The allure of the deep sea dive has become irresistible for thrill seekers. For those waiting to tick that off your bucket list, Ashwin Rajagopalan picks five destinations within Asia that are perfect for your first scuba dive.
Havelock Island, Andamans It was probably Jacques Cousteau who put the Andaman Islands under the global spotlight with his short film Andaman Islands: Invisible Islands in the early 1990s. The Andamans has acquired cult status with snorkelers and scuba divers alike to emerge as India’s premier diving destination. The islands’ somewhat remote location and strict government controls have ensured that the beaches and waters of the Andamans have retained their pristine character. Havelock Island is about two and a half hours away from Port Blair by ferry. Aside from the spectacular marine life and coral reefs, you can also catch the island’s legendary swimming elephant Rajan, underwater.
Netrani (Pigeon Island), Karnataka You will never run out of excuses to make stops along this scenic stretch along Karnataka’s coastline that connects Mangalore with Goa. Scenic backwaters, charming temples, idyllic beaches and scrumptious cuisine; coastal Karnataka has it all. You can’t spot Netrani island from the beach next to the imposing temple tower at Murudeshwar — it’s over an hour away by boat. Until recently access to Netrani island was restricted, that’s probably one reason that the marine life here is largely untouched. Sea turtles, great barracudas, stingrays…the water around this small island is full of surprises. The water is clear through much of the year (except during the monsoons) and Murudeshwar has a couple of PADI certified diving schools you can choose from.
Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia Many seasoned divers rate this among the world’s five best diving sites. It is Malaysia’s only oceanic island rising 600 mt from the seabed. Pulau Sipadan is located off the east coast of Malaysian Borneo and is formed by living corals atop a volcanic cone. With over 3,000 species of marine life, this is easily one of the world’s richest marine habitats. The verdant jungles of the island above the water are a treasure trove of exotic birds that include sea-eagles and wood pigeons. One of Pulau Sipadan’s distinctive features is an underwater limestone cave with numerous narrow tunnels and chambers. The island is a 45-minute boat ride away from Semporna town in Malaysia’s Sabah Province.
Koh Samui, Thailand Experienced divers might rate Similian islands (120 km from Phuket) as Thailand’s best dive site but if you are looking at a rejuvenating beach getaway Koh Samui’s irresistible charm is tough to match. The 40-odd jagged islands of the Ang Thong Marine National Park are supposed to have inspired the Alex Garland bestseller and Hollywood production – The Beach. Lime stone massifs, virgin beaches, verdant rainforests — these islands have it all. The relatively calm waters around the islands are perfect for first time divers; underwater attractions include bright coral reefs and exotic marine life like giant barracuda and manta rays. Resorts around Koh Samui can organise diving trips to Ang Thong.
Palawan, Philippines Often referred to as Philippines’ last ecological frontier, Palawan is no longer the country’s best kept secret. This archipelago of limestone islands with underground rivers, cosy coves, verdant rainforests and sandy white beaches is among the most spectacular diving destinations in South East Asia. The El Nido-Taytay protected area in northern Palawan is a particularly breathtaking spot with its powdery white beaches. It also has one of the richest reserves of marine life that also include whale sharks. Coron in Palawan is a hub for wreck diving. 11 Japanese ships are said to have sunk here during the Second World War and are full of interesting discoveries for experienced divers.
Scuba diving tips for beginners
Few people probably know that scuba is actually an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Taking that first plunge can be unnerving, but once you discover your ‘zone’ amidst fascinating marine life there’s no better place to be. But before you dive in here are a few pointers:
Tick the health boxes: Make sure you meet the health and fitness pre-requisites before you sign up. Scuba diving is not advisable for anybody with lung related ailments, ear issues or any serious allergies.
It’s not just for proficient swimmers: You don’t need to be a certified swimmer for a casual scuba dive but it’s important to feel comfortable in the water. Student divers however should clear a ‘watermanship assessment’ to earn a scuba diving certification. This could entail a swim test and a float test.
Choose a certified PADI instructor: Ensure you sign up for a course run by a certified PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). It usually begins with a ‘discover’ dive where you get familiar with the diving equipment and technique. Discover dives could be arranged at a swimming pool or controlled diving environments. Make sure you pay attention during the theory sessions before you get underwater.
Never dive alone: Stay within 10-feet of your instructor or your diving partner. A conservative approach is always recommended once you are underwater.
Get the right gear: All certified diving schools usually have the right equipment that you can rent as part of your diving package. Don’t buy any diving gear until you are ready to dive on a regular basis.