After a 12-hour flight, 8 time zones away, all any traveller wants is a refreshing drink, a cold towel, and the knowledge that the journey has been worth it. We got all of those things as soon as we arrived from a direct flight from London to Langkawi.
The island is simply beautiful, ideal for upscale tourists in the sense that there is an abundance of luxury restaurants and hotels to choose from, while the place is still pristine in a way that inspires seasoned travellers to say things like, "Oh, this is just like Thailand, 15 years ago." and "Well, the new direct flights will soon kill the place, of course".
Upon landing from dreary old England, our first priority was to lay our eyes on a beach. We were not disappointed. Long, white and rather empty on one side, after crossing some boulders, Cenang Beach transformes into an intimate party place, decorated with scattered shells, funky bars, and an international beach crowd. Everyone from semi-naked Europeans to burqa-clad Saudi tourists shares space, quite merrily.
Langkawi natives are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, their kindness is infectious. It is rare for passers by not to greet each other with a smile and a hello. Parents often encourage their children to wave hello or even blow affectionate kisses to tourists. Although Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, it is very cosmopolitan, with citizens of Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and Chinese ancestry. The result is a varied cuisine, and a surprising tolerance of all religious and cultural practices.
After a few days spent on the beach recovering from jetlag, it was time to see more of the island. There is a cable car that transforms the rainforest into a broccoli jungle, with fantastic views to Thailand at the top (not for anyone with vertigo!). Duty free shopping is found at both Kuah Town and Langkawi fair. The latter has an aquarium beside it, the largest in Asia, apparently. The best shopping, in my opinion, is at Sun Village, where you can find the most gorgeous homeware from Bali for extremely reasonable prices. There is also a traditional Malay restaurant, in the midst of a stunning tropical garden, complete with goldfish-filled pools, wooden bridges, and orchids scattered around the low tables and decorative cushions.
Night markets sell mainly local food, at about 25 pence per plate. There is no excuse not to try a bit of everything. There are many nature tours on offer, from jungle treks to boat tours of the many surrounding islands. No matter which you choose, you will see hundreds of macaques and their less cheeky cousins, dusk monkeys, eagles, iguanas, and if you are lucky, some hornbills and baby sharks. There is also a large variety of flora on the islands. The Datai offers a fascinating tour with an expert who explains the medicinal properties of various plants.
We took a boat tour that ended at the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, so called because legend has it that by merely swimming here, women become more fertile (makes you wonder what’s in the water!). As we floated on our backs in the warm pool, we were entertained by dusk monkey acrobatics and macaques leisurely grooming each other. Blue and yellow butterflies flitted about. I thought this was the most relaxed I could ever be, until I discovered the massages, that is.
If you do only one thing in Langkawi, you must get a massage! Reflexology, shiatsu, traditional Malay, hot oil – the choices are endless. These masseuses certainly know what they are doing too. The surroundings are heavenly – usually on a beach, in the rainforest, or in a luxury hotel, like the bijou Casa del Mar. This was the first place we stayed. The rooms are airy and light (for an upstairs room), the beach is across from the large pool and outdoors dining area. There is a fantastic spa upstairs, and the staff are not only friendly, they make you feel truly welcome and pampered.
After a casual chat, they remembered I speak English, Spanish and Italian. News in all three languages was provided each morning. At noon, iced-peppermint infused towels were handed to us with silver tongs, with slices of cold watermelon. At tea time, we were given a basket of fruit, a bucket of ice, nuts and beverages, and to end the day, the bedclothes were always turned down, with mints and the next day’s weather report placed on the night table. A nice touch.
Two of the world’s best luxury resorts, the Atman and the Datai, are a 15-minute drive from the Casa del Mar, located directly in the rainforest. We could not resist staying in the Datai for a few nights. To this day, I insist that it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: designed in local wood and marble, so close to nature that the sound of insects is almost deafening at night – with modern, award-winning interiors that make even a Schrager Hotel seem dusty, dated and frumpy.
Our superior villa room with 37’’ flat screen TV, DVD player, Bose stereo, his and her dressing areas, Lavazza coffee maker was even more comfortable than our own flat in London, but the beauty of the tranquil private beach and its untouched natural surroundings, along with the decadence of what the spa and gourmet kitchens had to offer us daily, made me cry when it was time to go home. The only way my husband could stop my tears was to promise to take me again next year. I’ll hold him to it.