Lankawi and Singapore
Enjoying a wonderful rest and complete unwind on the island of Langkawi, I cannot believe that it is only a week since I left Sydney. It seems ages as I have packed so much into the past seven days.
Langkawi is a dot of an island just an hours flight from Singapore and lies on the same parallel as the boarder of Malaysia and Thailand. One can circumnavigate the island in a matter of a few hours. There is very little industry and what I can tell from the few hours driving around that most of the locals live a simple life on the land growing a variety of tropical fruit, rice, tapioca and other cash crops. The main employment opportunity is the hospitality industry. Most of the young people gravitate to a career in the major hotels providing services for the local Asian market and the ever growing Russian tourist market. This, I am to discover, is a worldwide phenomenon.
I am staying at a resort which is surrounded by lush jungle with an abundance of wildlife, including very aggressive and naughty monkeys (these are the omnivores), and then there are the very cute friendly black monkeys with white rings around their eyes (which are the gentle vegetarians). Does this dietary distinction translate into the human species as well?
Of course the resort has a wonderful spa, which has an irresistible magnetic force, like a siren’s song luring me there. Yes – I went to the spa every day and enjoyed a facial, massages, and a pedicure. The spa is high up the hill overlooking the beach below, surrounded by the jungle, open to the gentle warm sea breezes. It is incredibly restful and beautiful. The only negative was that my facial was interrupted by the intrusion of a monkey, so the attendant used a very canny weapon to deter him form joining me on the table – a slingshot. The monkey took one look at this and was off like a rocket protesting all the way out the door. They are incredibly aggressive and have no fear whatsoever … unless you are carrying a slingshot. Meal times can be hazardous, as the monkeys will raid your table if you are sitting outside and carry off whatever is not being guarded.
On arrival in my room on the first day, I opened my balcony doors to admire the view over the beach and the bay beyond and when I turned my back for a second, in rushed a monkey aggressively bearing his teeth and jumping from foot to foot. I was doing exactly the same; luckily I won the round so the monkey grudgingly left empty handed.
If one is inclined, you can do early morning and evening jungle walks to check out the wild life – this includes the monkeys of course, flying lemurs, very cute squirrels, water monitors, birds, butterflies, huge spiders the size of your hand, and other amazing insects that all look like leaves and sticks. I preferred to check out the wild life from the safety of a comfy chair in the bar, with a glass or two of Moet while looking out over the jungle tree tops.
The weather has been extreme – monsoonal downpours followed by blue skies. Earlier in the week there was a severe wind storm that bought down a number of trees around the hotel. I thought that the doors on my balcony were going to blow off their hinges and the monkey family that resides in the tree outside would blow in. Thank goodness that the doors held tight.
The resort is certainly a conglomeration of cultures. During the last couple of days there was a delegation of Russian “gas men” visiting from a worldwide gas conference in KL. These chaps could easily be identified by their appalling taste in clothes – shorts with back socks and shoes, polyester figure-hugging shirts, a variety of multi-hued, shiny man-made materials emblazoned with hideous patterns or checks. These clashing styles were worn with gay abandon to any sense of taste.
Then this morning at breakfast, over the toaster, I met a young lady from Saudi Arabia. She was dressed head to toe in black with only a slit for her eyes. She was newly married and on her honeymoon for 4 days. From her tiny build and voice she may have only been about 15 years old (or possibly younger). Meanwhile, her husband was swanning about looking very cool and relaxed in shorts and thongs. Is that equality? Don’t get me started!!!
Their beachside holiday meant that she waded out into the shallows in her complete head to toe black regalia and stood there and let the waves lap around her knees, Meanwhile the hubby is lying virtually naked (bar a small pair of swimmers) on the sand.
The sea has been unusually high with the waves pounding the shore. This is a wonderful opportunity for beach combing with all the flotsam that has been washed up along the shore. This comprises great chunks of dead coral that were the victim of the tsunami a couple of years ago, branches, great lumps of timber and rope washed off boats and other assorted junk. I can imagine being Robinson Crusoe and scouring the beach for a piece of useful flotsam.
When the weather calms down, the sea is peacefully benign and we spend time in the beach side bar gazing at the sea or lazing by the pool reading and swimming – very relaxing indeed.
The food at the resort was adequate but pretty uninspiring. The food highlights of the week were two dinners at neighbouring venues. The first was a Thai dinner at a neighbouring resort – the Datai. These were absolute winners.
The Thai Pavillion at the Datai Hotel is a real treat. The restaurant is set adjacent to the pool area and overlooks the jungle where you might be treated to some glimpses of the local fauna. Enjoying the open air and ambiance of this space is equally measured by the excellent Thai cuisine. Initially, we had a green mango salad and asked for this to prepared – medium heat (chillies). It was so hot that it took my breath away. The waiter was quick to ask the chef “to turn down the volume” on our next courses. These included the best duck curry that I have ever eaten, stir fried chicken and ginger and wonderful stir fried veggies. The staff and service was professional and friendly and every request was fulfilled with a smile. I would certainly recommend this as a dining experience if you are in the area. The nearby Andaman hotel runs a complimentary shuttle service to and from.
The Gulai House is a one off dining experience. The food – Indian and Malay cuisines – are the stars of the show. But the restaurant’s décor and jungle setting is the stage for this extraordinary dining experience. Located deep in the jungle, you will find this setting romantic and wondrous. You will dine on fabulous food while enjoying the sound of the frogs and night life in the background. The Datai and the Andaman hotels offer a complimentary shuttle service to the Gulai House. A thoroughly enjoyable experience – don’t miss it!
Before and after my sojourn on Langkawi I was living it up in Singapore, which was the usual rush of socialising including a memorable and fabulous Peking duck dinner on the East Coast and high tea at the Fullerton Bay Hotel.
On my final night in Singapore we went to a yummy French restaurant – Absinthe. This surprisingly refined venue is in a less than salubrious end of town. However, once you are inside you are transported by the food and service to a classy French experience.
We were a party of six and enjoyed a wonderful dinner here. The restaurant is tucked away in an interesting and exotic (red light) area of Singapore. It will be moving to a more salubrious location shortly – I hope this will not spoil the exotic and somewhat mysterious effect of arriving at Absinthe. The food was faultless – Foie Gras Poêlé – Pan Fried Foie Gras, Morello Cherries and Blinis; Turbot Filet “a la plancha”, Bok Choy, Portobello and Shallots, Parsley Coulis. Of course we enjoyed some excellent wine and champagne. The service was professional and friendly. A real French treat far away from France. Well worth a visit.
I have also managed to insert some culture along the way with a visit to The Asian Civilisation Museum. This was a blissful respite from the heat and humidity outside. The museum houses a wealth of interesting collections and, in particular, an exhibition of the salvage of an ancient ship wreck. In 1998, the shipwreck was discovered in shallow water near Belitung Island in the Java Sea. It was revealed that this was a 9th-century Arab merchant ship heavily laden with Chinese ceramics, gold, silver, and other precious objects from Tang dynasty China. These were so delicate and beautiful. What an amazing, educated and refined culture the Chinese were.