Located about two hours boat ride from Penang is the Pulau Payar Marine Park which is basically a tiny island surrounded by coral reefs and well, all the things that come with coral reefs. We decided to pay this island a little visit since my father-in-law and his wife was in town and wanted something to do during the weekends. If you’re on a budget, this marine park may be a little heavy on the wallet. Locals fork out at least RM200 while those on work permits and passes (like my husband and two children) pay RM250 and RM200. Infants (children below 4 years old – I think) pay RM50. Foreigners fork out a whooping RM300. The package does not include Marine Park entrance fee as well as handling charges for the Penang Port authorities. This totals up to about an additional RM18-20 for the adults and RM14-15 for children.
But before you balk at the price, know that it includes almost all the activities possible save diving (that’s another package), lunch and access to fresh water shower, toilet, and changing room facilities. We discovered that there are tour operators running a cheaper package which only gives you access to a very short stretch of the beach (about 100-150m long), mediocre food and no fresh water shower at all. More on the cons of the cheaper package later.
Our journey starts early in the morning as check-in is at 730am at Swettenham Port, Penang. You can catch a cab and ask them to drop you off at the main entrance (where the Star Cruise ships dock) or if you’re driving, you can park your car at the carpark next to the old Fort. Note that parking charges there are RM0.80 per hour. If you leave your car there for the whole day like what I did, parking will total up to RM8.
Check-in was quite fast – we just approached the counter (the people queueing were heading to Langkawi) and were given different tickets and a waterproof band of some sorts. The band is important as the return boat will be using that as an indication that you’re a valid passenger for the ride back to Penang. If you have children and are afraid of losing it, you can remove and keep it some safe. The ride will take about two hours so try to keep the kids entertained with either books, games or a tablet with movies in store. Noah fell asleep on the way there so entertaining him wasn’t a problem at all.
We docked at the Langkawi Coral Platform – a floating, well, platform that has toilets, changing rooms, fresh water shower facilities as well as an underwater observatory – about 200 to 300m away from the shore. After getting settled in, we were briefed on the dos and don’t as well as schedule for the day. This is an important bit because there are no hotels or any form of accommodation on the island and if you miss the boat, well, you miss the boat. So it was important to stick to the schedule and obey the rules. The package includes snorkelling and swimming as well as a short trip to shore via boat. Luggage, bags and slippers are stored in baskets under the tables – safety was definitely not an issue in our case as nothing went missing but if you’re paranoid, you can ask them to keep your belongings under lock and key.
The platform has a nice little take-off area where you can sit and watch the fish swim up close to you or take off for snorkelling. There are also little floating bays nearby for people who want to sunbath and all and areas for swimming and snorkelling are marked clearly. There are lifeguards at the platform to keep an eye on people (but I feel that it’s more to prevent them for getting up to their mischief (I’ll explain this later). While the adults and Eva went swimming, I sat at the take-off area with Noah – he was more into splashing and the seating area (see the picture below) was suitable for just that. We had a few tourists feed fish with the bread although personally, I wouldn’t recommend that.
Lunch is part of the package and we got a lovely buffet spread that included fresh fruit, some seafood, cake and jellies. After that, a trip to shore was in order. The beach was packed as there was other tour operators that had similar packages. Between the platform and the beach, the hubs and I preferred the former as the beach was crowded and the water murky (due to the waves). You could swim a little further to see more things but it still doesn’t beat the view we got when you snorkel around the platform.
The overall experience was really nice save for some of the tourists that were present. The same group of people were stepping on the coral or coral beds and catching fish despite being told not to do that by two separate people (one of which was leading that particular group). A lady who did just that had to be rescued because she swam too close to the shallows, stood on the coral and got a banged up knee as a result of her actions. The marine park operators had to warn the same few people several times and because they were all parked where Noah and I were, I was privy to a lot of their misadventures. I too got quite annoyed, especially when they started bragging and telling others to go around stepping on the coral and catching the fish. They got a very polite shelling from me which of course resulted in them giving me the no-so-happy face. I’m more concerned about what you’re doing to the environment than whether you like me or not. Pfft.
People should understand that if everyone were to step on the coral, catch the fish, a few months down the road, you can forget about visiting the Marine Park at all because you’d have killed the coral and stressed out the marine life. When you visit any place, be it a musuem, forest, beach have some due consideration and respect for the life around you – not just people but the animals and the environment. One tourist who was a diver was kind enough to fish out a plastic bottle he saw lying on the bottom of the diving area. The tour operators in charge of the beach packages were going around picking up trash that tourists were leaving behind. Is it really all that hard to keep your trash to yourself?
All in all, a still-enjoyable experience.
Note: Don’t go to this place during public holidays as per recommendation by the Langkawi Coral folks. It can get pretty packed and you won’t have a nice time. Go during offpeak seasons or over the weekend like what we did.