Corey and I have been living on Langkawi, Malaysia for about 2 months. Langkawi was not even on our radar of potential places to see in Southeast Asia. A conversation with an Aussie friend launched Corey into the “job of the moment” and me into a life of leisure.
First off, Langkawi is actually an archipelago of 104 islands of which 99 remain above water at high tide. There are only a few that are inhabited. Langkawi Island, is the largest in size and population. It is fast becoming a high-end holiday destination due to shrewd marketing and an ideal location. Tourists arrive from all over the world but it is a backdoor destination for Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The short, direct flights allow for a nice weekend escape. New direct flights from Guangzhou, China are promoting access to a very fertile Chinese market. As part of Malaysia, Langkawi has of course, an Islamic focused culture. This feature is also attracting moneyed clients from the Middle East.
Living between Thailand and Singapore the past couple of years highlighted the difference between those two countries. Now living on Langkawi, we observe new contrasts between Langkawi and Phuket. Phuket, Thailand is a huge island with a truly excessive number of tourists. It has a few redeeming qualities but there are certainly many other much more enjoyable island destinations in Thailand. Singapore is a wonderful place. Very clean, orderly, and expensive. I found pockets of deeply rooted culture in Singapore but it is certainly not an “in your face” Asian experience. I would suggest visiting Singapore if you want to ‘ease into’ Asia.
Back to Langkawi! The primary island and waters, including nearby islands, have been named the first GeoPark in SE Asia. What is a GeoPark you might ask? It is defined as “a UNESCO-designated area containing one or more sites of particular geological importance, intended to conserve the geological heritage and promote public awareness.” This is very exciting as the island is striving to promote more ecologically friendly tourism.
Corey and I took a boat tour of the mangroves and GeoPark area. You can rent an entire boat, which we did, for two to five hours, depending on what you want to do and see. We chose the 2 hour tour (I’m hearing Gilligan’s Island theme in my head as I write). We were most interested in the mangroves, the Bat Caves, and the area famous for the local eagles. Langkawi is actually named for the local reddish-brown eagle. They are spectacular! There is also a local bald eagle. We were able to observe both in an open section of the mangroves. There are boats that offer the eagles chicken skin and chicken parts. This is very likely NOT ecologically sound but hey, we are in SE Asia. This is something that likely should be addressed locally. I was just glad to see the mangroves being kept relatively clean as well as the focus on the natural flora and fauna. FYI- we did NOT feed the eagles and I would certainly encourage anyone who visits to discourage their tour operator from doing so.
As we slowly coasted through the mangroves, the water shimmered and reflected the drooping tangled branches of the trees. The watery shallows revealed the mangrove roots or “knees.” We were lucky to have adventured out at low tide. Our boat travelled through a cave and also stopped on the gray mud flats to watch the bustle of activity. Mudskippers walking on their front fins and crabs carrying the “doors” to their homes, popping them in behind as they crawled down their holes.
Snakes are common in the mangroves and our guide’s eagle eyes spotted a lazy cobra in the branches. We got as close as we dared for a photo opportunity.
Another adventure found us on a ferry to a nearby Thai island for one night. Koh Lipe is 1.5 hours away from Langkawi and a million miles difference in everything besides distance! Koh Lipe is beautiful. It is a very small island with few roads and can be primarily explored by foot. It has crystal clear water and is ringed by cream colored sandy beaches. It was a nice distraction from our usual life on Langkawi. Langkawi finds the locals in conservative Islamic clothing for the most part and tourists stand out. Koh Lipe is the total opposite. More bikinis per square inch of island than I’ve seen in a while. Corey was very appreciative. We ate as much pork as we could get our hands on in just over 24 hours. We can get good Thai food in Langkawi but Thai style bbq pork is really hard to beat. You can only eat so much chicken…
Here are some pics of both Langkawi and Koh Lipe. Please open this blog in your browser so you can see the slideshows! I look forward to your comments, as always.