Travelled from the UK to Layang Layang to experience the world class diving I’d read and heard about. Well what a massive disappointment!
I’m going to do this review in 2 parts focussing firstly on the diving then the resort itself.
After arriving on island and expecting 2 dives in the afternoon we were told there was no fuel to dive! Seriously?? We were given a ropey story about how the fuel boat had gone missing at sea but no one seemed that bothered about it. The resort managed to borrow some fuel from the military base so we could have 1 dive. We were also offered free jetty dives (although the coral is dead in the lagoon and there is nothing to see).
On the second day where we were supposed to have 3 dives, no diving all day! Still no fuel.
The boat finally turned up at the end of the day but the lack of communication from management was very disappointing.
The next day we were all told we would be going 4 dives with one of them obviously very shallow.
When you go to layang layang you are paying to do the deep dives to hopefully see the hammerhead sharks migrating. We saw not a single one.
In terms of the quality of the diving.. the tanks were in terrible condition, o-rings missing. Just before we left for an afternoon dive all divers on the boat reported leaking tanks - some of them serious leaks. Not what you want when you are going to deep depths!
The lack of marine life was disturbing for a remote atoll. DO NOT believe the write ups on layang layang website. We only saw 2 sharks one white tip and one grey reef.
As we understand it now from locals in kota kinabalu, the military and other fishing vessels have dynamite bombed areas killing a lot of the marine life.
It is virtually impossible to see the hammerheads as they are at such deep depths (50-60 meters). There is no fish for them to feed off because of the over fishing.
Our dive master was lacking in terms of safety in the water. She failed to tell us about the strong currents around the atoll. There should have been a briefing about the up and down currents as well as the strong currents pulling you away from the reef.
Also whilst on the dives our DM paid no attention to us in the water. Sat down at 40 m just looking for the sharks. Given the strong currents and deep depths I found this astounding. Don’t get me wrong, we were all experienced competent divers and didn’t need baby sitting but it’s not the point. Things can go wrong at any time.
This is supposed to be a full service resort and our dive gear was not washed down each day. As we all know, kit can stick when sat out without being washed - another safety issue. The crew refused to wash the kit down when asked saying it wasn’t there job.
After the DM saying you’ve have a diving ban if you went into deco, on one dive we all came up to the surface and our DM wasn’t there. We all got our kit off before realising and then asked the boatman if she was ok and he said “don’t worry, she’s in deco”. Pretty hypocritical. I appreciate that she was trying to find the sharks for us, but safety should always come first.
All of this plus the extra we paid for ‘hammerhead season’ was a joke.
Ok, we were on a remote atoll and not expecting luxury BUT the pool was dirty and green and not useable. So when we couldn’t dive we couldn’t use it.
There was no water coming out of the shower every night we were there so we were given a cold bucket of water and a shovel to pour it over us to shower. Great!!
On the first day the toilet wouldn’t flush either due to lack of water so we had to chuck water down to get rid of our own ‘waste’.
The food was pretty average at the resort.
The drinking water they provided tasted disgusting. Full of chlorine and undrinkable.
When the dive times changed there was a lack of
communication between the dive team and
the kitchen meaning food wasn’t ready at the right time.
The rooms are extremely tired/dated and it’s only a matter of time before the floor boards give way.
I could forgive some of the issues with the resort had the diving been safe and good but it was poor at best.
There is a distinct lack of care and safety on island.
I came away very very upset with what was supposed to be a trip of a life time. It’s a very long way to come from the UK for such poor diving and a poor resort.
Do not waste your time or money. The resort and diving has clearly gone down hill.
I should add that the resort have promised 50% refund on the non diving days plus a discount on a future trip but this is not enough compensation.
Firstly I will never go to layang layang again, secondly 50% on the non diving days if half of what should be refunded. Thirdly it doesn’t compensate the massive cost of international flights that I had to pay to get there.
Fingers crossed the resort comes good and I actually get some money back otherwise I will have to take legal action.
1) The island is only for divers (max. 70 on up to five boats) and when I was there in late April/early May a liveaboard "The White Manta" also anchored in the lagoon. The resort is pretty basic, the pool filled with sea water, the food repetitive and pretty average, the aircon mediocre, the drinks selection limited but the staff is great, very friendly and polite. 2) The atoll has all-round wall diving with beautiful, large coral and a lot of marine life (the odd shark, hammerhead, turtles, manta rays, barracudas (large and small), schools of jacks, trigger fish, frog fish etc.3) The only problem is that you will most likely NOT see huge schools of hammerhead sharks migrating around you, even in peak season (I saw one!). There are probably several reasons for this: too many divers in the water at the same time - we spent nearly every dive waiting for around 15-20 minutes in the blue at around 30m off a point where a shark had been spotted a few days before but not just the twelve divers on our boat but the other three boats' divers as well! All boats most of the time go to the same spot around the same time which means that you'll see far more other divers than sharks! The second reason is that a lot of the divers are from China (on our week around 75%) and not all of them seem to be experienced divers and unfortunately some of the - not a small minority, mind you - did not understand the concept of not gunning for a shark or other fish, turtle, ray etc. when seeing one but to stay put and wait for the fish to swim by. This led to sharks and other marine animals being scared away as soon as they saw a bunch of divers. The third reason probably has to do with overfishing and simply less sharks being around than twenty years ago. Unfortunately this is the same in the Maledives, Egypt etc. where I have been diving since 1989. To cut a long story short: the diving is great but manage your expectations since you will most likely see the odd shark at a distance, if very lucky 5-6 of them at around 50-60m (far below you) but not hundreds of them swimming past you like they used to many, many years ago. For Europeans this sort of wall diving can be done closer to home and much, much cheaper on a liveaboard in Egypt.
So with 10 dive buddies we did this dive trip to Layang Layang. This is also called the Swallow Reef and is located an hours flight time from Kota Kinabalu, in the state of Sabah, Malaysia.
Layang Layang is a Malaysian Navy Base reclaimed from a small island. It has a small airstrip used by both and Navy and also MAS wings , subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines to fly their ATR 72-500 twice a week to this small island. It has now become the divers Mecca to see the Hammer head Sharks.
The resort is open I think 6/7 months a year. The peak season to dive is March - June. Though some web sites tell you till Sept also but the probability of seeing the Hammerhead Sharks is max in March - June only.
There is only one small quaint resort there 'Avillion Island Resort'. He resort is adjacent to the 7233 feet long airstrip. The resort doubles up as the Airport too.
The Resort has a nice Bar 'Hammerhead' Bar, the drinks are quite reasonably priced considering everything has to be flown in to the resort twice a week only.
It's has a nice pool, spa.
The island is home to a small fantastic Bird reserve island nearby where you can see the nesting Back Naped Terns, Great Crested Terns, Sooty Terns , Lesser Frigate Birds, Pacific Golden Plover and the Brown Booby to name a few.
This place is called the swallows Reef also because of the abundance of the Migratory Barn Swallows you see on the island. They are very tame and adapt to humans well.
The dive centre is well equipped and during season goes full and offers the full range of dive certification courses along with gear rental.
The dive instructors are very friendly and double up as Dive masters to take you out diving.
There is a jetty from which the dive masters take out the diving groups for dives on boats.
Night dives are not part of the package and you need to pay 150 MYR and a minimum of 4 divers fir the night dives.
The one issue to watch out for is internet and mobile connectivity.
The internet wifi at the resort (only way) is terrible to say the least and the only cell network that works there is 'celcom'. Nothing else.
This issue has made me give this place 4 stars but others may give it 5 stars also because of this. :).
All in all a fantastic place to go diving in season to see the Hammerheads and host of other marine life and to really unwind with nice walks and seeing amazing sunsets.
This sort of diving has to be experienced. Out in the blue, 40m down. Nothing around but other divers - and hopefully a hammerhead! I did 3 morning dives and saw 2 in the distance. Other groups more. Suggest you sit close to 30m for as long as you can.
No Nitrox limits dive times. If there are currents, they go with them, so no stress there.
Coral/Reefs get a bit same after 1-2 days. But you should see turtles & rays.
Boats are small catamaran - 10-15mins to sites. But 8-10 on a boat, so can be crowded. So can under the water if they put two boats in the same location.
Hotel - rooms basic, a little tired but fine. You're there to dive ! Food was 5 times a day. Buffet, so not amazing, but varied.
Facilities - large dive Center. Pleasant area around the pool to chill. Picturesque. But not much else to do.
Staff - helpful, friendly and keep the atmosphere relaxed.
Wifi - it says it's there, but realistically it isn't. 1am to 3am you might be able to emails. They couldn't even take my credit card for final electronic payment as the wifi couldn't link the terminal.
The diving here is all about Hammerhead Sharks and as with all things nature based you take your chances, we were there for 8 days early May and for the first 4 days we saw little but for the second 4, oh man was it good, we observed a number of individual sightings and two huge schools on separate days, upwards of 100 animals !! We were up close and personal (fantastic photos from very basic equipment ) that sort of encounter leaves a lasting impression.
Other than the hammers I wouldn't rate the reefs much compare to other coral reefs but then who cares when you have a chance of seeing hammers.
Some guys bring documentary type dive equipment and can be a bit of a pain (particularly the macro fanatics) standing your ground works for me, their equipment is far to expensive for them to risk damaging it.
I'd read a lot about dive masters prior to my travelling to Layang Layang and being one myself, here's my opinion for what its worth, diving here is all about in the blue looking for hammers, and with 10 or so divers to each dive master who is using his expertise to find shark not babysit you (within reason ) so if you are a resort only type diver and not comfortable at 30 - 35m potentially in a bit of current and possibly with limited visability or not capable of monitoring your own air consumtion, deco resquirements and personal assents then this is not the spot for you unless you want to book a private DM or take some other measures like a good competent dive buddy, you have got to intimately know your dive computer and the information being provided to you by it.
If however all of the above is you then take a chance, if you hit a school of hammers believe me you will discount everything else about the trip.
As with everything in life some DM's are better than others, we dived with Gavin for half our trip and found him to be an excellent and professional DM with good interpersonal skills, I again stress however you have to be competent in your own ability.
The resort? ? its a dive resort and if your not a diver there really is no reason for you to be there, I've read all the reports about thin walls on the accommodation, its true but who cares, after 3 dives a day starting at 07.30 everyone is in bed by 22.00 hrs anyway, the accommodation is perfectly adequate, clean and comfortable with a good ensuite (for the chance to see hammers I would have slept in the pool anyway ) the food is plentifully and there is something for everyone, be flexible the western visitor is not the islands main customer demographic, believe me you won't go hungry.
The staff are the jewel in the Layang Layang crown, they are so polite and pleasant always willing to look after you. I've read negotiate comments about staff attitude which I found totally unfounded, every morning they will greet you with a smile, if however you don't bother to interact with them, then you didn't get poor service !
After a week or so if you don't know at least a few of them by name ( Jerry the barman is a vital one) then what do you expect from them.
The only down point that I would definitely change if possibe is the very very early moring flight which results in an incredibly early check in at KK and results in a very long off day prior to depature, however I discussed this issue with the manager who agreed a lunchtime flight would offer a far better alternative, so here's hoping.
If your a competent diver comfortable in depth then give yourself a treat and book a trip, if you meet the hammers you will love yourself forever, I would return in a heartbeat.
Remember your uptime, engage with the staff, they will so enrich your stay. so good luck if your going I wish I was you.