PULAU Sipadan has something Hong Kong does not: peace and tranquillity both above and beneath the waves. The sea was good enough for oceanographer Jacques Cousteau to declare the waters around the island, off the coast of Sabah, an underwater haven among the best in the world for scuba diving. Sipadan and other diving places have, in the past few years, become more popular with Hong Kong's harried executives and jet-setters from elsewhere, but they have always been an escape for Malaysians. The scuba-diving getaways are part of the growing phenomenon of adventure holidays in Malaysia. Zulkifly Said, the overseas director of the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board in Hong Kong, said a small but growing number of foreign travellers had chosen to forego the usual tourists' coach-and-bus ordeal to the well-worn haunts - especially if they had been there already - for the fresh air, lush rain forests, crystal waters and the desired mixture that adventure holidays provided. Mr Said said thrill-seekers or nature-lovers could choose between camping, trekking, bird watching, angling, cave exploring, off-road driving, mountain climbing, white-water rafting and canoeing as well as scuba diving. ''More people from Hong Kong are going for the adventure holidays,'' he said. ''They have become exhausted with the normal tour packages on buses, especially if they have been to those places before. ''Adventure holidays are beginning to attract the executives, the yuppies. Last year, there were more Hong Kong people going to Malaysia on adventure holidays than there were on group tours.'' Overall, people on group tours still made up 55 per cent of the visitors to Malaysia. The balance were foreign independent travellers and, of these, only a few chose to go on adventure holidays, he said. The two most popular places for scuba diving were Sipadan and Layang-layang islands, which were both off the coast of Sabah in East Malaysia. Also off Sabah were Mamutik, Manukan, Gaya, Sapi and Sulug. Other well-established diving spots in peninsula Malaysia included Perhentian, Redang and Kapas islands off Terengganu state; Sibu, Mentinggi, Besar, Hujung, Rawa, and Aur islands off Johor; Tioman island off Pahang; and Payar, Segantang, Kala, and Lembu islands off Kedah. But foreign and local divers alike found the clearest waters, and the most breathtaking diving, off Sipadan and Layang-layang. ''Sipadan is well-known, but Layang-layang is relatively unexplored, said Mr Said. ''It has been promoted as a diving site for only a year; it's the new option for divers.'' There were no additional diving sites planned for promotion, he said. ''Layang-layang is for the more adventurous - the depth at some spots can reach 670 m, although the divers may be only 20 m from the shore. Some people have said they have seen hammerhead sharks off Layang-layang,'' he said. At most of Malaysia's diving spots, the water is warm and clear, with visibility from 25 m to 40 m. Even at a depth of six metres, the colours of marine life corals - Couries, Nudibranches, Seafans and Feather Star - come alive before a diver's eyes. There are 10 mapped dive sites around the 13 inter-linking coral reefs that make Pulau Layang-layang - some with names as exotic as Snapper Ledge, Wreck Point and Dog Tooth Lair. Among many things divers can see are Giant Red Coral Trout, between 10 kilograms and 15 kg; a sharks' cave at 30 m; soft coral, fan and large table coral at 25 m; giant clams, moral eels and lobsters at 10 m; yellow fin tuna, dog tooth tuna and barracuda; and hammerhead sharks at 40 m. Fishing was banned at diving spots ''because of these areas' natural beauty, and the requests of operators and divers that they be preserved'', said Mr Said. Package prices include return fares, accommodation, diving tanks, weights and belts, a dive guide, and three dives a day. Generally, they start from $8,800 for a five-day/four-night, twin-share package during the low season, to $13,600 for a high season nine-day/eight-night, twin-share package. Scuba diving has its seasons: in East Malaysia it is from April to October; and in peninsula Malaysia it runs from October to March.