The island resort of Layang Layang lies 300km north
west of Kota Kinabalu, Northern Borneo. It is a cigar
shaped atoll formed by thirteen coral reefs linked together,
providing an incredible dive site 7.3km long and 2.2km
wide, with a central lagoon reputed to be 60m deep.
The outer reefs drop to 2000m with the reef tops just
visible at low tide, except for a small low lying area
of 15 acres which was originally reclaimed from the sea
in 1982 by the Royal Malaysian Navy for a 'shore' base.
Subsequently, the luxury holiday and diving resort of
Layang Layang was buiIt.
The main feature of the island, as seen from the air,
is the 1000m runway. This is the no-nonsense way
to travel to the resort, taking just one and a half
hours by twin otter from Kota Kinabalu airport.
When I visited in June 1998 the resort was run by an
Australian couple, Steve and Coralie Steward. Steve
is a commercial diver who trained in Bovisand, Plymouth
and who has dived all round the world; Coralie is
a trained nurse who deals with all medical problems,
including decompression and evacuation procedures.
The resort certainly lives up to its three star status,
built in a rich brown timber, Malaysian style, with
covered walkways connecting all the main buildings.
|| The accommodation is very comfortable with queen-sized
beds, colour TV, fridge, a kettle and pot and a good-sized
table for the camera gear. The toilet / shower area
is designed so that you can watch the TV while having
a warm shower between dives. They have a very nice
freshwater swimming pool set between the restaurant
and the living accommodation, if you get time to use
it between diving and eating. There is also a small
shop selling T-shirts, books, videos and small items
for the diver. There was no provision for E6 processing
if you are a film user.
The leisure area is a large well-appointed lounge and
bar with the walls covered in locally-taken photographs.
The bookshelves are full of underwater world books and
videos just in case you need photographic inspiration
in the evenings.
food is excellent, being a mixture of Asian and European,
served buffet style three times a day with early breakfast
and afternoon tea if you feel peckish between meals. Tea,
coffee, Milo etc. are always available during daylight
hours and the bar is open throughout the day offering
all kinds of drinks. The dive centre is spacious and well
equipped with tanks for washing gear and cameras.
|The dive boats are some of the best I have used, being
twinhulled and very stable with easy exit and entry
via a short ladder.
The dive sites are located around the outside of the
atoll so all dives are boat dives, including optional
night dives, unless you want to dive around the
jetty. I did try this once, following a boat dive,
but the visibility was poor due to the weather conditions
so there was not much to be found. I was told "it
was a bad week".
The corals and sponges were in very good condition.
I did not detect any damage you could put down to
divers or the infamous dynamite fishermen, only
that caused by natural wave action and some silting
from the rainwater run-off at the eastern end of
The first dive of the day was at the eastern end of
the island to take advantage of the rising sun on the
reef, this was before the cooked breakfast at 8.30am.
This dive site, known as 'The Point', extends around the
end of the island to either 'Gorgonian Forest' to the
north or 'Dog Tooth Lair' to the south - usually current-dependent.
Here the reef drops from the surface to 10m, then steeply
to 25m, then vertically to 40m and beyond. This is the
area of the hammerhead shark, which attracts all the divers
down to the resort maximum depth of 40m, on the first
dive of the day. However, during my stay the elusive hammerheads
did not put in an appearance - as with so many of my trips
"they were here last month at 25m"!
||I liked this particular dive site in the 15 to 20m range.
Here there was a profusion of corals and fish life
including four different types of clown fish, some
in those photogenic anemone 'balls', eight different
types of butterflyfish and six different nudibranchs.
I saw a shoal of yellow striped barracuda on two occasions
and a shoal of big-eye jacks, although not as photo-friendly
as the shoals at Sipadan. Triggerfish, puffers and
rabbitfish, the list goes on. With my macro/portrait
set-up I would shoot a roll of film before being 'air
embarrassed'. Time was never a problem as the dive-guides
would just wait in the water or boat until all the
The mid-morning dive at 11.30am could have been at any
of the eight designated sites along the south of
the island, each with a different aspect. Some were
sheer walls from the surface to infinity and others
had sandy patches at 10m with coral bommies shelving
to the reef edge at 20/25m, then down. I loved the
red-eyed hawkfish as they waited on small coral
outcrops to be photographed with a black or blue
background before moving off to another perch for
a different photographic angle. Dozens of reef fish
patrolled their own patches, unconcerned at my presence.
It was during such an absorbing dive that I heard
the familiar bang-bang signal from our dive guide
- this time he was close enough for me to hear -
to point out a passing manta 'flying' close to the
reef a few metres away.
All along the south end you have the opportunity to
see white-tipped reef sharks, turtles, lone barracuda,
and if you are lucky a range of large pelagics as
they cruise past the island.
The afternoon dive at 3.30pm was usually sited at the
west end. The most popular site was 'D; Wall', a
sheer wall with ledges and caves and the opportunity
to see lemon sharks, stingrays and a resident leaf
scorpionfish. There were a few soft corals on the
wall together with gorgonians and fan corals but
these were not as prolific as one might expect with
the unobstructed water movement along the reef.
On the north west tip of the island there are two
sites called 'Wrasse Strip' and 'Valley'. This area,
I discovered, was one of the best macro/portrait
sites on the island: bannerfish, pipefish, butterflyfish
in profusion, emperor angelfish, the beautiful moorish
idols and a passing shoal of bumphead parrotfish,
all in 10 to 15m of water over an almost continuous
forest of coral. Not so popular with the 'deepies'
but a spectacular photographic dive.
Layang Layang offers a great opportunity for the adventurous
diver with so many sites to explore, but luck and timing
have to be part of the equation if you are going for the
For me, photography was my reason for being there and
apart from the poor weather (my story for 1998) I enjoyed
the experience immensely and would go back, but next time
with a group of like-minded photographers. I would also
go with Divequest who, through their sister company Bird
Quest, would advise me of the best time to go to avoid
the annual ornithological odour experienced by some, and
much loved by the twitchers, as is ozone by the divers!