18.11.2013 - 21.11.2013
Lang means "eagle" and kawi means "reddish brown", more succintly Langkawi means "red eagle". Although it's actually named after the Brahminy Kite, not an eagle at all. So now you know.
First views of Langkawi from the transfer from Koh Lipe
We had 3 nights/2 full days here and struggled to find decent accommodation within our budget. We therefore ended up in a fairly faceless large corporate looking hotel close to the airport, it felt a bit like a stay through work by Manchester's airport! The room was fine but we were very out of the action. Turns out our stay coincided with school holidays when hotel prices can double, plus the added bonus of loads of kids about. Ah well.
Now, I'm sure the experience of many western tourists to Langkawi is to check themselves into a luxury top end hotel (of which there are many), returning home satisfied they've been suitably pampered and had a wonderful holiday. And there's nothing wrong with that. But scratch beyond the expensive-hotel-bubble surface and we found Langkawi surprisingly disappointing. (It probably didn't help that it rained for half the time we were here.)
It's a fairly sizable island with no public transport, so it was a choice of taxis, scooter or rental car. We opted for the latter for our first day and got a small runaround to explore in.
Our diddy transport
So, onto the good, the bad and the ugly...
We were struck with how courteous and friendly everyone was from the start, from immigration staff to taxi drivers and the welcoming hotel receptionist.
The beaches were nice enough but busy with watersports, and to be fair we had been spoilt on Koh Lipe.
One of the most popular attractions is Langkawi's Cable Car which runs for 950m up the mountain. With a 42-degree incline it boasts the steepest cable car ride in the world. Unfortunately there was a lot of fork lightning and storms the day before, and the attraction was closed due to technical problems as a result. We wandered around the somewhat jaded tourist trap 'village' at the base of the mountain, but did have fun trying out segways for the first time on a special track.
Couldn't get more posed if we tried
We also took the car up the long twisty climb up to the top of Gunung Raya, Langkawi's highest point at 881m. It was very atmospheric as the mountain mist rolled across the road and the only company for most of the journey were macaques sat scratching on the roadside.
Sign at the summit. Now you put it like that...
You're not meant to make eye contact with the macaques or bare your teeth else they consider it a challenge. I did make eye contact as we stopped the car and this one started to make a definite beeline for us... "go, go, go!" I shouted to Ant after snapping a quick shot!
You looking at me?
On the way down Ant spotted some particularly cute monkeys munching fruit high up in a tree which was level with the mountain road. They were a different species to the macaques and much more attractive. We stopped for a while trying to get a good view of them. We found out the next day they were Dusky Leaf Monkeys... aka Spectacled Lemurs.... aka Drunken Monkeys (they sit for hours eating fruit which then ferments in their stomach turning to alcohol, so come mid-afternoon they're basically pissed).
Taken around 4pm - their mouths looking suspiciously like Father Jack's...
We'd read nothing but rave reviews about an eco-tour company, Dev's Adventure Tours (an impressive 5 star rating on Trip Advisor), so we booked 2 trips with them for our 2nd day... a morning's cycle ride through the villages and countryside, and an evening jungle trek. Both were excellent and really enjoyable. The bike ride was just the two of us plus our guide 'Shoot'.
Local kids in the villages we passed through were super cute, saying hello and behaving as if we were celebrities (weird for us)... getting very excited whenever we waved or said hello back to them. Our guide said it's because of the way we look... paler skin, bigger eyes and fairer hair colour. Malays (and most Asian cultures) love the western look and consider it very beautiful. Incidentally, as an aside, I was really surprised to see in Thailand the wealth of skin whitening products for sale and so many Thais leaving visible cream on their face in an attempt to lighten their skin tone.
Anyway I digress...
We saw loads of native birds including herons, egrets, two types of kingfishers and probably the most impressive - several oriental-pied hornbills. We visited a rubber tree plantation and saw the latex being collected and a small village where the residents had planted various trees all bearing different fruits... papaya, coconut, mango, tamarind, guava, custard apple and so on... which the locals all share and benefit from. Makes perfect sense and such great community spirit. We also got to try a local (Indian) dish, roti canai, which was delicious.
Oriental-pied hornbill (google image as they were too high in the tree to get a photo of)
Collecting the latex
Rubber tree plantation
The rubber trees in Asia are all thanks to a British dude who stole a seed because the Brazilians (where the trees originate) wouldn't sell him any
The evening jungle trek through the rainforest was really interesting, if a little scary and put us on high alert throughout due to all the bitey/poisonous/life-threatening creatures that our guide casually mentioned in passing... y'know scorpions, snakes... that type of thing.
Our guide was impressively knowledgable about the wildlife and fauna. Langkawi is home to cobras, vipers and pythons, all of which live up in the trees and come out to feed at night. Great! Just the right time for an evening stroll through the jungle then. As they're secretive we didn't see any but God knows how many were up in the canopy above our heads...
We did see some amazing colugos, or 'flying langurs' although they neither fly as such, they glide, nor are they langurs! They actually look more like flying squirrels but are more closely related to primates. One swooped down just inches over Ant's head, I thought it was going to face-plant him!
Beautifully marked gecko
We also had to walk through tonnes of black termites and check our shoes carefully once through. The soldier termites are equipped with very powerful mandibles which are considered to be amongst the strongest jaws in the animal world, relative to their size anyway. Ant felt the pincers of a dead one and said they were like steel. No wonder they can chomp their way through wooden homes, thankfully they didn't chomp through our feet.
Many of the buildings in Langkawi (fancy hotels excluded) are either scruffy and run down or they've been given the Disney treatment and rise up as hideous gaudy monstrosities in candy pinks and peaches.
The main tourist area is Pentai Cenang which we really didn't like. We had good food overall, but the main strip was pretty souless comprising of endless naff clothing shops, ugly duty free stores/malls and importantly virtually no bars!!
We drove around the northwest of the island, checking out Temuran waterfalls and some of the coastline. The former was impressive but we were really dismayed to see how much litter the resident monkeys had been able to get their hands on. Temuran means "heritage" which was pretty ironic seeing as there seemed no evidence of the islanders looking after theirs. I don't think the UK has any falls as high as Temuran, but if we did, you can bet your life the National Trust et al. would be all over it like a rash to protect and preserve its beauty. Granted we don't have pesky macaques rooting through bins, but you counter that somehow, right? We've got the bigger brain afterall...
Lots of rubbish
Within our first few hours of being on the island, we took a taxi to Pentai Cenang. As we drove along the main strip, a car overtook on the right but as there clearly wasn't enough room for him to pass, he hit us as if we were bumper cars. He didn't stop and contined revving his engine like a prize idiot behind the next car, before deciding to stop his car in the middle of the road, get out, leave his car door wide open and walk off to one of the buildings on the street.
It was therefore difficult for cars on both sides to pass his abandoned vehicle and gave our taxi driver no opportunity to speak to him. No harm was done to any of us but the poor taxi driver had damage to his car. Very odd.
Our hotel was just so-so, pretty average but did the job. We obviously always lock away all valuable items, but it was a shame when I discovered the cleaner had pinched my mascara. It got us wondering what else might have gone walkies and made us more paranoid about locking everything away. To give the hotel credit, after reporting it, my mascara was duly returned a day later... but surely it's got to be rule number one for any hotel staff - don't nick from your guests?
All in all a bit of a mixed bag. The tours and wildlife spotting were excellent but other than that we were quite happy to move on to the next place.