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Advice in choosing between Philippines and Malaysia


my girlfriend and I are planning our next vacation in march / april 2023. We are thinking about going to the Philippines or Malaysia for 2 1/2 - 3 weeks, however, we cannot decide which destination better suits our requirements.

We are looking to do the following activities:

1) Diving

We want to see big, pelagic fish or wrecks and have little to no interest for muck diving diving (macro). From our research, Malapascua (Philippines; thresher sharks etc.) and Sipadan (Malaysia) seem to fit the bill. We have been diving all over the world (multiple times in the Maldives), so our expectations are set up pretty high in this regard.

2) Enjoying nice, sandy beaches (swimming, snorkeling)

We have the feeling that the Philippines have the nicer beaches (Boracay, El Nido). However, we did not exhaustively research this topic yet. Where are the nicest beaches in Malaysia located? What would you recommend overall?

3) Exploring the local culture

We would also like to include visiting temples and similar sights during our vacation (for instance in Cebu or Kuala Lumpur). Which country has more to offer in this regard?

Basically we are planning to combine two different locations within the same country for around 2 1/2 - 3 weeks.

So far, we have only been to Indonesia in South-East Asia. While being there, we really enjoyed being in Java (volcanoes, temples) and Bali (diving, beaches). Now, we are looking for a similar experience (with much better diving) in the Philippines or Malaysia.

We appreciate your help a lot and hope to find the right choice with your guidance!

Posted by
2680 posts

The country with the most beautiful beaches and there are many are the Philippines which currently has a level 2 travel advisory (exercise increased caution) where Malaysia is a level 1 (exercise normal precaution). Malaysia suits your third option more so than the Philippines.

Posted by
7191 posts

I have been to both countries, but not to dive.

I felt that the Philippines had more to offer than Malaysia, but if you do Malaysia, you could spend a few days in Singapore.

We very much liked Singapore.

Posted by
114 posts

Our new in-laws are from Philippines and we are always amazed by the pictures they send from beaches and national parks there. Just stunning. We can’t wait to go and see in person.

Let us know which trip you decide on, and how it went!

Posted by
3039 posts

Fellow diver here and have been once to the Philippines (Anilao) and twice to Indonesia (Wakatobi on Southeast Suluwesi and Nad, Lembeh, an island off North Suluwesi). Philippines was muck diving and never saw the Pelagics in Indonesia. For the big stuff go to the Galapagos or Cocos. Even Maui has a Hammerhead dive off Molokai. Although beaches in short supply at those locations. Just my two cents. Check out scubaboard for more research. This is a Europe centric forum and doubt there are many avid divers on here.

Posted by
4352 posts

Malaysia is basically a first world country and there's little worry concerning crime or bus strikes or vehicles breaking down. There are good beaches at Tioman, Penang, and especially Lang Kawi. There are 3 main cultures so there's that. English is a national language.

The Philippines is a poor country where stuff will go wrong, it's dirtier and there's lots of litter. English is also a national language. There are no temples to speak of, it's a Catholic country.

Indonesia had the best snorkeling I have experienced, I am not sure either of the countries you are suggesting this time will be as good.

Posted by
34 posts

Pulau Tioman off the east coast of Malaysia has a lot to offer - the most extensive underwater sea life I've ever seen. It's inexpensive, safe, but not very developed. You can rent a local boat for the day to take you out to sites in the South China Sea. Really impressive. Malaysia is an overlooked destination in my view.

Posted by
62 posts

I know this isn't quite an option you presented, but just throwing in another option for you. I've not been to Malaysia, but have several Malaysian friends who tell me aside from their beaches, they don't know why tourists visit. But hey, they may take what they have for granted :)

We did KL in Malaysia right before Covid and enjoyed our time, but got bored after 2-3 days. We did NOT explore the rest of Malaysia at the time.. instead we combined our trip with Singapore and Thailand.

And this my other option. Visit Malaysia, spend some time, but consider adding Thailand. I am not as experienced or world diver as you, but I've dived out of Phuket in the Andaman sea and LOVED it. I also did diving from Bali, and much preferred my diving out of Phuket. If you really want to do more diving, you can lookup the many liveaboards too. I didn't do them, but remember hearing a lot of good things from fellow divers while on the boat.