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I travel a lot...check in with me and I'll tell you.
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Best Inexpensive Dive Sites: SE Asia/India
The backstory: I'm planning a trip to either SE Asia or India. I'd like to head somewhere cheap and easy to travel with access to rock climbing and scuba diving. I have a lot of writing/internet based work to do, so it would nice to "live" in each dive city for a few weeks before moving on. I want to keep costs down and keep things flexible -- it would be great to dive for a few days, but also have the ability to take time to work when I want it. This rules out liveaboards and big flashy resorts with package deals.
I'm not a very experienced diver (around 25 dives I think), but I've been lucky to dive at some amazing sites: Roatan, Honduras; Cozumel/Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Big Island, Hawaii. If I could replicate the experience I had in Roatan -- tons of reputable shops, most everyone focused on diving, cheap enough accommodations that I could dive some days and work the others -- I would be very happy.
1. Where is the best place to go for value diving in SE Asia or India? -- I only have an OW, but I've been fairly deep (did a wreck that sat around 105 feet), and would love to work on becoming a "better" diver.
2. How "easy" is it to travel in the place you are recommending? -- I'm really not picky, I've slept on dirt floored huts in the past, but for this trip, I need Wi-fi access, and would love if I wasn't hassled for money constantly, could get by on English and pleasantries in the local language, etc.
3. What is the proximity to a major airport? -- for example, if you recommend I go to Hai Phong, Vietnam, it'll be easiest to start by getting to Ha Noi.
Check out Pulau Weh - awesome diving and a great place to chill and spend time working too... Also take a look at Malapascua in the Philippines, and for your rock climbing fix head to Krabi on the west coats of Thailand...
"A little learning is a dangerous thing" - Alexander Pope
I dove every year on a budget similar . Pula weh is by far the cheapest and better than anything in Thailand. Fly into kl then book an air Asia flight for dirt cheap. Bali is also very cheap and you can head down to Komodo which is prob the best diving I've done. I'll be in the area in jan.
Anywhere in the Visayas/Phils would be the best bet for inexpensive & great dive quality. Cebu city/Mactan airport would be your entry, then head to Moalboal, Bohol, Cabilao or elsewhere.
Dived Pulau Weh in august, I was far to be impressed, probably better than most of Thailand but still below most of Indonesia and Phils divespots. The best spots like "the Canyons" can be fairly deep (35-40m) and current also rage, not recommended for less experienced divers.
In order i would suggest the following in terms of best diving available in Asia - Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand,
There are some cheap options in the Adamans (off India) but difficult to get to. India , Vietnam are not popular dive destinations
In terms of cost of hol/living/diving.. the Philippines will be your best bet. Lots of options by flying into Cebu city.
For Indonesia i would recommend Bali. Cheap accom is available near the good dive sites in the North. Bali is very easy for a 1st time traveller to Asia.
Just be aware that general Wifi can be very slow in various dive locations in Indo/Phil/Thailand.
Thailand may not offer the best diving in Asia , but makes up for it in other areas (food,beaches,nightlife,shopping,easy travel,general backpacking)
Generally cost of a dive in Asia is approx $30-40.
When do you intend to travel. Some areas will be better than others depending on period of travel.
Perhaps Krabi in southern Thailand may be your best bet if you are only looking to do a handful of dives.
Krabi is stunning, great beach, dive sites 1hr away, world class climbing & cheap backpacker accom available. Easy to fly to from Bangkok. Ao nang is less than 1 hr from Krabi airport. Internet access will be ok.
I've been working on building a map for myself that cross references climbing and dive sites in various places.
Thailand and Vietnam have the best-known climbing spots, which include deep water solo over lovely tropical water. Of course there's climbing everywhere but Tonsai/Railay and Halong Bay have an impressive concentration and development (note, I've only been to the former, having only researched the latter). Can't speak for the diving in Vietnam, but I remember there being a dive shop in Tonsai that offered trips out to Koh Phi Phi (wasn't blown away by their prices but it wasn't bad). On the NW side of Phuket is some diving that is highly regarded; I'm going to do a liveaboard in late January at Similan and Richelieu Rock, and then I'm going to Tonsai to climb for a week. Might even pop down to Phi Phi to hang with some friends and try snorkeling there.
Further south, Malaysia has some great diving in various places. I got certified in Tioman, and there was a little bit of bouldering and on the other side of the island, some sport routes.
Can't speak to many other places yet, but I intend to hit up as many quality spots as I can in the coming years.
I haven't dived yet in the Philippines, but my friend got her rescue cert in Coron, off Palawan. Said it was amazing, and there were wrecks to dive. I snorkeled in El Nido (Palawan) and Puerto Galera (near Batangas, a couple hours from Manila). Both were amazing, but I'd have to say that Puerto Galera was even more impressive. Can't speak to the dive sites but the shallows were awesome. Saw very little climbing out there though, aside from one fun beach climb i spotted all the rocks I found were beautiful but razor sharp! Saw some bolted routes up in Sagada, but very far from the diving.
If you ever feel like spending a bit more, there's the Great Barrier Reef and Yongala wreck near Cairns. Down south towards Melbourne you've got the Grampians and Arapiles for quality climbing. My friend said he spent a lot on his dives in Australia but they were worth it!
Since you're going to be on Phi Phi, Griddable, did you know there's a climbing outfit there, too?
Well, Phi Phi is a potential spot, but I'm mostly aiming to go back to Tonsai and climb those beautiful limestone cliffs. What's the operation like on Phi Phi? Is it just deep water trips or are there places to climb on the island itself?