I knew I was going to love Langkawi Island as soon as my high-speed ferry got closer. Firstly, you see the tall mountains rising from the aqua Andaman Sea, and then as you get even closer you begin to realise this land mass looming ahead is actually a seemingly endless sea of small islands. It’s an archipelago consisting of around one hundred islands.
The ferry graciously winds its way amongst them finally arriving at Langkawi’s ferry terminal on the outskirts of Kuah – the main town. What an entrance. My positive first impressions are further upheld as I disembark into perhaps the best, most functional and new ferry terminal ever. Here, there are ATMs, money changers, restaurants, shops – it’s all here.
“Okay” I wonder, “but what’s the rest of the island going to be like?” I soon find out.
Within minutes I’m headed for a popular beachside community, Pantai Cenang, about 20 minutes by taxi on the west side of the island. As we drive out of Kuah Township I am still struck by what a modern, tree-lined township it is. The streets are wide, traffic is light, I see 2 or was it 3 modern shopping malls – one with a cinema complex. Everything looks new here. My talkative Indian taxi driver asks me where do I come from? “Australia!” I reply.
“Oh, very nice country Sir. I was born here: my grandfather came here from India.” He then proceeds to give me a short history lesson on Langkawi: Population 90,000, the Island is bigger than Singapore, it’s located 50 kilometres off the coast of Malaysia, only 3 of the 100 islands have residents, it was once home base for many pirates who hid amongst the maze of islands, coves and caves. 17th century European traders would journey here in search of pepper which grew in great abundance, and it was once part of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand), but somehow the British ended up occupying the archipelago around 1909, and I am just one of the 3,000,000 tourists that visit each year.
Soon we leave the modernity of Kuah and are quickly surrounded by mountains and jungle with regular vistas out over the island peppered sea. The road gets even wider and the traffic thins. This is Malaysia and everyone here drives according to the rules.
Finally we arrive and after booking into my budget hotel I make for the beach a few hundred metres away, and for a cold beer – the tropical midday sun is beginning to take its toll.
The Pantai Cenang beach is long and sandy: Andaman Sea on one side, luxury resorts on the other side with a purpose built public walkway well located in between. It’s beautiful – and I’ve seen a few beaches in my time, and I can’t help notice this is a hot spot for all those sun seeking jet-setting types who demand the luxury of an almost deserted island but also with tastefully developed tropical hideaways.
Being an over 60s solo traveller I initially thought I might have landed in the wrong kind of place, but no, I soon discovered there is plenty of room for the over 60s here, and it wasn’t too long before I was raising a glass with a few of them in one of those luxury, out of my price range resorts, relaxing in their shade on their comfortable recliner chairs complete with uniformed waiters hovering about. One thing I love about Asia is that they respect us over 60s types and will tolerate almost anything we do, for example they wouldn’t dare ask what my room number was.
My talkative Indian taxi driver took me on a pre-arranged 3-4 hour tour of the Island. Much of time we followed the coastal route stopping at beautiful coves, deserted beaches and some not so deserted. Here and there I caught glimpses of very upmarket resorts some perched perilously atop headlands with others were barely visible in the jungle.
There are three UNESCO World heritage listed Geoparks here – whatever they are? – wildlife park, crocodile park, gold courses, water parks and all manner of water sports activities including a wide variety of cruises amongst the once pirate infested islets. It’s all here: even an international airport and the best free Wi-Fi I have come across in Asia so far.
On the downside I found that all this modern development – all the newness, has taken away much from that old Asian charm with its unique, often antiquated architecture, and quaintness. But this is the new way of the world almost everywhere nowadays. But at least here it’s done in style and in a well-preserved and beautiful environment.
Don’t worry, the food, the relative low cost of everything and the lack of crowds still makes Langkawi Island a very attractive and easy accessible place for any over 60s looking for that something different, whatever your budget.
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