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Langkawi’s beaches – Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah

Friday, August 27th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind



The ferries from Kuala Kedah, Kuala Perlis or Satun in Thailand have a competition only from Penang directly. Other than boat transport, Langkawi is accessible via their international airport directly. Countless trips there since 2002 have given us some insight on the pros and cons of this holiday destination in beautiful Malaysia, our home during the years 2007 through 2008. Malaysia's islands have a tendency to remind oneself, how Thailand must have been like in the past. We scooted around much and have had the privilege to check out all given options for a tourist or traveler here, especially the beaches. Boat rides from the mainland are done by efficient high speed ferries, the transit times depend much on your starting point, but one can be here as quick as in 45 minutes. Our previous escapades also resulted in some SIAMPEDIA reports, Tanjung Rhu (one of our Top 10 beaches in SE Asia!) was one and the interior mountains with their nifty cable car rides, deserve a fully featured future report.

There is much to see from the ferries sun deck or upper deck already, over the years we even saw dolphins and flying fish during transit to Kuah pier. I always enjoy the stiff breeze and we both love to keep our noses in the wind anyhow. Closed compartments give us the creeps. See the island scenery during the approach to Langkawi's outer islands in this short video from the passing ferry:

A real windjammer signals to us, we're there soon. It is anchored close to Kuah and does entertain a higher budget clientele on tours and charters.

From Kuah pier it is a half hour drive to either Pantai Tengah or Pantai Cenang. A neat restaurant with a small light house dominates Pantai Tengah, the southern neighbor of Pantai Cenang. Tourist developments over the years have brought medium to upper class accommodations here. The backpackers have long resorted to other islands, although this was their domain too, up to the Millennium. Langkawi has resisted over-developments nicely, unlike a lot of their Thai counterparts (Phuket, Koh Samui). It has a generally relaxed atmosphere, but avoid the biennial airplane sales show LIMA at all cost, it wreaks havoc on the fun here. LIMA is a predominantly military airplane sales event, with airshows daily and several heads of state and ministers from around the globe in attendance.

During the 23 3/4 months between LIMA shows, Langkawi retains its island charm and status as a duty free zone. The entire island is duty free, which may result in beers being cheaper than Coca-Cola and a global wine selection being at Asia's lowest possible price level. Beach side restaurants invite nightly for the dinner sunset spectacle, which is quite nice. While the few jet skiers stop activities before dusk, the para-sailers offer rides into the sunset!

The food served here is plentiful, there are many beach side options plus a lot of eateries along the beach road. Accommodations are sometimes on the beach itself, the cheap huts of the past have been replaced by solid structures with A/C and amenities. Many hotels to choose from to suit most tourists budget. Parasailing for example, remains popular with the holiday crowd. It is more expensive here, than in Batu Ferringhi, but cheaper than in most Thai holiday destinations. The beaches are well kept year round and probably daily, a perfect environment for families with small children.

Restaurants by the sea begin firing up their BBQs in the late afternoons. There are plenty to select from.

A drink with an old expat friend after a lengthy beach walk, this place was run by an Irish lady.

The taller mountain in the background (peak is cloud covered) will be a future feature story here. It is called Gunung Macincang and is Langkawi's second highest Peak, it tops out with a great viewing platform 712 m above the sea and has a splendid suspension bridge over the rain forest there with the best views on the island.

Sunsets are to be had almost daily with different colored undertones at Pantai Tengah and Pantai Cenang:

Island in the sun – Perhentian Kecil, Part 2: Coral Bay

Friday, August 20th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

The trek over Perhentian Kecil’s hill from Long Beach was quite an ordeal for me, but when we finally made it, we rewarded ourselves to one of Fatimah’s tasty Burgers. Fatimah’s Chalets were also right at the trail head on Coral Bay. Check-in took only a minute and Kim dragged me to the water. Coral Bay has its name for a reason, a large reef in the center part of the Bay is home to countless fish. My little niece was a little bit afraid at first, as we attracted the small coral fish by feeding them small pieces of the burger bun. Even the slice of Tomato was in high demand with the fish here, the feeding frenzy was funny in the warm and shallow waters here. Pretty clear, those waters though!

The lady attending the restaurant of Fatimah was also the receptionist, ocean kayak agent, snorkel tour sales person and shopkeeper. A real talent in multitasking. Fatimah’s Chalets were 35 Ringgit per night for us 4, the simple structures had a large bed, a single bulb and a mosquito net. A nice front porch with chairs and a table was 10 to 15 barefoot meters from the shoreline, depending on the tide. Absolutely perfect for us. Kim played wildly on the beach right in front of the hut, this beach is also very suitable for smaller children or non-swimmers. In my case half lame dudes enjoyed the situation and setup here too. My own balance was very limited still and to hobble to and from the beach was all I did over the first days. Sorry, we didn’t take any pictures from our chalet, but it was roomy enough for us and even provided our own bathroom and shower. Everything fairly basic, to tell the truth.

But basic equals cheap and the Perhentians used to be super cheap for a true paradise destination. It won’t be long, until resorts with A/C and the whole nine yards of amenities will surface here. On all our previous trips here, we witnessed gradual improvements in the general infrastructures here. Ugly cellphone towers came first and the pier here in coral bay was made just recently. It is cool for those, heading here right away – because the ferry boats dock there directly and allow dry legs to embark and disembark now. We planned on departing from there, when it was time to do so.

Snorkeling is the big thing here and diving, of course – but other than great times at natural beaches with only a few visitors, one doesn’t expect much here. You will be fed if hungry, higher charges relate to the island location, but there is enough variety in food to be eaten here, especially barbecued seafood dishes. We came here a few years back, when Phuket and Samui got too overpriced and too overcrowded for us, we were still not disappointed this year. There are now warning signs posted everywhere, as a few drug addicts must have made it here. Theft and crime was unheard of, when we came here the first time. I would have loved to snorkel much again, but that would have been tricky with one leg and arm working only.

So snorkeling pleasures have to wait a bit for me and the girls did not feel tempted this time to go without me. For next time, we will not only go snorkel for sure, we will show the world under water to you as well. A waterproof camera should find its way into our possession until then.

Depending where you book, snorkel trips cost 25 to 50 Ringgit, with most offering a 5 to 6 hour trip with 5 stops to submerge several times at various locations around the Perhentians and a lunch in the isolated fishermans village. A great deal anyhow, compared to the rip-off fees in Khao Lak, Krabi, Phuket or Phi Phi for less attractive reefs and more snorkelers then reef-sharks or stingrays!

Watching the islanders servicing larger fishing vessels offshore or getting fresh supplies from them reveals what is on the menus tonight.

Pretty Lala from Chile and her Equadorian cousin were our neighbors, great people on their world trip during a sabbattical break year long break from studies.

Senja Bungalows a bit down the beach offered also beach side accommodations in neat huts, a bit too steep for our taste. Maybe a nice option for travelers with bigger budgets, they are located in the southern part of the bay.

Very popular obviously with female visitors to the Perhentians, like this group from Scandinavia.

The central part of Coral Bay is occupied by a dive shop and 3 or 4 eateries. Evening sunset BBQs with fresh seafood are very high in demand here, most of the tables will be occupied later in the day.

This picture shows the central and southern beach and the jungle in the backdrop.

Our final day here arrived again much too early, but we did not say good bye to the Perhentian Islands for long. There are still more beaches and reefs left to explore for us when I am in a better shape to do that. Twin 200 HP outboards shuttled us back from the pier in Coral Bay to Kuala Besut on the mainland in another high speed run.