Sunday, 8 February 2009

Langkawi, Malaysia

I'm not sure why, but even before the boat docked I knew I liked this place. There's something in the air here, a peace that was just missing in Thailand. Perhaps it comes from having fewer tourists, and the absence of the tarted-up Thai beauty that so easily attracts foreigners. Perhaps it's the money that flows to the island through its VAT free status, relieving the pressure on hotels, bars and restaurants to stimulate the local economy. Whatever the reason, the breezy atmosphere flowing off the crew on the speedboat into port showed a marked difference from the stressed out Thais who had ferried us to the end of their country all day. Thailand is a very friendly place, but there's something more here, the easy friendliness is natural, without the half-eye on your wallet that seems common in tourist areas of Thailand. Sitting down inside a bar with my new friends, a German couple who made the mammoth journey from Phi Phi with me and who ended up sharing a large hotel room (with a working shower, thank god!) with me to cut costs, a man approaches us. "Hello, my name is Carlton. I work in this bar during the day, although I am not working now. Welcome to our bar. Whilst you are very welcome to sit on your own, we would love it if you came and joined in the group." In a place like this it's hard not to wear a smile on your face.

Today saw more islands - a freshwater lagoon, eagle feeding (the island is named after its eagles) and pristine sandy beaches - and my education about Malaysia, courtesy of a Malay ex-Londoner on my boat. Until two days ago I didn't know Langkawi was in Malaysia, and knew very little about the country at all. She amused herself with my surprise as she told me a bit of its history as a British colony turned commonwealth country. The best she saved for last.

"You know this island used to have a curse on it? That's right. Until very recently. There was a woman, living here, whose husband went off to fight in a war. Whilst he was away she had a friend, a man, who she liked to spend time with. Another woman got jealous, and accused her of adultery. She was arrested, and although she protested her innocence, she was sentenced to death. When they cut her, however, they found her blood ran white, because she was chaste, and she put a curse on the island to last seven generations. In the 1990s it ran out, but until then noone wanted to develop here."

Perhaps that explains the scrappiness of the place. The road by the beach is still under construction, and on the pavement wooden planks stand every four or five paces to stop you dropping into the sewer system. There are few large hotels, and plenty of room on the beach, despite this being a Malay bank holiday, seeing lots of visitors from Kuala Lumpur. Still despite - or maybe rather because of - the lack of neatness, the island can't help but be a stunning place.

1 comment:

previously.bitten said...

Walking into a bar where people ask you to join them, rather than pushing you aside, and into a corner - it all sounds so strange. so delightful.