Scuba diving is not the cheapest of sports to pursue, but if you're diving in Asia, there are plenty of great dive spots that won't break the bank to explore in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines
I've dived a lot around South East Asia over the last five years, and I've often been surprised at how cheap the diving can be here. If, like me, you like to dive often and travel specifically for the chance to dive, then there are plenty of opportunities to do so without having to spend a huge amount of cash. Indeed, with the cheap flights provided by AirAsia and other budget carriers in Asia, it's possible to dive in several countries within the space of a few weeks and still not break the bank. (Search on Skyscanner to compare AirAsia flights with other airlines).
As such, I thought I would start a list here on Divehappy of cheap places to dive in South East Asia. The list below is by no means definitive and I welcome suggestions in the comments of other places to add to it. I have stuck with places and dive operators that I have personally visited and dived with.
The benchmark I've used is the cost of a one or two fun dives (ie assuming you're already certified to dive) including all scuba gear. Virtually all operators offer package deals which make dives cheaper, so this is just a rough benchmark to help comparisons.
Koh Tao is the most popular place to get certified as a diver in Asia Pacific outside of Cairns and it's a renown backpacker destination.
Located on the West Coast, Koh Lanta is Koh Phi Phi's sleepy neighbour and much more relaxed as a result. Lanta has access to some of Thailand's best dive sites - Koh Haa, Hin Daeng/Hin Muang and Koh Bida.
Price: 2 dives are twice the price of Koh Tao - 3700 Baht or $110 US approx - because the dive sites are much further away - and you get breakfast and lunch included. The diving here is pretty amazing because the sites are so remote. See AmazingLanta.com for pricing. You can also do liveaboards from Koh Lanta that can help you save on accommodation and food costs.
See my article on diving Koh Lanta.
Khao Lak: Similan Islands Liveaboard
The Similan Islands are widely regarded as Thailand's best dive spot and are extremely popular. You can do day trips by speedboat but the best way to see them is on a liveaboard.
Price: A 4 Day / 4 night Similan Island liveaboard costs 19400 Baht all inclusive which is around $560. You get 14 dives, which is 1385 Baht a dive - but you're also getting 4 nights free accommodation and all your food too. To get maximum dive bang for your buck, liveaboards are hard to beat. See the Phuket Diving Safaris site for a good example of an established budget Similan liveaboard and my Similan Liveaboard report for more info.
Bali - Tulamben
The world famous wreck of the USS Liberty lies just off Tulamben Beach, a sleepy village in northern Bali that has some amazing diving. Great place for beginners to get lots of dives in.
Price: $30 US a dive - $100 for unlimited dives during one day (5 is probably most you could do) as offered by Tulamben Wreck Divers.
If you like seeing weird and wonderful underwater creatures, this is the place to come. Lembeh has an amazing array of marine life and is very affordable too.
Price: NAD Lembeh resort offers $399 for 8 dives and four nights accommodation and all meals - so that works out as $50 a dive, but you need to factor in the accomm and meals as part of that - see NAD Lembeh's rates page.
A remote spot at the northern-western tip of Indonesia, Palau Weh is a superb location for doing lots of cheap dives on the huge house reef right in front of the resort, as well as taking a boat to explore further afield. Full details in the Palau Weh trip report.
The Perhentians have long been a backpacker haven, two small islands with nothing but beach - no roads, no traffic. There's some nice diving around the area too and a good variety of fish life.
Price: 80 Malaysian Ringgit - around $21 a dive - see Turtle Bay Divers and look under the Price List link.
See also my Scuba Diving the Perhentian Islands: A Quick Guide and my Perhentian Islands article for Asian Diver.
Despite having a huge coastline, Vietnam doesn't get much dive attention. There are some interesting spots to explore but the main area is Nha Trang.
Price: $40 for one dive in Nha Trang, $60 for 2 dives. You can read my Nha Trang report for more info.
Sogod is a hidden gem in the Philippines, pristine reefs and annual visits by whale sharks.
In Davao in the southern Philippines, it's even cheaper - 1150 Pesos per dive - $26 US at WindAndWaveDavao.com. Davao is a little known macro heaven - I wrote a full article about Davao for Scuba Diver AustralAsia magazine a while ago.
There are loads of other places in the Philippines to go diving from the beach (eg Anilao, Puerto Galera, MoalBoal, Apo Island etc) and they won't be that much more expensive (or much cheaper) than these places. See my Best Scuba Diving In The Philippines article for a rundown of what's great about each of these places.
That is a quick rundown of places I've been too that are cheap to dive - I know there are many more (for example, Tioman and Redang in Malaysia, Sihanoukville in Cambodia, etc). If you have suggestions of other cheap places to dive, please leave a comment and include a specific dive operator you recommend so I can check their prices. Thanks!