Malaysia Liveaboard Diving
Joining a liveaboard cruise to the wonderfully diverse Malaysia. With cruises in Layang Layang which is home to a diverse and plentiful marine life.
In Malaysia, the surrounding waters include the areas around Sipadan Island, renowned as the best diving in the country. The dive destinations also include those on the east coast including the Sulu Sea and the Malaysian Peninsular with over 874 islands.
The liveaboards in Malaysia can include the Borneo region with the Sipadan dive sites and Layang Layang.
The diversity of the Malaysian area is enormous, with 20% of the species of the world resident here. Marine life is some of the most diverse with over 600 species of coral and 2000 of fish, many endemic.
Sipadan along with Layang Layang is often considered one of the best dive destinations in the world. There is a massively diverse topography, reefs, drift dives, wrecks, caverns and muck diving. Everything from whale sharks, hammerheads, manta rays, to shrimps and incredible macro life are here.
Macro life and critter finds are very special in the area, and schools of fish are immense.
Take a look at the Liveaboard Cruise options below.
Jacques Cousteau was impressed with the diversity of the marine life in Sipadan, contributing to the fact it is the most famous area of Malaysia for diving. Located on Borneo of the coast of Sabah the terrestrial scenery is amazing but it really excels underwater. Diving started in 1984 and Sipadan quickly became a go to destination.
The nutrient rich currents surrounding the island bring in the fish life, which in turn brings the larger fish life, then the hunting sharks and turtles.
Sightings of sharks, turtles, barracuda and humphead parrotfish are guaranteed, but also whale sharks, threshers, hammerheads, manta rays and eagle rays can be passing.
Most the diving is by drop offs and walls, with some drift diving.
The area is known as the ‘jewel of the Borneo Banks’ is a coral atoll located around 300 km north of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, North Borneo.
Here coral walls plunge a 2,000 meters to the ocean floor. Due to its remote location the waters is clear and unpolluted. Large palegic species such as Hammerhead sharks visit and can be seen in large schools at some point of the year. Other pelagic visitors include Manta Rays, Mobula rays, barracuda and giant trevallly, with even the occasional Thresher shark.
The area does not lack coral though, gardens have formed and decorate the shallow water reef in pristine condition. As no fishing permitted, the fish life is abundant.
Best Places to Dive in Malaysia
There are about 20 dive sites around Sipadan island and on the live aboard a minimum of 4 to 5 day is required to see the best of these and give a good variety. Many guests are often happy to repeat the sites due to the quality of the dives.
Huge schools of trevally , jacks and barracuda so large they block the sunlight are seen on the sites. Every site has turtles and a great macro life that could be overlooked due to the masses of other marine life.
Reef sharks are seen on many sites along with the bumphead parrot fish grazing the algae.
In Layang Layang, you dive around the Island Atoll and there are 13 sites. Many of these have drop offs to 2000m+ with crystal clear water. Most visitors will try to be there for the schooling hammerhead season which is April to May each year, and one of the best places to see the phenomenal sight.
Best Dive Sites in Malaysia
Does live up to its name, with many white tip reef sharks being present on the site.
A drop off dive down to 600m with a wall on one side and blue water on the other, the excellent visibility means grey reef sharks and potentially hammerheads can also be seen in the blue. The shallow is a coral garden where hawkfish and fangblennies can be found with feeding turtles. The wall has black coral, and sea fans, here groupers, wrasse and schools of big eye and trivially can be seen.
Crack Reef is located on the northern part of the island this is a great combination dive with both shallow reefs and deep water. It is named after the large vertical crack in the wall that starts at the surface and continues to 40m+. The beautiful shallow reef and coral garden gradually slopes into a deep drop off. Here you can see two ledges at 30m of depth where leopard sharks often are found sleeping during the day, just above this is an alcove with gorgonian sea fans which have resident pygmy seahorses hiding within them.
Look into the blue for the schooling hammerheads in the deep area of the dive. Turtles can be seen along the wall, fusileers school and white tip reef sharks can be passing by.
The reef itself has black coral among other varieties of both hard and soft corals, and there is plenty of macro life to keep photographers happy.
Named for the shallow garden of staghorn and black coral that descends via a gentle slope to reach a drop-off. The wall has many crevices and cavities where marine life can be seen, and reef life includes, blennies groupers, gobies, angelfish and a mix of crustaceans. Coral growth is superb here with black coral bushes of over 2m in size at depth, plenty of whip coral and sea fans.
If you want the larger marine life sightings, then divers will need to move away from the reef to the blue. At 30m on the wall is blue water where manta rays, hammerheads, fox, white tip, leopard and whale sharks have all been seen.
The aptly named site is home to many dog-tooth tuna often found in the eastern part of Layang Layang especially in the drop off areas down to 2000m deep. They can be seen singularly or in small groups
Also in the drop off area look for sunfish and potentially hammerhead sharks, although this is not the best site to see them in the area.
It is, however, a great place to see schooling fish and corals, with fusileers, barracuda, horseye jacks and surgeonfish swarming the walls, stingrays and whitetip reef sharks on the ledges and turtles patrolling the area. There are also many cleaning stations along the wall and reef with opportunities to see nudibranchs and flatworms.
Layang Layang is a unique and amazing place for divers to explore. With fantastic drop off with 50m+ visibility that are a congregation point for schooling hammerhead sharks. All this and pygmy seahorses, turtles and an amazing reef life. Read more information about Layang Layang Dive Sites, please click on the photo.
Sipadan Scuba Diving Highlights
- Common sightings - Turtles, barracuda, bumphead parrotfish
- Special sightings - Whale sharks, hammerheads, thresher sharks, manta rays
- Topography - Walls, drop-offs, reefs, coral gardens
- Visibility - 20m+
- General information - Guests should have experience with an intermediate to advanced level
Best Time to Go
The climate is equatorial so humid, hot with plenty of rainfall. Temperatures stay consistent year around between 26 and 30C usually. Sea breezes make this more comfortable.
The rain season vary slightly depending on which coast you visit. The East coast is November to February and the West Coast is May to October.
For Layang Layang diving is possible from March to August each year. The rainy season is November to February. The best time to visit for Hammerhead sharks is late March to May.
Water temperatures tend to be 26 to 28 celcius so a 3mm shortie is usually sufficient for most divers.
The best time for Sipadan is considered to be March to September when the sea is calmest, but the area can be dived year around.
July-August are the busiest months along with Chinese New Year, September is quieter but has large marine life sightings.
Water temperatures range from 26-30 degrees C so a 3mm shorty is usually sufficient for most divers.
How to Get There
Kuala Lumpur International Airport is the main hub of the country with many international flights from all over the world. It is also possible to fly into Kota Kinabalu International Airport.
Layang Layang liveaboards depart from Sutera Harbour in Kota Kinabalu.
A domestic flight to Tawau is needed to join the Sipadan liveaboards. There are some connections from Asian countries.
Local time vs GMT
What to pack
Food and drink
Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
On arrival for most nationalities
Bahasa Malaysia, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, English
Kuala Lumpur (KLIA and KLIA2), Kota Kinabalu (BKI), Tawau (TWU)
Beach wear, sunscreen, sun hat, lightweight rain jacket, cover-up
28 - 31 C daytime, 22 - 24 C evenings
Fried rice and noodles, roti, curries, Chinese and Indian influences