Malaysia is known to be home to some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Southeast Asia region. From the waters around Borneo to the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, we are blessed with an abundance of corals and underwater life. However, less diving is done along the western coast of the peninsular along the Malacca Strait.
There are a few places to dive though, and one of them is just outside the far north of the strait below the Thai border — Langkawi Island. So during my visit to the island, I decided to slot in a couple of dives into my holiday plans.
Diving in Langkawi
The island of Langkawi is located about 30km off the mainland coast of Kedah in the northwest of Malaysia. It is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations; the island is covered by tropical rainforests, gorgeous beaches, delicious seafood and intriguing legends and myths — and is therefore known as the “Jewel of Kedah”.
There are no diving sites around Langkawi island itself — the best dives around here are at the Pulau Payar Marine Park, about 30km southeast of the island. Dive boats depart from the Kuah Jetty located in the south of Langkawi, organised by the several dive centers scattered around the capital town of Kuah, and the popular tourist area of Cenang.
Diving in Langkawi is available all year round with its tropical temperatures ranging from 29-32°C. The island has three seasons; dry season (most popular and best visibility) from December to April, mid season with light rain from April to August, and the rainy season from September to November.
Pulau Payar Marine Park
The Marine Park designated area of Pulau Payar encompasses four islands — the main Pulau Payar, and the smaller Pulau Kaca, Pulau Lembu and Pulau Segantang. The area is extremely popular not only for diving, but for snorkeling as well; and many tour companies make the one-hour trip daily, with tons and tons of tourists in tow. Most of them congregate at the Visitors’ Center that comes with facilities like gazebos, picnic tables, restrooms, a glass-bottomed platform and a protected area for snorkelling.
I was on a private yacht with friends during my visit — so we hired a divemaster, Ben from the Big Brother’s Dive Center in Kuah Town for RM150 a day, to come onboard and lead us on our dives at Pulau Payar. We had our own dive gear; so Ben just brought along weights, and tanks for the first dive. There is a tank change facility at Pulau Payar (they come around in a small makeshift boat), so we could just exchange our empty tanks for full ones. I paid RM170 for 2 dives.
The are about 15 dive sites scattered around the Pulau Payar Marine Park islands. There is a house reef dive site just off the shores of Pulau Payar near the Visitors’ Center for the beginners; and for the more advance, the dive spots near Pulau Segantang offer deeper dives with stronger currents. I was only diving for a day during my visit, and these are the two (more popular) dive sites that I had the opportunity to dive in.
The Coral Garden is located at the southern end of Pulau Payar and has got to be the most popular dive site in Langkawi. The average depth around this dive site is about 15m, and as its name suggests, is teeming with marine life and corals. On my dive here, I spotted eels, pufferfish, snappers, batfish and lots of Titan triggerfish. There was also one part of the dive where I spotted 3-4 giant groupers swimming around together.
Unfortunately, despite the amount of corals at this site, most of them are either a dull black/grey color, or completely bleached white. Out of the many boulder corals, tree corals and soft corals; only a few retained its natural vibrant color. The corals here at Pulau Payar have suffered the extreme sea water temperatures the last few years, and this was further aggravated from the El Nino phenomenon that affected the country recently.
Sunken Boat at Pulau Kaca:-
To the east of Pulau Payar is the small island of Pulau Kaca. This is the only site in Langkawi to get a taste of wreck diving — there are a couple of fishing boats and several pods that have been sunk to a sandy depth at about 15m.
During my dive, the visibility was not too good (at about 5m or so) but the wrecks were still visible. Most of the boats are reduced to just a broken hull with bits and pieces like the engine, propeller and other remains of the boat scattered around. They are mostly covered with hard corals and several anemones with clown fishes. I also spotted other varieties of fishes like the pufferfish, angelfish, lion fish, snappers and a huge grouper on the sand. There are alot of sea urchins around the wrecks as well.
It’s always great to get into the sea again and I enjoyed my dives at Pulau Payar — though I wish I had more time to explore more of the dive sites around the Marine Park. Visibility isn’t always great here, but it doesn’t lack in the diversity of marine life and corals.
The only unfortunate thing about the ocean life around Langkawi is the effect the high sea temperatures and extreme weather have had on the corals — they are bleached white and dying. I believe the authorities are taking steps to help protect them, by closing off several of the affected areas to the public. Let’s hope the corals recover, and thrive again.
My 2 dives in Langkawi makes up my 54th and 55th dive.