After a three month summer break in New Zealand, we returned to the island of Langkawi to find Moonshadow looking even better than when we left her. Rodin and his staff at Telaga Harbour Marina, under whose care we left her, seemed to look after her as if she were one of their own. Within a few days, we were opened up, provisioned up, readjusted to “island time” and off cruising around the 99 islands (or 104, depending on which publication you read) that make up the Langkawi archipelago. Here are a few memorable experiences from our month of cruising.
The Malay word Langkawi roughly translates to “strong eagle.” The name apparently comes from the large population of rather smallish eagles that inhabit the area. On our first day away from the marina, we anchored at a very scenic spot that is known by the cruisers as “the Fjord.” The Fjord is a narrow channel between two islands with nearly vertical limestone cliffs towering hundreds of feet above sea level. Amongst the trees that desperately cling to the cracks and crevices in the cliffs, one can see the eagles’ nests. They are constantly gliding overhead, circling in the thermals, hunting for their next meal. A few pieces of chicken skin tossed overboard were instantly spotted from hundreds of yards away, and quickly snatched up, on the fly, by these agile birds with excellent talon/eye coordination.
If sundowners are a tradition with cruisers, then the beautiful pink sunsets seem to be a tradition in Langkawi. Langkawi is banging the western edge of the GMT+8 time zone, so the sun sets rather late in the day, about 7:30pm, considering we’re in the tropics. A thunderstorm or two a day are the norm, so the ever changing palette of sea, cloud and setting sun provided a wonderful alternative show to the evening news.
We gunk holed for a few days, in search some clear water and a shallow sand bottom so I could clean three months worth of growth off Moonshadow’s bottom and replace the zincs that had all but disappeared while we were away. At least the prop, which I had covered before we left with a heavy black plastic bag, was clean enough to do its job. We finally found some visibility as a clear ocean current swept through while we were anchored in the middle of a cluster of small islets near the south end of the archipelago.
Returning to one of our favorite spots, the Hole in the Wall, we were the only boat on anchor until near sunset, a couple of others arrived. Along with a beautiful pink sunset, over sundowners we were entertained by swim by’s from a pod of dolphins and some local otters. Merima and I enjoyed a sumptuous dinner of barbequed grouper and fried rice at the local floating seafood restaurant. The next morning the surrounding mangrove swamp was brought to life by a beautiful dawn chorus.
We ventured around to the north side of Langkawi Island, to a beautiful bay called Tanjung Ru. The north side of the island features numerous long white sand beaches and exclusive and expensive tourist resorts. From here, there are some lovely views of the sea and sunsets to the west and the southernmost Thai islands to the north. One evening on anchor, we were blessed with a real gully washer of a thunderstorm. The decks of Moonshadow were water blasted clean, and we caught enough fresh rainwater to fill our tanks to the deck fitting. After the rain cleared up, the most amazing light show began. For more than an hour we watched in awe the tumultuous electrical storm over the island. Bolts of lighting connect cloud to land and cloud to cloud. Sparklers lit up the insides of clouds. The high pitched cracking and deep bass roar of thunder seemed to be never ending.
The provisioning in Kuah, the main town in Langkawi is good. Not great, just good. The gourmet cheese section of Billion, the largest supermarket, offers an inexpensive brand of bleu cheese and something that would be akin to Velveeta. Neither would be considered a good substitute for parmesan for a nice pasta dish. Anyway, we decided we would just have to live without. That is until we anchored in an attractive little half-moon shaped, white sand beach lined, exclusive resort dotted bay called Teluk Datai. While we were witnessing another beautiful pink sunset over sundowners, the skipper of a local charter boat rocks up with a big bag of assorted cheeses. It seems they were leftovers from the day’s charter catering and could not be returned to the hotel kitchen under any circumstances. Rather than donate them to the sea gods, he gave them to us. There were sizeable portions of gruyere, brie, aged camembert, a couple of other gourmet items and (YES!) a big chunk of parmesan. We celebrated being in the right place at the right time with a great pasta dinner.
The following day we returned to the anchorage at Telaga to catch up with our good cruising friends Liz and Tom from Feel Free whom I’d met five years ago in Vanuatu. It was Liz’s birthday, and Tom threw an excellent barbeque beach party, attended by all their local cruising friends, at the “Summer Palace.” This was the set used in the 1999 remake of the film Anna and the King. The party lasted well into the evening, in fact just about five minutes too well. Had we left for the boat five minutes sooner we would have avoided a massive downpour that soaked us to the bone on the dinghy ride home.
Liz and Tom introduced us to the twice-weekly night market in the town of Kuah. Every Wednesday and Saturday from late afternoon to late evening, along a kilometer stretch of road on the edge of town is a massive market that is reminiscent of a Moroccan bazaar. This is definitely where the locals come to shop, stroll, socialize and enjoy a casual meal out. In addition to fresh fish, foul and produce, there are a plethora of other wares on offer from jewelry to clothes and house wares to tools. We were particularly impressed with the wide selection and high quality of the fresh fruits and veggies; corn from Thailand, carrots from Australia, New Zealand kiwifruit, apples and pears from the U.S., white dragon fruit from Vietnam, a host of unidentifiable items, and our favorite, the red dragon fruit from China. Assorted satay sticks were cooking on long narrow barbeques. Corn on the cob was steaming. Woks were frying up various items. Cooked rice was dispensed from huge bowls. We enjoyed a light meal of an assortment of the items on offer at a table we shared with some locals. Total cost for two, $2.
The next day we headed back to Telaga to pick up some “snail mail.” The winds have been very light and variable since we’ve been back, but with nearly six knots on the beam this morning, we unfurled the genoa for the first time in months. The breeze was short-lived and away went the sail. It was a typically warm spring afternoon in Telaga, so after collecting our mail we walked about a mile and a half up to the Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells). This cool mountain stream cascades through seven pools on its journey from the mountain rain forests to the sea. The water is surprisingly cool and a great way to chill out on a warm afternoon.
We were keen to do a bit of diving, so we headed about 20 miles south to a group of small islands surrounding Pulau Payar that are designated a marine park. The water was quite a bit clearer, there are a few patches of coral and the sea life is abundant. It was great to get back in the water again and be able to see more than an arm’s length. At first, Merima was a bit put off by the very curious barracuda and black tip reef sharks that seemed to be endlessly circling us. I reminder her that she was safe as they are all man eaters. After awhile they seemed to lose interest and we could relax a bit more and enjoy our diving.
The waters around Langkawi are quite nutrient-rich to say the least. After just two weeks since a thorough bottom cleaning, I had substantial barnacle growth on the bottom of the keel and other places where there was little or no anti-fouling paint left. I went down with a scraper and attacked them with a vengeance. A small remora was following me around and seemed to be enjoying the odd tidbit here and there.
The diving was only average, and the islands afforded little protection from the confused seas stirred up by the regular squalls. After two nights, we decided to head back north to the quiet waters of Langkawi, and provision up one last time before we left the boat to do a bit of air/land travel.