailand
Thailand is far and away Southeast Asia’s most popular dive destination. I have heard local operators claim that more divers get open-water certifications in Ko Phi Phi than anywhere else on Earth. Like most of Southeast Asia, the majority of Thailand’s island destinations are made up of steep limestone cliffs jutting out of emerald blue waters. The exception to this is the Similan Island chain with its dramatically sloping white granite rock formations. Marine life is abundant in Thailand, and there is no shortage of dive sites that will appeal to scuba divers of all experience levels.
Emperor angelfish, Similan Islands Thailand
The Similan Islands are perhaps the most sought-after dive destination for advanced divers in Thailand. There are nine tiny islands that make up the Similan Islands, offering divers the chance to see large schools of fish, manta rays, sharks, and even the occasional whale shark. The best way to dive the Similan Islands is by liveaboard, but there are also speedboats that shuttle divers to the Similan Marine Park for the day from Khao Lak on the mainland.
For long-weekend trips, I would recommend the speedboat from Khao Lak, as the short-stay liveaboards can be a bit shabby, and tend to get overcrowded with divers coming to dive for the day. The week-long liveaboards are the best option if you have the time and money. I have personally found the dive shops in the Similans hectic to deal with. There is a high demand to dive these sites, and operators sometimes treat guests like cattle, shuttling them from boat to boat, knowing that there is no shortage of paying customers regardless of the poor service. Also nearby are the Surin Islands, featuring the infamous Richelieu Rock dive site with its resident schooling barracuda. Most Similan trips split their time between the Similans and the Surin Islands, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly if you want to dive a particular site.
There is no shortage of cheap, direct, flights from Singapore to Phuket International Airport. The flight takes under two hours, making Phuket a great base for weekend dive trips. From Phuket, you can hire a private car or taxi to make the 2-hour drive north up the coast of Thailand to Khao Lak. From Khao Lak, a boat to the Similans can take between 60 minutes to 4 hours depending the speed of the boat. Be sure to ask the operator how long it takes for their boat to make the trip.
The dive season in the Similan Islands is from December to April. Whale sharks and manta rays are most commonly spotted between February and the end of the season in April.
Read Taking a Dive in the Similan Islands for more information on Similan Island short-term liveaboard diving.
This nudibranch was posing for the camera
Ko Tao is a popular dive destination for divers of all experience levels. While some divers stay on Ko Tao itself, the majority visit via speedboat from the nearby Ko Samui. The dive sites around Ko Tao feature nice shallow reef diving, and a couple of spectacular deep pinnacles where whale sharks and other large pelagic species are often spotted. Ko Tao offers lucky divers who visit between April and May some of the best odds of spotting whale sharks in Southeast Asia.
Direct Flights from Singapore are available at regular intervals on Bangkok Airways and Silk Air to nearby Ko Samui. Prices tend to be extravagant during the high season, so budget divers may want to look elsewhere unless they can find a rare deal on airfare. From Ko Samui, speedboats can make the trip to Ko Tao in 1-4 hours, depending on the boat.
The dive season in Ko Tao extends from January to October. The most popular time is between April and May, when whale sharks are spotted nearly every day.
Ko Phi Phi Le Island
The Ko Phi Phi islands are located roughly halfway between Phuket and Krabi in Thailand’s Andaman Sea. The islands are made up of strikingly beautiful towers of limestone rising out of the sea in sheer cliffs patched with thick jungle greenery. The diving around Ko Phi Phi is great for beginning divers, as most dive sites are fairly shallow, and the seas are usually pretty calm. While Ko Phi Phi doesn’t offer the same likelihood of spotting large fish such as whale sharks and manta rays as other destinations in Thailand, the shallow reefs are teeming with juvenile fish and colorful soft corals, making the diving in Ko Phi Phi a consistently enjoyable experience. Over the past few years I have seen a steady increase in the numbers of black-tip reef sharks on dives at the nearby Bida Nok and Bida Noi. On my most recent visit, I spotted more than 12 sharks on a single dive.
Divers can stay on Ko Phi Phi Island, which offers accommodation options that range from backpacker to luxury resort. In town, Ko Phi Phi is known for its lively party scene, but on the outskirts of the island, it is still possible to find quiet stretches of white sand beach. There are no real roads on Ko Phi Phi, so visitors must rely on water taxi, or hike through the jungle to get around the island. Dive shops can be found literally everywhere on the island.
Day trips to Ko Phi Phi from both Phuket and Krabi are common. Few dive operators on Phuket and Krabi island have their own boat, so most rent passage on large dive boats carrying 50 or more divers. These boats tend to be crowded but comfortable. Some of the best Thai food I have had in Thailand was on dive boats from Phuket. It can take between 2-4 hours to get to Ko Phi Phi from Phuket or Krabi, so choose your boat wisely, or else it can make for a long day trip.
From Singapore, the best (cheapest) option is to fly into Phuket International. Air carriers AirAsia and Jetstar both offer reasonable fares for the 2-hour flight. From Phuket, book a trip on the 2-hour ferry to Ko Phi Phi, or arrange a day trip with a dive operator.
You can dive year-round in Ko Phi Phi, but the waters are at their clearest and calmest from February to May.
For more on diving Ko Phi Phi read I'm Down with Ko Phi Phi!
Pipefish Mactan Philippines
The Philippines are made up of well over 7,000 islands, many of which offer fantastic diving. Divers from around the world flock to places like Malapascua for a chance to spot thresher sharks, or Palawan to soak in the sun and enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Unfortunately, poor road conditions and slow travel makes the majority of the Philippines just out of reach for a weekend trip from Singapore. Don't despair though, there are still a couple of really solid options that will allow you to dive in the Philippines and still be back to work on time after a long weekend.
Anilao takes a bit longer to get to than most of the destinations listed in this guide, but the exceptional diving makes it worth including in this list. You will need a short holiday to make the trip from Singapore worth your while. Anilao is a hot spot for muck diving in the Philippines located just a few hours south of Manila, but many divers come here for the reef diving as well. Scuba divers from near and far travel here year-round with their cameras looking for the small and the strange. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue ringed octopus, mimic octopus, tiger shrimp and Ambon scorpionfish thrive in these waters. This is one of my personal favorite places to see the strange and unusual creatures that call the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific Oceans home. If you are looking for a great operator for the trip, I would recommend Buceo Anilao Beach and Dive Resort.
Diving is great in Anilao year-round, but the absolute best time is when the water temperatures cool down in December and January. We were told that the cold water brings the most elusive macro critters out of hiding, and out into the open sandy seafloor.
Anilao is located a short drive away from the city of Batangas in Luzon, Philippines. You can reach Batangas in about 3 hours from the Manila airport. Catch one of the busses that run 24-hours-a-day from the Buendia, Pasay Terminal in Manila to the Public Bus Terminal in Batangas. Busses are comfortable and only cost about USD 4 as of the time of writing this article. From Batangas, you can pick up a Jeepney at the bus terminal for around USD 2 to your resort in Anilao. Most resorts also arrange transfers from Batangas City or Manilla International Airport, if you are short on time, this is probably the best option.
For more on diving in Anilao, read the full article Biodiversity from the Muck to the Reef: Scuba Diving Anilao, Philippines.
Mactan island is a rather unlikely spot to find world-class diving, as it is where Cebu International Airport is located. The tiny island is extremely popular with tourists from South Korea hoping to get away for a quick weekend and soak up the rays in the Philippines. Mactan also happens to be home to some of the best muck diving that I have seen in Asia. On the dives just off the beach in Mactan, I have spotted literally dozens of pipefish, giant frogfish, countless nudibranch species, and hosts of tiny crabs and lobsters. If you are into underwater macro photography, you are going to love diving in Mactan. There is even a small plane wreck, and best of all, you can be diving just minutes after landing in Cebu.
Mactan Island is connected to mainland Cebu by bridge, but the airport is located right on Mactan itself. Many budget carriers offer direct, four-hour, flights from Singapore to Cebu International Airport, so you can usually find a cheap fare to Mactan that departs on a Friday night, go diving on Saturday, spend a day snorkeling or relaxing on the beach Sunday, and still be back to work on Monday morning.
You can dive Mactan by boat, or just walk right off the shore. The East side of the island, is literally littered with great dive sites.
Diving is available in Mactan year-round, but the best conditions are from November to May.
Singapore is a bustling metropolis, and its harbor is one of the busiest shipping ports in the world. If you walk out to the beaches in Singapore, you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere not occupied by ocean freighters waiting to either load or unload in the harbor. Sadly, most of Singapore’s reefs have been destroyed by construction, and landfill, or shipping. Visibility is non-existent for the most part. Many Singaporeans claim that there is actually a lot of life in the waters surrounding Singapore, unfortunately you just won’t be able to see it in most places. There are some exceptions, such as the Sisters Island Marine Park, where there is an actual “Underwater Trail”. The only problem with Sister’s Island is that there are very few boats that go there, and a private charter can run you USD $150 or more. If you can’t get away for the weekend, but you still want to get underwater, there is always Pulau Hantu.
Nudibranch, Pulau Hantu Singapore
Pulau Hantu, or “Ghost Island” in the Malay language, offers Singaporean residents a chance to explore the waters just off the shore in their home country. Located just outside of the island’s busy harbor, and next to a tank farm, Pulau Hantu is home to a surprising amount of life hanging on in the muddy water. The visibility is not very good, so bring a flashlight and stay close to your buddy while you scour the muck for tiny sea critters. Sure the diving is not the best you will ever experience, but the Singaporean dive community is awesome and diving Pulau Hantu is a great way to connect with your fellow divers in Singapore. If you are lucky, you can spot nudibranchs, sea horses, even flamboyant cuttlefish, and still be home for supper.
You can arrange day trips with several Singaporean dive shops, or If you have your own gear and prefer to dive in a private group or buddy pair, you can contact Dolphin Explorer. They operate a fleet of brand new dive boats that take groups of divers and dive companies to Pulau Hantu weekly. There is even a rumor that they might expand to run trips to Sisters Island and other Singapore locations.
Read Scuba Diving Pulau Hantu Singapore for more on diving in Pulau Hantu