I am a bit of a masochist and don't mind flying long haul. I like tropical diving (with sharks of course) so I travel a fair bit to Asia for holidays. I was going to make this a top 5 Asian dive spots post at first, but had trouble deciding what my favorite was in the Philippines, so I decided to do a whole separate post on that country.
#4: Sipadan, Malaysia
Sipadan is a beautiful dive site, but is it really worth the hype? Probably not. A stand-out photo opportunity is the giant shoal of barracudas cruising around. There are also turtles everywhere you look. Actually, there is a lot to see everywhere you look.
How about the rest of your stay, on Mabul island? Given the high demand and despite inflated prices the accommodation and food here is of rather questionable quality. The diving around Mabul is ok, but just that. Most of it is 'muck diving': staring into limited visibility to see how many nudibranches you can spot. After the four days you'll spend marooned here while waiting for your chance to go to Sipadan you'll have had more than enough of the place. Which is why this only comes in at number 4.
#3: Similan Islands, Thailand
The Similan islands are rich in both small and large animals. Count on manta rays and if you are very very lucky, maybe a whale shark. We also saw a huge number of different types of cuttle fish. While diving here is definitely tropical, there are many thermoclines, around which the water can feel decidedly cold.
The Similan islands have a number of advantages: they can be visited over a couple of days, making them perfect as part of a general Thailand trip. Non-diving fellow travellers might find it easier to accompany us on a boat if it's only for two or three nights or they can be left behind at one of the lathe number of hotels in Phuket. Finally, getting to Phuket is usually not that expensive as there are so many flights heading that way.
#2: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Raja Ampat is at the heart of the so-called coral triangle, an area of staggering biodiversity, especially underwater. Nowhere on earth will you see as many different species of marine life as here. This is truly a diver's paradise.
A trip to paradise does not come cheap, however. Mostly accessible only through liveaboard dive boats, a trip will set you back thousands of dollars even without the cost of getting there. You can stay on land at a handful of small resorts, but as it is just as expensive, why would you? But is it worth it? You bet! The good news is that the Indonesian government appears to be genuinelly dedicated to preserve this area. Cost and difficulty of access is why this only comes in at number 2.
#1: Maldives, the whole country!
The main season as far as most tourists go is the dry season, but while visibility is amazing at the time, the lack of nutrients will mean that there is not much around, especially when it comes to big things like manta rays. The cheaper off season is rainy, but underwater it never rains (right?) and this is the time to fully enjoy the consistently high quality of Maldivian dive sites.
The main advantage of the Maldives is that while you can find dive sites which are just as amazing elsewhere, you cannot find anywhere else where every dive site is amazing. Most places will have one or two standouts and for the rest of the time you will be consigned to mediocrity. Not so here. And on top of that you will get to enjoy your land time as well, relaxing on the beach, sitting in the bar or getting a massage. Plus the Maldives also has plenty to offer to non-diving partners and snorkellers. Which is why it has made it all the way to number 1.