Sue and Ade met us at the airport and, just as it had been with Oui, it was so lovely to see a familiar face. Our room at T-star Cottages was OK and the garden attractive, but it was a rather odd place in some respects, charging extra for things that you would expect to be provided – such as proper sheets and fresh towels. Also, the bed was a mattress on the floor, presumably to give an illusion of more space, and it quickly became apparent that sound insulation was entirely absent – luckily we were on the upper floor. The grounds were prettily planted, but the pond outside every block of four rooms ensured a plentiful supply of mosquitoes. Two kinds of monkey also frequented the grounds – cute, harmless, shy dusky leaf langurs that kept mainly to the trees, and pesky, snarly macaques that prowled the rooftops and balconies looking for food or anything else that took their fancy. They were doubtless responsible for the beach towel on the roof of the hut opposite ours – and yet the drippy girl in the room next door still gave them food! It served her right when one nicked her tube of Pringles.
One thing that I hadn’t realised in my previous considerations of Langkawi was that it is a duty free island, so small cans of beer that cost around RM8 (£1.50) in a mainland 7-11, or RM15 in a restaurant, cost only RM2 or RM5 respectively, and it turned out that food was quite reasonable too if you shopped around a bit. Suddenly it wasn’t that expensive after all, so sunset beers on the soft white sands of Tengah beach with Sue and Ade were an affordable treat in which we indulged more than once. Ade had turned out to be as nice a person as you could wish to meet, and it soon felt as though we had known him for years.
After a late and leisurely breakfast at Cactus, a restaurant a few doors from T-star whose good value deals and fluffy pancakes earned it exclusive rights to our morning custom, we spent the first day just getting our bearings and scoping the eating options of Pantai Tengah, while Sue and Ade went off to deal with wedding bureaucracy. The biggest and busiest beach and associated shopping/eating/sleeping strip on Langkawi is Pantai Cenang, which we had passed through on the way from the airport. I was glad we weren’t staying there. Pantai Tengah is almost contiguous, joining where the coastal road does a dog-leg at the junction with the road to Kuah (the capital), but south of the junction is immediately much, much quieter with hotels, guesthouses, shops and restaurants well spaced out instead of packed into every available space as in Pantai Cenang. I suspect that will eventually change, sadly.
The other reasonably priced thing on Langkawi was car hire. Sue and Ade had arrived a couple of days before us so had already explored some of the island by motorbike and had found a beach to which they wanted to return, so the next day we hired a car for RM60(£12) and did a circuit of the island with Ade at the wheel. The road up Gunung Raya seemed to go on for ever, winding from one side of the mountain to the other and emerging eventually at a hotel on the summit. The 270 degree view would have been even more spectacular without the haze that reduced the offshore karst islands to misty silhouettes. I was quite glad we hadn’t paid £7 each to go up the cable car, as the view would have been no better and the famous Skybridge was still closed for repairs.
Back down from the peak, the next stop was Scarborough, a laudible attempt at a British fish and chip restaurant but run by a Sri Lankan. Set right on a white sand beach, the views were lovely as long as you steered your gaze away from the cement factory along the coast, one of Langkawi’s few industrial sites. It’s not pretty, but the planning application by a luxury hotel to create an artificial island to screen it from its guests seemed a little disproportionate – it was quite far away and not that bad.
Further along the Tanjung Rhu peninsula we drove through jungly tracts before hitting the beach, a perfect casuarina fringed strip of white sand facing steep limestone islands across blue water. Real picture postcard territory. The water wasn’t cystal clear, but we enjoyed our first sea dip since Ko Phangnan. Then a drive along the north west coast and a quick stop at a beach there, before heading for home via Pantai Cenang for sunset beach beers, a visit to the cashpoint, and supplies for our trip the following day.
We’d booked an island hopping trip for the next morning. I was glad we didn’t have too far to travel to the departure point, because the seats in the minivan that collected us seemed to have only the loosest connection to the van floor, and the driver was obviously on a deadline. The jetty was swarming with people and dozens of small boats bobbed around it – the boarding process appeared to have something to do with the various coloured stickers that we were all wearing and we ended up being about the last to board. Unfortunately that meant that we were squeezed onto a boat with far more people than the 8-10 promised, and there weren’t any seats left inside. Not wanting to sit in the blazing sun we tried to argue for another boat but it was futile, and they assured us that the time spent on the boat would be short. In fact once the boat got under way the biggest problem was not the sun but the engine fumes – being at the front in the open was actually better.
The crossing to the first stop was only 10 minutes or so, and we pulled up at the jetty on Pulau Dayang. As we disembarked, the cans of beer that were intended to accompany our lunchtime picnic were spotted in our carrier bag, and we were sternly informed that we couldn’t bring them onto the island – we would have to drink them there and then. 09:30 did seem a tad early for beer drinking even for us – luckily there were enough people around for us to slip the cans into a rucksack while the guy’s attention was distracted, and we hastened along the jetty before he could check on our progress in disposing of the contraband.
The reason boats stop at Pulau Dayang is for passengers to visit the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, a contradictory name if ever I heard one (the hills of the island,are supposed to look like a pregnant woman lying down). We only had an hour, and getting to the lake involved slogging up a stepped hillside and then descending even steeper steps on the other side, where macaques waited to ambush anybody foolhardy enough to be carrying a soft drink. Concerned about his knee, which still wasn’t right, Mr V decided to stay in the pavillion at the top of the hill. Sue, Ade and I carried on down to find a scenic lake spoiled by a crowded pontoon which was home to drink stalls and pedalo operators, but by following the path along the side of the lake we left 99% of the other visitors behind, and the pontoon disappeared behind a small headland. Then it really was lovely, with steep green slopes rising above black water and sunbeams slanting through gaps in the ridge, with birdsong as the only sound.
We couldn’t linger though as we needed to get back to the boat – I had little faith in the crew knowing how many passengers were supposed to be on board. Our next stop was to watch eagles being fed, for which we didn’t disembark. Food was simply thrown into the water for the birds to swoop down and fish it out. We certainly got a good close up view of the birds, even if there were only a couple of bona fide eagles among the dozen or more brahminy kites. The last and least worthwhile stop was at a beach on Pulau Beras Besah that was crowded with day trippers and drinks stands, where the shallow sea was difficult to get into because of underfoot rocks and weed and too many boats. Almost any of the mainland beaches would have been better.
On Wednesday Sue and Ade moved to the more luxurious Bon Ton Resort in preparation for their wedding the next day, returning briefly to pick up Sue’s wedding dressing (a diaphanous net creation which had been hanging in our bathroom to let the creases fall out) and to give us our silk flower buttonholes. I decided to walk to Pantai Cenang to see whether I could get another knee length dress as I’d been wearing my pink one almost every day in Thailand and Lankawi. I also needed to pick up some crisps etc for a post wedding snack at Bon Ton, to keep us all going until the evening meal. I failed on the dress part of the mission – lots of shops at the southern end of Pantai Cenang, but why oh why do they all have to sell exactly the same stuff? And why this mania for dresses with uneven hems?
Thursday was Wedding Day, so we dressed up in our finest clothes (ha!) – Mr V put on his long trousers and added a grey silk scarf to the least bobbly of his North Face shirts, while I dug out my unworn green cotton top from Candolim and my not worn very much black skirt from Delhi, plus the gold silk scarf from Bangkok.
The wedding planner picked us up and took us to Bon Ton to pick up Sue and Ade. They looked great – Sue had a long purple camisole under the transparent white dress, a purple stole, and a bouquet of purple silk flowers, while Ade wore a purple cotton print shirt, tropical but tasteful. When we got to the registry office/town hall we were led to a couple of rooms decked with flowers, one decorated in red, the other in purple – naturally we went into the purple one to take photos. Then the wedding planner gave a short but sweet homily on marriage before Sue and Ade exchanged vows, and we all signed the register. Helpfully, it was all conducted in English!
Back at Bon Ton we drank champagne on the verandah of Sue and Ade’s wooden villa before changing into swimming gear and repairing to the swimming pool. It was a nice resort, with well spaced rustic villas set around the pool, facing a marshy area that stretched to the sea – very peaceful. In the evening we were joined by Sue’s brother, who just happened to be in Langkawi, and were served dinner in the resort’s private dining area, a wooden balcony overlooking a lagoon in the marshes. Afterwards there was a small chocolate cake to be ceremoniously cut, although we were really too full to eat it. All in all, it was an object lesson in how to have an enjoyable and memorable wedding without spending the £10k+ that weddings typically cost in the UK – and with a lot less stress probably.
We only had one full day in Langkawi after the wedding, after which Sue and Ade would catch the ferry to Ko Lipe in Thailand for a 2 week honeymoon on the beach, and we would fly to KL for a few days before going on to Laos. We met up in the evening for a final sunset beer on the beach and meal in Pantai Tengah. After more than a year of mostly fleeting social encounters it had been wonderful to spend time with good friends, and as we went our separate ways I knew I was really going to miss them. I was also going to miss Langkawi, which really is lovely – but shhh, don’t tell anyone!