Asia has always been my favourite region for travelling and diving. My first visit to Thailand was to Phuket in 1989. The diving was still quite manageable and there were already diving bases, but only a handful. The reefs were untouched and the best diving spots still barely known. I had heard of the fantastic Richelieu Rock - friends told me that hundreds of whale sharks were always there - but it took me another five years before I could travel there myself as my travel budget had not allowed it in 1989. As I arrived, I was intoxicated by the colours and the diversity of fish, but unfortunately I didn't see a whale shark.
I had my first whale shark encounter in the Maldives even though I had previously traveled to so-called 'whale shark destinations'. I had even visited the fabled Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, but the first encounter with a whale shark was after 20 years of diving, in 1999 in the Maldives. This was unbelievable, as many of my students had already seen them on their first holiday to Kenya, but it's always like that - if you want to have something, you don't get it. Asia, and especially the Indian Ocean, is so rich that there is always something exciting to see, whether small or large. I had travelled a lot, disappointed by the whale sharks who scorned me in front of Christmas Island, but I still loved the small things like the colourful dragon moray eels which I have never seen anywhere else before the camera. Also, I visited really nice caves with unique shrimps, saw rare stone fish, fantastic hard coral gardens and the well-known red land crabs. The mixture of fish and coral there was unique and Christmas Island really is worth a visit.
But why am I always pulled back to Asia? Here you find something that neither Arab countries, the Maldives, or the East African coast have to offer: there is a lot of interesting culture, super friendly people, delicious food and beyond that incredibly beautiful and spectacular dive sites. All this at
acceptable prices. For those who want to spend two or more weeks on holiday, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are the most interesting countries. Other countries in the region are following, even if they do not yet have such a wide range of interesting dive destinations.
My wife, Sibylle Gerlinger, and I love Malaysia over everything and would always choose to fly there again. The mixture of Malay hospitality, incredible virgin forests, interesting dive sites and good food make us happy, but we would also always be happy to return to Indonesia and the Philippines. The variety of different dive sites here is incomparable. Price / performance is fabulous and the people are mostly very hospitable, even if they can't keep up with the friendliness of the Thai people - though the food is always better in Thailand -but sometimes you have to make a compromise. Maybe with a trip to Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Island!?
Author: Gerald Nowak