We wanted to visit the island of Langkawi, off the northwest coast of Malaysia, very near the border with Thailand. This island has developed a reputation for scenic beaches and natural waterfalls, unspoiled by huge, hulking resort hotels. The name is derived from two Malay words helang (eagle) and kawi (reddish-brown). The city of Kuah, near the jetty, has built a huge statue at Eagle Square to honour the island's namesake. I was delighted to be able to piggyback a picture of the eagle when a large group of young Malay students were posing for their own photo by the Langkawi sign.
Firefly is a brand-new community airline started by Malaysia Airways to serve the traffic in and around Penang. The flights all originate in Penang and fly to several destinations, many of them islands frequented by tourists. Their first flight was in early April 2007 and we were delighted that we could fly to Langkawi instead of the three-hour ferry ride each way.
It was hard to leave Georgetown as there was still so much to see, but we feel we will be back next year and it will be nice to have new things to visit then. We left for the airport around 3:30 pm in case the traffic was heavy, but as it was a Saturday, we were there in no time at all. Our Firefly flight was not due to leave until 6:00 pm so we were able to make ourselves comfortable at a Coffee Break café. The airport is very modern, and once again we had to pinch ourselves that we were in a "developing" country.
When we checked in with Firefly, we learned that we were allowed only 15 kg of baggage each, instead of the usual 20 kg with the airlines in India. We had kept our luggage down to just under a total of 40 kg but now we found we were going to be charged for overweight baggage. The ticket agent suggested we put 10kg of heavy things in our handbags to avoid the extra charge so we quickly opened our suitcases and shoved all our books and electronics into our small backpacks. I really couldn't see the point as the same amount of weight was going to be carried by the plane, but regulations are regulations I suppose.
The flight lasted hardly thirty-five minutes and the view, as we flew over the islands surrounding Langkawi, was breath-taking. We hailed a taxi to take us to Tanjung Sanctuary, just 7 km north of the airport. Before long, we left the built up areas and passed along some narrow, winding curves and then turned into the main gate of the resort. It really felt cut-off from the island population and was very, very quiet. A welcome drink awaited us before we were taken to our chalet. The resort consists of nineteen large chalets, each with two suites. The suites are surprisingly large, about 20' x 20', with large balconies running along the sides facing the sea or the beach. The chalets are comfortable, but could use renovating, as the upholstery is a little dated and the furniture well-worn. I believe that a major overhaul is planned. Still, it is a lovely setting and because it is the off-season, it is very affordable.
We had been able to make a booking for only four nights (switching from a "beach-view" room to a "sea-view" room after two nights - virtually no difference except for price) and in the end, I was happy because I found the remoteness of the place a little strange. I love to take long walks and see the local people and their habitat but the beach was really small and the highway too narrow to walk along safely. We spent a lot time reading books and listening to music. We did enjoy the swimming pool during the day and the view from the restaurant, built over the rocky point, during the afternoons and evenings.
Editor's Note: Spending time in our lovely room, reading books and listening to our music suited me just fine!! A welcome break from our usual pace.
I don't think resorts suit me. The staff was incredibly friendly, not stuffy at all but I didn't like looking at the same menu for four days in a row, or seeing the same other guests at mealtime. The food was appetizing, tasty and plentiful. There are an incredible variety of dishes, but we don't eat seafood and that rules out a huge section of the menu.
Our first evening, Anil ordered Chicken Satay and I ordered Penne Pasta. Moments later Anil pointed out that one of the other couples dining near us had ordered the exact same dishes, except that the man was eating the pasta and his wife was starting on the satay. I commented that they probably didn't like seafood either and Anil seemed to think that they must have reversed their orders. Just as Anil finished mentioning this to me, they suddenly got up from their seats and changed places. It turns out they wanted to switch meals, but instead of switching plates, they changed seats. Sounds like work to me! Anil was pleased that they finally had it right and gave them the thumbs up.
Another unusual thing happened a few moments later. We were enjoying our meal when I noticed a bright orange light emerge across the water. It kept getting bigger and I thought it might be a large fire. I asked the waiter about it and was so surprised when he said it was the moon. We have each seen a lot of beautiful harvest moons rising at home, but none compared with the sight before our eyes; it seemed more like a sunrise than a moonrise. Already, it looked like there were a lot of new and wonderful things for us to experience in Langkawi.
There seems to be a lot of wildlife is this part of the island. Anil pointed out that he had seen several lizards, but I told him not to worry, because I know them to be so skittish that you could never get near one if you tried. He quickly reminded me of the one that had fallen from the ceiling and landed on his head while he was watching the Cricket World Cup Final in Patiala, India. It warranted a mention in this journal at the time, but somehow I missed it. I certainly wouldn't have if I had happened to me!
While eating breakfast one morning, a couple of medium sized monitor lizards were sunning themselves on the rocks below and we were able to see them up close. Another day, a family of macaques came scrounging for leftovers from the kitchen and put on quite a show for the diners. It was a great delight to watch the children observe the animals, a welcome break for them in such a quiet setting. There is a lot for children to do on Langkawi, but the swimming pool is the only outlet for them at this resort.
Another afternoon we ordered our lunch by the pool and went for a dip shortly after eating. Suddenly, a troupe of monkeys arrived to survey the empty plates and water glasses. We had been warned not to leave anything on our balconies because of marauding monkeys, but didn't expect them to come right into the public areas of the resort. We watched from the pool as one macaque brazenly washed his hands, elbows and face with the water in our glasses. I was concerned as they were stemmed glasses and thought they might break, but he managed to do his ablutions without tipping the glass off the side table. It was quite a sight to swim in the pool with dozens of monkeys swinging in the trees above us; many were mothers with small babies clinging to their bellies.
After checking out we called a taxi to take us to the airport where we were considering renting a car to explore the island. The Malays drive on the left-hand side of the road so we were working on building our confidence to tackle local driving. The taxi driver offered us such a good deal to drive us around that it made no sense to rent a car and off we went to explore with Othman Long and his taxi. We spent a wonderful five hours touring the eastern side of Langkawi and arranged to see the western part of the island another day. We wanted a quiet day in between to relax on Cenang beach and work on our "tans".
We were pleasantly surprised to find the beach so lovely, as the Lonely Planet doesn't describe it very glowingly. I think the difference is that we are here in the off-season when there are very few people on the beach, and most of them are Malay families. It must be a very different place when the hotels are full to capacity and foreign tourists predominate. We stayed in the simple Malibest Resort, in a small room whose door opens right onto the beach. It is really basic, but we see the horizon out the window and the beach follows us right into our room if we don't wash our feet before entering. I love the fact that the village is right out front of the Malibest restaurant and we can walk in either direction and see Malay life all around us. The Malibest restaurant specializes in North Indian food, and we indulged ourselves in some fine Indian dishes, our first in Malaysia. Ah, familiar food once again, how we had missed it!
Our second night at Cenang, we walked northwards along the beach into the setting sun. The sand is like talc and kept very clean. The beach was almost deserted as the families had taken the children off for dinner. I can't begin to describe the amazing sunset that displayed itself for us that night. It's the beginning of the rainy season here so there are a lot of clouds on the horizon and this leads to incredible light displays. I took some pictures; I hope you get a sense of the intense colour lighting up the entire sky.
Once again, we have to change rooms within our hotel in order not to have to move to another place. This comes with us wanting to maintain flexibility. We almost never book a place for more than a couple of nights at a time because we are never sure how long we want to stay. We travel so very light, that we are becoming experts at packing up our small suitcases and shifting to another room. It would probably bother most people because it means you can't really ever "unpack", but we find we don't ever mind "living out of our suitcases". Something has to give if we want to maintain our ability to change plans on the fly. The other day, Anil said something to the effect, "when we get home, we can relax and read our books" and I laughed, because "home" was our hotel for the night. After all these months, we still don't mind settling into yet another strange room and making it our own. Anil also commented on how he has never once awakened in the night and wondered where on earth he was. We seem so attuned to this kind of travel and don't ever feel disoriented or adrift. I guess we are truly suited to this nomadic lifestyle. Thank goodness, after all the years we spent dreaming of doing exactly this.