In January we took a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur and then to Langkawi, Malaysia. The friendliness of everyone we encountered made a real impression on us. Malaysia’s population is predominantly Muslim and so were most of the people we came across on our trip. The many smiles and acts of kindness we experienced from these good people made me even more sad for the hostile rhetoric directed at Muslims from a national party platform in my home country. Visiting a place like Malaysia quickly exposes the base inaccuracies of these negative stereotypes. Back to our trip, we enjoyed good food and some shopping in KL, and spent most of our time in Langkawi relaxing on Datai Bay Beach.
We only had one full day in Kuala Lumpur. Of course we paid a visit to the iconic Petronas Towers and spent a good portion of the day walking around the nearby park.
Later on we cooled off at the aquarium, where you can walk through an underwater tunnel and look up at the bellies of sharks, rays and all kinds of other fish. If you are traveling with children or like aquariums you should definitely put this on your list.
We stayed at Le Meridien located right next to the central train station. Since four of us were traveling it made better financial sense to take a taxi rather than the train, but we did enjoy some of the shops and restaurants at the mall adjacent to the station. Sadaf had a memorable McDonald’s reunion there although I skipped that one holding out for sushi that never materialized.
We had a comfortable visit at Le Meridien. We arrived at the hotel early after our overnight flight, and although our room was not ready the front desk receptionist set us up in the club lounge where we could shower and freshen up. The hotel still expedited our check in and we were in our room by early afternoon.
During our short time in KL we managed to work in plenty of good food – Korean barbecue, Malaysian, Japanese, and coffee, almost all at Pavillion Mall. We also enjoyed some delicious comfort food at the hotel, both poolside casual and restaurant elegant at Prime. One of the best dishes may have been the grilled salmon pasta off the kids’ menu at Prime, which would taste like a dream come true if I had it right now back here in Chennai (lots of fresh fish here but no salmon). Other culinary highlights were local grilled fish, sashimi, salads and steak. At a grocery market in Suria KLCC mall we found some of the best berries I’ve had outside the US.
After two nights in KL we took the one hour flight to Langkawi. Both the Kuala Lumpur airport and Malaysia Airlines made for one of the best air travel experiences ever for us, from when we left Chennai and on to Langkawi and back. The airport is super clean, well-organized, and airline and airport personnel remarkably pleasant and helpful. A stark contrast to our misery-at-every-turn experience flying a U.S. carrier from Singapore across the south Pacific last fall. Not ready to name names. Yet.
Langkawi is an island of the northwestern coast of Malaysia, close to Thailand. The entire island offers duty free shopping and we found unbelievable deals on chocolate, liquor and some very modest jewelry. We rented a worn out Toyota mini-SUV for about $80 for the duration of our four-day stay. I left the driving to my wife, well accustomed to the left-side driving, and I handled the very easy task of navigating.
We stayed at The Andaman Resort on Datai Bay Beach in the northwest corner of the island. National Geographic has named Datai Bay Beach one of the top ten beaches in the world! Lucky us. An ancient rainforest grows up to the edge of the beach and provides a lush, majestic green canopy over the sand. The beach is protected by a coral ring, the waves lap softly and the water invites you in. We brought our snorkeling gear all the way from home to no good end – we were too firmly in relaxation mode to arrange a boat ride to the prime snorkeling spots.
The Andaman Resort made relaxation easy. They offered a decent menu served anywhere on the beach or by the pool, including the staples of coconut water and cold beer. One thing I greatly appreciated at this place was the fixed service charge in lieu of tipping, and I can say with great confidence that this arrangement did not diminish the service quality. To the contrary, we were given some of the most attentive, friendliest service, with that perfect balance of professionalism but not overly formal, in the restaurants, with housekeeping, the valet, and in-room dining.
As for the ever-important role food plays in our vacations, we were quite satisfied here. The breakfast – served in the style of a nice Sunday brunch – may have been the highlight of our meals. It offered so many of my favorite things – fresh juices, smoked salmon, imported cheeses, and sparkling wine.
I appreciated the Bloody Mary station but managed to stay away from it each day, probably because nothing could match the unbeatable combo of sparkling wine and fresh watermelon juice. Still, a nice option.
Other food highlights beyond the breakfast included a delightfully refreshing soft-shell crab salad which I enjoyed more than once.
I also tried barracuda sashimi (delicious, creamy texture and delicate flavor) and over-indulged in the sushi from the Japanese restaurant, which although not ethereal hit the spot especially after missing the full-on sushi experience in KL. The fish and chips – one of those mainstays ordered for the kids but often enjoyed by the adults – was a surprising fishy tasting disappointment. The grilled fish plates more than made up for it for eaters of all ages. On the advice of return guests we met on the beach we skipped the signature Jala seafood restaurant whose former head chef recently relocated to Singapore. Overall, leaving food on the plate was rare for all of us at The Andaman which is a good reflection on the quality of its food.
We ventured away from the hotel a few times. We visited the Black Sand Beach on our first outing, which could more accurately be described as a beach with some black sand. The area was scenic and some of us went for a swim. Seeing it was easy because we had a car but I don’t think this beach is worth that much trouble to visit, at least compared to Datai Bay.
The next day we went to the Langkawi Wildlife Park, where the kids could feed parrots, flamingos, deer, peacocks, and U.S. street raccoons. The same kind of raccoons I paid lots of money to keep out of my attic. Exotic, apparently, is all relative when it comes to animals. The spacious park leads you through a set pathway to see the animals. Many of the birds flew and wandered freely. The staff maintained the area well and the animals seemed healthy and happy. This place also featured its own duty free store with even better prices than the airport.
Back at The Andaman we found a more local kind of wildlife. The staff warned us about the Long-Tailed Macaque, not so much for being aggressive as for being brazen in stealing food out of your room from the balcony. Somehow I took this to mean keep your balcony door closed when out of the room. It turned out to be more than that. One morning we were all in the room, Sadaf and the children out on the balcony and me inside. A monkey came out of nowhere and dashed straight through the three of them on the balcony and into the room and grabbed a can of Pringles (from the Wildlife duty-free) sitting on the dresser. In frantic haste the balcony door got closed – after the monkey came inside the room. The bold monkey was not too much smaller than our three-year old daughter. We barely had time to register the worsening of the situation – the monkey now trapped in our room – when he calmly walked back to the door, grabbed the handle, gently slid the door open, and stepped outside. He did not even leave the balcony before taking off the lid and popping the top then started digging in to the Pringles. At that point we just stood silent, in awe and in thanks, watching the victor enjoy the spoils of his conquest. After a bit he took the remaining snacks down to an overhang and shared with his monkey friends.
We also came across a group of Dusky Leaf Monkeys on our way to breakfast one day. They eat only leaves and have no interest in anything that might be in your room. So many of them and so close to us, and so quiet. We all stood watching for a long time. One nice observation about these next photos – we often see the baby monkey clinging to the mama’s belly which is super-cute in itself, here you also see the mama wrapping the baby in a secure hug.
Towards dusk on two separate nights we enjoyed a visit by a large black and white bird to the pool area. This bird looked much, much bigger in real life and I wish I’d had my ‘real’ camera for a better shot but so it goes, we were lounging by the pool.
Our other major outing was to Seven Wells Falls. Unfortunately the young children were not up for the 585-step climb to the top of the falls. Perhaps unfortunately for them, the adults were not up for the dizzying-high tramway ride to a higher elevation away from the falls. So we made the shorter hike (more like a very uphill walk) to the base falls. We cooled off in the waterfall pool, took in the beauty of the glistening rocks and rainforest, all amidst the comforting sound of the moving water.
After walking back down we recharged with coconut water and popsicles. The woman selling us these was all smiles, even as she skillfully put a nice flat bottom on the coconut and opened up the top.
Most of all, in Langkawi we soaked in the shaded sunshine and blue green water of Datai Bay. For scenic and comfortable relaxation this place could not be beat. We left thinking one more day would have made things just right, but I think here you always need one more day.