What is it about love that lifts us skywards? Song lyrics talk about love taking flight, a higher love and the wings of love. John Paul Young crooned that love is in the air and sometimes, it even leaves us up in the air! There is one place, however, where these aren’t merely romantic clichés. That’s Langkawi, a tropical island paradise that sends the heart rate soaring.
A couple tandem paraglide into view just as the sun ignites the Andaman Sea off Pantai Cenang beach singeing the sky blood orange. It’s a magical scene on a busy public beach famous for its variety of water sports and the island’s best sunsets. The queue of couples waiting to let love take flight is growing and accompanied by much shrieking laughter from the females and hand signals to the boat’s skipper from the beach crew, they’re soon floating skywards before landing in a flurry of golden sand and tangle of parachute silks.
Blessed with a bounty of beautiful beaches, languid Langkawi has become a favoured destination for a coterie of ‘fly and flop’ vacationers. One of ninety-nine forested islands cast adrift in the sultry Andaman Sea straddling the border between Malaysia and Thailand, it combines cultural myths and legends with soft adventure experiences while possessing all the necessities for a tropical island vacation. Couples can bed down amongst rainforests or on talcum-fine beachfronts at a clutch of international resorts, snorkel in Bombay gin sapphire-blue water and be restored in world-class spas.
What more could the romantically inclined want? You’d think the kitchen would be the last place they’d venture but cooking classes are high on couples’ holiday bucket lists. Clad in chefs’ hats and aprons, honeymooners and baby boomers from all parts of the globe gather around smiling chef Donny Hemna at The Datai keen to unlock the secrets of creating authentic Thai dishes. “I love to cook,” declares one. “I love to eat,” says his partner. Obviously a match made in heaven and as oil sizzles in pots, ingredients are passed around, pans are deftly stirred, spicy aromas and a quiet murmur of appreciation pervades the open-sided restaurant perched in secluded rainforest. Prawns are de-veined, lime leaves torn from stems, vegetables and chili added, dishes finished with a squeeze of lime juice and decorative sprig of coriander before everyone sits down to lunch on the fruits of their morning’s labour.
From breakfast through to dinner, Langkawi’s natural beauty provides sublime backdrops making this an ideal gourmands’ getaway. Think energy-boosting poolside breakfasts overlooking the Andaman Sea where limestone outcrops loom from the seabed like ancient craggy sculptures. Seafood lunches cooked snapping fresh at beachside barbecues or the laid-back vibe at Bon Ton’s Café Del Mar. Go local at stunning Tanjung Rhu beach where placid waters caress a vast swathe of vanilla sand and friendly Thais serve simple food and fresh coconut drinks from beachside stalls. Tanjung Rhu marks the entrance to 400 hectares of mangrove swamps and local fishermen happily hire out their boats to visitors wanting to explore the reflected beauty of nature’s nursery. Bathed in the warm glow of cocktails and a tropical sunset, watch birds take flight over the wetlands at Nam Restaurant as resorts around the island set out romantic dinners a deux on croissants of sand, private jetties and secluded poolside locations under stellar skies. As night descends, neon transforms Pantai Cenang’s main street into a lively strip where Malaysian families and tourists mingle among a clutch of trendy cafes and restaurants or opt for popular kerbside cuisine of steamboat, nasi campur and barbecued fish.
Turning inland, the beauty and fragility of Langkawi’s rural heartland exposes a life little changed over generations. Water buffalo graze in padi fields, cows amble along the roadside and purple bougainvillea tumbles over corrugated roofs. Fruit orchards are interspersed by straggly avenues of rubber trees, little cups slung around their slender girths to capture a trickle of milky latex sap. Malaysia may no longer be the world’s largest rubber producer but passing cottages inhabited by rubber tappers, it’s still providing the kampong with some income.
To take a break from poolside lounging, just look up. Legend tells that fairies used to come and frolic in the sun-dappled waterfall at Seven Wells or Telaga Tujah, one of Langkawi’s most popular picnic spots. These blithe spirits must have fluttered their tiny wings to the top to bathe in the seven natural pools that terrace down to a cascading ribbon of water rather than climb the 638 steps like the rest of us. Once there, however, lying back in the cool water pools amidst the tropical heat and verdant rainforest seduces all the senses.
An even steeper ascent with astounding views over this exquisite archipelago is from the apex of Mount Mac Chinchang. Our Langkawi Cable Car gondola is filled with honeymooners, oblivious to the precision Swiss engineering that has us dangling from a steel cable. From the summit viewing platform, the thickly forested Kilim Geo-Forest Park rolls away endlessly, its finely granulated, quartz-rich sandstone amongst South East Asia’s most ancient land forms. Elegantly engineered and suspended from a single pylon rising more than 80m from the forest floor, a bridge walk contours around the mountain curving over a spectacular geological chasm and virgin jungle where hidden hornbills nest and eagles ride the thermals. Rising mists conjure a romantic atmosphere that’s not lost on couples busily capturing photographic memories.
Back on terra firma, local ‘Jungle Walla’ Irshad Mobarak’s treks focus on unlocking the mysteries of the rainforest. Visiting nature lovers quickly transition from staying amongst the natural world to better understanding it as he expounds on its ecology, geology, flora and fauna. Originally part of the ancient continent Gondwanaland, he reveals a rainforest laden with nature’s pharmacopoeia but it’s the dry season between November and April that’s the most fascinating. When the natural world is stressed, a major flowering process is triggered and on Langkawi, as animals instinctively follow courtship rituals, this is when love really is in the air!
Need to Know
Sleep: Stay in houses that Penang’s wealthy traders once called home at Temple Tree’s colourful enclave of pre-loved accommodation. Tel (604) 955 3643
Spa and stay at The Datai Langkawi, an exquisite rainforest and beachfront resort and the last word in island luxe. Tel (604) 959 2500.
Soar like an eagle on the award-winning Langkawi Cable Car as it scales Langkawi’s second highest peak. Operates daily from the Oriental Village, Burau Bay. Tel 04 959 4225 firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on Langkawi visit Tourism Malaysia.