Friday, January 23, 2015

Langkawi - 3 nights in Berjaya

Earlier in the year, I spent a week working in Kuala Lumpur after which I took myself over to Penang for a few nights for a little getaway. Though Mr J (partner) didn’t mind, he did insist on having a holiday too. As part of my work, I travel a lot around Australia as well as South-East Asia. So it was time to actually get on a plane without being alone for a change - for a holiday not work. Originally, I thought we’d visit Penang (which I wanted Mr J to experience after my lovely long weekend) and Langkawi. However, the more I read, the more I wanted to see Koh Lipe, so Penang had to be left for another time.

As usual, I spent many hours looking at accommodation options and places to stay. Just doing your homework can make a huge difference in prices. During this trip, just a few days made a difference between high and mid-season prices on Lipe, which meant paying double for the same room. So dates moved around until we finally came up with three nights in Langkawi, then two on Lipe with the last five back in Langkawi.

Despite all the recent tragedies, we chose to fly Malaysian Air from Melbourne to Langkawi via KL. There was no reason not to travel with them and they are as safe as any other airline, just a victim of circumstance. Plus the fare was amazingly cheap. As I’d flown with them previously I knew they also had great service. I could not fault them for the all flights we had, which were all on time and uneventful.

It was after dinner when we arrived at Berjaya resort. The reception area was busy with people waiting for the shuttle service going here and there. Once we’d checked in, unloaded our bags and refreshed, we wondered around the resort’s garden trails in the damp evening air, ending up back at the reception area where we enjoyed a drink and snack before turning in for the night.

A gorgeous outlook met us when we opened the drapes the following morning. Our chalet was perched on a rocky beach overlooking a small blue lagoon framed by other chalets and boardwalks over the water. At the end of the boardwalk was a little gazebo facing east into the rising sun. Herons and gulls were out hunting their morning feed in the misty sunshine. Crabs and small fish were doing their best to find their own breakfast without becoming food for the birds. Behind the chalet, a steep hill rose carpeted with jungle palms and bushes, dotted with other chalets. Long tail macaques were causing havoc attempting to break into the lodges and picking tee-shirts and towels off balconies and running off into the undergrowth. Screeches echoed through the resort as the monkeys fought and argued with each other, while the piercing calls of hornbills rang out from the tree tops.

The plan for the first few days in Berjaya was to see and do the activities in the local area without going to the main town area. The Sky car was a few hundred metres from the resort and there was a convenient shuttle service that we took advantage of after a leisurely breakfast. Already, the day was hot with huge fluffy clouds building in the distance promising an afternoon downpour. Dropped at the entrance to the oriental tourist village, we made a bee line for the cable car. Before the steep car ride, the operators herded us into a circular cinema. Unsure of what to expect, J and I sat near the back wondering what we were in for. Loud music blasted as a sci-fi inspired, computer generated movie screened on the domed ceiling that enveloped you as you sat right back into your chair in an almost reclining position. The movie – a gravity defying roller coaster – left me feeling exhilarated. It felt like watching a 3D movie with impossible drops and loops making me feel a bit wonky on my feet as I exited. J and I laughed watching the other visitors’ various reactions to the virtual ride.

From the station at the base of the mountain, the cable rose steadily for a kilometre or so then suddenly turned upward at an acute pitch. From inside the car, it was incredible to feel the steep climb practically up the side of the cliff. Below, breaks in the trees revealed two waterfalls, on the left a narrow stream plunging over a high cliff, and on the right a rivulet cascading over rocks forming small tributaries as the water found routes downhill to the sea.

At the top of the mountain, the first stop had a large platform affording a lovely view out to sea over the small islands off the coast and the harbour toward the airport. Onwards, a second cable strung between two peaks took us to the main station and lookout. J and I wondered around taking photos. The impressive sky deck was closed unfortunately. I’m sure the views from there would have been majestic. From the top platform, you could see the jagged mountains forming a spine along the top of the island affording a spectacular view. 

Returning back, our young, female co-passengers screamed as the cable car plunged down the precipitous drop back down the mountain, causing the cart to pitch and rock as we descended to sea level. The ride was over surprisingly quickly and smoothly. When we reached the bottom, there were more people in the village shopping and having lunch. Clouds were building rapidly and the peak where we had been just minutes ago was obscured by mist. Being mid-afternoon, we were ready for lunch. Near the rear of the complex was a food court comprising a few stalls with similar menus of Malay style stir-fries and curries with western snacks. J and I ordered simple rice and noodles that were super cheap and delicious.

After browsing the stores, we headed back to the resort. We waited for a hotel shuttle but gave up after twenty minutes to brave the hot afternoon sun on the walk back. Thankfully it wasn’t far. A lazy afternoon followed before a wonderful dinner at the Thai restaurant at the resort. The highlight was the show put on by the local sea life. A lemon shark and other large fish were hunting in the dark water under the boardwalks. Shoals of fish swam to the surface becoming illuminated in the resort lights. Suddenly, you’d hear a large splash below the pier then see a long, large shadow pass where the fish had been. This nightly drama was repeated all around the world, but here it was for us to observe almost like a private show. I cheered for the little fish to run (or should I say swim) fast to get away from the predators. But it was captivating to watch the large fish in their element.

The following day, we planned to walk to the waterfall we had seen from the sky cab. It was only a few kilometres from the resort through the oriental village and up the road. Enjoying watching the cheeky monkeys playing, this time very close to our chalet, we had relaxing morning meal. Before the sun got too hot, we wondered off, through the Oriental village, and onwards along the road sticking to the shadows by the side of the road as much as possible.
Stalls and food vendors marked the entry into the park and the path to the falls. Thankfully, the path was mostly under the shade of the overhanging trees, making the few hundred steps tolerable. At the top, pools of clear, cool water provided a luscious natural spa for bathers. A dozen or so visitors were sitting or splashing around. J and I didn’t bring our bathing gear, but waded in the cool pools. “AWAS” signs with rough barricades marked the edge of the cliffs where the water fell. We had read about visitors having accidents (and I think even one died) by not staying on the safe side of the cliff.
Rested and revived, we made our way down to the second viewing area of the large falls. Not as many people were there but a few were in the water under the falls indulging in a natural shower. Not in any hurry, we simply enjoyed the cool shade and sounds of the running water.
By lunchtime, the clouds had gathered and thickened, threatening a thunderstorm. We again had a simple and fresh meal in the oriental village at the base of the cable car. I also spent some time browsing the shops for a few bits and pieces and something for the friends and family back home. Rain came down not long after we returned to the chalet, and we had another peaceful afternoon relaxing and reading. For our last night in the resort, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Italian style restaurant, along with many other hotel guests. With a glass of wine (or two), we ate beautiful food at a table overlooking the water, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this part of the island.

The following morning started early as we had a 9:30am ferry from Telanga harbour over to Koh Lipe. As it’s an international trip, you need to be there well over an hour earlier to process passports etc. A quick taxi ride had us there at around 8. Travellers from all over the world, as well as a few locals were hanging around while the officials processed our paperwork. It was a strange process. You fill out your Thai arrival card, handed it over with your passport, and waited (about half an hour) until they called your name. Then, you walked a hundred metres along the jetty to the Malaysian immigration office to collect your passport before walking back to where we started to board the ferry. But as you boarded, you had to hand over your passport again to the ship’s captain, who promised they’d be returned once on Koh Lipe.

The ferry was a large speed boat with airline-esque seats over two indoor decks. Looking through the grimy windows, a nice view of the harbour and islands and beaches near Berjaya resort could be made out, before we picked up speed and headed out to sea. Most people dozed or watched the TV, which was playing an action movie without sound, but J and I just read. The trip was smooth and a bit over an hour later, we were docking at an off shore platform in front of Pattaya beach on Koh Lipe island.

From the very first glimpse, I was in love. Heaven! Half-moon shaped, white sandy beach with thatched huts dotted among the palm trees. The sea was so clear you could see fish as clearly as if you were swimming with them. The water was a brilliant shade of aquamarine. At each end of the beach rose a rocky headland. Sure we’d been to some gorgeous places around the world, but this ranked right up there. Given, Thailand is maybe my favourite country on Earth. Koh Lipe may just become my favourite place in Thailand. 

- K

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