Malaysia is certainly truly blessed with its abundance of magnificent islands most famous for its coral reefs and diverse marine life. With a stretch of more than hundreds of kilometres of pristine and white sandy beaches almost surrounding every part of the country, each of these islands has its own unique beauty and attraction. Beyond its golden beaches, crystal clear waters and untouched nature, its enchanting underwater beauty has fascinated underwater adventure seekers the world over and has often become the subject of awe and amazement by many travellers visiting this country.
Situated in the north of the Straits of Malacca, nearby Kuala Kedah and 30 kilometres away from its closest neighbour, Langkawi Island, Payar Island is known as the country’s first and only reef platform. Priding itself for having the largest collection of coral species in the country, Payar Island in Kedah makes one of the best diving sites in the West Coast of the Peninsular.
Payar Island Marine Park
Payar Island which comprises of three other smaller islands, Kaca Island, Lembu Island and Segantang Island, was declared the first marine park in the country in 1985. After years of experiencing over fishing, trawling and other illegal fishing activities that threaten to endanger marine life and vegetation, the underwater inhabitants of the island has since rejuvenated and continues to flourish till this day.
Stretching across 200 meters of golden sandy beaches, the waters surrounding the island are shallow making it suitable for swimming, diving and snorkelling activities. Its crystal clear waters offer divers 30 to 50 feet of visibility ensuring a satisfactory exploration of the underwater life. Each year, the island attracts divers and marine life experts from all over the world. Though the island has long been popular among visitors since the early seventies, it was only in the nineties that the park began to be more equipped with basic facilities to cater to the increasing number of tourists visiting the island.
Treasures of the sea
The best area to begin your snorkelling adventure would be at the ‘Coral Gardens’, located at the south western edge of the islands. In perfect sea conditions, the ‘Coral Garden’ promises a spectacular sight of the sea covered almost entirely in soft corals in a wide spectrum of vibrant colours and shoals of colourful tropical fishes swimming by.
This site is also famous for spotting giant groupers, fusiliers; groups of horse jacks, schools of big eyed snappers; a variety of dacyllus, young black-tip sharks, spotter and brown moray eels, lionfish, black-spotted puffers, butterflyfish, angelfish, anemonefish, sea urchins, seastars, barrel sponges, sea cucumbers and many other species of marine life.
If you’re not much of a snorkelling enthusiast, then you will still be able to enjoy the underwater life without having to get wet in the process! Moored of the island, a large floating platform called the ‘Langkawi Coral’ offers visitors panoramic views of the beautiful treasures under the sea. In a depth of more than 10 feet below the sea, the tunnel like chamber built at the bottom of the platform known as the ‘Underwater Observation Chamber’ is the closest encounter visitors can get to experience the underwater world.
Glass-bottom boat rides are also offered to visitors on the platform who would like to experience certain sites around the infamous ‘Coral Gardens’. Equipped with a dining area, snack bar, and deck for sunbathing, the Langkawi Coral also has a platform for those interested to pursue an introductory course in scuba diving as well as a wading deck for swimming and beginner snorkellers.
Since Payar Island and all the other smaller islands nearby are uninhabited, there are no accommodations available for visitors wanting to stay longer than a day trip. Therefore the only option available for visitors to the island is a one day trip which can be arranged by local tour operators stationed at the Kuah Ferry terminal in Langkawi Island, Kuala Kedah and Penang. The boat ride from Kuah and Kuala Kedah takes about 45 minutes while the boat ride from Penang takes a little over an hour.
The average cost for a day trip to the island is around RM200 which would normally include a boat transfer to the island in an air conditioned speed boat, packed lunch and all the snorkelling gear and other equipment you may need during your trip. The whole trip usually begins as early as 9am till as late as 5pm. For those who are slightly more adventurous and enjoy confrontation with nature, camping is allowed on the island with prior approval from the Fisheries Department in Alor Setar, Kedah’s capital city. Otherwise, visitors have nothing to worry about as Langkawi Island and Penang is merely a boat ride away offering comfortable hotels and resorts readily made available to accommodate tourists.