1. Sipadan Island, Mabul Island and Kapalai Island (Google Maps)
These three islands probably contain the best dive sites in the whole of Malaysia. Sipadan is by far the best place to enjoy scuba diving; it is also not that easy to actually dive at because of the restricting rules that are in place (daily permit). Mabul is known worldwide for its amazing muck diving conditions. Kapalai is a small sand bank, not that great for diving, but here you can find a very exclusive resort built on stilts. Actually both Sipadan and Mabul earn their own spot in this list, but since you can’t visit one (Sipadan) without the other (Mabul) we just listed the whole cluster as one entry.
2. Lankayan Island (Google Maps)
A small island located north of the city of Sandakan in eastern Sabah. Lankayan only has one (luxurious) resort and it’s all about diving and relaxing. Accommodation might be quite expensive for non-divers, they might be better off at numerous other islands. After Sipadan, Lankayan probably offers the best dive spots and diving conditions in Malaysia.
3. Layang-Layang Island (Google Maps)
Layang-Layang is not a tropical island per se. It is a concrete landing strip with one resort and a marine base, located on a big sand bank located just below sea level. Layang-Layang is located in a remote area, where the underwater world has not been affected by human beings. Corals are in pristine conditions. Layang-Layang is a place to see big species and big schools of fish (not so much smaller stuff).
4. Mataking Island, Pom Island and Sibuan Island (Google Maps)
Though not as great as diving conditions at the nearby islands of Sipadan and Mabul, the area surrounding Mataking, Pom and Sibuan still offers quite a few amazing dive sites (especially Sibuan is known for great muck diving). Mataking is a wonderful place to stay. There is a very luxurious resort from where you can enjoy dive trips in the area.
5. Redang Island (Google Maps)
Redang is the first island in our list that is not located in Borneo. Redang Island lies within the Terengganu Marine Park, nearby the city of Kuala Terengganu at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Redang offers great dive sites and perfect dive conditions. It is a great place to start with your diving adventure, as prices of a 4 day PADI course are very affordable. Redang cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.
6. Lang Tengah Island (Google Maps)
Located between the more popular islands of Redang and Perhentian, the smaller island of Lang Tengah offers great diving opportunities. The island has a few nice resorts, and is also suitable for non-divers. Lang Tenggah cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.
7. Tenggol Island (Google Maps)
Tenggol Island is located at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It offers splendid diving conditions, but it is perhaps not suitable for beginners due to the currents that often play a big role in dives around the island. There are a few nice resorts on the island. Tenggol cannot be visited between October and March because of the monsoon season.
8. Tioman Island (Google Maps)
Diving conditions at Tioman are similar to the other popular islands at the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Especially great about Tioman is that besides diving it is also a great place to do snorkeling, sunbathing and kayaking. The island is big enough to do numerous other fun activities.
9. Perhentian Island (Google Maps)
Perhentian is the best island in Malaysia to do a diving course. The diving conditions are splendid for beginners, and there are many dive spots available to enjoy immediately after finishing the PADI course. Perhentian has calm waters and an abundance of marine life. Besides diving it is probably one of the best islands for snorkeling, with shallow reefs with pretty nice corals and great marine life (also big fish and many turtles). At Perhentian prices for fun dives and for the diving course are probably the lowest in Malaysia. If you are a beginner, Perhentian Island is definitely the place to be!
10. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (Google Maps)
Right opposite of the city of Kota Kinabalu in western Sabah (Borneo) lies the wonderful Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park (TAR Marine Park). This area contains numerous dive sites that are definitely worth a visit. Dive schools mainly operate from out of Kota Kinabalu, though there are also a few that are located on the islands. Similar to Perhentian Island this is a great place to start diving by doing a 4 day PADI course as the dive conditions are optimal for beginners.