Langkawi, we had been told, was a great beach destination. Yet, we weren’t planning on spending our whole stay lying on the sand, improving our sun tan. Luckily, we found out pretty quickly that the island of Langkawi wasn’t all about beaches.
Our visit to Malaysia, our first ever trip to a South-east Asian country, had begun beautifully. We had strolled through the streets of Penang, admiring Chinese temples, colourful mosques with their loud speakers calling to prayer five times a day in quaint Arabic and heritage houses, all in one go. We had faced the trial of crossing streets in the middle of a ballet of roaring motorbikes just to get a taste of local samosas and nasi lemaks. Now was the time to leave town and head to the island of Langkawi.
What should have been a nice little boat ride turned into two hours of agony, as it had been decided that there was no better way to entertain passengers travelling on a frail boat than to show them a shark movie. Had our trip lasted three more hours, who knows what would have been shown next on the big screen? Titanic, perhaps?
Reaching solid ground was therefore a relief, even though the tacky sculpture of a massive eagle that welcomed us into Langkawi was not the sight we had expected. On the other hand, the beach in the back of our hotel was everything we wanted it to be. The sound of waves crashing down the shore was so tempting that we put on our swimsuits immediately and got into surprisingly warm water, making the most of the day as sun was already going down.
We were ready to discover the island in the earliest hours of the next day and figured the best way to do so was to rent a motorbike. The only problem was that we had no international license to show, only one French car driver’s license. Walking shyly into a rental booth, we expected some negotiating. There was none. A quick, casual look at the French document was enough for us to hit the road.
Traffic on the roads of Langkawi was manageable in comparison to the chaos we had left in Penang. Yet, our first stop came earlier than planned as we pulled over to try and get closer to a group of monkeys on the side of road. Being our first time in South-east Asia, we were delusional enough to think that monkeys were these cute, bubbly animals, though a little mischievous. The angry grin on the face of one of the big males made us reconsider this stance, yet not as much so as the monkeys that would try to steal our food the next day.
We retreated to our motorbike, reaching our destination in no time. There was no monkey in sight when a cable car took us to the top of Mount Machincang, where the spectacle of a mist-cloaked canopy dazzled us. A walk on the nearby Sky Bridge should have been our second stop and we let out a sigh of disappointment when we saw that the bridge was closed, pretending that we would have been brave enough to face it. Truth be told, the cable car itself, as untrustworthy as it looked, was already too frightening for our own good.
Luckily, the Seven Wells Waterfalls known as Telagah Tujuh were close and implied no such flying in the air in an unstable trolley hanging over mountains. Instead, it implied walking on a long flight of stairs to get to natural pools. The main ones were so busy that we decided to walk further, with no regret as we finally arrived to a natural pool empty of any crowd, overlooking the canopy as if it were our own private Jacuzzi. We could enjoy long minutes of peacefulness, staring at the magic of the wild all around us before a couple of tourists caught up on our little paradise. Cohabitation could not last so we fled.
Our path took us then to the beach of Tanjung Rhu, where an average bowl of noodles and groups of yelling tourists did not convince us to linger. Yet, a name caught our attention on the way back, advertising a black sand beach that we refused to miss out on. The parking lot was empty but for a group of local ladies selling textiles in makeshift shops. We greeted them timidly and walked through some bushes towards the beach. There was no misleading advertising. Sand truly was as dark as ashes. Floating on the coastline were a few open fishing boats, all painted in different colours.
The beach was otherwise quite dull, until we noticed in the distance a tangled bridge made of all shapes and sizes of wooden boards. A pair of ginger stray cats appeared out of nowhere and paused to look at us. They then gracefully walked towards the bridge, stopping every now and then as if they were inviting us to follow them.
Supported by roughly cut logs on both sides, wooden boards protruding on some parts, this bridge still seemed more reliable than the cursed cable car we had ridden a few hours ago. Indeed, it was stable enough and a rope ladder had even been designed to jump safely into the sea. The cats were playing hide and seek on the lower part of the bridge as we jumped into the calm sea.
The sun was getting lower when we finally decided to head back to our hotel. We stopped on the side of the road to get some fuel out of a plastic bottle sold by a family at a makeshift gas station and turned back. The landscape around us was the same as it was in the morning but the fading light gave it an aura of mystery. On our left was a herd of buffalos, on our right a colonial clock tower and a marina that seemed to sprout out of nowhere, as if they did not belong to the wild, thick forest in the back. Langkawi definitely had a way of surprising us beyond its beaches.