Island getaway packed with adventure
It doesn’t take that long to get there, comparatively, but Langkawi off the Malaysian coast northwest of Penang, is entering a whole new world.
Langkawi, officially the Jewel of its state Kedah, is actually an archipelago of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea, about 30km from the Malaysian mainland.
Largest of the islands is the epynomous Langkawi, population about 65,000 with Kuah as its capital.
An Air Asia flight from the Gold Coast to Kuala Lumpur takes just over eight hours and from there, it’s a quick one-hour flight on to Langkawi.
We left at night, so by midday the following day we were touching down in bright sunlight at the whimsical airport, little more than a landing strip surrounded by rich green, with the name colourfully spelt out to make it clear we had arrived.
Keen for a few days rest before exploring, we simply took a cab for the 20-minute ride to Port Cenang where a ferry, a rather grandiose description for a motor boat, took less than 10 minutes to whisk us across the water to Rebak island.
It seemed improper to visit just one island in an archipelago so we had booked three days of luxury break at the rather splendid Vivanta by Taj Resort, which is all there really is on the 158ha Rebak.
There is not a lot of sightseeing to be had here, other than the port, the only fully-equipped marina in the country with its impressive fleet of floating palaces; and the distant shores of Thailand.
While there’s a beach, the water is less than enticing but then this was about lounging around by the huge pool with wet bar, sipping cocktails and lunching at the water’s edge against a lush rainforest background.
Dinners were part of the package and despite the luxury of the rooms and playgrounds and the beauty of the location, it didn’t break the bank at around $700 for three nights.
By now relaxed after swimming, reading, eating, drinking and generally unwinding, it was time to head back to the main island for some serious exploration.
Cenang, near the port (although too far to walk) and the airport, seemed the best place to set up camp.
Although you can easily get around the island in a day, Cenang is the beating heart for the visitor and has oodles of accommodation options, from a collection of resorts fronting the beach to apartments in the town centre.
We settled in at Cenang Plaza Beach Hotel, which proved an excellent choice between the beach and shops, cafes and restaurants – and costing less for a week than for the previous three days.
Meals weren’t included but who wanted them, with a street full of authentic cafes on the doorstep.
Staff were helpful and friendly, the room was spotless and, importantly, the airconditioning was excellent, all within minutes of the action.
A balcony overlooking the beach and markets provided plenty of entertainment too.
The beach itself was busy with all sorts of motorised watersports – paragliding, jet skis, tube riding – most of them activities long since banned on local beaches, especially with utes backed up on the beach loaded with drums of fuel.
In fact, the beach wasn’t a great option. It was busy with day beds for rent and was not a place to lay out a towel and relax but after thee days of that on Rebak, we were happy to head off.
An island hopping trip jetted first towards Singa Besar island to feed the brahminy kite, known in Australia as the red-backed sea eagle. It gives its name to the island – “helang” meaning eagle and “kawi” reddish-brown, and is the subject of an impressive 12m monument at the port in Kuah.
The birds gather and swoop, filling the skies over the boat in an impressive display of huge wings, as meat scraps are thrown out for them.
Then its off to Dayang Bunting Island and a walk through national park, accompanied by troops of monkeys, to Pregnant Maiden Lake.
Look closely on the way in, and the mountains of the island reveal the shape of a reclining woman with a pregnant belly.
Legend has it that the princess Mambang Sari laid to rest her newborn son in the lake and made a blessing to all women who have trouble conceiving. It is said that infertile women who swim in the lake will fall pregnant.
After a long, hot walk down to the deep lake, the water was refreshing, but very cold. A maze of little jetties provided plenty of places to launch into the chill waters before tackling the walk back to the boat.
Despite their being plenty of warnings not to feed the monkeys, it doesn’t stop them approaching and as my friend wryly observed when her water bottle disappeared from her backpack, it was an ideal place to get the monkey off your back.
Last stop was Beras Basah Island with white sandy beaches and a chance to swim in clear water, free from fuel and fumes.
Having explored some of the many islands of Langkawi, it was time to survey the big one. Taxis are cheap, the drivers are helpful and friendly and we set off on a trip anti-clockwise around the main island, starting at Kuah.
Not far from the capital is the hidden treasure of the Langkawi Lucky Temple, which is still to be taken over as a tourist mecca.
A statue carved into the mountain is accompanied by colourful Buddha statues both inside and in the gardens of the temple.
The beautiful Durian Perangin waterfalls and a black sandy beach add further diversity to the trip.
Last port of call on the road back to Cenang is a cable car ride to the top of Mount Mat Chinchang for spectacular views of Langkawi.
The cable car has the longest suspension in the world between two stations and was built without constructing any roads through the jungle.
It wraps up a long day of sightseeing so the best way to relax is a massage and there are plenty to choose from.
In fact, it quickly became habit to have a reflexology massage every day, and staff at one of the many massage shopfronts on the street soon came to know us by name, telling us local stories along the way.
Cengang had plenty of dining opportunities, from little cafes on the beach to the main street lined with restaurants offering fresh food for all palates.
A stopover for shopping in KL on the return, and it was home, fully relaxed and recharged and, while not much poorer financially, hugely richer for the experience.