Maybe it’s because my ancestors are from the Azores, but I have always felt like I belong on an island. I can’t help but love playing castaway in a remote place with sandy beaches, forgoing shoes, living in a bikini, and slowing down to the laid-back pace of local islanders. So naturally, when deciding where to go for our first long weekend since we moved to Kuala Lumpur, I was drawn to a small island off the northwestern coast of Malaysia: Langkawi.
Langkawi is less than an hour’s flight from KL, and our descent treated us to magnificent views of the island surrounded by turquoise waters. Despite Langkawi’s close proximity to KL, the island felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Seeing the ocean for the first time in almost 3 months was such a calming feeling, almost like a homecoming. Escaping a particularly hot week in KL, it was nice to finally feel that cool ocean breeze that I have so desperately missed about home.
Our first evening in Langkawi we explored the popular Pantai Cenang Beach which of course was packed with tourists throwing back cheap duty-free beers, smoking shisha on the beach, and playing a few rounds of sunset volleyball. The beach had an undeniable laid-back party vibe that I can only describe as a mix between Miami Beach and Ensenada. Smiles and good times all around.
We stayed at two boutique resorts on the island that are actually right next to each and operate as one under the same owner: Temple Tree and Bon Ton. I cannot speak highly enough about these resorts and the owner Narelle. Tucked away from Langkawi’s main tourist area in a private enclave, the resorts are set in the tranquil gardens of a coconut plantation, surrounded by lush wetlands and distant ocean views. Narelle also runs the nearby Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary (LASSie), which cares for needy animals on the island, and there were adorable cats lounging around every corner! The best part is that proceeds from the resorts go directly to the animal shelter. 🙂
The first night we stayed at Temple Tree, which was a really unique experience that reminded me of an open air museum you can actually stay in. An eclectic mix of heritages, the resort is comprised of eight individual villas made from actual antique buildings of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian origin, each with a 70-110 year old history carved into its heart and soul. We stayed at the “Chinese House” which is a beautifully restored, 100-year old farm house overlooking Temple Tree’s main pool. The house was decorated with authentic Chinese artifacts and included a Mahjong room, Chinese library, and ensuite bathroom with an old wooden soaking tub. The house even came with a friendly white kitten. 🙂
The second night, we moved next door to Bon Ton which is comprised of eight antique Malay Kapung bungalows individually fitted with stylish decor collected through the owner’s travels. These bungalows were a not quite as rustic as Temple Tree while still maintaining an old-worn charm, mixed with modern luxury. This resort has frequently been named one of the best in Langkawi, not to mention the world, and the restaurant is one of the island’s most renowned (so good we ate there twice!). Overall, both resorts were incredibly peaceful and a refreshing change from your typical big chain hotel. I only wish that we could spent more nights there!
The second day of our trip we got up at the crack of dawn to go for a snorkeling excursion on a tiny island off of Langkawi- Pulau Payar Marine Park. The day was off to an apprehensive start as they herded us, along with hundreds of tourists, onto a tiny ferry for the 1-hour journey to the marine park, which occupies a small strip of beach absolutely packed with tourists. There were so many snorkelers near the beach kicking up sand that it nearly impossible to see underwater. However, our apprehension quickly faded once we figured out that all we had to do was paddle a little farther out from shore to see some incredible marine life, including countless baby black tip reef sharks! I have to admit that we are a bit spoiled when it comes to snorkeling after our private snorkeling trip in Nusa Lembongan, Bali, but this place was not bad, although the reef seemed to be dying and it didn’t look like anyone was taking any action to preserve it which was disheartening. Luckily our group was one of the last to leave the island so we got an hour or two of unspoiled beach time.
Our final day in Langkawi, we rented a moped for some island exploring! We were stoked to find a “Mexican” restaurant, a rarity in Southeast Asia and definitely something we took for granted in San Diego! It definitely was not even close to being authentic (they also serve Italian food), but they had Corona so we couldn’t argue with that. After chowing down on some nachos, our first stop on our adventure was the Langkawi Cable Car, which takes you 2322 feet above sea level to Langkawi’s second highest peak of Mt. Machinchang! Being suspended that high above thick rainforest was an absolutely terrifying experience, but the breathtaking views from the top were worth it (I guess). I have to stay that we were reassured when we read that the Cable Car was constructed by Austrians. We ended the day exploring one of Langkawi’s hidden beaches and taking a spin on an oceanside go-kart track.
One of my favorite things about living abroad is the chance to visit places that I would have never even heard about had I stayed home, and Langkawi is definitely one of those places. This island was really something special!