Again, we ponder the age-old, and seemingly unanswerable, question: What makes one destination a kid favorite, while another equally fabulous location gets short shrift?
In the case of Langkawi, #4 on Yao Yao’s Top 10 Islands list, it may be as simple as chicken and rice in the morning, a little wildlife – and a waterslide.
Let me back up a bit: We had just spent a more than a few fabulous days in Penang – or more properly, George Town, the capital of the island state of Penang. (People call the town “Penang,” colloquially.) We stayed at the E & O, a colonial masterpiece by the same 19th century architects who built the Strand in Yangon, Myanmar and Raffles in Singapore. If you know Yao Yao, you know she loves colonial hotels, the stately old grandes dames. (She’s her mother’s daughter, in that sense.)
Anyway, she loved Penang, mostly because of the E & O and the city’s food culture – seriously, this is some of the consistently best food we’ve had anywhere. It’s an amalgam of Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and other cultures’ best offerings, and you can pretty much sit yourself down anywhere in the city and be assured of having a pretty decent meal, truth be told.
But George Town is still a city, and so Jim and I spent a large chunk of our time there visiting the old town, wandering the streets looking at lovely, faded Chinese shophouses, plus temples, mansions, art galleries, and more, and just generally soaking in the ambience of this atmospheric town. Yao Yao could only take so much of this – she needed a lot more downtime than she was getting. Plus, it was late spring and very very hot and humid. This child needed a break.
Langkawi was the perfect antidote for what ailed her.
We knew Penang would test Yao Yao’s patience a bit, so we wanted a more idyllic, palm-lined second act to this vacation. And the island paradise of Langkawi is just a short, three-hour ferry ride away. Always willing to sacrifice for our daughter, we decided on the Andaman, a beautiful, modern hotel located right on beautiful Datai Bay. (Yao Yao loves slinky modern architecture nearly as much as the colonial ones – in this, she does not resemble her mother!) This would give us all time to relax before heading back to the bitter Northeast winter, and would give Yao Yao time to swim, play on the beach, read, and enjoy herself.
This is a perfect island to bring the Niblet. There’s tons of wildlife, much of it right on the jungle-like hotel grounds and immediate surroundings. We took early-morning nature walks and bird-watching adventures, with the very buff resident naturalist, who was really remarkably well informed about the flora and fauna. We saw monkeys on the beach and dancing in the trees, colugos (flying lemurs), multicolored parrots, and a plethora of geckos and butterflies. (I also saw the inside of a wonderful spa!)
Some of the coral reefs in the bay were damaged in the tsunami, but the snorkeling was still fabulous in the bay’s edges. The nature part of this adventure kept Yao Yao in its thrall most mornings.
Most morning walks took place before breakfast, so after hours awake and unnourished, we would make a beeline for the breakfast table. Jim and Yao Yao became huge fans of nasi lemak, a dish featuring rice cooked in coconut milk, served with either chicken curry or beef rendang, along with roasted peanuts, boiled egg, fried anchovies, and a fiery sambal. Chicken and rice? For breakfast? What could be better? (Well, we vegetarians can opt for yogurt, fruit plate, and the pastry basket.)
The beach was perfect for Jim’s and my needs, and the kicker for Yao Yao was the pool with a waterslide, which became her daily afternoon activity for the next three days. (There is also a Kids’ Club for little ones under 12 years of age, which allows you to have time sans the children.)
Tempting as it might be, do not make the mistake of planting yourself at the Andaman, Four Seasons Datai Bay, or any of the other luxury hotels. Rent a car and explore the island. There is much to see and even more to do.
Ile de Re
Isola di San Michele
Yao Yao – Really beautiful, with lots of interesting animals.
Samantha – Pristine beaches, fantastic boutique hotels, indigenous architecture, spectacular food, exotic wildlife, welcoming locals, a sensitivity to environmental preservation, and, weather that’s . . . well, perfect.
Secrets only a local would know…
Yao Yao – There are lots of homeless dogs on the island but a really nice lady has a clinic that saves dogs and cats.
Samantha – There is incredible luxury on the island but the real beauty in some of the smaller villages.
Travel requirements for U.S. Citizens
You must have a valid passport valid for six months or more beyond your stay, as well as a roundtrip ticket. Check the link below, as requirements are always changing.
CDC government information
Langkawi Ferry information
Ferries run between the Malaysian mainland and Kuah town on Langkawi and to Langkawi from George Town on Penang (two and a half hours) or Satun on the southern Thai coast (one hour).
Get just a little way off the main beaches and this is idyllic, rural Malaysia, all kampungs (villages) and oil lamps. It’s the kind of tropical island where there’s no lack of spas, seafood restaurants, and beach bars, but where the locals continue to go about their ways just as they have for generations.
Beaches – Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, and Pantai Kok are the very popular beaches on the western side of the island. There are ample accommodations and eateries. Datai Bay and Burau Bay are both surrounded by lush tropical rainforest and are home to many a luxury resorts – and I’m told a really good golf course. (Whoops, did you hear me yawn?)
Bon Ton Resort
The Bon Ton Resort
Bon Ton and Temple Tree are a wonderful concept in hotels – actual antique houses in a variety of styles and materials brought to the site from all over Malaysia. We got a tour of the whole place while they were still putting some of the houses in together – it’s a labor of love. You’ll want to retire here, believe me.
Where to eat
The Pavilion Restaurant at The Datai – Authentic Thai
Nam at Bon Ton – Excellent Malay, Chinese and Mediterranean food, as well as a child’s menu.
There are too many small local eateries to begin to mention. Seafood abounds, and there is every kind of cuisine your kids could ever want.
Things to do on Langkawi
Night market – There’s a local night market that moves every evening to a different location. The food stalls are filled with Malaysian treats – roti, satay, fried shrimp, and more. It’s perfect for kids, as it allows them to try a little of this or that. (Wish there was one in my little town!)
Underwater World – The largest aquarium in Malaysia is home to 200 different species of marine and freshwater fish, including harbor seals, rockhopper penguins, sharks, giant rays, and even the large Amazonian arapaima, the world’s largest freshwater fish.
Cable Car Ride to top of Mount Mat Chinchang – Breathtaking views of Langkawi. And be sure to visit the Oriental Village, a shopping zone built around a beautiful lake with a scenic mountain backdrop.
Langkawi UNESCO World Geopark
Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells) Waterfalls and Rain Forest – You’ll see a variety of butterflies, monkeys, giant flying squirrels, parrots, and much, much more.