(Posted by Xavier, pics by Kristin)
The first thing you notice about the island of Langkawi as you fly in are all the little volcanic islands surrounding it. Fantastic land formations spiral up and plunge back down into the sea. Tall cathedral-type mountain peaks and beaches — beaches on all those little islands.
Thoughts of venturing out on to some deserted island claiming one of those beaches all to your self immediately start racing though your mind. Here there are no countless ships and container vessels lining the shoreline, no giant Ferris wheels, no floating ship high rises, no illuminated man-made fantasy trees, and no carefully choreographed high tech laser/water show to dazzle the millions. In fact there are no millions, as in people. And there are probably more tourists here than residents. But most important of all, it was near perfect beach weather.
Okay, okay, okay. So we jumped off the plane, hit the ATM for some local ringgits (dinero, moola) made our way to the theater of rental car desks to rent our car as all the sales guys started yelling at us to convince us to rent from them. As it turns out they all offer the same cars for the same price. We wanted a bottom of the rung, small, economical, manual transmission, super midget car. Hey, all we wanted was basic transportation that could not only seat the two of us but also our two oversized backpacks and other extraneous bags. So we finally rented from a guy that said his car was legal, and it had a sticker on it that said so. Okay, we like legal. I mean, the last thing you want in Malaysia is for some poor underpaid Malaysian policeman racing after a couple of crazy Americans for renting some illegal car. Right?
But the best part of this whole transaction was being directed to just walk out to the parking area from the desk area. No Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo signs, not even a sign from the company you just rented from. Huh? So who do we see? Where do we pick up the super duper midget mini car? Then this young guy on a cell phone comes walking up to us and asks for our rental receipt. Turns out he’s talking to the guy at the desk we just left. It’s his cousin, brother, uncle, some family member. Heck, I think all those people in there are related. He takes us to the car, it’s basically right there in front of us, hands us the keys and that’s it. Huh? Wait! Kristin is not about to drive away without some kind of visual inspection. The young man reacts, okay, but we really don’t need to do this. All that done, we are off to find our guesthouse “The Box Chalet”. No sooner are we off down the road when the traffic is all snafu’d, and everyone is just trying to get by all the water buffaloes crossing the road. WHAT!!! Water buffaloes crossing the road? It all hit us so fast we unfortunately didn’t get photos. We did get pictures of cows another time though.
The Box Chalet turned out to be a great little 8 – 10 unit guesthouse, run by a charming couple that took pride in their small, clean, outside of the beach tourist area, guesthouse. We met several other fellow travelers there, as we shared stories, adventures and information during morning breakfast (an extra 5 ringgits per person), and evening conversations in the small courtyard. One interesting little tidbit of information for any future travelers to Langkawi, would be to consider renting motor scooters here on the island instead of a car. Turns out everyone rides one here, even the tourists. This is scooter mania.
Plus it’s cheaper to rent 2 scooters than a car (though our car rental ran us around $50 for 3 full days!) We found this out from some of the other travelers. They arrived by taxi and then the owner of Box Chalet took them to a local scooter rental shop.
On our first evening we lucked out as the night market was in our neighborhood — the night market rotates through different parts of the island every night of the week. So off we went in search of a bite to eat. We hit the market just as it was getting going (and we were lucky to get a good parking spot!), and it was just one big party. There were food vendors of all kinds (more on that later)
It was a great start to our Langkawi adventure.
We quickly found out that the beach to go to was Tanjung Rhu Beach. It lies just beyond the gated entrance to some beach resorts. Just sign in at the gate, drive by all the monkeys on the side of the road and proceed to the small beach parking area. MONKEYS!!!!
Don’t feed them, and you may not want to get out of the car, but they sure are cute. Ooo, ooo, little baby monkeys too! How the heck do they hang on to mama’s belly as she jumps around? Tooooooo cute!! Oh no — monkeys on the car!
As you lay there taking in the sun rays, we noticed people standing up in the water a good 50 – 60 yards out. We heard that you could actually walk to some of the other islands at low tide. Yup, islands off the beach.
Are you getting the picture of paradise yet? So that idea of spending a day on a deserted beach on a island is possible. Catch a ride on a boat to a island, rent a boat, rent kayak, even rent a jet ski. The only thing that was odd about this beach was that there was a fence between our beach and the resort beach, and the resort beach was vacant. That’s okay, it made for a better view for us.
The Datai Resort & Beach. This place is luxury beach resort A-Plus. We drove up and asked if we could go down to the beach, and after checking with management to see if it was ok to let non-guests in, they were kind enough to have one of their golf cart vehicles take us down past all their jungle/hillside villas to their posh pool/bar/restaurant.
Yes, the beach also came with your standard picturesque island off the beach, and off in the distance were monkeys meandering down to the beach/lagoon area. They were all probably all related to the hundreds of monkeys we passed along the roadside to this resort. The monkeys are soooo cute!
Pantai Cenang Beach. One of the major tourist beaches on Langkawi and the closest beach to where we were staying, with the best sand by far and again, with your standard Langkawi islands off the beach. There were lots of activities, restaurants, bars, tourist shops, and people. We spent most of our evenings here, sitting on the beach bean bags at the Yellow Beach Cafe.
It was a little hazy the day we went up and we could only imagine what it would be Iike on a clear day or during a stunning sunset.
As we returned one evening from the Yellow Beach Cafe, we parked our little midget car, I got out, and staring at me from the dark field just beyond the bushes next to the car were four rather large water buffaloes. Humm, nice water buffaloes, I hope. Their heads were lowered and all staring at me, so I tried to take a picture, quickly, but also was ready to bolt across the street to the sanctuary of the Box Chalet. But it was too dark to take a picture. So not wanting to push my luck I left and called it a night.
So as weird or nonchalant as it was to pick up our car it was that much more so dropping it off. We were catching a ferry to Penang from Langkawi, and the car rental place said it was okay to drop the car off at the ferry port, instead of the airport where we had picked it up. Okay! Good deal. We got there and there was no sign, no car rental place, nada. We called them and asked, “hey — where do we leave the car?” They asked “where are you?” We told them, and they said “we’ll be there in 10 minutes.” Umm…okay? Sure enough some guy showed up at the car — I’m sure he’s another relative — gave us back our deposit, we gave him the keys, and that was it. No receipt, no inspection, nothing. Just a smile, a wish for safe travels and to come back soon. Kristin and I just grabbed our backpacks and walked away smiling.
On a personal note, I kind of did not want to write about Langkawi out of fear for how touristy this little slice of paradise might become if the word gets out. It was absolutely refreshing to stay in a place off the beaten track and away from the crowds. I fear that the next time I return to Tanjung Rhu Beach it will be overrun and built up like Pantai Cenang Beach. But I guess and hope you will always have one of those little islands for your serenity.