Pulau Layang-layang, also known as Swallow Reef, is an oceanic atoll nestled in the mythical and mystical Spratly Islands archipelagos administered by Malaysia. The atoll measures 7 km long and 2 km wide with a central lagoon. It is located 300 km north-west of its state capital, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The atoll is fringed by 13 coral atolls linked together in a donut shape, creating a relatively calm central lagoon. On the rim of the atoll is a 2000 m vertical drop.
During the past few decades, Pulau Layang-Layang has garnered the interest of divers all over the world due its constant presence of migratory hammerhead sharks that “transit” around the area between the months of April and September.
The average water temperature is 22 to 32 °C, with typical visibility of 60-80 meters. Pristine clear waters, as well as the 2000 m sheer drop around the atoll’s rim, has attracted a multitude of big fishes such as napoleon wrasse, manta ray, giant humphead wrasse, hawkbill turtles, dogtooth tuna, and several species of sharks – reef, hammerhead, leopard and nurse. Many divers have described the place as a “pelagic mecca”. The lack of commercial fishing and human encroachment has led to incredibly healthy and stunning coral reefs that are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
This tiny atoll, like most of Spratly Islands, is subject to much regional controversy over countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and China laying claims on the islands. The Royal Malaysian Navy has maintained a military base here since 1983.
The island can be reached either by taking a one hour flight in, or by enduring an 18-hour cruise from the mainland. Flights to the island are operated exclusively by Malaysia Airlines as chartered flights which must be booked through authorized travel providers.
A return flight in and out of the island is currently fixed at SGD 640 per person, inclusive of 25 kg luggage allowance, as of Feb 2019. Bookings are subject to tedious, rigorous bureaucratic red tapes and confirmation processes. It is best to leave these heavy lifting to us so that you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Flight times are as below:
Kota Kinabalu to Layang Layang: 0530 – 0630
Layang Layang to Kota Kinabalu: 0710 – 0810
Unfortunately, being a chartered, flights are not confirmed until typically two weeks from departure – so hold off your outwards connecting flight until you’ve received confirmation.
Transport around the atoll is either by foot or by resort’s boats.
Pulau Layang-Layang is operated on a “One Island, One Resort” concept, where “Layang-Layang Island Resort” is the sole resort on the island. This 3-star dive resort offers a rustic, comfortable atmosphere with architectures that closely resemble typical Sabahan long houses.
- 46 tastefully appointed rooms with en-suite shower, mini bar, telephone, private veranda, TV (Astro) and coffee and tea making facilities.
- Swimming pool
- Restaurant of 150-person capacity serving both asian and continental cuisine.
- Bar serving exotic cocktails and refreshing soft drinks.
- Souvenir shop & Conferences room.
Rooms come in three discerning options:
- Standard – Designed along the concept of a traditional Sabahan long house, the Standard room is a cozy room with rustic feel. With extra large twin beds and en-suite bathroom, it offers a comfortable and refreshing stay after a day of dive adventure.
- Deluxe – Enjoy the luxury of space in the well-appointed Deluxe room. Unwind in the Jacuzzi of the en-suite bathroom before retiring the day into the King bed of signature 10-inch mattress with airy-feathered pillows for extra comfort.
- Suite – Turn yourself into the King or Queen of the island. With a separate living hall and an additional private veranda, the Suite room offers the most experiential stay on this mystical atoll. Make yourself at home as you enjoy an exclusive diving trip at Layang-Layang.
A relax-lah dive site with lots of reef activity and gravity-defying corals, spongers, sea-whips and sea-fans. The fish tumble down the walls side and then race back up the wall as if going to the surface for air. Turtle cruise indifferently along the steep walls and white-tip sharks drift by lazily. It’s called Crack-Reef because the dive begins on a large vertical crack in the wall that starts at the surface, then plummeting to 40+ m.
Tips: Watch your depth and air consumption. Sometimes strong currents will help you cruise along the wall with ease, so please do not grab the coral formation just to get that one in a million shot.
This is magnificent dive site with an abundance of healthy and strikingly colorful corals, sea fans, whips and fantastic hard coral formations so dense that you cannot put your hands down without damaging the corals! Hammerhead sharks are seen here on a regular basis and in a great numbers.
Tips: Photographers, hit the water loaded for panoramic views with large pelagic and colorful nudibranchs. Dive this site a couple of times to get the full scope of the magnificent marine life it holds.
One of the main areas of hammerhead sharks, its most beautiful feature is the dense forest-like formation of gorgonian sea fans that line the drop-off wall. Schooling fish, large and small, are abundant here and the hard corals are spectacular. Sponges of fantastic proportions grow along the walls and the sea whips spear the blue. Among all these plentiful growth, charge the horse-eye jacks in their thousands, swimming along side tuna, surgeon fish, fusilier and grey-reef sharks. In the shallows, there are many small to large coral formations. Sweet-lips can be photographed up close and giant groupers hang out along the wall. Approach gently or they will disappear down a little hole. Barracudas cruise by and swim along with you as if escorting you through their domain. One or two dives will not be enough for this unbelievable site of breathtaking beauty.
It has all that one could wish for from large to small of both fish and corals. Turtle gently glide along, schools of fusiliers and surgeon fish swim by, and swirling horse-eye jacks move like twisters across the thick and healthy coral formations. There are overhangs and ledge to be explored. One can find stingrays asleep next to white-tip reef sharks.
At the drop-off, large sun-fish have been seen. Look out for hammerhead sharks as this is part of their cruising area. Cleaning stations are abound and there is a wide variety of nudibranch alongside flat-worms.
A vertical, straight-down free-fall, it is an amazing piece of nature with a drop-off starting at 1 m of water and abruptly dropping into 2,000 m of water. The wall plummets to the depths so mind your buoyancy and depth control to a 40 m limit.
Schools of surgeons and jacks cascade down the face of the wall like a waterfall. Sea whips and sea fans defy gravity, while silver and baits fish dart and dive about. White tips, grey-reef, and hammerhead sharks have been seen on many occasions.
Graceful manta rays glide slowly up the wall. Barrel sponges, coral formations and anemones grow on the wall. Spend some time with the small creatures such as arrow crabs, nudibranch, clams and the tiny formations of ‘stem coral’
Start the dive on the edge of the drop off in 3 m water and drift down the face to a sand ledge where Leopard sharks rest. Move slowly and carefully, you’ll be able to get close to them. Swimming past sea fans, whips and coral formations, you’ll see tuna and reef sharks glide by the come in close. You then find yourself in front of Sharks’ Cave. At the back of this tranquil cavern lay the small white tips huddled together as a family. Move slowly and gently. Do not fence or entrap the sharks. They will stay there posing for photographs. Move erratically and you will steer them and there will be sharks, divers, bubbles and sediment everywhere. Once out of the cave you can make your way along another majestic portion of the wall.
Snapper Ledge is a safe and easy dive site with magnificent corals and colorful reel fish. For photographers, it’s a good spot for wide-angle, macro and close-up when the sun is directly over it. One can simply drift along with the current and relax-lah, as we say in Malaysia.
Remember to watch your depth and avoid collision with the corals.
The Runway is a breathtaking dive site with deep vertical walls, gullies and crevasses. Reef fish swim vertically, an unusual sight that takes time to get used to. Schools of jacks cascade down the wall and large tunas swim by, on the lookout for a free meal. Schools of bait fish, fusiliers, and surgeon fish sparkle and glitter in the crystal clear water. Sharks and manta-rays cruise the wall; hammerheads have on occasion been seen in this area, so always look seawards, with your fingers crossed. With so much to see it is easy to accidentally exceed the 40 m depth limit.
A gentle slope (10 m-15 m) with large formations of hard corals. Groupers, sweet-lips, large schools of surgeon fish and fusiliers roam the site and trigger fish have their nests here. Schools of barracudas and skinners swim in the area with the occasional reef shark cruising the breadth of the dive site. Turtle tend to settle in the shallows. Keep a lookout for the small and unusual. Flat-worms, nudibranchs and crustations crawl along the corals in a kaleidoscope of colors and sizes. Among the numerous anemone patches, a Golden Anemone. The coral formations are huge with overhangs and crevices to explore. Soft corals adorn the underside of these formations.
Wrasses strip is one of the most eye-opening coral dive sites in the world. Hard and soft corals, with their flamboyant display of colors, will leave you awe struck. The fish each have their own little kingdom of coral that they seem to stand guard over zealously. There are large coral bommies with small caverns and overhangs that are home to batfish, sweet lips and soldier fish.
Turtles are seen regularly as well as schools of surgeons, jacks, barracudas, and if you are lucky, a small school of manta rays. Hammerheads are also regulars here in their hundreds and compacted groups.
Tips: Trigger fish lurk in this area so keep an eye out for the Titan Trigger.
Useful Information and Tips
The resort opens 1st Feb – 31st Aug 2019.
Scuba Knights conduct curated trips from Singapore to Layang-Layang on a bi-monthly basis.
- Bring your own gear for maximum comfort and efficiency underwater.
- Have your own dive computer – the resort does expect that you have one. Scuba Knight offers dive computer for rent and purchase.
- Bring your own snacks, medicine, toiletries etc – there are no convenience shop on the island.
- Bring a telephoto lens – why not bird watch when you’re not diving?
- Consider that the internet and cellular connectivity on the island is at best, abysmal.
- Ensure that your travel insurance adequately covers your trip. Most general insurance does not cover depths of more than 30 meters.
- Respect the ecosystem and leave it in a condition that you’ve found it.
- Remember to have fun!
- Fly a drone here – there is a sensitive military installation on the island.
- Stray into the naval base – you will be detained and prosecuted.
- Exceed 40 m in depth (no decompression diving is allowed) – the nearest hyperbaric chamber is more than 350 km away in Kota Kinabalu.
- Think about Nitrox – there’s none here.
- Drink alcohol if you plan to dive – you will not be allowed to dive for the rest of the day if you consume alcohol.
- Touch anything underwater – the resort enforces a no glove policy.
Disclaimer: This article serves as a general guide and is compiled from a variety of sources available on the Internet – It is, to the best of our knowledge, accurate at the time of publishing. No part of this article constitute any form of contract, whether implicit or explicit.