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6 of the Best snorkelling spots in Southeast Asia

Ellie Swain

Contributor

With bathtub-warm tropical waters, a thriving community of marine wildlife including the likes of barracuda, turtles, and manta rays, and more dazzling coral reefs you could shake a stick at, the region of Southeast Asia is an underwater haven for its snorkelling opportunities. With so much choice, how can one possibly pick a destination to snorkel in? Our handy guide will help steer you in the right direction.

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

The small clustering of islands off the coast of Northeast Malaysia aren’t all about their pristine white beaches and cute cocktail bars. Under the surface, you can expect to share the aquamarine waters with inquisitive green turtles and black-tip reef sharks. But need not fear, black-tips may appear intimidating but these timid creatures are more concerned with feeding on small fish than taking a chunk out of your leg! Take an amble down the beach following a day of snorkelling and indulge in a beachside massage to reward yourself with all that paddling. Perhaps heaven really is a place on earth?


Getting there: Fly to Sultan Mahmud Airport (Kuala Terengganu) and take the ferry to Pulau Perhentian.

Green Sea Turtle

Photographer: Shane Myers

Koh Rong, Cambodia

The idyllic little island of Koh Rong, off Cambodia’s Southern coast not only boasts immaculate white-sugar sand beaches but offers magnificent snorkelling opportunities around its sleepy bays. Perfect, considering there isn’t much else to do than hammock-dwell and chill on the island. Duck beneath the waves to gawk at vibrant coral and exotic nudibranchs. These bizarre creatures are otherwise known as sea slugs and they take on a variety of vivacious colours and patterns. For a real taste of magic at dark, discover the bioluminescent plankton that glows a brilliantly beautiful shade of cobalt with every move of every limb.


Getting there: Fly to Phnom Penh International Airport and take a taxi or train to Sihanoukville. From Sihanoukville, take the ferry to Koh Rong.

Brightly coloured Nudibranch (Sea slug)

Photographer: Richard Whitcombe

Moalboal, Philippines

Southwest of Cebu Island, Moalboal is a snorkelling hotspot for enthusiasts yet due to its relatively remote location, it doesn’t get as touristy as one would expect. The six-mile-long deep steep wall of healthy coral reef on the peninsula of Moalboal offers exciting sightings of green turtles and vivid sanctuaries of different species of fish. However, the real showstopper is the famous sardine run. Off the coast of Panagsama beach, watch in awe as a school of approximately one million sardines dance and perform for lucky snorkellers – you may feel like you’re caught in the filming of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet.


Getting there: Fly to Mactan–Cebu International Airport and take a taxi to Moalboal.

Sardine run, Cebu, Philippines

Photographer: Andaman

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Renowned as Vietnam’s best spot for snorkelling, Phu Quoc, off the South coast of the country, is fringed with various local underwater areas to explore. However, the An Thoi Archipelago of fifteen small landmasses claims to be one of the best. With surrounding islands named as ‘Pineapple Island’ and ‘Coconut Island’ the exotic offerings of Phu Quoc’s marine wildlife come as no surprise. Expect to spot nudibranch populations and delicate white spotted bamboo sharks, known for their petite size and distinctive black and white patterned torsos. If luck’s on your side, there may even be a small chance of swimming side by side with the elusive dugong, an enormous vegetarian mammal also known as the ‘sea cow’.


Getting there: Fly to Phu Quoc International Airport.

Dugong (Sea Cow)

Photographer: Enrique Aguirre

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

The beastly Komodo Dragon may first spring to mind when hearing of Komodo National Park but they aren’t the only creatures that share the habitat. The underwater wilderness of the UNESCO World Heritage Site dazzles with vibrant reefs, candy-coloured coral gardens, and an impressive array of brilliantly-coloured tropical fish. With a sharp eye, you may even spot the likes of peculiar-looking seahorses, speedy snake eels, and majestic manta rays. Reward your efforts with a tranquil slumber on Pink Beach where, as you guessed, the soft powder is a beautiful shade of pastel pink. Don’t forget to take some snaps and boomerangs of the glittering pink sand falling effortlessly from your hands – they’ll be perfect for Instagram!


Getting there: From Ngurah Rai International Airport (Bali), fly to Komodo Airport (Labuan Bajo, Flores). 

Pink beach, Komodo

Photographer: Gatot Adri

Ko Tao, Thailand

The small tight-knit island of Ko Tao is a traveller’s haven, littered with beachfront restaurants and bars decorated with pretty fairy lights, shops selling local fabrics, and dramatic fire shows performed at dark. However, the sublime snorkelling conditions are the main draw. Explore the depths of popular snorkelling sites such as Shark Bay, where you may spot black-tip reef sharks in their aptly named environment. Some are over a whopping six-feet long! To maximise your chances of catching sight of these gentle beasts plan your visit between 7AM and 10AM in the morning – the black tips’ favourite time to cruise the bay.


Getting there: Fly to Samui Airport (Ko Samui) and take the ferry to Koh Tao.

Black-tip reef shark

Photographer: Vlad61

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