Layang Layang

This is one for the divers….because unless you’re a member of the Malaysian Navy, there’s not much else there! Layang Layang. You’re probably thinking “where?” unless you’ve been diving in the region, when your first thought is possibly “hammerheads!”

Where? Situated in the South China Sea 300km northwest of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia.

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What? Time and tide has linked 13 coral reefs to form a languid lagoon with just a fraction of it breaking the calm surface of the sea. This atoll is also home to one of the most converted diving sites in the world.

Ownership? The Royal Malaysian Navy has maintained a naval station on the island since 1983, although wandering into Naval property will get you arrested. As with all of the Spratly Islands, the ownership is disputed, and it is also claimed by the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam. 

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Facilities? There is only one resort and beach on Layang Layang Island which is Layang Layang Island Resort. Imagine, a whole island to yourself! The island resort is the only diving operator and hotel room accessible on this tiny coral isle. Figures are very limited because of the low accessibility of flights, so it is recommended that you arrange your travel well beforehand and book ahead of time! The island’s air transport needs are served by the Layang-Layang Airport which has direct flights from Kota Kinabalu. The hotel provides all-inclusive packages, which for hungry divers is great as the buffet is large. There is also a bar on-site (payable separately), which has happy hour conveniently when you’re back from you’re last dive of the day and relaxing by the pool.

How to get there? The only way is the short flight from KK. Check with dive resort for flight schedules. Flight time is about one hour.  The process is that you arrive at the KK International Air terminal in Kota Kinabalu about 5AM. Here you and your luggage are weighed. This is a particularly amusing thing to watch, especially when someone is over 100kg as the luggage scales max out. After an hour or two waiting around whilst luggage and food are loaded, the flight departs. The planes are small and your bags take up the spare seats in the plane. Ever wanted to see into a cockpit? Well these are the flights you can achieve this on! If you’re a nervous flyer then be prepared.

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Diving and marine life? There are a couple of big draws for this location. Firstly, hammerheads. In season you can descent into the blue and look for these slightly odd looking, but majestic sharks. April and May are the best times as this is mating season, but you can, if lucky, see them at other times of the year. There are schools of tipped reef sharks, pods of dolphins, jacks, bumpheads, barracuda, trigger fish and if you’re ‘lucky’ oceanic white tips….

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As the island resort’s staple activity, the diving at the in-house PADI dive centre is conducted by experienced and qualified instructors who run a professional operation. With thousands of dives at Layang Layang between them, the diving team is ready to lead you to the most stunning dive sites on the wall with the 2,000m drop where viz is usually between 30 and 60m.

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Dive sites

Layang Layang’s pristine reefs, which drop down as sheer walls into the abyss, are covered with splendid examples of healthy hard corals. The reefs are home to a great variety of sea life where turtles, triggerfish, manta rays and more are quite common, but overshadowed by the mighty presence of the scalloped hammerhead sharks.

Along the drop-off at Dogtooth Lair, schools of large dogtooth tuna are often present, along with barracuda and jacks. Of course impressive schools of fish like this can be overshadowed if the hammerheads come into view, such is the diving at Layang Layang. You can end your dive admiring the healthy coral gardens in the shallows and the vast schools of pennant butterflyflush that cascade over the reef edge at this excellent site.

Although Gorgonian Forest is another site where big schools of hammerheads can be seen, it is also notable for a wall densely covered in barrel sponges and orange and yellow gorgonian fans. Turtles, giant clams, and tuna are frequently sighted. There are a vast number of fish schooling in impressive numbers here including redtooth triggerfish, pyramid butterflyfish and unicornfish, proving that it isn’t only big schools of hammerhead sharks that so often impress at Layang Layang.

D’Wall is typical of Layang Layang diving and it offers healthy fields of coral with all manner of activity going on. Clear water and proximity to the awesome sites are great features of the scuba diving here but the reason most people visit here is the chance to spot the famed scalloped hammerheads that cruise around this tiny island.

Crack Reef – Gradually you will descend down over a light-dappled coral garden to where the wall drops vertically to a 30m ledge. Pygmy seahorses perch on gorgonian fans, schools of neon fusiliers charge around the reef, and resting leopard sharks lie quietly on the reef slope. The healthy coral growth here is worthy of note, with hard corals like elkhorn and porites being prevalent, alongside vibrant soft corals and sponges.

The Valley – What appears to be a rather uninspiring gentle slope, as you begin your dive here, soon reveals itself as a living reef decked in hard corals where snappers, sweetlips, groupers and turtles can all be spotted from afar. When you get up close you can look out for nudibranchs, ribbon eels and crustaceans galore. The larger creatures to be found off the edge of the reef include reef sharks, jacks and hammerhead sharks.

For more detail on the available dive sites, see this great page from

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