Sheer paradise: Langkawi

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Cream experiences a very different side to Malaysia: the tranquil archipelago of Langkawi.

Story by Antonino Tati.

When most people think of Malaysia, they think of its capital Kuala Lumpur and all its shopping, shuffling and traffic jams. But just 30km off the northwest coast of Malaysia lies an archipelago of 99 islands amid the Andaman Sea. Together they’re known as Langkawi, which could well be described as one of the most serene places on earth.

‘Langkawi’ is so named after the Malay words for ‘reddish brown eagle’ (‘helang’ meaning eagle, and ‘kawi’ referring to the main colour of the bird’s feathers). In 2007, UNESCO certified the archipelago as Southeast Asia’s very first ‘Geopark’, and deservedly so since this ecological wonderland consists of 550-million-year-old rock formations, abundant rainforest and small deserted islands – save for the hundreds of exotic bird and animal species that dwell there.

Of course there are human inhabitants on some of Langkawi’s islands – well on four of them at least (after all, who could resist living here?) – with a total population of just under 65,000. As a tourist, though, you will feel as though you’ve landed in some semi-deserted paradise.

After having spent three days in KL, mostly shopping, checking in at the Four Seasons Resort in Langkawi was like being thrown to the opposite end of the spectrum. Flying into Langkawi airport and trying to spot the resort via birds-eye is difficult since the thatched rooftops of its pavilions virtually blend in with their surrounds.

The resort’s traditional accommodations are woven through acres of beachfront gardens dotted with palms and lotus ponds, while only a five-minute boat-ride away sit perched in the sea the world-renowned mangroves of Kilim Karst Geoforest Park.

Kilim Karst seems to be where all the wildlife action is at. On one boat trip, I spotted kingfishers, eagles, otters, fish that could ‘walk’ (called ‘mudskippers’), and crazy fiddler crabs of every hue. The mangroves are also a great environment for watching families of macaque monkeys at work and play – the ‘work’ mostly involving sitting by the mangroves and putting on sad faces until tourists give them treats in the way of food (although feeding the wildlife is not encouraged, your boat guide might be feeling generous enough on occasion).

There is plenty to do for the avid outdoor adventurist wishing to spend a few days in Langkawi. Besides eagle-spotting and mangrove safari-ing, there are watersports aplenty such as catamaran sailing, coastal kayaking, waterfall hiking, snorkeling. Or for the less adventurous, you can kick back and enjoy a cable car ride over the ancient forest escarpment of Mount Machincang.

For an even more touristic experience, there is the grand Underwater World (the largest aquarium in Malaysia and home to some of the cutest Rockhopper Penguins) or Wildlife Park where visitors are encouraged to interact with the animals.

Back at the resort, things are more of a wellbeing nature than an active one. The Four Seasons Geo Spa offers bespoke natural treatments to refresh, invigorate or calm – the choice being yours. I opted for a Masculine Vigour & Vitality treatment that incorporates indigenous herbs and targeted massage techniques to strengthen and boost vigour and virility. Or so the menu promises. It begins with an invigorating scrub, followed by a steam and deep tissue Keringanan massage using tongkat ali oil, known to promote energy. Kidney packs are then added, as is a ginseng wrap to assist with the body’s blood flow. Let’s just say I was left feeling like a new man (cost: RM900).

For those okay with getting up early in the mornings, the resort also invites guests to partake in sunrise yoga sessions, ranging from pranayama to hatha techniques. Private yoga sessions are also available in your pavilion.

Speaking of which, the size of the ‘Melaleuca’ pavilion I stayed in was about the same as half a house, the grand arches and stone bathroom taking their cues from spacious, traditional Moorish design.

As well as its obvious Arabic influences, the architecture and interior of the Four Seasons Langkawi also gives gentle nods to the Asian and Indian cultures of Malaysia’s melting pot. And it seems like every inch of the resort has been constructed with the surrounding environment in mind: from the crystalline rock walls in the foyer, to the jagged limestone walls of each pavilion. There are plenty of windows to make the most of the stunning scenery, and broad verandahs where tropical breezes pass through morning and night.

Guests can opt for a pavilion with a lush garden setting or beachfront. But it’s the bathroom in your pavilion that’ll see you happy to stay in for the night. Four soaring arches surround the centre of it leading to a giant raised terrazzo bath. It truly is fit for a king.

There’s not a lot to do in Langkawi at night, not even on the dining front, so my travelling companions and I were more than happy to trial a different restaurant each night of the four housed in the Four Seasons.

Ikan-Ikan serves up authentic Malay cuisine included spiced and coconut-infused specialities. Serai crosses oceans for its inspiration, mainly turning to traditional Italian (although downstairs the restaurant does offer pan-Asian and Continental breakfasts). Kelapa Grill offers light and simple fair, from wood-fired pizzas to clean stir-fries. And Rhu Bar gives guests the option of munching on gourmet antipasto or tapas whilst enjoying a cocktail and soaking in the most glorious of sunsets.

And on that note, let me say, I’ve never witnessed a sunset as beautiful as that in Langkawi. My recommendation? If you’re limited for time on your next trip to Malaysia, be sure to cut your stay in KL by a couple of days so that you can fit Langkawi into the itinerary. Your mind and body will thank you for it, believe me.

Both AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines have twice daily flights to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur. Ferry rides also leave on the hour from the port of Kuala Kedah. For more information visit www.langkawi-info.com or phone +604 966 7789.