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globe th CopyThe Malay Peninsula is the largest peninsula in the world.  Singapore occupies the southen tip of this stip of land and the southern region of Thailand lies at the north end of the peninsula.   Malaysia has a maritime border with Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, which lies to the west of the Malay peninsula, while to the east lies the immense island of Borneo, which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei .... The pristine paradise islands of Sipadan, Kapalai and Mabul, which offer exceptional diving, are just off the eastern coast of Borneo, in the Celebes Sea, not far from Indonesia's northern Sulawesi.   Layang-Layang, with its intriguing population of hammerheads, lies northwest of Borneo.

Mesmerizing Malaysia

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Malaysia diving  ... the essentials

  • steep walls & drop offs, overhangs, caves & crevices
  • positively first-rate corals & gigantic gorgonians
  • copious quantities of reef fish ... angelfish, butterflyfish, batfish, triggerfish
  • pulsating pelagic action with giant groupers, tuna, surgeonfish and jacks
  • a surprising variety of shark species ... including leopards, whitetips & threshers
  • superb muck diving with an extensive array of captivating critters
  • and the frosting on the cake – a profusion of schooling hammerheads at Layang-Layang 

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Mythical Borneo

While there is some pleasant diving along the east coast of the Malay peninsula, Malaysia's world-class diving is done in the waters around the magical island of Borneo. 

Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, is split between 3 nations, with roughly half of it belonging to Malaysia.   Kalimantan on the east of the island, belongs to Indonesia; Sabah and Sarawak are Malaysian states, which lie on the west side of the island of Borneo; while a tiny corner of the island is independent of the two larger powers, remaining the sultanate of Brunei.

This part of the diving world is blessed with nearly untouched coral reefs but with less infrastructure than you find in Indonesia & the Philippines, making access to the diving a bit more challenging. There's a lack of liveaboards serving this area, so most of what we recommend is land-based diving where you have day-boat access to the sites.

The areas you'll want to explore are located around the islands of Sipadan, Layang-Layang, Langkawi, Mabul and Kapalai.

Journey into the jungle

Don't forget that land excursions here are also exciting and heartwarming .... especially if you can take the time to visit an Orang Utan rehabilitation center where dedicated professionals help to reintroduce to the forest animals whose mothers were destroyed by poachers or who had been held captive in people's homes. 

This emotionally-charged experience is highly recommended.

Which region is for you?

Malaysia Mabul Turtle in Seafan Tone on Tone shutterstock 60478204 CopySipadan, Mabul & Kapalai  ...  world-class corals, critters & pelagics
A coral island living on top of an extinct volcano, Sipadan is graced with steep drop-offs which form a 600 meter wall. The corals here are world-class & with the drop-offs, which are washed by upwelling currents carrying rich nutrients, you get superb pelagic action at the same site as your corals and critters ... read more ....

Just 35 kilometers from the main island of Borneo, Sipadan is, for divers, probably the most popular of the 5 islands.

An astonishing number of Green turtles are resident here, along with quite a few hawksbills, and the water is teeming with schools of fascinating bumphead parrotfish, large schools of barracuda and trevally .... grey & whitetip reef sharks, leopard sharks, bamboo sharks, even thresher sharks, white tip sharks, eagle rays, mantas &  marble rays .... plus the frosting on the cake, the intriguing scalloped hammerhead!

Gorgonians and sponges grow to amazing sizes and you'll find giant groupers, tuna, surgeonfish and jacks milling around them .... and you'll explore overhangs, caves and crevices. 
In the lagoon, you can find beautiful hard corals – including some great specimens of brain coral. which attract smaller fish.

In spite of the fact that Mabul and Kapalai are very near to Sipadan, the diving you'll find at these islands is quite another world. With their sloping shelves carpeted with runoff from tropical rain and rivers, with coral rubble and grass seabeds, here you get some of the ultimate of "muck".

It's a world of weird and wonderful. Huge frog fish, mandarin fish, seahorses, ghost pipefish, countless nudibranchs, snake eels, and scorpion fish galore. If you love critters, you'll adore Mabul and Kapalai ....

See both our liveaboard & land-based diving sections for our recommended operators in this region.

Malaysia hammerheadLayang-Layang - Langkawi - from macro to hammerheads
Everything from massive schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks to some of the most intriguing muck diving in the world, these islands, in spite of their relative proximity, offer divers diversity almost beyond belief ... read more ...

A very small oceanic atoll, Layang Layang, is known for its healthy corals and astonishingly large schools of scalloped hammerheads.

Although the hammerheads are the main draw for many divers, the corals are magnificent and there are plenty of pelagic fish in the area as well as angelfish, butterflyfish, batfish, triggerfish and other colorful species.  

Macro photographers, don't despair. The coral gardens house plenty of photogenic creatures for your taste, too.  Lankayan Island is all about lovely corals, abundant reef fish, really nice macro opportunities ... plus some good wrecks.