A tropical playground
Shimmering in the Straits of Malacca, just a ferry ride from the west coast of mainland Malaysia, the Langkawi archipelago is a vivid green chain of 101 pearls bathing in warm azure seas. This tropical paradise, just south of Thailand, is a place for calm sun lounger and cocktail relaxation, massage and yoga as well as adrenaline pumping adventures: a paradise playground with three golf courses and four marinas.
Taking the Umgawa Legendary Adventures zip-line through the UNESCO Geopark is an eye-opening introduction to the towering trees and natural beauty of the age-old rainforest. As you soar through the canopy you can search for monkeys, flying squirrels, flying snakes and 230 species of birds that either visit or reside in Langkawi. Though the star view is looking across to the Seven Wells Waterfall sparkling in the sunlight. Finally, a short abseil brings you back down to earth, where every stem of vegetation begins its fight for light.
Another unmissable Langkawi experience is a river cruise through the delta of mangrove forests. Snakes sunbath on tree branches and Brahminy Kites, the sea eagles who gave Langkawi its name, dive for fish. Cruises drop anchor by a sandbank for voyagers to swim in clear waters filtered by the mangroves, then moor-up for lunch at a stilted restaurant.
The Cave at the End of the World and the Cave with No Name 1 are reminders that Langkawi has an entire geological underworld of stalactites and stalagmites where bats can consume up to 400 mosquitoes an hour. Every few million years, one of the limestone caves will collapse and its successor will begin to form.
Almost every visitor to Langkawi is drawn to the sea, to island-hop through the legends. The island of Pulau Dayang Bunting, translating as “The Isle of the Pregnant Maiden”, has a name inspired by the contours of its hills. Local myth says that female fertility is enhanced by swimming in the island’s fresh-water lake. A wave-skimming route to the island is to depart from the beach at Pantai Cenang for a Mega Water Sports jet-ski safari around the archipelago. Come evening, dinner cruises sail towards the setting sun as passengers settle on deck with a sundowner.
Another recommended evening event is to step back in time with the Old Langkawi Charm Experience, journeying through paddy fields and grazing water buffalo, white egrets perched on their backs, to a traditionally timbered Malaysian Rumah Panggung House built on stilts. There, the visitors learn how to cook a gently spiced dish from the repertoire of Langkawi’s recipes. For centuries, Langkawi was a resting point on the Spice Route and aromas of cinnamon, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and countless other spices linger in the air.
Probably the perfect visit to Langkawi takes in both beach and rainforest. The Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa has one idyllic kilometre of sugar white sands beach with casuarina trees sculpted into essential sun-umbrellas. Amongst the timbered houses, lies the Spice Market Restaurant offering an astounding selection of Malaysia’s traditional dishes: curries, noodles, rendangs, rices, sambals and satays.
As Langkawi is a natural mega hot-spot, rated as one of the most bio-diverse environments on the planet, tranquil days spent in the rainforest are at the heart of understanding an environment where babblers, bulbuls, thrushes and several species of eagles have flown for millennia.
A stay at Ambong Pool Villas, where every secluded glass and timber tropical pavilion has its own private swimming pool, gives travellers an opportunity to listen to the rhythms of the rain forest: the gentle percussion of the cicada chorus, the screech of vividly coloured tropical birds and the fluttering of the giant hornbills’ wings. Adapting to local life, wearing the sarong or lose-fitting fisherman’s pants provided, guests can wile away hours on their day bed scouring the forest for rarely spotted species: flying lemur, slow loris and the civet cat. Spotting wildlife can become so compulsive that guests request a private chef to cook on their villa’s al fresco dining area.
Just a short flight from either Penang or Kuala Lumpur – and with some direct flights from the U.K. too – Langkawi offers something for everyone: from bird-watchers to sun-bathers, from golfers to water-sport aficionados, from foodies to yoga experts.