Jenny and I went for one last diving trip before the end of our travels. We flew to Kota Kinabaloo, met up with Jenny’s brother who flew in from Singapore and the next day we all flew out together. Pulau Layang Layang or Swallow’s Reef lies 300km northeast off the coast of Sabah. It’s part of the Spratly Islands which are militarised for various territorial claims.
The plane we flew in was tiny. It held 15 passengers, two pilots and our bags and supplies piled up in the back. Just behind the pilot was a box marked as the life raft. It would only hold 12 people. Somebody got their math wrong! This is the only flight I’ve been on where they weigh both you and your bags.
The flight took about 80 minutes and we eventually touched down on the tiny island. There really isn’t anything more than a runway, a dive resort and a naval base. In fact, much of the island is artificial. The naval base is strictly off limit.
The resort was excellent by diving standards. Diving places tend to be simple and functional. The rooms were hotel-like rather than bungalow-like but they were very comfortable and spacious. Meals were served five time a day and the food was very good. There was a nice bar and an excellent pool with lots of loungers. Each day is much the same: get up, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, rest, optional dive, eat, sleep. Sunsets are beautiful. There’s nothing that bites you. The water is 29 degrees celsius. Perfect!
Layang Layang rises out of very deep water. The navigation chart puts the water depth at 1600m. Nearby it drops to 2000m. The place is famous for healthy corals, fantastic visibility and big fish of which hammerhead sharks are the big attraction.
The visibility is indeed wonderful; it’s at least 20m and maybe 30m at times. It’s a little scarey when you look up and realise how deep you are. My deepest dive was 35m. There’s a strict rule that you can not go beyond 40m or you’ll be banned from diving. The resort doesn’t have a decompression chamber and it’s 16 hours by boat to Kota Kinabaloo so you really do not want to get the bends.
After five days of diving, I was gutted that we never encountered a hammerhead shark. We knew there was a large school of about 50 of them around. Divers on the other boats saw them. But after several swims into the blue, we just never got lucky. And that’s the problem when you want to find big stuff – a lot of it is luck.
The corals were extremely healthy and beautiful. There’s not as great a variety of reef fish as Sipadan but I’m not complaining. There was plenty to see. The highlight was seeing many manta rays including a few at quite close quarters. There were other rays, sharks and turtles. We also encountered dolphins while on the dive boat but they moved too quickly to swim with them. The pictures here are from Jenny’s brother who had bought a new underwater camera for this trip.
Layang Layang is a great diving destination. I got in 13 dives bringing my total dives up to a total of 66 since I started. Our dive trips have been the favourite part of our travels. I would certainly like to go back and find one of those hammerheads.