Photo: Getting ready to dive near Komodo National Park.

Scuba diving in Asia forum

Philippines or Indonesia?

Posted by Jacster on 2/8/2009 at 05:06

I'm planning to escape the office for 4 weeks in February next year. I'm trying to decide beween the Philippines and Indonesia - and struggling!

What recommendations do you have?

(PS - I'm an Advanced PADI diver (logged 50 dives), currently retraining with BSAC and doing UK diving over the summer, confident underwater, experience of handling strong currents and wreck diving. Looking for stunning reefs, wrecks, a few of the 'big things')

#1 Jacster has been a member since 6/8/2006. Posts: 18

Posted by swag on 2/8/2009 at 06:02

Hi jacster, a trip i have had on the radar for quite a while is diving off north sulawesi. There is the world class Bunaken marine park for corals, muck diving in the Lembeh straits if you like the little critters or trips to Sangihe islands. You have choices of wreck diving, underwater volcanoes,etc.As you have an AOW ticket you should have no problems with the strong currents that can be there.Hope this helps

#2 swag has been a member since 28/3/2007. Location: Australia. Posts: 331

Posted by SBE on 2/8/2009 at 06:56

Indonesia definitely. I'm not a diver (yet) ;-) but have snorkelled a lot in Indonesia and what I saw in the Philippines last year just doesn't compare. The fish are fewer, much smaller and the coral isn't as varied or abundant. (The result of over-fishing no doubt)

Bunaken and Siladen both have deep drop offs and an amazing variety of corals. A couple of years ago I snorkelled in the company of a dugong for a couple of hours and saw marlin and dolphins jumping quite often. Didn't see any of these on my last trip unfortunately though the corals are as beautiful as ever and there are still lots of fish.

Another good place for diving is around Komodo....guaranteed manta rays. The dive trips are organized in Labuan Bajo.

There's also good diving off Pulau Weh though maybe not quite as good as the other two.

All these places can have VERY strong currents.

PS I haven't been to Raja Ampat but if I was seriously rich then I think I'd be very tempted indeed to check that out. Looks and sounds fabulous. *sigh* ;-)

#3 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by williamtaylor on 2/8/2009 at 17:11

I think you will find the food served in Indonesia superior to the fodder offered in the Philippines.

#4 williamtaylor has been a member since 9/6/2009. Location: Japan. Posts: 29
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Posted by SBE on 2/8/2009 at 18:43

Yes it's hard (though not impossible)to escape the ubiquitous American style junk food in the Philippines. Mind you, some of the more remote islands in Indonesia don't have much choice either ... nasi goreng/mie goreng or rice and fish three times a day is no doubt healthier but it can get a teeny bit monotonous!

Just had an afterthought ... forgot to factor in THE WEATHER!!! February is still monsoon season in Indonesia. :-(

December and January are usually the wettest months but the monsoon doesn't really end till late March. It can still be very wet and windy in February and that means rough seas, less visibility, cancelled dive trips. It often rains for days on end around Manado (Bunaken) and northern Sumatra (Pulau Weh) but at least the dive sites are very nearby. Flores (Komodo) might be a bit drier but it's further to get to the dive sites.

If you opt for the Philippines then N. Palawan area is supposed to be drier than the rest of the country. I certainly had great weather when I was there in Jan/early February this rained quite a lot on Cebu though.

There's some wreck diving around Coron (Japanese planes from the second world war) and the scenery is spectacular but I didn't find the fish/coral all that mind-blowing and the visibility wasn't as good as the places I mentioned in Indo in my other post.

Although you can't stay there, Tubbataha sounds rather good, lots of big stuff, but I'm not sure if the park is open in February and wikipedia makes it sound like the dive boats there are booked out years in advance.

Apo reef might be another option .... I haven't been there but it looked pretty nice from the air!

The Philippines are more expensive than Indonesia, far more geared to extracting every possible dollar from tourists. Chinese New year is mid-February so it'll be busy with hordes of Chinese tourists there too.

Tough choice.

#5 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by Jacster on 2/8/2009 at 19:45

Thanks all for your replies. They've been so helpful. :-)

Based on what you've said, I've looked up a few more places in detail and think I'm going to choose Indonesia. Bunaken, Lembeh, Sangihe, Komodo, maybe a few more places if I can squeeze them in.

I have some flexibility with my holiday dates, so can take the 4 weeks a bit later in the year (that might actually suit my boss better and help ensure it doesn't get pruned down to three weeks!)

Which time of year would be best for North Sulawesi and Flores diving to miss the monsoons, etc and get best visibility?

Thanks all so much for your help! :-)

#6 Jacster has been a member since 6/8/2006. Posts: 18

Posted by SBE on 2/8/2009 at 21:03

I'd say any time between late March and late November would be fine. I'd avoid July/August because it's peak season .... not as easy to get good accommodation and there will be more people on the dives.

I tend to always go to Indonesia in the Autumn ... conditions in September and October are usually perfect but the weather tends to start getting iffy mid to late November and by early December the monsoon really starts to hit. I was on Sulawesi all last March too and although there were still the occasional storms, it didn't really affect things that much. Visibility was still very good most of the time.

#7 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by travelhappy on 22/8/2009 at 05:30

Just to chip in here - Indonesia is definitely the best place to go for diving (probably in the world, let alone Asia) but to get to the really good spots can be quite expensive.

Raja Ampat in February would be the holy grail - as it's so far east, the dive season runs from October through March, while the Komodo season is May through to September. Liveaboards or very expensive resorts are the only way to explore Raja, while Komodo has a mix of liveaboards from lux to modest plus daytrips too.

As SBE notes, Lembeh Strait is brilliant and also very affordable - ideal if you like seeing lots of strange creatures and taking photos.

Bali has some amazing diving, both big and small, also very affordable. Feb might be somewhat rainy though.

The Philippines shouldn't be written off, however - Apo Island (near Dumaguete, not to be confused with Apo Reef) is quietly beautiful, and Sogod Bay, in southern Leyte, is still my favourite secret destination in the Phils - it's almost untouched and the reefs are pristine, plus the chance of seeing whale sharks from March onwards - if you go in Feb, you might get lucky. Tubbataha Reef, the Phils most famous site, is only accessible from April to June each year.

Hope this helps

#8 travelhappy has been a member since 24/9/2007. Posts: 14

Posted by SBE on 22/8/2009 at 15:32

Thanks for all the info travelhappy... especially the Philippines as I've only been there once and didn't have time to see a lot of places. Very useful tips. Is there any (free) offshore snorkelling on Aop island or at Sogot Bay? There wasn't a lot of decent off the beach snorkelling where I went.

#9 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by travelhappy on 22/8/2009 at 17:46

I think Sogod Bay could be great for snorkelling - you can only snorkel with whale sharks there and as far as I remember the reefs are very shallow so ideal for snorkellers - conditions are very calm too with great viz. You'd probably need to go on a boat to get to the reefs tho - Sogod is so underdeveloped that there are 2/3 dive resorts and a local village and that's it! So unless you snorkel the house reef of the resort there's not much else to see without the boat. The house reef at Sogod Bay Scuba Resort where I stayed is gorgeous.

Apo Island has some pretty shallow reefs too, but again, you'd need a boat to access most of them I think.

However, I should hasten to add that I rarely snorkel so I am not necessarily the best judge - this is just my impressions of both places.

#10 travelhappy has been a member since 24/9/2007. Posts: 14

Posted by Jacster on 22/8/2009 at 18:23

What a fantastic bunch of recommendations! Thank you all.

I'm still waiting to find out exactly when I can get set free for 4 weeks, but that's ok, because all your replies have helped me see that no matter when they let me have four weeks off, I have great options.

It's looking like it's not going to be February afer all so I'll add Raja Ampat to my wish list and get there another year. :-)

Indonesia here I come!!

Many thanks! :-)

#11 Jacster has been a member since 6/8/2006. Posts: 18

Posted by SBE on 22/8/2009 at 18:41

Thanks so much for your info divehappy. Sogod sounds perfect and seeing a whale shark has always been near the top of my list of things to do before I die. Nearest so far was a rorqual whale that surfaced next to the NP daytrip boat the first time I went to the Surins but since then the big stuff there seems to be getting rarer each year.

I think my travel plans have just been modified to include a 3 week extension to Sogod and maybe Apo... :-)

#12 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by travelhappy on 22/8/2009 at 18:45

You're welcome SBE! Sogod season is Feb to June if I remember correctly - certainly that's when whale sharks are spotted. Check with the resorts. A friend of mine was just there last month and she came back raving about it - good to know it's not changed in the 2 years since I was there.

Would love to know your thoughts after you've been too.


#13 travelhappy has been a member since 24/9/2007. Posts: 14

Posted by SBE on 22/8/2009 at 18:59

I've got N.Sulawesi booked for March again (good old Air Asia) and will be spending a month there practicing my newly acquired diving skills (assuming I actually manage to pass my OW) but I think I can squeeze in 3 extra weeks after that as I haven't got a flight booked home yet. If so I'd be only too delighted to report back. Many thanks again!

#14 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by travelhappy on 22/8/2009 at 19:07

NAD Lembeh resort in Lembeh is a good choice for comfortable budget diving - Mike and Simon who run it are great guys. Sounds like you are going to have an awesome trip - already looking forward to hearing about it. I'm hopefully off to Komodo in October - can't wait.

#15 travelhappy has been a member since 24/9/2007. Posts: 14

Posted by SBE on 22/8/2009 at 19:53

You are an absolute star Chris! I'm going to be pottering around some reefs off SE Sulawesi when you'll be diving off Komodo I think, but there's a TF pissup near the end of November on Bali if you're still about... I definitely owe you a couple of beers!

#16 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,019
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Posted by travelhappy on 22/8/2009 at 21:47

TF pissup? Stuart kept quiet about that - possibly because he knows I'll drink all the beer. Might be passing thru Bali again end of Nov, will be there mid Oct en route to Komodo - hopefully we'll bump into each other at some point. Happy travels!

#17 travelhappy has been a member since 24/9/2007. Posts: 14

Posted by jessytsmith on 4/3/2010 at 01:52

Hello there.

I have not been fortunate enough to dive at either place, but from what I gather Indonesia is the place to go from those two choice. I've worked on the west coast of Canada as a seafood harvester and there is some beautiful dive areas up there.

Check out this site

Good luck.


Everyone needs a [url=]16 channel dvr[/url]

#18 jessytsmith has been a member since 4/3/2010. Posts: 1

Posted by divejunkie on 6/4/2010 at 21:21

Hi, am new in this forum and so happy to find diving talks :-)

I never dive in Philippines, but I have dive in most of Indonesia underwater for the last 3 years. Let me share with you some of my experiences, hope it can help.

I agree with travelhappy, Raja Ampat is amazing. One of my fav place. Been there 2 times, first trip in September going to the north part. Viz was amazing and so the current. So many fishes, lots of schooling. Second time was on last January, but this time, we went to the south part, Misool. Viz was amazing!! underwater and above water were amaze me. There are 4 dive resorts in Raja Ampat, but price is so expensive. Me and my buddies are budget divers, we prefer to arrange our trip by ourselves. We chartered small boat, enough for 12 divers, then share the cost equally to everyone. Much cheaper than landbase or book thru dive operator. The best way to explore Raja Ampat is by live aboard. Trip start from Sorong. Many flights from Jakarta or Makasar to Sorong. But not from Singapore.

Komodo also amaze me. We did LOB again, start from Labuan Bajo. Dive there around June but only dive in the north part, due to bad weather we couldnt go to the south part. I love pink beach, I seen 'spanish dancer' for the first one during my nite dive. Amazing. In Komodo you can seen both pelagic and macro critters. Also we can do easy trekking to see the dragon in Rinca Island. If you dont want do LOB, lots of guest house and dive operator in Labuan Bajo. I think there are 3 flights from Bali to Labuan Bajo, fly daily.

I dive Alor once, but maybe came in the wrong seasons, no fish :-( but If you guys love nudibranch, so many and so big!!

Bunaken or Bali, everybody already knows. Wide range of dive operator and dive resorts. Bali has mola-mola seasons from June - Sep, Padangbai will be like supermarket of divers! Me dont like it :-(

Never been in Siladen, the resorts is expensive! I love Lembeh though:-) Sulawesi has lots of diving spots. Gorontalo also beautiful, only one dive operator there, miquel diving. Accommodation is really basic and so the food, but diving is good.

Weh is good too, amazing viz and nice landscape. Even after tsunami, underwater life still beautiful. But they lack of accommodation. Well, been there in 2007, heard now Lumba-lumba has their own accommodation, hope its a good one.

If you happen to go to Kalimantan, you can dive in Derawan for the manta. But we were not lucky, we met NO Manta during our trip. Channel in Maratua is my fav with schooling of barracuda.

Ambon and Banda still in my waiting list though.

But I never see Whale Shark, so I guess I should go to Thailand or Philippines. Maybe its about time for me to dive outside Indonesia. I will contact you happydiver if I wanna dive in Thai.

Happy diving and best fishes!

#19 divejunkie has been a member since 6/4/2010. Posts: 21

Posted by travelhappy on 7/4/2010 at 12:33

Hey Divejunkie - that is awesome info. I didn't know you could charter local boats at Raja - can you provide some contact details please? You can email me direct at - cheers!

#20 travelhappy has been a member since 24/9/2007. Posts: 14

Posted by divejunkie on 7/4/2010 at 19:50

Hi Chris,

Sure you can. I always dive with Grand Komodo, will email you their contact details shortly.


#21 divejunkie has been a member since 6/4/2010. Posts: 21

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