I first started scuba diving, like so many new divers, on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand. I quickly became obsessed, and my desire to see ever prettier reefs and new species of undersea creatures took my travels into unexpected directions. (For instance, it motivated me to go to parts of Indonesia and the Philippines I might not have otherwise visited.)
But what I quickly noticed was that the diving information provided by regular travel guides, such as the Lonely Planet, is awfully generic. You just get a predictable list of species, or maybe some claim that the diving here is “world class”, but even barren reefs are showered in praise. I often got the sense that the author doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
You don’t get that sense when reading Diving in Southeast Asia, a detailed guide to diving sites in Malaysia, The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. (Tuttle Publishing sent me a copy to review.)
Each area gets several pages of coverage, with genuine knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. While there’s inevitably some repetition in the descriptions (should you really be surprised to find triggerfish or wrasses at a reef in Southeast Asia?), you generally get a full and useful picture of each dive site.
Understandably, the book doesn’t cover some countries in the region. Vietnam isn’t much of an oversight as the scuba diving is meant to be pretty miserable there, so probably wouldn’t qualify for a book about Southeast Asia’s best dive sites. Cambodia and Burma have only limited diving options and so get minor mentions only. All in all, the book seems to do a good job of featuring the true highlights, including some of the more remote sites in Papua and Timor.
One of the challenges I always find with picking my dive sites is understanding which ones are most worth my time, as there are so many competing claims. The guide does provide a map for each country with the best dive sites, but unfortunately they only narrow it down to about 20 per country. There are also about 25 different contributors to the book, and having so many voices makes it difficult to know how different diving regions really compare.
Of course, I understand that it’s impractical for one author to cover all of it, but some kind of Top 10 (or different Top 10’s based on skill level) would at least help get through the choice paralysis.
If you’re serious about diving in Southeast Asia, then this guide will give you a wealth of country- and region maps, as well as ample details on the underwater topography and marine life you can expect to see. However, it can at times feel more encyclopaedic than a travel guide. It won’t necessarily tell you is where the absolute top spots are to dive first, or where it’s best to dive on a particular budget; for that you’ll still have to do some research on your own.