How long can you hold your breath for?
Freediving is a form of underwater diving that relies on the divers’ ability to hold their breath for the whole length of the dive. Called the “ballsiest sport on Earth” and boasting a movie by Luc Besson made in its honor, freediving is not for the faint of heart.
Yet, with no bulky gear or oxygen tanks required, it is believed by many to be the most organic and calm way to explore the ocean — all the while pushing your body and mind to the extremes of stamina and self control.
Whether you are an experienced freediver or are just looking to get started, here are the top 5 best freediving spots in Asia.
Rough Around The Edges
Location: western shore of the Gulf of Thailand
Size: 21 km²
Diving season: late December to late October
Great for: all sorts of diving
Don’t leave without: a banana Nutella pancake after a dive; diver chats
From the moment you step foot onto the wooden pier of Koh Tao, and even more after you go deeper into the island, you will see why Koh Tao is called “divers’ island”, and if you’ve ever been to this type of island before, it will all start to feel painfully familiar. Painfully is the key word here. The island seems to be home to the highest concentration of pharmacies ever found in a vacation spot — and there is a reason. You will see lines of cut, scratched or limping divers starting their day under the symbolic green cross between heading for a quick breakfast at 7/11 or grabbing the signature banana Nutella pancake at a street stall. Not because it’s a particularly dangerous spot, but because every visitor to the island seems to be a diver or adventure enthusiast!
The island is not specifically a freediving destination, but rather a hub for all sorts of diving techniques, making it the perfect networking ground and a great spot to get started.
There is no shortage of free diving schools in Koh Tao, with the two biggest ones being Apnea Total and Blue Immersion.
Insider tips: If you are a beginner, we suggest you go with Apnea Total, as the rules on getting certified with the school are less strict. For instance, you will not have to go head down for the dives. Blue Immersion follows a different strategy and you will need to master the “head down” technique before moving further with the course.
Idyllic and Calm
Location: part of a three-island archipelago off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia
Size: 3 km long x 2 km wide
Diving season: May to November
Good for: peace and quiet
Don’t leave without: snorkeling with turtles
If you seek tranquility, the Trawangan island off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia is the place to pin down on your map. Featuring stunning turquoise waters, soft sandy beaches, friendly reggae bars lining the coast and an atmosphere that is impossible to re-create anywhere else, Trawangan is the perfect spot for yoga, mindfulness and freediving.
Freedive Gili is the only school on the island—and a great one. Founded by the charismatic couple Mike and Kate, the school lets you explore the sport at your own pace, complimented with yoga and breathing classes in the morning. Here, freediving takes a step up from just challenging you physically and you get to explore the mental techniques involved in the sport, as well as the way to apply them after you head home: to relieve stress, deal with difficult life situations, handle work pressure and more.
Insider tips: With the formal part of the training completed and time left to spare, why not hire a boat with a local guide and go snorkeling with the turtles— a common sight further off the coast.
Tioman Island, Malaysia
Coral Reef Exploration
Location: off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia
Size: 39 km long x 12 km wide
Diving season: end of January-mid November
Good for: freediving and snorkeling coral reefs
Don’t leave without: snorkeling in marine reserves
Tioman Island in Malaysia first hit the spotlight in the 1970 — when it was declared one of the world’s most beautiful islands by Time Magazine. Now, Tioman is one of the hot spots for scuba diving because of the numerous coral reefs surrounding it.
Freediving on the island is organized by Freedive Tioman, a branch of Apnea Total.
The school is located right on the beach near Swiss Cottage Resort (a convenient option if you want to reside right next to the action). With its own house-reef, the school not only teaches you how to explore the ocean on one breath, but also has a scenic underwater location for you to test your skills. So, if simply climbing down the line into the blue does not seem challenging enough, Tioman offers variety.
With the marine area around the island and its neighbors declared marine parks and reserves, snorkeling in Tioman is a must-do.
Yo-ho-ho, and a Bottle of Rum!
Location: part of Calamian Archipelago in Northern Palawan, separating the South China Sea from the Sulu Sea
Size: 689.1 km²
Diving season: November to May (best visibility)
Good for: lost treasure hunts
Don’t leave without: an attempt at a fun dive
Dubbed the “shipwreck diving capital of the Philippines”, Coron is listed in Forbes magazine under Top 10 Scuba Diving Sites in the World.
The island also offers an amazing experience for seasoned certified freedivers, who want to take their adventures to the next level and start uncovering the secrets that lie beneath.
While all the regular and intro courses are on offer, the true attraction are the “fun dives” that take you on a day-long exploration boat trip to three shipwrecks where, under the watchful eye of experienced professionals, you get to dive down to the three ship wrecks — the remains of the Japanese fleet that sank here in 1944.
Freediving Coron is one of the schools that will let you get started from the basics or dive right into the adventure with a 1.5-hour single session at Barracuda Lake or a one-day freediving activity.
Giant Fish Sightings
Location: southeast of Bali, separated by the Badung Straight
Size: 8 km²
Diving season: July to mid November for Mola Mola sightings
Good for: marine life encounters
Don’t leave without: a Mola Mola selfie
And we’re back in Indonesia. Another fun spot for advanced freedivers is Coral Bay, where, if weather conditions permit, you will get to dive with the Mantas and Mola Molas. Haven’t had the chance to get acquainted with these yet? Mantas are large rays that reach up to 23 feet in width and, despite their formidable hugeness, are absolutely harmless.
Mola Molas (also known as ocean sunfish) are the heaviest known bony fish in the world with their weight reaching up to 2,205 lbs. With their peculiar looks, the fish are always a fun sight.
However, the journey towards the encounters is complicated by changing weather conditions and swells that make diving impossible. For the determined and the patient, though, the experience is well worth the effort and rewards with lasting memories and stunning underwater photos worthy of the National Geographic.
Fusion Freediving and Yoga is the biggest school in the area that organizes both freediving courses and encounter dives.