HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Unknown Island

After returning to KL by bus Anthony and I had a few hours to kill before our flight to Langkawi, so we decided to spend them at Berjaya Times Square, an enormous mall complex that has an indoor theme park with its own roller coaster. Pretty wild.

We ate at the food court and wandered the labyrinth of hallways before taking the train to the airport for our late afternoon flight. It was dark by the time we landed in Langkawi, an island off of Malaysia's northwest cost near the Thai border. We had decided to check the place out even though we had been able to find very little info on it. The usual travel websites were of little help, and we knew next to nothing going in. We didn't even know what any of the towns on the island were called. We did, however, know that it was a duty-free island, so booze would be cheaper than in the rest of conservative Malaysia.

After arriving at our motel we realized we were staying in a pretty low-key area. The following day we learned that it was a town called Kuah. There was no beach, and there weren't many hotels in the area. There was, however, a great Muslim-Indian restaurant right under our motel which provided our first meal and breakfast the following morning.
We knew we would have to get out of Kuah to find out what the rest of the island had to offer, so we stopped by a shop that rented out motorbikes. Sadly, none were available since, as everyone was quick to point out, it was the Chinese New Year and everything was in high demand. We wandered over to the marina and tried to figure out a plan. Everything hinged on getting bikes, since we didn't want to rely on taxis carting us around and public transport is nonexistent on the rather large island.
After killing a few hours we returned to the shop and, amazingly one moto was suddenly available. We took it immediately and hit the road with no itinerary in mind. After blasting down a beautiful road that cut through monkey-infested forests we arrived at Cenang Beach, which we immediately realized was where most of the tourists were staying. Foreigners thronged the sidewalks and Western restaurants were everywhere. We had no idea this even existed. The beach was beautiful, though full of the trappings of tourism you see on Thai islands - white neo-hippies with dreadlocks manning shops inside a shipping container and a bar called 'Reggae Embassy'.

We got back on the bike after a while to continue exploring. On the road that circles the airport we just happened to pass Ivey and Katherine, two friends from Saigon (both are from Alabama) who were also visiting the island, on their bikes. Since none of us had a phone and wifi access was limited we hadn't been able to get in touch, but through a stroke of luck here we were. We made plans to meet up later and carried on in separate directions. The remainder of the afternoon was fairly uneventful.

That evening Anthony and I headed back to Cenang to meet up with the girls (they were staying in the area) - fortunately we had taken a taxi, because by the end of the night we were in no condition to drive. The four of us split a bottle of rum, wandered over to the beach, and then stumbled into a reggae bar called One Love. In an example of how multicultural international travel is, we then played a card-based drinking game with another American, a Kiwi, and three young Pakistani dudes (who said they had seen Jennifer Lopez live in Pakistan. I'm still not sure if I believe them.). We then somehow ended up at a nightclub in a hotel. I don't remember much after that, but we eventually managed to make it back to our motel without incident.

We had made plans with Ivey and Katherine to head up to a beach on the northern side of the island the following morning. Unfortunately Anthony was stuck in bed thanks to the previous night's drinking, so I took the bike back over to Cenang to meet the girls. It was the first time I had driven since dislocating my right thumb, but I was able to manage just fine.

I still don't know what the beach we visited is called, since it is technically private property. However, I do know that it is absolutely stunning - a definite rival to its more famous Thai cousins farther north, not to mention almost deserted.

squid lunch on the beach
We ran into a few other Americans and talked for so long that I got horribly sunburned. (I should explain that  it is rare to run into Americans in Southeast Asia, most tourists are European or Australian.) I returned to Kuah via a beautiful road through the eastern part of Langkawi (the roads on the island are fantastic). Anthony was beginning to feel better, and that evening we once again drove over to Cenang (a 30-40 minute drive), this time to have dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant with Ivey and Katherine. The late-night drive back to Kuah was somewhat terrifying, since the street lights along the deserted road were turned off. It was pitch black, and we kept expecting a monkey or some other kind of animal to bolt in front of us. Fortunately nothing ran into the road, because we probably would have pissed ourselves in terror otherwise. It didn't help that we had been talking about 'The Walking Dead' just before this.

The following day was our last in Langkawi and second to last in Malaysia. The next post will be the last on this trip.


  1. That beach is amazing. F Vietnam's beaches.

    1. The only one I've been to here that even comes close was on Phu Quoc...and there was still garbage everywhere.