Adventure Travel

The Best Places to Scuba Dive in Sabah, Borneo

Sabah in Malaysian Borneo offers some of the finest diving in the world. You can explore Mabul, Layang-Layang, Sipadan, or other beaches to discover shipwrecks, muck diving, macro life, hammerhead sharks, and even whale sharks. Sabah is a diving paradise. Here are the best diving spots in Sabah.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Park

Jump onto a speedboat and take a quick 20-minute ride to Kota Kinabalu to start your diving adventures with Kota Kinabalu tours. The island of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is the perfect place to start. The area features five small islands surrounded by a shallow-water coral reef filled with sea life. The gentle ocean currents and shallow water make it the perfect place for novice divers to learn and explore.

You might run into some of the area’s most elusive creatures including the harlequin ghost fish or mandarin fish. The endangered Hawksbill Turtle is regularly spotted around the islands. If you schedule your dives between November and February, you may have the opportunity to watch whale sharks feeding on plankton.

Sipadan Island

If you have been diving for very long, you have heard of Sipadan Island. The island is famous for its amazing coral reefs and a wide variety of fish. The area is home to over 3000 species of sea life. It is also home to the intriguing “Turtle Tomb” where sea turtle skeletons fill a series of underwater caves. Sipidan Island is considered the best diving location in Sabah, and one of the hottest diving spots in the world.

Make sure to plan your trip in advance. You will need to reserve your lodging on either Semporna or Mabul Island since overnight stays on Sipadan Island are now banned. Diving permits are required, with only 120 permits allowed per day. The restriction is an effort to protect the fragile coral reefs.

Layang-Layang Island Resort

If you want to travel a little further from the coast, Layang-Layang offers great diving. It is located 186 miles from Sabah and offers some of the most well-preserved diving sites you can find. This is not a dive site for novices. The site features walls that drop-off to depths of over 2,000 meters. The Layang-Layang Atoll is home to hammerhead sharks, gray sharks, silvertips, leopard sharks, and threshers.

Layang-Layang is pristine for a reason. It is a disputed territory which is home to a tiny Malaysian naval base. The base is off-limits to tourists, which keeps people away and eliminates pollution in the region.

The only place to stay at Layang-Layang is at the Layang-Layang Island Resort. The resort is open for nine months per year, from March through October. You can fly to Layang-Layang from Kota Kinabalu.

Mabul Island

Mabul has become one of Asia’s most exciting diving destinations. It is located close to Sipadan but is just one of the reasons for its popularity. The site offers amazing muck diving that is hard to match anywhere else in the world. The ability to dive without a permit increases its popularity over nearby Spipadan, which requires permits. You can choose from several good options for accommodations, too.

You can access Mabul Islands through the gateway at the southeastern point of Sabah, Borneo.

Mabul offers incredible underwater macro photography along its amazing reef bordering the continental shelf. The water is approximately 25 to 30 meters deep in most areas, providing challenging dives without extreme danger. The fascinating macro life is surrounded by other aquatic life including cuttlefish, squids, and octopi.

Labuan Island

Labuan Island is only 71 miles away from Kota Kinabalu and is a great stopping place when you travel between Brunei, Sabah, and Sarawak. The island is 100% duty-free to help keep your costs down. If you have dreamed of exploring shipwrecks, Labuan Island is your paradise.

You can dive down to explore the USS Salute and Dutch SS De Klerk. Both of these ships were sunk during battles in World War II. The site features two civilian shipwrecks, too. The ships are in shallow water only 30 to 35 meters making Labuan Island the shipwreck diving capital of Malaysia, and maybe of Asia.

You can reach Labuan Island via ferry from Bandar Seri Begawan or Kinabalu in Brunei. If you get bored of diving, there is a wide variety of on-ground exploration and entertainment, too.

Aniket Singh
Aniket Singh works for Apple Inc. in California. He comes armed with a treasure trove of experience and knowledge gained through his internships abroad. Singh loves to talk to students during their formative years so that they can avoid anything that is not helpful to long-term growth. Singh holds a BTech degree in Electrical Engineering from the IIT, Madras, Chennai, and a Master’s degree in Wireless Systems from Politecnico Di Torino in Torino, Italy. He has interned at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and Ecole Polytechnic Federale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland during this studies. For a rewarding internship and career, take the first step. Visit him at Check out his book at Intern Abroad This Summer