Layang Layang (Malay: Pulau Layang-Layang) is an island situated 300 km north of the coast of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. A part of the disputed Spratly Islands, the island is also claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines, and is occasionally known in English as Swallow Reef.
This dive resort is situated on a coral atoll along with a small Malaysian Naval base. The naval base is completely off limits - island visitors are warned that wandering into the naval base area will result in detention. The island has been reclaimed from the ocean and artificially increased in size by use of concrete rubble; thus, there are no sandy beaches to walk on, just concrete boulders. There is a sealed air strip on the island.
Layang Layang is situated in very deep waters with the drop off outside the island's reef falling away to approximately 2000 metres. Given its location in the middle of nowhere, the ocean waters are clear and unpolluted. Deep water marine species such as hammerhead sharks visit, as do whale sharks. The corals are in pristine condition, and with no fishing permitted, the fish life is abundant.
The island's solitary resort is open from March to August only. November to February is considered "Monsoon Season."
For most visitors, the most common option for scuba diving is to fly on the Layang Layang chartered flight which operates several flights per day during the peak season from Kota Kinabalu. Check with dive resort for flight schedules. As of 2012, the flight cost precisely US$360 return, including taxes. Flight time is about one hour. In addition to the one resort on the island, there are at least two liveaboards that visit the island and sail from Kota Kinabalu.
The process is that you arrive at the KK International Air terminal in Kota Kinabalu about 05:00, and both you and your luggage are weighed. After a hour or two waiting around whilst luggage and food is loaded, the flight departs.
Note that small freight planes are used. The largest can take about 20 people and you board through the rear cargo ramp. There is a lovely scenic view of the cargo plane interior - not every seat pair has a window, only the emergency exits. Given the humidity, when the aircon system starts during the flight, there is a lot of smoke-like mist which pours from the ceiling vents - this is not a cause for alarm but is enough to set off the nervous flyer. Spare seats are occupied by your dive bags and trays of eggs and onions. This all makes for an interesting flight - take a book.
It's mostly underwater... For the non-scuba diver, there is not a lot to see on the island unless you are an avid bird watcher and/or snorkeller. It is a good place to learn to dive, but you must make arrangements before embarking on your journey. Amateur Radio (HAM Radio) operators are also seeking activities from this island since it is renowned as a rare DX entity. If you are a non-diver travelling with a diver or dive group, consider staying behind to enjoy the things to see in Kota Kinabalu.
The island is renowned for its amazing scuba diving opportunities, and this is the only real reason for visiting the island.
Each dive is done as a group under the direction of a dive master and a boat driver. Before each dive, the dive master will take your group through the dive plan i.e. underwater itinerary, maximum depth, bottom time, low air metric, usual marine sightings, etc. Usually you have the same boat for the duration of your trip and so you leave your dive gear in the boat only taking with you your computers and cameras after each dive. Someone else takes care of replacing your air cylinder between dives - but don't be slack - check your air pressure and attachments as soon as you board the boat for your dive rather than just before you jump in.
The dive centre expects that everyone is diving with a computer and the Dive Masters reserve the right to check/monitor your dive computer to make sure you haven't exceeded maximum depth etc. If you are found to have exceeded then you face a 24 hour diving ban. In addition, there is no diving for the rest of the day once you've consumed alcohol.
The dive rules are: maximum depth 40 metres and no deco time allowed - there is NO decompression chamber available; hence, if you get bent, then you are in trouble. Air is the only gas mix available - there is no Nitrox or other blends, hence no Technical diving possible. The island also has a no gloves policy for divers.
Dive gear rental is available at the Dive Centre. If you have your own gear, it's best to take it with you as the rental gear isn't well maintained and is old, faded and getting worn out. Most divers that visit Layang Layang are fairly experienced and thus take their own gear.
Dive photography is a big thing at the island and there is an annual digital photography competition with prizes sufficient to attract the serious marine photographer.
There are twelve or so dive sites - all which are accessed by boat and are from 5-15 minutes away from the dive centre. The visibility is usually very good at 20 metres and more. The water temperature is somewhere around 30 degrees C. Each dive will give you opportunity to see large creatures such as sharks, turtles and manta rays - maybe even the elusive hammerhead shark. A vast array of intact, unbleached hard and soft corals, barrel sponges, gorgonian fans, schools of large fish and the usual array of colourful little fish are easy to see on each dive. The diving conditions such as current will vary with the weather and the dive master will select a suitable site accordingly.
- Crack Reef
- D Wall
- Navigator's Lane
- Snapper's Ledge
- The Tunnel
- Wrasse Strip
- Dog Tooth Lair
- Gorgonian Forest
- Shark's Cave
- The Runaway
- The Valley
- The Point - For a chance to see any hammerheads, this is the location where divers swim away from the reef at the beginning of the dive into the blue at about 30-35 metres depth for about 5-10 minutes before returning to the reef and completing the remaining 30 minutes slow ascending dive along the reef wall.
- Pier Diving - Diving is available from the pier but with the sandy bottom and movement of the boats, it is very murky with visibility being 2-4 metres. That being said, there is an amazing array of marine life to be seen directly under the pier from huge moray eels to baby lion fish. Pier dives are offered for those wanting to do a night dive without the expense of chartering a boat and also as the last dive of your visit.
Bird watching - A number of species of birds nest and visit the island such as Black-napped tern, Great crested tern, Sooty tern, Brown booby, Lesser frigatebird, Pacific golden plover, Plumed and Pacific-reef egrets and Ruddy tern. Also there are lots of Barn swallows and Yellow wagtails. During the right time of the year, this would present good observing and photography opportunities for the bird watching enthusiast.
Sun bathe - in between dives, there are deck chairs around the resort's pool for a spot of sun bathing but remember the sun is strong and don't get sun burnt.
Note that there are no entertainment facilities for children, i.e. no playground, no sandy beach, no special meals and no children's club activities.
There are no shops at the island so take everything you need with respect to personal items, medicines, reading material, etc. The Resort does sell a few tourist items such as t-shirts and diving books.
It will probably be the case that you have already paid in full for your dive and accommodation package and flight prior to arriving at the island. Any expenses you incur on the island can be settled with a major credit card, hence cash is not required.
Tipping is not generally expected in Malaysia.
All meals are included in the accommodation package and are served in the resort dining area.
There are 5 meals served each day. A light breakfast of cereal/toast; a substantial buffet breakfast after the first dive of the day; another large buffet lunch; afternoon tea snack followed by a decent buffet dinner.
All meals are self-serve style. There is no room service or A-la-carte menu.
If you do have specific dietary needs, then advise the resort at time of booking to make sure they have prepared menus in advance as there are no supermarkets or food shops on the island. If you are a snack food devotee as there is a very limited range of bar snack foods.
The resort has a bar where you can purchase drinks including beer, soft drinks and cocktails.
The Layang Layang Island Resort is the only place to stay on the island. The resort operates between March and August. A five-night package (twin sharing) cost US$1490/960 per person for diver/non-diver in 2012.
The rooms are comfortable albeit a little dated. The rooms are air-conditioned, have their own bathroom, two comfortable double beds and are well cleaned. Cable TV, with a narrow channel selection, is in each room but don't expect a remote control. The cleaners also create marine creatures on your bed out of towels - it may well be the only hammerhead you see! Electricity power plugs are UK-style.
There is a satellite telephone system and you can arrange to make calls from the reception desk - call charges apply. As of 2008 Mobile phones work on the island under Celcom.
Wireless internet is available for those who bring their own laptops etc.
The only option to leave the island is by return air charter flight. The process is that you settle up your bill the night before. A wake up call at 06:45, with you and your luggage then weighed about 07:00, followed by a basic breakfast and departure around 08:30.
Travel back to Kota Kinabalu by boat is a very long option (16 hours) and not readily available to the scuba diving traveller.