Humidity, Mosquitos and Family Travel
“Langkawi,” Lonely Planet will tell you, “is synonymous with ‘tropical paradise’.” This is Lonely Planet’s euphemistic way of saying that Langkawi is so incredibly humid that the air feels almost viscous as you move through it, but that it’s full of really pretty beaches with cool, clear water which, given the weather, will feel like paradise to you.
I’d just arrived here from Singapore (via a transfer flight through KL) and I was feeling more than a little bit trepidatious, for two reasons. The first was that I hate extreme heat and humidity, and absolutely loathe mosquitoes – both of which Langkawi had a lot of. Singapore was closer to the equator so you’d imagine it would be hotter but everything is built to keep you cool. Not so in Malaysia.
The second reason was that I was officially going from ‘solo travel’ to ‘family travel’ – for the first time since I was in high school, I was going on a holiday with my parents, and we had famously different tastes in travel. What would the next few days hold, I wondered, and would I be able to survive both the weather and wildlife while actually having fun travelling with my parents? I kept my fingers crossed.
Panorama Sky Park
However I’d end up feeling in a few days, I was super excited to see my parents when I arrived in Langkawi. They picked me up in the car they’d hired, and fussed over me affectionately, refusing to let me carry my own bag and filling my hands with food and drinks that they’d pre-emptively bought in case I was hungry. It was definitely nice to be looked after.
Dad had planned out the whole trip to a tee, and as soon as they had me ensconced in the air conditioned comfort in the car, we headed to Panorama Langkawi, which is famous for the Langkawi Sky Cab – “the steepest cable car ride on earth” and also “the longest free span mono-cable car” (as they proudly advertise) and the Sky Bridge – “the longest free span and curved bridge in the world”.
Apparently both the cable car and bridge are famous for having ridiculously long lines which you have to wait in for hours, but as Dad happily pointed out as we walked in, he’d read that the trick to avoiding them was getting there first thing in the morning, before all the tourist buses got here – it was why they’d packed me into the car so hurriedly and wouldn’t let me drop my bag off at our hotel first.
The only delay was being forced to sit through a roller coaster simulation ‘Sky Scream Roller Coaster’ (you can tell they’re really into the ‘sky’ theme with their names) at the Sky Dome – they’ve built all these other attractions around the cable car and bridge and they’re trying very hard to convince people that the other attractions are also worth visiting by giving you ‘free tickets’ to them – where by ‘free tickets’ I mean that they make you compulsorily sit through the simulator before you can join the Cable Car line. I don’t really get the point of roller coaster simulators – why wouldn’t you just go on a real roller coaster? But I suppose 10 minutes in a room with a screen beats 10 minutes waiting in a line.
The cable car and bridge were gorgeous, and it was easy to see from up there why Lonely Planet had likened Langkawi to paradise. The cable car stretches from the foothills to the top of the Machinchang Range, which is just lush, verdant forests cut with a waterfall or two and little trickling streams – not to mention the glorious panoramas beyond that of the coast and sea. You could see for miles around, and once you gained a bit of height, the temperature and humidity both dropped while the wind picked up, which made for such a refreshing change from the oppressive weather below.
The only downside was that once we’d gotten to the top, walked around and were ready to get back down, the tourist hordes had arrived – and they were a very specific type of tourist – the variety that get scared of Cable Cars (think middle aged women shreiking as the wind gently rocked the cab) and that carry around selfie sticks taking so many pictures that you imagine they must be planning to make a stop motion animation of their entire experience.
We cut through the obstacle course of engrossed selfie snappers and retreated back down to the park for an early lunch – which, courtesy of travelling with my parents, was a fair bit more decadent than I would have indulged in on my own. Mom was a sweetheart, and ordered me grilled sea bass, satay chicken and a fresh coconut, despite my protestations that I would struggle to finish it all – and then Dad bought us Magnums after that. This was going to be the biggest danger of travelling with my parents – it was going to be a struggle not to constantly overeat!
Seven Wells Waterfall and Chocofee
I was so glad we’d gotten to see the Machinchang Ranges from the cable car – the natural scenery is absolutely resplendent but the heat and humidity would have robbed us of the wondrousness of the experience if we’d have had to walk through it. Luckily, it is also possible to drive from Panorama Langkawi further inland, and then to walk just a short way to the ‘Telaga Tujuh’ Seven Wells Waterfall – the same one we’d seen from the cable car.
This is the kind of activity over which our family trips get a little comically ridiculous – I love walking fast, and I adore proper hiking. My Mom, on the other hand, is strongly averse to any physical activity that causes a significant increase in heart rate. Dad tends to walk faster, like I do, but Mom hates being left alone – so that the walk was a constant cycle of us gaining some distance, Mom yelling at us to wait up for her, Dad pausing and exasperatedly entreating her to hurry up, and Mom trying to grab our hands and physically prevent us from walking faster than her pace. It’s a lot of fun.
There’s nothing like getting to frolic in a waterfall after a brisk walk. Mom and Dad chilled on a rock with their feet in the water while I clambered around the falls – until after a little while we realised we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes and decided it was time to flee!
Back on the road I insisted we stop at Chocofee, which is literally just a store that sells chocolate and coffee, but which I’d read about in the in-flight magazine on the way over. It wasn’t as impressive as the magazine made it sound, but I did get to try white coffee, which is famous in Malaysia. White coffee is made from coffee beans that have been roasted in palm oil margarine, and is served with condensed milk. It’s delicious for a few sips, and while I think it’s too sweet to drink regularly, it’s definitely something you have to try in Malaysia.
Langkawi Island Hopping Tour.
Langkawi is actually not just one island, it’s an archipelago comprised of 99 islands. We’d been staying on the main island – Pulau Langkawi, which is where the airport and town are located, but it’s just a short boat ride over to one of it’s many smaller neighbours. If we’d been travelling my way, I’d have liked to have hired a boat and wandered leisurely between deserted islands, but Dad – probably wisely – decided to take us on an organised Island Hopping Tour.
The tour pushed off from the beach on long, canopied blue boats which cut elegantly through the turquoise waters, their elongated prows prancing happily over the gently swaying waves. The spray cool in our faces, our guides pointed around us, telling us of the legends associated with the islands before they took us to our first destination: Pregnant Maiden Lake.
Tasik Dayan Bunting: Pregnant Maiden Lake
The Pregnant Maiden Lake is on Dayang Bunting Island, inside the Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park, which is full of karstic landscapes. The Pregnant Maiden Lake is especially popular because:
a. It looks like a pregnant woman lying on her back; and
b. The local legends say that if any barren woman drinks from or bathes in the lake, she’ll become pregnant.
The story goes that a fairy princess who lost her newborn buried it in the lake, where it turned into a white crocodile, and she then blessed the lake with fertility. I don’t know about that, but it is a very nice island, and we picked up some delicious packets of rice and squid rolled up in pandan leaves at the jetty to snack on as we made the walk over the island to the lake.
It’s a gorgeous 10 minute walk to the lake – past baby monkeys and mangroves and over a fair few stairs. What really struck me about the lake though was how differently the tourists here behaved – there was a jetty full of people, and paddle boats in the water, but there wasn’t a single bikini in sight (a lot of the women had their heads covered), and almost everyone who was getting into the water had a life jacket on – I don’t think most of them knew how to swim. It really makes you appreciate that we have mandatory swimming classes at school in Australia.
Eagle feeding near Pulau Singa Besar
Langkawi is famous for eagle watching – especially for the White-bellied Sea Eagle and the Brahminy Kite, and there are hundreds of them nesting on Pulau Singa Besar. I don’t know if this is good for the environment or if they’re messing with the ecosystem, but our next stop on the tour was near Pulau Singa Besar, where we turned the engines off and the guides threw pieces of chicken out of the boat, into the air for the birds of prey to catch. There are literally hundreds of eagles all circling around and swooping and diving (you can’t see most of them in the photo because it was cloudy and they don’t photograph well against the mountains – but they’re there), and it is incredibly majestic.
Pulau Beras Basah
Our last stop on the tour was Pulau Beras Basah, ‘wet rice island’, a name that it apparently got because of how soft its sands are – although I think there are a million better comparisons than rice, which I doubt that many people consider the pinnacle of luxury to sink your feet into.
Wet Rice Island really did look like paradise, for the most part. The water was clear and sparkling, the forests lush and verdant, and there were troops of monkeys swinging from the trees, cheekily stealing food from the tourists.
But then there was the litter everywhere which was very un-paradise-like. In general the tourists – who were mostly Malaysian – just didn’t seem to care about disposing of their garbage. They’d just toss food packaging and plastic bags off to the side, and even worse – a lot of them would try to get the monkeys to play with their litter, or would just give the litter to the monkeys.
It made my blood boil – I absolutely loathe people who just litter unthinkingly but especially just giving plastic bits and pieces to monkeys who were trying to eat them, and leaving plastic bags on a beach where they’re super harmful to sea creatures – that’s pretty much my idea of an unforgivable crime.
It made me really sad, but I think it’s a very Malaysian thing and something that a lot of Asian cultures have issues with. I read a really good article in a Malaysian newspaper about this, which explained that:
Malaysians are fully aware of the health and environmental problems associated with littering, yet are not motivated to keep recreational and public areas clean, as the prevailing attitude seems to be that “someone else is paid to clean up after me” and “I don’t live here so it’s not my problem”.
– Vexing Problem of Littering Problem, The Star
It’s actually gotten to the point where Malaysia’s litter is causing the spread of leptospirosis and dengue around areas of natural beauty because rats and mosquitoes carrying the diseases breed in the food containers and packaging that are left there. It was a far cry from spotless Singapore.
The tour still ended on a nice note, the boat trip back to Pulau Langkawi lulling us back into a lethargic state of contentment. When we got off the boats though, they tried to get us to buy these awful ugly plastic souvenir plates with our photos on them. We declined – but they were already made and I think they just chuck them if the passengers don’t shell out (and they’re not recyclable either). I don’t think Malaysians think about waste all that much.
We followed our tour with a massive seafood lunch at another streetside restaurant. Malaysia is full of these, with closed kitchens and open seating like a school canteen, and a multitude of cats slinking around, hoping to steal a dropped prawn head or two. There was also usually, I noted darkly, a fair amount of litter and the tables weren’t frequently cleaned – but the food was always fantastic.
Bellies full, we drove up Gunung Raya, the highest mountain peak in Langkawi. It was cool and lovely, but we found ourselves caught up in an ethereal fog instead of being able to see the rest of the island. Personally I preferred being cool to having the view anyway, but just as we gave up on it and got ready to drive away, the sun began to burn away the fog and show us tantalising glimpses of the forests and mountains around us. There’s something so peaceful about spending the late afternoon up at a lookout, with the cool breezes in your hair, these glorious views ahead of you, and nobody else around.
Datarang Lang, Lagenda Langkawi Dalam Taman, and a lot of tropical fruit
Our time in Langkawi nearly over, we grabbed yet another round of Magnum Egos to help deal with the sun, and meandered down into town for a last look at the sights. Datarang Lang, ‘Eagle Square’, was pretty cool – it’s a giant sculpture of an eagle poised to take flight, right out over the water. This is the island’s emblem – the name Langkawi apparently comes from the words ‘helang’ – eagle, and ‘kawi’ – red brown.
Next to it was Lagenda Langkawi Dalam Taman, which is a beautiful folklore themed park – but we only lasted in there for a little while before, overheating and exhausted, we gave up and decided to flee back to the airconditioned comfort of our hotel – but not before pulling in to a fruit stall along the way where we bought way too many mangoes, longans, finger bananas and chickoos. When we ended up back at our hotel we pretty much ate ourselves into a fruit coma – which, all things considered, wasn’t the worst way to end our time there.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to drive back to the beachy little seaside airport. “So,” Dad asked, “What did you think of it?” “Pretty good” I admitted. I guess tropical weather and family vacays aren’t so bad after all.