09 July 2007

Travel: Langkawi, Part 3

Well, I'm off driving around the island. My first stop was for a bite of local food, so I pulled over at Laksa Power, a truck that was parked just off the airport road. It had been recommended by the bartender at my hotel, and it was excellent. I was the only non-local there. If you don't know what Laksa is, I will provide an ode in a separate post. After this early evening snack, I was off exploring. I drove all around the island, doing recon for the next days adventures, and generally acclimating myself. I managed to find the night market, which is held in a different location every night, and joined hundreds of locals in a food and merchandise bazaar. I ignored the books, crafts, and clothes and (you guessed it) headed straight for the food. I can't remember everything I sampled, but it was all delicious. Mostly chicken, with some beef (no pork - Malaysia is heavily Muslim), all washed down with exotic fruit juices. I was in culinary heaven. It was time to head home, however, especially since I had already tempted fate by nearly running out of petrol in my drive around the island (that would have been a good one).

The next morning I decided to indulge myself with a massage. I chose a hot oil (they call it "third eye") massage at an Indian place called Ayurvedic. Basically, they pour a stream of hot oil on your forehead for nearly an hour, which is supposed to relieve all kinds of stress. I am not a massage expert, so I don't know what to expect out of any massage. After reading the brochures for this place (it was even in my Lonely Planet guidebook), I was pretty sure I was going to achieve total consciousness and a heightened sense of awareness. Well, I didn't. It was not a bad experience, but now I know to lower my expectations.

I then headed out for a drive. I wound my way up the 13 kilometers of twisty road to the top of Gunung Raya, the tallest point on the island. The view would have been incredible, only it was completely fogged in. About halfway down the mountain, you could get a glimpse of what the view from the summit would have been like, and it was fantastic. The highlight was the family of monkeys who really didn't want to give up the road and just stared as I gently rode by.

Not satisfied with one mountain, I headed across the island to hike the waterfalls of Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells) and ride the Langkawi Cable Car. As I pulled into the parking lot (car park) at Seven Wells and turned off the car, I was startled to see a little black hand grab the passenger side mirror. Another hand appeared, and then the owner of the hands, a long-tail monkey, used them to hoist herself onto the hood (bonnet) of the car and stare at me. They are all over the place! But, I had to get up to the falls and back down to the cable car before it closed, so I was off. Little did I know that you could cut the 800-metre steep hike in half by driving up to the top car park. Well, consider it my workout for the day. Up I went, into the rainforest, until I came to the falls, which cascade nearly 100 metres down the hillside through a series of seven (tujuh) wells (telaga). At the top, you can actually slide from the first couple of wells to the next, through the falls, before it becomes too rocky. My timeline (and better judgment) did not allow for this, however. I was off to Oriental Village (a restaurant and shopping area that includes a museum of props and costumes from Anna and the King, which was partially filmed in Langkawi) to catch the cable car.

The Langkawi Cable Car provides a two-kilometre, L-shaped journey to the top of Mount Machincang, from the base near sea level to a height of more than 700 metres. The first leg to the middle station on a ridge of the mountain is supported by only two towers, and the distance between the second tower and the station is a full kilometre. This while suspended more than 200 feet above the mountainside, rising at a 42 degree angle during the final part of the ascent. At the middle station, the cable bends about 90 degrees to the left to take you across a chasm for the final 60 metre rise to the summit. When I bought my ticket, I was warned that it was overcast at the top, so views would be limited. I said, "Okay, I'm going." I had the entire 6-person car to myself. This ride is not for the faint of heart - you really are way, way up there, and I started thinking, "What if this thing breaks down?" Curtains. The views were breathtaking, however (I have included a picture of Telaga Tujuh taken from the cable car; compare it to the picture of the falls taken from about 50 metres). But, just a few hundred metres higher at the middle station, it was already very foggy, and the wind had picked up. In fact, the last span to the top station was a bit dicey, and about 100 feet out, a gust hit my car and started whipping it side to side. Enough for me to have to grab on to the railing inside. It is slightly unsettling when you see the workers and tourists at the top station looking and pointing at you with eyes and mouths wide open. The wind got so bad that they stopped bringing people up. The way down was a pretty quiet ride, with three others joining me in the car. It was nice to reach the bottom.

Having survived, I had dinner and then went for dessert at the Bon Ton Resort. This resort is a collection of old Malay cabins that have been preserved and moved from all over the country to be rebuilt along the sea. The cabins were spectacular - such a great idea. The woman who runs it is an Aussie who also happens to love animals, and she has set up a foundation on the island to take care of stray cats and dogs (Muslims consider dogs unclean and won't touch them; being a dog in Malaysia is not such a good life). It started as a simple shelter, but her determination and fund-raising skills have turned it into a full bore, no-kill operation with two vets on staff. Each animal is neutered and lives with the other animals (dogs and cats separately) in sort of open-range quarters. The restaurant is outside, and you could see a few of the "house" cats and dogs wondering around. I think the dogs are quite useful in keeping the cobras at bay (yes, they have seen cobras in the yard). The atmosphere of the place was fantastic, and the desserts were the best I've had in a while. If you ever go to Langkawi, stay or dine (or both) at Bon Ton.

That's about it. I did spend most of Sunday on the island, exploring Eagle Square (with the huge eagle statue), Langkawi Legends Park (with sculptures that brought to life the mythical events of Langkawi's past), and Tanjung Rhu (the beautiful north side beach bordering on the Four Seasons resort with it's nearly private lagoon). And I did it all without wrecking the car or driving on the right (wrong) side of the road. All that was left was the flight back (you walk across the tarmac to board the plane) on Silk Airways, Singapore Air's low-cost airline, and to bring me back to the reality of the big city.

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