Langkawi and SailAsia Rally Week

The cluster of 105 beautiful islands near the Malay-Thai border called Langkawi was the final destination of our rather loosely scheduled Southeast Asian “rally” that began in Darwin at the end of July. SailAsia, our sponsors, offered the entire rally fleet a week’s stay at the lovely Telaga Harbour Marina, gratis. As if that wasn’t enough, they organized parties, dinners, traditional dance performances, live music, island and shopping tours, and organized a trip up to the top of Gunnung (Mount) Machinchang on the Langkawi Tram. The week was called the SailAsia Rally Week and seemed to have a bit of everything with the exception of sailing. All of it was much appreciated, and it was great to be in one place again with so many cruising friends that we had made along the way.

Telaga Harbour Marina is invitingly fashioned after a Mediterranean seaside village, nestled in what was once a mangrove swamp where Langkawi’s lushly vegetated mountains meet the Andaman Sea. To give you an idea of the beauty of this area, part of the motion picture “Anna and the King” were filmed here and the set for the Summer Palace is still standing, albeit slightly Tsunami-damaged, on the white-sand beach a short walk from the marina.

From a yachtie’s perspective, as a marina facility, Telaga is fairly self-contained. There are, of course all the typical amenities one would expect from a modern marina, including a fuel dock. For yachts arriving or departing Malaysia, on site is a one-stop office for all the Customs and Immigration formalities. Only the yachties can fully appreciate how sweet a feature this is. There’s also a bank with ATM and foreign exchange, a well stocked convenience store and service station, a rental car/motorcycle office, a coffee shop and even a KFC, which appears to be more popular than McDonald’s in this part of the world.

For those looking for a bit of free entertainment, at various times during the day, a band of long-tailed macaques come down from the native bush across the road to the marina looking for handouts or anything left unattended that they can pinch. I even saw them on the docks once, and wondered if they ever went aboard any of the boats. This is yet another reason not to have bananas on board! Tourists who pull off the side of the road to feed them often found their cars covered with these cheeky little animals, screeching and fighting each other over an offering of a potato chip or piece of popcorn, while tugging and playing with the windshield wipers and radio aerial.

On the opposite side of the lagoon from the marina is “the strip.” This is the hub for fine dining and night life. Along the wide walkway, one can enjoy al fresco fine dining (when it’s not raining) while gazing upon the yachts quietly resting in the marina. There is a plethora of cuisines on offer including Chinese, Indian, Spanish Tapas, Italian, Russian and Brazilian Churrasca. If you’re up for a bit of a boogie, there’s usually live music and dancing under the stars till late. Nestled in the back are a convenience store, a boutique, a spa and a well stocked duty-free bottle shop. To make it fully complete, there is a small, and thankfully, very quiet mosque on site.

Telaga Harbour was an unfortunate victim of last year’s devastating tsunami. As we arrived, workers were just finishing the last of the repairs. To see the area today, and to talk to the local Malaysian people, one would hardly have a clue to what had taken place less than a year before.

During the SailAsia week, we joined in on a couple of the tours. We took advantage of the shopping tour to fill in a few holes in our provision lockers and to check out the main town of Kuah. We also hopped on the nearby tram for the ear-popping ride to the top of Gunnung Machinchang. From the summit at 708 meters (2300 feet), between the clouds, we could see most of the Langkawi Island Group, mainland Malaysia and Thailand, as well as some of the exotic and remote islands off the Thai coast that are all part of the Tarutao National Park.

After a week of celebration in Telaga, we were eager to strike out and enjoy some of the many picturesque and peaceful anchorages around Langkawi. For our first stop, we backtracked a bit south to Pulau (island) Dayang Bunting to the freshwater lake. Strolling through the forest to the lake from the boat landing, we encountered many playful macaques. At the lake, we hired a nice, quiet little solar powered paddle boat for a little cruise, and took a refreshing dip in the cool, fresh water.

The following day, we took a short hop to an anchorage off the northwestern end of the same island, where we had heard there was a cave containing beautiful crystal rock formations. We weren’t exactly sure where the cave entrance was to be found, as there was no trail apparent. The only way through the dense rainforest was through a very mucky creek bed. After wandering around for awhile, we were put off by some rather intimidating looking monitor lizards, some nearly 2 meters (6 feet) long, which were quite fast on their feet as well as in the water. These are a smaller relative to the Komodo Dragons, but still didn’t appear to be anything to be messed with. Perhaps we’ll return next season, armed with some better shoes, protective clothes and a boat hook to fend off the lizards.

The next morning we made our way to the east end of Langkawi Island to the mouth of the Kilim River. Where the river meets the sea, there is just a narrow gap, probably not much more than a boat length wide, with sheer walls which appeared to be about ten stories high. This formation is appropriately called the “Hole in the Wall.” Once inside the hole, the river opens up to a long and fairly wide channel bordered by mangrove swamps. The geography of the area, along with the excellent protection, and shallow muddy bottom make this a superb anchorage.

It is here where we caught up with Beth and Al Liggett from Sunflower. They are also SetSail correspondents and it was great to finally meet them after reading their “sailor’s logs” and corresponding by email for the past few years. In addition to a warm reception, Beth and Al shared with us a tremendous amount of local knowledge (they’ve been in the area for seven years) and guided us on a dinghy tour of the Kilim River area, which included a passage through a cave and the opportunity to observe a flock of eagles feeding. We also enjoyed a few sundowners and a great meal at the excellent floating fish farm/seafood restaurant just a short dinghy ride from the anchorage.

From the Hole in the Wall anchorage, we took the dinghy a short ways upstream to the town of Kilim. From the jetty it was about a 15 minute walk to the Galleria Perdana. The Galleria Perdana is a very ornate and expansive museum complex that houses a collection of literally thousands of state gifts and awards presented to Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia. The collection ranges from art objects of every variety, clothing and paintings, to horse drawn carriages and motor vehicles, and is nothing short of incredible. It was a most impressive and enjoyable exhibit, but I couldn’t help but wonder, in some cases, how many families could have been fed for a year with the money spent by some very poor undeveloped countries on some of these incredibly lavish gifts, which were destined to end up on display in a museum, which by the way, charges admission.

After a couple of quiet and relaxing days in “the Hole,” we headed around to the south side of the island and Kuah Town. Here we made one last visit to the grocery store and did our check-out formalities from Malaysia. On our way out of Langkawi, we spent a quiet rainy evening anchored in Telaga Harbour, and the next day headed northwest about 30 miles to the Butang Island Group, which is part of the Tarutao Marine National Park in Thailand. We had finally come into clear water again and were keen to do some diving.

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