After our Singapore and Legoland excursions, we turned our attention to Langkawi – an island just south of Malaysia for our tropical beach fix. Any holiday we take has to involve some beach activity before we term it complete.
While trip-planning, we found mixed information about Langkawi on trip advisor and other such sites. It seemed like it was an over-developed touristy kind of spot, with a few cleanliness issues.
Keeping that feedback in mind, we limited our time in Langkawi, a decision which we regret in hindsight. It’s a really beautiful place and not over-developed at all. Actually, I would say the opposite, it’s fairly undeveloped and it’s a really beautiful island.
However, cleanliness definitely was an issue in some places (awful loos!) and customer service or professionalism was practically non-existent in the hotel we stayed at.
We were on a budget and opted for a 3-star hotel – Bella Vista with middling reviews on trip advisor, purely because it looked pretty in the photos, and it was dirt-cheap.
The Bella Vista was pretty no doubt, looking like a Disney princess’s palace from a distance, and while driving in we marveled at our good luck. But they were also busy in the process of constructing a water park, and a new wing (actually an entirely different building) of the hotel.
Because of that, we ended up staying in the new half-finished wing of the hotel. I think we and another family were the only occupants of that entire building, which was further from the waterfront. Never mind, because the room was just so pretty and so home-y. Also we were feeling too wiped out (the heat was killing!) to walk back to the reception, which involved going through an old rickety cargo type elevator, crossing the road, and talking to the very pretty smiling front desk lady who spoke no English.
So, we settled down, unpacked, and freshened up, and dialed room-service only to realize that the phones weren’t working. Finally, our room service involved walking all the way to the reception, flagging down a waiter, giving the order, and then walking back to the room. And then we waited over an hour with absolutely no response.
So poor K had to walk back to the reception again to find out what happened. The receptionist helpfully informed him that the food had been sent up ages ago, but the waiter was new and probably did not know the correct room. Her suggestion: go to each floor and see if we can find him and bring him to our room 😀 .
It just shows how ravenous we were that we actually went up and down each floor of the hotel trying to track down our food. Finally got him and the food and brought it to our room where we pounced on it like hungry wolves. The kids were still hungry, but the awful prospect of room service once more was the decider.
We walked up to the main road (a good long walk. How I wish I had my fitbit tracker with me) and to our joy discovered a hole in the wall joint serving South Indian food – a boon for our Piglet who ate his food there like a champ during our stay in Langkawi.
Anyway, enough cribbing about our hotel, on to what we saw and did.
Snorkeling in Pulau Payar
On our first day, we booked a boat trip to Pulau Payar island to try our hand at snorkeling.
Again this activity had mixed reviews on trip advisor with many people claiming it to be very dirty and over-crowded. And yes, the loos were filthy but we chose to overlook that because the rest of our day there was so wonderful.
Pulau Payar is actually a marine biological park. We got on the bus bright and early at 8 am, which took us to the docks where we can board cruise ships to the island.
Note: We had a momentary scare when we saw that there was a full-fledged immigration and customs desks at the docks. We hadn’t bought our passports thinking we were just going a short distance into the sea. Thankfully, turned out we didn’t need them, we weren’t actually crossing international borders. But there were other cruise boats that were crossing borders, so a word of advice, always check before you start on these type of expeditions, whether passports are needed or not.
Anyway, we got on to our cruise boats, and sat on our asses for another 90 minutes till we reached Pulau Payar, and got transferred into another boat, which dropped us off at the beach.
By this time it was almost 11, and it took another hour or so to get dressed. Really, just tons of jostling and maneuvering, and each one holding the other’s clothes because yuck I didn’t want to touch anything in that place.
Finally we were back on the beach in our swimsuits, and collected our snorkeling gear and giving it a shot.
And it was then and only then, did we realize Langkawi’s charm. Oh, the beauty of the water. It was clean and just brimming with life. Snubnose got the hang of snorkeling very quickly and was off to the deep end within minutes. I had a few panicky moments in the water though, trying to just relax and breathe in, and enjoy the beauty around me, instead of lifting my head up again to breathe.
In the end I never quite managed it, snorkeling only in bits and pieces, and mostly just swimming in the sea. Piglet was like me struggling with all the gear and so we both remained in the shallow end for the most part. I was horribly worried about Snubnose out on her own in the deep, and couldn’t really make her out among the sea of people in the ocean, but I didn’t worry too much because:
- She is a prudent girl
- There were thick cables surrounding us stopping people from just drifting off
- She was life-jacketed
Those of us left in the shallows didn’t too badly either in terms of spotting sea-life. There were tons of fish close by, and Piglet, K, and I had a blast diving in every now and then to see them better.
There was even a small shark! At first, it caused a bit of a commotion among us, but my brave Piglet threw some sand at it and it swam away 😀 .
Piglet enjoyed himself in his own quiet way playing with the sand on the beach, and venturing intermittently into the sea to catch the fish. In spite of the heaps of sunscreen, he was heavily tanned by the end of the day.
Soon enough it was the end of a long and tiring day, and we boarded our cruise ship and returned to our hotel.
The next day, we just loafed around enjoying the hotel pool and the brilliant sunrise and sunsets, before checking out of the hotel and making our way back to Kuala Lumpur to finish the last leg of our travel.
Overall Thoughts on Langkawi
It’s a pretty place, there is a ton of things to do, but you need to plan and allocate enough time. Set aside one complete day for each activity. While Langkawi is pretty, most of the tourist attractions are in outlying islands, requiring a boat ride of an hour or so, and an early morning start. If you miss the morning boat to the islands, you are pretty much stuck with nothing to do.
We definitely felt that with an extra day or two, we could have done more island-hopping, and maybe even take the cable car ride enjoying the views of the island and the sea, or even a walk through the mangroves.
It’s also a very hot place, suffocatingly hot even in December, and everyone felt sapped. After our one day of snorkeling, we just did not feel like waking up early the next day, and so ended up spending our time just hanging out at the pool.
My point being there’s a lot to do, but you got to budget for a lot of downtime between activities (something we did not do, as the kids are high-energy types). So we came out of Langkawi with some mixed feelings.
Great place, crappy hotel, less time. In a nutshell.