Lacy: When we left the States at the end of April we knew we were going to Indonesia for two weeks before traveling to India, and that was about as far as we planned. We intentionally had no ticket out of India in an effort to be unrestricted when exploring the Himalaya region. We also didn’t know if we would want to go home or travel further at that point. Having learned that we prefer to make as few concrete plans as possible when traveling this leaves us open to meet people or discover things along the journey that give us ideas on how to proceed. By the time we reached Kaza we knew we were ready to leave India and began the discussion of ‘What now?’oo
Having flown through the Kuala Lumpur airport nearly half a dozen times – and sleeping in it overnight probably just as many times – we know it’s a major international hub. Our sixth and final month backpacking through Asia last year was spent in Malaysia and we really enjoyed it. The food is spicy and deep on flavor. The beaches have clear water and are lined with palm trees. It’s very easy to get around the country and you can travel on the spectrum of budgets. Two tickets in and out of Malaysia were just as much as a direct flight home from India so that sealed the deal. We booked corresponding flights to take the hour flight from KL to the island of Langkawi on the west side of Mainland Malaysia. Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands. Surrounded by turquoise sea, the interior of the main island is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills.
Arriving at 7:30am after three flights and 24 hours of travel from India we were a little exhausted, but perked up when seeing how gorgeous the island is. Flying over the Andaman Sea and seeing the 104 islands dotting the water that make up the UNESCO Geopark put a massive smile on my face. Only four of theses islands are inhabited with a total population of less than 10,000. Langkawi is the largest and most popular, but you can take boat trips and other excursions to view the entire area. Fun fact: I read that even though there are 104 islands in the Geopark, it was believed that 99 is a more memorable number so that is how it is marketed, as a 99 island Geopark.
We were beyond relieved, that even though we arrived at the hotel at the incredible early hour of 8am, we were able to check in and begin the final chapter of our Asian travels this summer. Without having set out to, we created an a “travel sandwich” – a beach vacation on either side (Indonesia and Langkawi) around the Himalayan center. The cherry on the cake is that we were able to upgrade our reserved room to a sea view room for only $20 extra a night. Having already booked the room at a steal of a deal , this put our gorgeous room on the Andaman Sea with a killer infinity pool and lovely grounds at $75/night total. I was pretty pleased with myself. I spent a lot of time at this pool over the next three days soaking in the view, watching the helicopters give aerial tours, boats shuttle smiling tourists on parasail and snorkeling adventures, sunrises and many a tourist photo shoot. I have a feeling there are a lot of photos of this place on Instagram.
We are both feeling very relaxed and treating Langkawi as a vacation. Renting our fourth bike of the summer, in our third country, we are able to explore the island easily. It’s not very large and you can cross it, tip to tip, in 40 minutes. And that’s exactly what we did after two nights in our first hotel, renting a seaside bungalow on Tanjung Ru beach. The surf is steps from our front door so we wake up and fall asleep to the sound of the tide gently rolling in and out. It’s a quiet beach, a short walk down the sand from the Four Seasons, and sunsets are a main attraction.
In the opposite direction, 100 meters of fine white sand away, is a local restaurant serving up great cocktails. Guna, the manager who we have become friendly with, makes a top notch Singapore Sling. We came to learn that the Langkawi islands comprise the world’s only duty free Geopark. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of why, but it’s insanely cheap to drink here and we aren’t asking too many questions. Sipping slings at dusk we have a wildlife show at our fingertips. First to arrive are always the starlings followed by the biggest sand crabs we have ever seen. They crawl out of holes for dinner and go nuts running sideways. We had a good chuckle when we saw a couple get into fights or walk one over the other on their search for food. And then there are the bats who swoop in front of us on their similar quest for dinner. Laying in the lounge chairs between our front door and the beach we have witnessed a mama bird feeding her baby, many lizards, lots of tiny birds, hummingbirds and swarms of dragonflies in the early mornings.
Visits to the night markets have filled us with spicy Malaysian delicacies. A trip to the Langkawi Wildlife Park allowed us to see birds that were completely new to us. White peacocks giving us the full display of their spread feathers, cassowary (3rd largest bird in the world) and the crested crane to name a few. They also had a great overall animal selection with monkeys, fennec fox and Brahma chicken which is the largest chicken known and is the size of a medium dog. The raccoons in cages was a little weird for me because I have always viewed them as more of a pest as they get into the garbage and roam around the campsite at home. I even learned that Rob is scared of ostrich!
Getting an aerial view of this tropical jungle island on the Skycab and Skybridge allowed us to see the magnificently lush and protected area on the island. The top station of the cable car brings you approximately 2,300 above sea level with wide view of the island, including the Seven Wells waterfall.
Rob: After coming down from the cable car and suspension bridge set way up in the Langkawi jungle, we set out for the afternoon in a rented Renault Twizy. It is a 1 by 1 (front and behind) seater electric car. These are a few years old but just now licensed to drive on the road as a vehicle in Malaysia. Lamborghini style doors but no glass in the windows and a typical equator afternoon rain shower made for a humid but eco friendly drive out to a waterfall and a tour of some of the resort areas on the Northwest point of the island. Wish we had these in urban areas in the US. Maybe someday.
While on Langkawi we scheduled ourselves for a few touristy outings. Usually we don’t travel this way and prefer a cheap rented motorbike with pretend suspension, lights and brakes to travel back roads visiting local night markets for risky, but amazing food. We made an expensive exception here and it turned out to be one of the best $150 I’ve ever spent in my life. Seriously. At 10am we set out on a brand new neon green 900cc powered Seedoo. Our advertised 8 Islands, 4-hour ride tour took us on a free wheeling, high speed blast around 2/3 of the 104 island protected Geopark that make up the isles of Langkawi for about 6 hours in total. We traveled with one guide boat and three other couples, all on big Seedoos set up for ocean running. Although we started out at half throttle, it didn’t take long for our guides to point ahead and let a few of us who could handle the wet bikes fly ahead as quick as the sea and swells would let us. We stopped at a few sandy beaches to swim, a few photo worthy spots for pics and hiked inland to a freshwater lake for a fun little solar paddle boat ride. Dayang Bunting Lake is freshwater lake perched on the very edge of the ocean. We were smart enough to smuggle a few cold, err, cool beers along for that portion of our day. Mainly, we toured and zig-zagged our way through so many of the small picturesque islands that Northern Malaysia and Southern Thailand are famous for. It was stunning to see the white, gray and brown marble rock formations that create the islands with chia-pet like jungle foliage covering their tops and vines cascading down their sides. Virtually every one of them a postcard in their own collage of other postcards. Maybe a hundred big Sea Eagles literally swarmed around us at one point where our guides dropped fistfuls of chicken skin in the water to feed them.
In between several of the islands and beautiful settings, we had fantastic wind breaks which calmed the waves and let those of us who dared reach top speed. I really don’t know how many knots we were running, but we were fully flat out many times with the guides egging us on at every opportunity. We also tried to make speed over some medium and small swells that threw us all over the bike and each other. Lacy had two hands Kung Fu gripped on the horse strap that ran across the seat at all times. When I realized she was hanging on pretty well, we took a few larger swells that were not intended for anywhere near the throttle level we attempted. We caught some pretty big air on one after another after another and had a number of high intensity moments where we and the Seedoo were barely hanging on to gravity and the slight curvature of the earth. I’ve never ever heard Lacy howl with delight, thrill and laughter so loud and so hard as when we were full throttle ripping across the tops of the wave swells.
We had so much fun and saw the islands from a flying fish or dolphin’s perspective that really, really makes us want to go back and tour Malaysia & Thailand from the deck of a boat. A bit more calmly next time, of course.
Lacy: Taking advantage of last minute low season deals again we booked an absolutely stunning five star hotel on a secluded peninsula on the edge of Tanjung Rhu beach. We had taken a liking to this quiet beach with a view of the uniquely shaped islands. The hotel is located on 2.5 kilometers of beach with multiple pools, bar and restaurant areas overlooking it. Our day of jet skiing was topped off watching the best sunset of our trip at the pool overlooking the sea. Much to our surprise, because of the duty free status on the island, the drinks are still insanely affordable at a five star hotel. While watching hornbills play in the palm trees and $1 beers in hand we cheersed ourselves to another great day. It was hard to pry ourselves out of the comfort of the hotel grounds. The room alone, with the palm trees and doves outside our balcony, is almost twice as large as our beloved winter bungalow that we have enjoyed two years in a row. We spent most of our time on the long white sand beach, dipping in the pool and looking out on the islands. The food was excellent. The breakfast buffet had a wide variety of options made even better with complimentary champagne and caviar. Our last dinner there, and in Asia altogether, included Hokkaido scallops, perfectly cooked halibut and soba noodles.
Halfway through our trip we began to refer to Langkawi as a second honeymoon. It’s been so beautiful, easy to get around and full of spectacular sights around every bend. The island has a natural romance to it. This week is by far one of the more luxurious things we have treated ourselves to in years, but overall still very affordable. Traveling at low season, our average price per night, even with the five star hotel, is only $83. Booze and food are cheap. If you shop around you can get a good deal on excursions. Never book one through your hotel if your budget conscious. The scooter was $7/day, but you could just as easily use a very affordable taxi or Grab (similar to Uber).
After two and a half months abroad, we landed back in New York last night, July 4th. Welcomed by my pops and a bonfire, at the family’s Catskill mountain bungalows, Rob and I shared a few first hand accounts of our travels. We are looking forward to our cross country road trip over the next few weeks, exploring new places within our own country and visiting friends and family along the way. As always, thanks for following along with us. Be back soon!