Besides quiet sundecks and swanky resorts, Malaysia’s famous northeastern island offers adventurous and luxe marine escapes.by Marco Ferrarese
“What do you like most about Langkawi?” a local friend asked me over dinner blessed by one of the island’s soul-soothing sunsets. I didn’t think much before telling her that, indeed, my favorite thing was the blend of purples, deep oranges, and fiery yellows that guide the sun into its oceanic nest on a daily basis. “Why don’t you go watch a sunset out at sea, then?” she suggested. Her idea immediately sounded intriguing.
She recommended that I try a sunset cruise in Langkawi’s bay. Protected by a group of outer islets and nibbled by deep blue waters, the cove is an ideal place to see a sunset in all of its colorful glory. I booked a Sunset Dinner Cruise with Tropical Charters Langkawi (Tel: +60/12-588 3274; www.tropicalcharters.com.my;RM260 per person), a three-hour evening voyage out in the open sea, onboard a private cruise yacht. I sat with great expectations among a group of strangers, and patiently waited for the call to board my boat. When the gates finally opened, I reached the yacht by walking along a wooden pathway, climbed onto the upper deck, and immediately found the perfect lounge chair facing the mouth of the bay.
“What would you like to drink, Sir?” Joy, one of the skippers, asked me with a welcoming smile.
I chose a piña colada to start my free-flow service of drinks, and kicked back in my seat waiting for the other passengers to board. When a group of young men in bizarre clothes sat behind me, Joy came back to reassure me not to worry, for they were part of a bachelor party. It sounded like this outing was going to be a lot of fun.
It turned out that the man who was getting married was from New Zealand, and the woman from Britain. They decided to settle on Langkawi as the perfect mid-journey point to invite family and friends from both shores to attend their wedding. As the groom explained, the soon-to-be bride was sailing with her bachelorettes on another cruise boat.
As I was lost observing the profiles of Langkawi’s outer lying islets emerge from the sea, Joy popped up again to announce that it was “Jacuzzi time.” However, I hadn’t seen a pool on our compact yacht. To my dismay, I learned that the “pool” was indeed a fishing net slung into the sea off the back of the boat.
“You better jump in,” explained Joy as the boat slowed down, and the first guests took position against the net. “We call it the marine Jacuzzi,” our skipper said, bestowing beer cans and cocktails to those who had already submerged themselves in the quirky seawater massage pool.
With drinks in hand, we floated in the middle of the bay, graced by a perfect view of Langkawi rising from the green-hued sea ahead of us. After marinating for about half hour, Joy announced that dinner would be served shortly, and we all scampered back on board. I noticed that one of the skippers was roasting a chicken and some fish to perfection over the barbeque, provoking gurgles of delight in my stomach. I ended the day slung over comfy cushions, a plate full of delicacies in hand, and watching a Technicolor screen of sky broadcasting an impossible explosion of red over the sea. My friend’s suggestion had been delightfully right.
When I returned to Bon Ton (bontonresort.com.my; rooms for 2 from RM 750), an exclusive cluster of traditional Malay mansions refurbished into private villas overlooking a blissful stretch of countryside, I was still giddy. And trust me: it wasn’t because of the free-flow alcohol. I fell asleep lulled by a natural serenade of cicadas and crickets, thinking of my next day’s destination: Pulau Payar Marine Park, a pristine tropical atoll floating midway between Langkawi and Penang.
I arrived at the park’s platform around 10:20 a.m., and found myself surrounded by turquoise waters filled with a plethora of sea critters, including black tip reef sharks. I had almost two hours before lunch, so I grabbed a mask, jumped into the warm water, and snorkeled myself silly. Beautiful corals covered the tips of giant underwater boulders, and the local fish zoomed in and out, as if they were commuters in an incredible submarine city.
After the buffet lunch, we transferred to Pulau Payar’s main bay. The water was so transparent that the cove appeared to be dry, and the groups of resident tropical fish looked as though they were cast by a spell mid-air. This is where I found the famous black tip reef sharks: they sped deftly around the pier’s columns, waiting for tourists to feed them breadcrumbs. As I floated among them in awe, one got so close that I was tempted to grab it by the tail. I outstretched my arm, but ultimately froze part in fear and part knowing it wasn’t fair to the shark. In fact, this trip had already had enough pleasant surprises without ruining it with a bite from an irritated shark