Pulau Payar group of islands is 35 km (22 miles) off the coast of Kedah state in West Malaysia.
Located where the Straits of Malacca begins to open out into the Andaman Sea make it one of the best diving sites in West Malaysia. It's location also guarantee it the best visibility among the West Malaysia dive sites. Payar group of islands consist of Pulau Payar - the main island with the Fishery Department Marine Park Branch Visitor Centre and tourist facilities; Pulau Kaca - the smallest of the group; Pulau Lembu - The one farthest east of Payar and Pulau Segantang lying roughly 13 km westward of Payar Island (not in photo).
The island group has been gazetted as a Marine Park under the care of Malaysian Fisheries Department since 1985. This makes it one of the islands with the most abundant and friendly fish life. The marine life here is both prolific and diverse. Figures from WWF's marine park studies counts 36 genera of hard corals, 92 other marine invertebrates and 45 genera of fish.
The local fish residents are so used to hand feeding by tourist and divers, you literally have to swim through fish if you are carrying tasty morsels in your hand - the local residents will swarm you begging for food (Sometimes I suspect the fishes here actually forgot how to hunt on their own). During high tide, you'll be able to see another spectacle by the Fisheries beach front. Baby black tip reef sharks actually come in and feed from the hands of tourist. You'll have to be careful though, although they are friendly, a wrong move can get your fingers lacerated.
Pulau Payar has no accommodation other than that for the marine park staff and a visitor information centre, toilets and picnic facilities. The island is too small and without a fresh water source. Visit are usually a day trip. It's usually full of tourist from Langkawi Island from 10 am till about 3 pm in the afternoon. If you stay later then 3 pm in the afternoon or get prior permission from the Fisheries Department to camp on the beaches of Pulau Payar (you'll have to bring our own fresh water supply though), then you practically have the islands to yourself.
To get to Pulau Payar, it can is easily accessible by 1 1/2 - 2 hours boat ride from from Langkawi or Penang respectively. It is easy to get to Langkawi or Penang as both has international airport linking selected destination such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, and other major asian cities. If you are driving to Penang from Kuala Lumpur you can actually drive on Highway 1 (North - South Highway) towards north and exit at Penang Bridge or Butterworth (which both takes about approx 4 1/2 hours from Kuala Lumpur) for the Historical Ferry Crossing.(I will suggest to take the ferry on your return). If you are planning to drive to Langkawi, you can drive to Kuala Kedah for a ferry to Pulau Langkawi. Flying to Pulau Langkawi or Penang will take approx. 55mins or 45mins respectively from Kuala Lumpur.
Grouper City, Pulau Lembu
- Depth : 40 - 80 feet
- This place is great for seeing big groupers and rock cods. The rock formation here is quite interesting, some part actually look like a castle wall with minarets at certain angle of view. This site is dominated by hard corals, with the deeper (fringe) part of the rock taken up by big colonies of tubastrea. The shallower end facing Pulau Lembu has branching hard corals (mainly acroporidae sp.) and mushroom corals (fungidae sp.)..
Boat Wreck, Pulau Kaca
- Depth : 40 - 80 feet
- This is the place where the marine park authorities sank fishing vessels which were impounded for illegal fishing as artificial reef. Most are wooden fishing vessels ranging in size from 30 to 60 footer. Some have disintegrated over the years but it's still a great dive here. The super grand daddy groupers can be found hiding in the hulls and you'll usually see schools of snappers taking up residence there as well. When you move from cluster of boats to another you might get lucky and have the resident school of barracudas come to check you out. Make sure you go with someone familiar with the site or you might just see sand on this dive. (note : boat may anchor at the wreck buoy - you're not suppose to do so but the Park authorities are quite lenient for this particular site
Kaca Reef, Pulau Kaca
- Depth : 15 - 50 feet
- This Island can be circumnavigated in a dive if you don't linger too much. The best reef is on the northwest side and the rocky north shore. Stick to a shallower dive of 5m (15 ft) to 10m (30 ft) after that is more of muddy sand. If you dive later in the afternoon you get to see black tip reef shark plying the north side and as you round the northwest tip you'll get a chance to see the resident school of barracudas.
Shark Point, Pulau Payar
- Depth : 30 - 40 feet
- This area is the other tip of Pulau Payar with a small "Datuk" shrine on the headland and also reminds me of the Shark Point in Phuket. Surrounding the tip is generally sandy with scattered boulder corals; the observant diver is frequently rewarded with sightings of black tip reef sharks (2-4 ft). According to local lore, they are the guardians of the "Datuk" shrine. Rounding the tip, you'll find patches of stag horn corals interspersed with boulder corals.
Japanese Garden, Pulau Payar
- Depth : 30 - 40 feet
- This is the reef that fronts the longer beach on Pulau Payar. Mainly boulder corals (porites sp.) with scattered patches of staghorn corals (acroporida sp.). This is where the Langkawi Coral pontoon is anchor as well. So the attractions are the reef it self which is an extension of the House Reef and looking at "tourist" divers doing their hand holding dives with instructors from Langkawi Coral. If you dive right under the pontoon, there is usually a huge school of fusiller and anchovies in the shadow of the pontoon. If you camp on the island and plan to do a night dive, this is the perfect spot.
House Reef, Pulau Payar
- Depth : 20 - 50 feet
- This area has a lot of boulder corals (porites sp.) with abundant and friendly fish life due to the fact that they are fed by tourist daily. A mixture of branching corals, barrel sponge
If you were to follow the edge of the reef heading east southeast and head down to 40-45ft, you'll find some tire reefs with cockerel sized lion fishes and snappers.
Coral Garden, Pulau Payar
- Depth : 40 - 130 feet
- This area is enclosed in the southwest bay of Pulau Payar. This is one of the most frequented dive site in Pulau Payar. The bay area is rocky with scattering of hard corals. A resident green moray eel can be found just 5 m (15 ft) away from the inner mooring buoy. If you're lucky you might get a good look at a huge (4 ft) barracuda as well. He usually patrols the area between the house reef and coral garden. The other side of the bay is a sloping wall starting at 7 m (20 ft) and ends at 45 ft on the shallow end; then it extends itself towards the tip up to the maximum depth. The best view are at the shallow end where the wall is covered with cock's comb soft coral (dendronepthia sp.). Fish life is abundant. Groupers, rock cod and snappers are common here & schools of fusilier and sea perch. Look into the crevices & holes too, you'll be rewarded with glimpses of cleaner shrimps and beautiful cowries.
Segantang Rock, Pulau Segantang
- Depth : 40 - 60 feet
- This is the bigger of the rock outcrop but you can circumnavigate it in a single dive leisurely. This site is quite bare in term of coral life but teaming with anemones and their associated resident clown fishes. Fish life is good though. Shoals of juveniles to giant groupers are common. You can also see butterfly fish, lion fish, scorpion fish, jacks, rainbow runners, fusiliers, puffer fish and occasional white tip reef shark, leopard shark and giant stingrays. Look closely and you'll find a profusion of nudibrachs and you can find murex shells here as well. This site would be a good leisurely second dive after you've done the deeper Segantang UW reef.
Segantang Reef, Pulau Segantang
- Depth : 50 - 90 feet
- This place is great for seeing big groupers, rock cods and other occasional pelagic fishes that pass through. This part of the outcrop actually extends underwater from the small rock outcrop and slopes to a max. depth of 27m (95 ft.). The easy way to locate this reef is to start your dive at the south-west tip of the smaller rock outcrop; proceed down to the edge of the rock and follow the fringe of the rock & you'll eventually reach it. (I'll include a sketch of the site topo when I can find time).
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