Langkawi, Malaysia

April 20, 2018

Langkawi is a deceptively large island (actually the largest of some ninety islands) off the coast of Malaysia, just north of Penang and just south of the Thai-Malay border. Langkawi is home to a large population of fisherfolk and you could spot them all along the coast, including right near my guesthouse, as they tossed nets.

I added it to my trip for the sole reason that I felt I should end my trip with some genuinely relaxing time on the beach. I mean, that’s what people do, right?

I am not a relaxing on the beach kinda guy. I should have remembered that and shall endeavor never again to forget it. Don’t get me wrong, lying on the beach is very nice…for about thirty minutes. After that, I need a swim or a hike or a meal or…something! In an odd stroke of luck that initially felt like bad luck, the guesthouse where I was staying on Langkawi had a small private beach that was entirely unsuitable to lounging around or even swimming. The sand was gritty and clumpy and the water was suspiciously murky. So, yeah, initially, I was disappointed, but then that just meant I did my relaxing (which, in my case, means reading) on a chair just outside my cabin. This was perfectly comfortable and also allowed for easier socializing with a few of my neighbors. One was a man from New Zealand; he and his wife (whom I also met but she was fighting off a cold and so spent most of her time resting indoors) had been teaching in Singapore for four years but were now on their way back to NZ. The other was an American who, coincidentally, had been living in Thailand for ten years. We spent most evenings chatting, trading stories, and drinking gin and tonics.

I didn’t spend all my time reading, of course. Langkawi is quite large and difficult to explore without transportation, but I wandered quite a bit, checking out a few local eateries, all of the type found near my own place in Bangkok, which was nice. I also signed up through my guesthouse for a small tour of the area, taking me to a few of the surrounding islands. The tour was to include a lake called the Pregnant Maiden, a visit to see an eagle feeding, and a stop at a beach for sunning and swimming.

The Pregnant Maiden is less a lake and more a man-made reservoir. It was the most expensive part of the tour and I would have been thrilled to skip it. The reservoir is actually lovely, surrounded as it is by towering cliffs studded with trees, but as an attraction it is almost painfully family-friendly. One can rent kayaks or swan-shaped pedal boats to explore the waters, for example, but the whole thing isn’t really big enough to warrant exploration, or the price. Oh, and there’s a cordoned off chunk of water for swimming…but you can’t swim without a lifejacket. Seriously. Again with the training wheels…

The thing is, it’s clear that the spot caters primarily to Malay and Chinese visitors along with tourists from other Muslim countries, including from the UAE and such, where even this kinda thing may be considered adventure travel. Anyway, they seemed to be having fun but I went off to take photos of the plentiful and sullen-looking macaque monkeys that roamed the surrounding woods and routinely waylaid visitors like simian Merry Men.

Next was the eagle feeding. Now, I expected this to be akin to whale watching, as in maybe you get to see an eagle or two, in the distance, as they dart at the ocean surface before disappearing again. Instead, our boatman stopped, used a bucket to essentially chum the waters, and then we watched, mouth agape, as eagles filled the sky. They were as plentiful and active as gulls over a landfill.

They swooped down, the water exploding as their talons found prey, then rocketed back into the sky with their prize, just as their brothers and sisters dived for a turn of their own. It was genuinely spectacular.

And the setting only added to the spectacle. The islands of Langkawi are towering limestone monoliths topped with jungle and surrounded by clear green-blue waters. One of the best parts of the tour was simply boating around and between these islands.

Our last stop was a lovely beach. Three or four boats stopped off at once but, oddly, nearly everyone crowded at one end of the beach, near the boats and small pier, so I had a long stretch of shore to myself. I spent most of the time in the shallow waters, swimming, then finished up with a small snack in the shade. I was fully satisfied by the time I returned to my cabin. And all for the equivalent to $30.

And so, that’s it, that was my trip to Kuala Lumpur, Borneo, Brunei, George Town and Langkawi. As for recommendations: If anyone wanted to sample Borneo, getting a taste of culture, the rivers, the jungle, and the wildlife, you can’t go wrong with four or five days in Kuching. If you want a tad more adventure, add two or three days in Mulu, which can be reached from Kuching, and use one of those days to do the Garden of Eden trek, which offers some of the best the park has to offer. Visit George Town if you want a hassle-free experience in a Southeast Asian city but skip it if you’re looking for a bit of a challenge. Instead, go to Sibu and take a boat up the Rajang to Kapit.

In fact, that October, I would return to Sibu and Kapit and planned to go farther up the river, to Belaga and possibly to some of the surrounding Dayak villages.