by Gabi Anderson Courtney
We have a family tradition. Every year on the 1st January we sit down and plan the year’s travels. We travel a fair bit for business but we try to get at least one trip in that is purely for pleasure. It is not an easy task, as we have quite hectic schedules and it was no different this year. So we made the decision that we won’t fly more than 5 hours to get where we want to be (give maybe an extra half an hour). My husband has pinpointed a two week period in September – the only time throughout the year when he would be able to get away for something that is not business travel.
So, I have whipped out the map and managed to get 5 – 6 places on the list. Then I picked one photo from each location and emailed them to hubby to pick. No names, no locations, just one photo from each place and that’s all he had to go by. And he picked Malaysia. (The Petronas Towers might have been a giveaway, but the rest was not too hard to identify either.)
And here we had our first dilemma. We are city people. We love everything about being in a big city, so we knew that we will spend some time in Kuala Lumpur. But Malaysia also has so much more to offer, so we planned to add a second location. Really, it came down to having to choose between Langkawi and Penang, but the more I read about these two places, the more I was convinced that Langkawi is the right choice for us.
Penang is very popular with tourists, especially Australians, and it sounded like a different version of Bali. On the other hand, Langkawi is an island with a very rich colonial past and a lot less tourists. Being honest, we have not met any Australians while on the island and a lot of people attribute this to Langkawi being more expensive than Penang. It definitely had my vote.
And then before we knew it, it was travel day. We caught a night flight with Malaysia Airlines (I’m happy to fly any airline, until it’s not a budget one) and Malaysia Airlines simply had the best deal at the time. While the flight was pleasant, it took two and a half hours to get through customs, which I have been told is fairly normal for KL. By the time we met up with our driver, we were really keen just to hit the hotel. KL city is approximately an hour away from the airport depending on the traffic.
We have decided on Le Meridien (part of the Marriott group) and we were not disappointed. The service was exceptional, the hotel is beautiful, and they definitely whip up amazing cocktails. The only downside was the breakfast. I came home two kilos heavier and I do attribute that to the buffet breakfasts. By far the most luxurious buffet I have ever seen. Wall to wall food stations catering for all tastes, cultures and dietary requirements. I have to admit, some days I ended up having three servings; always stated with an omelette, hash browns, mushrooms, you know, the good old European breakfast, followed by the Indian station with rice, Dahl and veggies, and finishing off with some Malaysian and European sweets. Grateful that the hotel also has a gym, otherwise that two extra kilos might have been five.
After checking in to the hotel, we decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants there, then had a quick stroll in the area. As at this stage we were awake for nearly 36 hours – with small 15 minute naps on the plane – so in the evening we simply ordered room service and had an early night.
On our first full day at KL (Saturday) we had a full day tour of the city with our driver, and while pretty full on, it was worth every minute of it. Visited Thean Hou Chinese Temple, the National Mosque, Menara Towers, the Kings Palace, Chinatown and Little India. Opted for a quick lunch at Chinatown and upon getting back to the hotel, we realized we walked nearly 8 kilometres.
I have made a booking for Petronas Towers for Sunday morning, and while this is definitely a spot preferred by tourist, it was just as magnificent as you see them in holiday brochures. Could not help myself but thinking of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery in Entrapment. Only that I’m not a fan of heights, still, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
At the base of the towers, strategically placed, a high end shopping centre with shops like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Not sure if the shops themselves, or the air-conditioning that drew the people in, but even the café where we stopped for a coffee and a snack was full.
You can’t go to KL and not try the street food at Jalan Alor. A street market with a huge array of restaurants – all out on the street – will cater for all different tastes, but be aware, there is no air-conditioning here. We have opted for a place called Tiger run by an older Malaysian lady, who seemed to balance all orders in her head, but it did not seem that she ever made a mistake, even though the place was full. And hardly a tourist in site, just locals.
When I booked the trip, I didn’t realise that our trip will coincide with Malaysia Day, which happened to be the next day. We already had a plan to visit Batu Caves and Kanching Waterfall, but our driver also took us to the main city square where all the festivities were held. The square was buzzing with people, most of them waiving the Malaysian flag, food trucks everywhere, music, games and entertainment at various stages around. Even though pretty tired from the previous activities, it was such an amazing experience to be part of this day.
Before getting to the festivities though, we have visited Batu Caves. It’s a sacred Indian shrine and while exhausting, it is worth to climb the 272 steps that lead to the temple. And all around the steps are monkeys that are friendly, but at the same time, we have been warned; they love to steal your belongings if you don’t pay enough attention.
Kanching Waterfall could’ve probably been more enjoyable if we don’t visit on Malaysia Day, as there were people everywhere, but still worth a look. And another climb. By this stage I have started to develop serious leg muscles.
The flight from KL to Langkawi is a short one hour hop, and suddenly, you are in a different world. Driving from the airport to the hotel, it seemed like we also travelled back in time to Malaysia’s colonial past. I have chosen the Bayview Hotel in Kuah, that is very central and was surprised by how spacious the room was, and certainly appreciated the bath, that most modern hotel rooms don’t have nowadays.
As most places in Langkawi close around 3 pm and don’t reopen till after 6 pm, finding a place to eat around 3.30 pm was a bit of a challenge, but Arts Café came to the rescue. Amazing Malaysian food and freshly chilled champagne; we were so impressed that even came back for dinner on our last night in Langkawi.
On our first night on the island we have visited the Kuah night markets. They only happen twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays) and we certainly did not want to miss it. Still full from lunch, we picked up some drinks and some local chocolate cake to have back at the hotel, and get an early night to get ready for the following day’s adventure.
With a day full on like this, the following day we simply opted for some shopping, a stiff cocktail by the pool and a couple’s massage at the spa, followed by a goodbye dinner at one of La Troika’s sky restaurants; Strato. I was sad to leave KL, but we were flying to Langkawi the following day, and I was looking forward to new adventures.
The next morning we got picked up in the hotel and taken to our own private boat to go island hopping.
Being out on the water surrounded by islands with hills and mountains, it certainly felt like Jurassic Park territory, especially as the air had a thick haze. It was truly magical going from island to island, but again, we were warned not to leave any belongings out of site, as the monkeys are quite comfortable emptying your bag.
Walking on the island beaches, I truly appreciated the beauty of this place.
When we finally headed back, we challenged out tastebuds and thought we’ll try something different; the Royal Tarboush with Arabic cuisine. And we are so glad we did. The food was amazing and I think we both got the taste for Arabic food.
On our final day in Langkawi we headed for the Oriental Village and a ride in the cable car. Truly mortifying for someone who does not appreciate heights, but I love challenging myself and I know magic does not happen in someone’s comfort zone.
The Oriental Village had numerous attractions, probably the best being the 3D Museum, we certainly had a lot of fun here. The cable car ride is one of the longest in the world; 2.2 kilometres with 3 stations and views of the sea, as well as Seven Wells waterfall. As amazing as it was, my husband had a fair bit of fun taking photos of me trying hard not to lose my marbles. Still, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Parting home the following day, I have reflected on how amazing this journey really was. We have ticked off some stunning places from our bucket list, made some new friends, and I even managed to squeeze a business meeting in.
Thank you Malaysia. We’ll be back
We chose to fly Malaysia Airlines
KL transport and tours by our friend Hairul
Special thank you to Utami at the Bayview Hotel for her hospitality