Langkawi, part of the state of Kedah, is actually a group of islands – numbering 99 to 105 depending on the source. The main island is Pulau Langkawi, and it is 185 square miles. Only Pulau Langkawi and Pulau Tuba are inhabited. The remaining islands are uninhabited.
Pulau Langkawi has numerous sandy beaches and an interior of jungle. Small villages are dotted across the low-lying landscape. However, Langkawi is Malaysia’s most heavily promoted tourism destination, and there are also many resorts. Langkawi has been a duty-free zone since 1986; any many shoppers come to Langkawi just to buy cheap alcohol. Langkawi is also developing as a major center for boating in this part of Asia.
The main town on Pulau Langkawi is Kuah (which means ‘gravy’). It is crowded with shops, restaurants, and resorts for every budget. There is a marina there, but it is plagued with ferry wash as bad as that we experienced in Penang. In addition to the shopping and beaches, Langkawi also offers a variety of tourist attractions such as their craft centers, a marine park, an underwater park, a bird collection, a cable car to the island’s summit, and a few museums and galleries. We only made it to a few of them.
We arrived at the southern islands of the Langkawi group by mid-afternoon on November 27, 2007. They were spectacularly beautiful – especially in contrast to dusty and dirty Georgetown from where we had just come.
Our anchorage at Pulau Tajal
We were so taken by one island (Pulau Tajal), that we actually circled it just so we could see it from all sides. We anchored in the middle of a small bay formed between four uninhabited islands. We were in the shadow of Pulau Tajal’s sheer rock face, and eagles soared overhead. Bud swam in the clear warm water. A very beautiful place.
But we were obligated to arrive at Telaga Harbour Marina on Pulau Langkawi the next day – November 28 – so we only stayed one night. We could have stayed there for weeks!
We motorsailed the three hours in to the marina, and we were met by a helpful and efficient staff. We saw a few friends we had not seen in a while, and we made a few new friends with neighbors. Our friends Greg and Debra on SV Sonrisa had been there for about ten days, so they came by to share their local knowledge. They also had reserved a rental car for the next day, and they invited us to come along with them to see some of the island. We gladly accepted.
We spent most of our day out shopping; however, we also went to the Crafts Cultural Complex. This was a nice display of local batik and pewter products. This was a nice display of local batik and pewter products. That evening we had dinner together near the marina at one of the very good restaurants there.
We had a few boat projects to do including some badly needed cleaning, and the marina had a functioning water supply. So Passage got scrubbed up a bit.
Then we rented a car for a day (the equivalent of $20 USD) and ran our errands. We did necessary shopping, we checked out the marina in Kuah (and had a lousy lunch at their restaurant), and we took a little play time. We went to the Bird Paradise and really enjoyed it.
Awestruck in the outer islands
Langkawi Bird Paradise is a collection of 150 species of tropical birds and a few other animals. We enjoyed getting up close to and hand-feeding some birds, and our favorite birds were the sea eagles and kites. Unfortunately, we were disappointed at some of the cages. A sea otter was isolated in a concrete cage with only a small pool of water. One monkey was also sadly isolated in a concrete cage. This is why we rarely go to zoos or animal farms, but we did enjoyed much of the park other than a few isolated (no pun intended) circumstances.
We wanted to ride the cable car to the summit of Gunung Machinchang (2,329’), but the wind was blowing enough that it was not operating that morning. We heard from others that the view from the top is very nice.
But we needed to head north again, so we checked out of Telaga Harbour Marina after only five nights there. We had enjoyed Langkawi, and we look forward to returning.
At this point in time, we planned to spend six months in Thailand then return to Langkawi. We had no idea whatsoever that we would end up spending three years between Langkawi and Phuket. We have since made numerous trips between the two islands, and we have gotten to know Langkawi fairly well. And over time, we have grown very fond of Langkawi. We particularly enjoy the rural laid-back environment – and lots of wildlife. Below are a few of our subsequent experiences on Langkawi.
Although we enjoy all the wildlife around Langkawi, we had a particularly interesting experience with bioluminescence in the anchorage just outside Telaga Harbour Marina. We were anchored in the anchorage, and we had taken the dinghy in to the marina for dinner. It was dark when we returned to the boat in our dinghy, and we saw the most intense bioluminescence that either of us had ever seen. The bow wake from our dinghy was bright purple as was the smaller wake from the prop. When fish would hit the surface they would cause a purple spot that rippled outward. Then, shortly after we got back on board Passage, it started to rain lightly. Each rain drop that hit the surface was an explosion of purple. We don’t know why it was so intense at this particular time and/or location, but it was something we had never seen before anywhere anytime. Intense.
In February, we took Passage back to the southeast islands of Langkawi that we had previously enjoyed so much but so briefly. Our first stop was Pulau Dayang Bunting.
Pulau Dayang Bunting is a large island just 13 miles from Telaga Harbour. We stopped at Rebak Marina on our way out there to have a look around, but it did not appeal to us. We decided to stay at Telaga Harbour Marina while in the area.
Fishing boats in Telaga Harbour anchorage
We arrived at Pulau Dayang Bunting in the late afternoon, and it was as beautiful and dramatic as we remembered. Steep-to bluffs, soaring eagles, birds. We passed through an area called ‘the fjord’ because of its narrow passage between two steep cliffs, and we anchored near its western end. We could see the nearby island where we anchored during out last visit to these islands.
A few boats came and went during the days, and a few fishing boats usually came in at night. One night, six small fishing boats rafted up just in front of us, and they drifted in to us during the night when the wind shifted. The only damage was a little red paint on us, and they moved a bit further off. We also had a cruising boat neighbor that seemed to have an aversion to wearing clothes, but he never came to our boat naked, so we were not about to tell him how to dress (or not dress) on his own boat. Some colorful characters in a dramatic environment.
Nita spent a few days working on boat projects that she wanted to complete before going inside a marina, and it was miserably hot in the sun. We also took the time to dinghy around the islands and gawk at all there was to see. We never get tired of these islands.
But we needed to get back ashore and work on our land travel plans if we wanted to make the trip before the monsoons change. We wanted to start our travels within two weeks, so we had lots of planning to do. We needed an internet connection.
Although we were not completely ready to leave these beautiful islands, we reminded ourselves that they are only 13 miles from Telaga Harbour, and we can come out here any time we need an island fix. This is the place to get one! So we headed in to the marina.
We had an uneventful trip back to Telaga Harbour, and we went in to the marina where with plans to stay for at least a few months. We hooked up water, electricity, and the internet. Suddenly we did not mind being inside quite so much. And here we stayed for six months – until August 28, 2008.
This period included Bud’s birthday, and it is somewhat difficult to find something ‘special’ to do on Langkawi for a birthday. He, however, thought of something – the cable car to the 2,329′ summit of Gunung Machinchang. Nita is afraid of heights, so it took a special obligation – like a birthday wish – to get her courage in order, but she made the trip and actually enjoyed it once at the top. Bud enjoyed everything about it – the ride up, walking around on top, even finding ice cream at the top, and the ride back down. The views are spectacular, and it is a trip worth taking if you can get past any fear of heights.
While Passage was in the marina in Langkawi, we took advantage of the relative safety and did some air/land travel. We went to Vietnam and Cambodia on one trip, and we returned to Hawaii for a month on a separate trip. Our time in Langkawi went fast. Then we returned again to Phuket, Thailand for almost a year – August 29, 2008 to June 25, 2009.
We returned again to Langkawi and had a surprising experience. We enjoyed the rural atmosphere and slower pace of Langkawi, and we both decided that we would rather be in Langkawi than Phuket. But we had things to do in Thailand and ongoing visa issues to contend with, so we continued to split our time between Langkawi and Phuket.
We returned to Langkawi in February. Although we are tiring of southeast Asia in general, we are still enjoying the pace in Langkawi. We are fortunate to have found such a comfortable place to be, and we will continue to move back and forth between Langkawi and Phuket until we leave this area around the end of 2010.
The view from Gunung Machinchang