Snorkeling with Sharks

Snorkeling is my favorite!  I was very eager to snorkel at Pulau Payar Marine Park, but – Spoiler Alert!  We didn’t have the best experience.  If you have other opportunities to snorkel or are on a budget, then I would pass on this trip.

All of the travel agents around Langkawi offer the same snorkel tour.  A trip to Pulau Payar beach for $$ or a trip to a platform in the sea for $$, where you should be able to see more fish.  I somehow convinced us that we needed to go on the expensive trip, and so we forked over the cash.

The morning of the trip we waited on the main street with all the other tourists for our ride to the docks.  Several buses came, picked up different groups, but we all ended up on the same beach.  Our receipt clearly marked “Platform Tour” was shown to one of the guides in exchange for red arm bands.

We took a short boat ride to Pulau Payar, and then were corralled to the beach. My friend confirmed that this was for the platform tour, and one of the guides waved us on.  I’m not sure why this beach is called a “Marine Park”.  Marine Park makes me think Sea World, but this was just a beach with a pier.  I was surprised that there wasn’t even a place to buy ice cream.  It did have tables and chairs under an awning and toilets.

Pulau Payar - Langkawi
Pulau Payar

I wasted no time to dive in.  Look at this sea!  It was really as beautiful as it seems.  Within a few feet from shore I was already seeing fish.  The water was clear, and it was easy to spot wildlife under the bright sun.  Further in, the coral is grey and it looks like a field of antlers.  I was having some trouble with my googles, so I stood on the coral (sorry!) and tried to adjust my mask.  I felt a sharp scratch on the top of my foot and thought I must have caught a rock or some coral.  I continued to try to fix my mask, and felt a few more scratches.  I thought I was being very careful with my feet, but I guess not.

When I caught up with my friend, she said a fish bit her thigh!  Ouch!  Upon examination, it looked just like the top of my foot.  Did a fish bit me?  There were signs everywhere warning us not to feed the fish.  But are they hungry for human?  When we got back to the hotel that night we did some research.  They used to encourage the snorkelers to feed the fish rice.  Then a tourist got bitten on the toe, a tendon was severed, and surgery was required.  Now, no more feedings.

The easiest fish to spot was the black-tipped reef shark.  This was only a few feet from shore, and I was able to capture this picture with my little iPhone.

Black Tip Reef Shark - Pulau Payar
Black-Tipped Reef Shark

High noon, and we collected our lunches.  They came in tidy plastic boxes – fried rice, fried chicken, some veg, and an orange.  Plus a soda and water.  My friend had specifically requested a vegan meal.  I was shocked, but our travel agent called the tour and they were able to accommodate her.  She got rice, spring rolls, and an orange.

By now we were wondering when we were going to the platform.  When we asked the guide he seemed confused.  Everyone on that tour was already at the platform.  They went there directly from the boat, and he pointed to a platform on the other side of the dock.  The guide said it was too late to go to the platform, and we’d already missed the buffet lunch.  After looking at our receipt, he told us that the platform price was $$$, not the $$$ we had paid.  He made a few phone calls and then told us that the travel agent would reimburse us the difference.  Which only leaves one question.

If we paid for the platform tour, why did the beach only tour have our vegan meal?

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