How to choose where to go diving

February 21, 2016

Every 6 months I have this question and now and then people ask me about it, so I thought I’d sum it up here – the hardship of how to choose where to go diving.

So sit comfortably, it’s a how-to nerd with you and today’s story is about diving and the hard and complex process of choosing where to go diving in Southeast Asia, what to keep in mind and a few tricks I use.

Anton and I try go diving every 6 months. There is this moment when we look at each other with this sad dreamy look, like, you know the look you share when you both feel like McDonald’s once a year and you don’t need to say a word, you just march to the car and start driving direction ‘double-cheeseburger’  holding hands?

Same with diving. Usually the trip starts with that look followed by: “I would really like a beer in an island bar overlooking the sunset now..” This kind of sunset:

Ko Lipe sunset via TinyBlackBird.com

And then we look at the calendar and realise it’s been 5 months since our last diving trip, so we get cracking’ and do the tedious booking process. I mean, it’s definitely tedious to me, Anton prefers to just get it done and over.

I thought I’d write it down, maybe it comes useful for some of you. If you have tips or shortcuts, please do let me know in the comments below, that would be so appreciated!

Choosing when to go diving

If you can choose when to go, remember that Southeast Asia has seasons. Here’s an example of when to go where. If we’re talking about Malaysia – Tioman and Perhentians side is in season from February to October, East Malaysia (and especially South-East of Sabah, where Sipadan is) is dive-able all year round.

I wrote a few posts about Tioman here and a post about one of the small islands in Sabah.

There is a hack to take days next to public holidays to extend the vacation to the max, but be aware of other smart people doing that, you might end up in a very crowded island with many divers around. Here’s an example of such days for Malaysia:

Annual leaves Malaysia 2016 via TinyBlackBird.com

We learned that public holidays are best spent at home and like to travel right after, when all the people are back to work and we end up having very enjoyable dives in small groups.

The budget

This is another undoubtedly mighty criteria – there’s usually an approximate budget you can spend on diving, right? If not, I’m so happy for you :-) An average price per dive here in Southeast Asia is usually around $30-50, here are a few things to keep in mind though:

  • A lot of dive resorts have accommodation+diving packages or offer a good discount for diving if you stay with them.
  • There are also discounts for the number of dives you do with the shop (for example if you do 1-10 dives it’s $42 per dive, if 11+, then it’s $33 per dive).
  • Low season dives can also be cheaper – do check with the shop on special times to come. For example, in Ko Lipe, Thailand, June is a very hot and humid month, which means a bit less tourists, but the diving gets spectacular. If you come at half-moon, you score a jackpot! So check for things like that. You can ask the dive shop directly by email or facebook.
  • Check for promos – shops have anniversary promos (like B&J in Tioman – they’re celebrating 30 years of operation and are throwing in some exciting deals).
  • Ask. It never hurts to ask if there are any more discounts. I always do and you’ll be surprised how often this works.

My last tip on the budget is to check in advance what are the payment methods available for diving. Shops usually accept cash, credit cards, advanced online payments (I don’t recommend that!), PayPal or direct bank transfer. Cash is naturally the most preferred method by shops, but not the safest for a traveller. Also sometimes the ATM fees + conversion rates of your bank can be killer. Sometimes ATMs can run out of money which is a bummer when there are only 5 on the island and you tried 4 already. So weigh your options and do what’s cheapest + safest.

Ko Lipe beach via TinyBlackBird.com

Other factors to consider

This is becoming a long read, if you’re still with me, here are a few more things that I always consider when choosing where to go diving:

  • Visa requirements (do I need a visa in advance? How much is it? Check Wikipedia for “visa requirements for Your Nationality to Country”)
  • What are the ways to get to the place and what are the risks of missing a boat/flight? Usually it’s a flight or bus + a ferry or speed boat to the island. Most of the times they are not well-coordinated which means you’ll need to wait in between. Sometimes for hours. But better that than missing a boat if your flight was too close and waiting for a day for the next one.
  • There might be special events or activities like Project Aware or other special trips that mean you can dive for free. Follow a few big dive shops on Facebook and projects like Green Fins or Aware.

Sample formula how to choose where to go diving

This is how I choose where to go diving next. Real-life example:

  1. I feel like diving. What are the upcoming public holidays? None, but I can take the Friday off work since it’s Learn day and no work happens on Learn day. So I have 3 full days.
  2. Budget is tight, so Malaysia it is. Since I live here I don’t need a visa, so that’s good.
  3. Season. It’s March, so Tioman and Perhentian side is in season. I’ve been to both, the other islands are a bit pricey, so Tioman it is.
  4. We always dive with ABC bay of B&J Diving, so I write them an email asking for prices and promos available for those days. They also have a ferry schedule and I book everything with them.
  5. Book a bus from KL that’s the closest to the ferry times (I wrote about how to get to Tioman here).
  6. Boom, you’re all done! I pack some of my teas and protein bars (the food is not always great there), dive gear and go.

Ko Lipe sunset via TinyBlackBird.com

That’s roughly how it goes. All the rest strongly depends on your preferences, your diving level, your goals, the time you have, the money you’re eager to spend etc. I do hope this helped a bit and please do let me know if you have any questions or other tips you use. I’ll be posting a few more diving-inspired posts soon, so stay tuned!

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