During these agonizing months of what seems like a never-ending pandemic and travel restrictions, my thoughts keep drifting back to the secret hideaways I’ve stumbled upon during my years of exploration.
There’s been many — Italy’s enchanting Maratea, China’s mysterious Yellow Mountain, England’s fairytale Bibury, Germany’s magical Rüdesheim am Rhein, Japan’s captivating Hakodate, Switzerland’s sleepy Andermatt, Vietnam’s stunning Sapa, Spain’s historic Pasaia, France’s juicy Menton … just to name a few.
And while all have left an indelible mark on me, one location stands out from the rest — Malaysia’s Langkawi.
Few places in the world enchant like Langkawi, an archipelago made up of 99 islands that jut out of the Andaman Sea on Malaysia’s west coast, opposite Thailand.
Just a short flight from Singapore and a world away from the pandemic problems most of us have had to endure — just five cases of COVID-19 have been reported on the island since March, 2020 — Langkawi is a paradise wrapped in a tropical blanket of floral and fauna where silhouetted limestone mountains rise into an always present azure sky.
I was reminded of Langkawi a few weeks ago when the island’s astonishing Four Seasons Resort, where I stayed during my visit, sent me information on its newest accommodation, a five bedroom Imperial Villa that’s perfect for families and large groups.
The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi, which already features a stunning array of accommodation options, is obviously very proud of its latest offering, which comes with lots of indoor and outdoor space, along with two private pools and secluded access to the Andaman Sea.
Above: The sunsets in Langkawi are some of the most beautiful in Asia.
As you’d expect, the lavish villa comes with a round-the-clock butler and services like spa treatments — the resort has one of the best spa facilities in Asia — and private dining, prepared by the resort’s well-trained culinary team, can be arranged by the private villa pool.
Villa occupants also have first pick of the freshly caught lobster and fish that local fisherman Pak Din delivers to the resort daily.
The Four Seasons Resort is the perfect place to base yourself if you want to experience the island’s world renowned ecosystem, which features millennia-old rainforests and a magnificent mangrove forest. The resort arranged a private trip for me into the mangroves, where mysterious creatures reside, with expert guide Aidi Abdullah, the resident naturalist who studied in Edmonton, on a small boat piloted by a captain named Ismaeil.
“Ismaeil has the eyes of an eagle — he spots things even I can’t see,” Aidi told me as we set off into the mangroves — the entrance is located just a short distance form the resort.
Aidi told me the mangroves are “the lungs of our island” and cover 14 sq. km. The tour lasted four incredible hours and during that time I came face-to-face with walking fish, odd-looking monkeys, giant eagles and a lizard-like creature known as a water monitor.
“The water monitor can swim up to 15 kilometres without taking a break,” Aidi informed me.
Langkawi’s mangrove forests attract over 300,000 visitors a year and is home to five-million-year-old limestone rock formations and some strange-looking trees, whose tangled roots sit exposed atop the muddy shoreline.
“Sea water is toxic to plants so the roots of these trees have adapted by coming to the surface where they are able to soak in rain water,” the informative Aidi told me.
There are 79 varieties of plant life in Langkawi’s mangrove forest, which was named a World Geopark by UNESCO in 2007. According to Aidi, 63 per cent of the island’s sea life depends on the mangrove to survive.
Above: The diversity of the colourful wildlife one finds in Langkawi's mangrove forest truly is a sight to behold.
“Look, do you see that walking fish?” Aidi asked as we spotted some mudskippers, which the guide said may be the “missing link.” The mudskipper looks like a fish, swims like a fish, but walks on land.
“The mudskipper stores air in his bulging cheeks and is the only fish that can live both on land and water,” Aidi told me.
One of the most colourful creatures living in the mangrove forest is the fiddler crab, which Aidi described as being “simply incredible — the way they survive and prosper here comes down to how they are able to shelter themselves from the sea.”
The crabs, which come in a rainbow of colours, survive by cutting a perfectly-rounded door into the mud where they live. They then drag themselves into the hole and the door automatically closes behind them, keeping them hidden from predators.
The most amazing part of my mangrove journey came when Ismaeil cut the boat’s engine and we floated closer to shore.
“Oh my god,” whispered Aidi, “look deep inside — do you see it — the viper?” The perfectly camouflaged snake wrapped its sleek body around a giant tree limb as we watched in wonder at such a rare sight.
Above: Langkawi's Four Seasons Resort treats guests to stunning views, food and luxury accommodation, plus lots of pampering.
“I told you Ismaeil has the eyes of an eagle. He can spot snakes from the river and the other day he spotted a cobra.”
Four Season Langkawi's mangrove tour rewarded me with one National Geographic moment after another and was one of the greatest travel experiences of my life.
JUST THE FACTS
• Langkawi has been placed in Malaysia's green zone, where no new cases of COVID-19 have been reported since October, 2020.
• The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi is welcoming guests and offering some special rates in the new year. Info: http://www.fourseasons.com/langkawi
• Canadians can get to Langkawi via Hong Kong or Singapore.