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Langkawi

Three Award-Winning Attractions To Explore In Malaysia

When planning a visit to Malaysia, don’t forget to include these three award-winning attractions into your itinerary. They were recently given the highest Malaysian honours at the Malaysia Tourism Awards for being the best tourist attractions in the country.

It wasn’t easy to get on the list – these three were shortlisted by a panel of judges comprising leaders in the industry, after a thorough and long process of evaluation. The awards show comes around only once every two years, so it’s worth checking out these prime selections!

OLD-WORLD RAIL TRAVEL

Fancy the Orient Express ala Malaysia? Then you’ll definitely love a ride on the North Borneo Railway’s British Vulcan wood-fuelled steam locomotive. Stepping inside the old-style train carriage will transport you to the nostalgia of train travel in the early 1900s.

What is it? The North Borneo Railway offers you the experience of train travel on Borneo’s oldest running steam locomotive. Plying between Sabah’s state capital, Tanjung Aru and Papar, an agricultural town known as the rice bowl of Sabah, this 58 km route takes passengers through scenic villages and coastal towns, paddy fields, rainforests and plantations of rubber and coffee. During the four-hour journey, you’ll see the heart of Sabah unfolding before your very eyes and and get a glimpse of the colourful and unique local lifestyle. Stops are made along the way to visit traditional temples, heritage shops and the local markets. A local breakfast is served on board, while lunch is presented in a tiffin carrier, reminiscent of the old days, and highlights Sabah cuisine using local produce such as their brown hill rice and jungle ferns.

The experience: This is definitely for the dreamers who love a good dose of culture and tradition mixed into their holidays. After all, rail travel has always been romanticized with beautiful vistas, excellent service and comfort…something that you can certainly expect with this North Borneo Railway experience.

Website: www.suteraharbour.com

A PASSAGE TO THE PAST

The island of Langkawi in the northern region of Malaysia is full of legends, folklore and beautiful geological landscapes at the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, a 100 square km nature reserve. The best way to experience it? By taking a slow and lazy ride down the Kilim river that will transport you to a place hundreds of millions of years old.

What is it? Here is a collection of geo-sites full of amazing flora and fauna, and stunning geological formations like mammoth limestone rocks, fossils, caves, lagoons, beaches and seascapes that will astound and mesmerize you. One of the best ways to explore and appreciate the area is with a boat or kayak ride down the Kilim river, an area said to be some 500 million years old. Your passage down the river passes dense wetland mangroves on one side and gigantic limestone rocks on the other rising from the river bed. Expect to see white bellied eagles and other species of birds, crocodiles, mud crabs, monkeys, monitor lizards, and if you’re lucky a dolphin or two. Stop to explore caves with amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations, fossils and limestone cliffs, and chance upon hidden lakes, mysterious caves and small uninhabited islands.

The experience: This is geology and natural history classes rolled into one, and what a great way to learn! The experience here is nothing short of fascinating as you personally witness life and nature unfolding before your very eyes. A great excursion for the entire family.

Website: langkawigeopark.com.my

A PLAYGROUND FOR YOUNG AND OLD

Looking to “escape” from the hustle and bustle of urban life? Try out this adventure theme park called “Escape” in Teluk Bahang, Penang. Think of it as a huge outdoor playground for all ages, but be prepared to do lots of jumping, leaping, crawling, running, sliding and more…just like when you were kids!

What is it? Escape is basically an outdoor jungle gym that offers kids and adults alike an opportunity to play with abandon at its two themed parks, namely “Escape Adventureplay” and “Escape Waterplay.” There are over 20 attractions within the “dry” park, Escape Adventureplay, consisting of obstacles and challenges of different difficulty levels. Face your fear of heights and challenge your stamina, core strength and balance as you swing from tree to tree like a monkey, leap through the air, climb trees and towers, bounce down slopes on tubby racers or become a cave explorer. Meanwhile, at Escape Waterplay, prepare to get wet! Here, you can opt to swim at a beach-pool with constant waves, slide through the Banana Flip that will launch visitors into the air and send them flying into a 5-metre deep pool, play with your children at the Tots Pool, or even race with your friends and zoom down at 45 km per hour on the slides called Speed Racer.

The Experience:  This place is like your long-lost playground from your childhood days. Spend a whole day here and re-live childhood memories of outdoor adventures with friends and family. Be warned that it is both fun AND will challenge your physical strength.

Website: www.escape.my

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Merrily down the Merbok River

Mention the word “Kedah,” and the first picture that comes to mind would be its green paddy fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. And normally when talking about its tourist attractions, people would just recommend the popular island resort of Langkawi. Aside from beautiful Langkawi, Kedah has many other gorgeous gems to be discovered. If you’re a nature lover, it is time to explore something further afield — the Merbok River Mangrove Forest Reserve — and opens up your eyes and minds to the abundance of nature!

The Merbok River basin is an exciting upcoming destination with several sites of worldwide importance, not least among which is the greater Lembah Bujang area known for its historic and archeological value. We hear that it will soon stake its claim as a UNESCO-recognised site of cultural and natural heritage!

So before you go merrily on your way down the Merbok River, here’s a quick guide to getting a day’s worth of explorations down this important river:

  1. River Cruise 

Spanning over 4,000 hectares, the mangrove forest reserve that flanks the Merbok River is a rich habitat for a myriad of flora and fauna. From the Semeling Jetty, you can take a river cruise along the Merbok River and discover its winding estuaries and dense mangrove forest.

Bring along a high-powered pair of binoculars so you can catch sight of monitor lizards, little herons, Brahminy kites, sea eagles, and kingfishers a little more closely.

Historically, Merbok River was an important trading route for the early spice, goods and clothes merchants during the 1st to 14th century. As your boat meanders up the river surrounded on both sides by dense mangrove swamps, you can easily imagine how busy this piece of the waterway was and even re-live the exciting days of yore!

  1. Mangrove-Planting

The mangrove forest plays an important ecological role to our environment. It protects shorelines from rough waters and winds, helps to prevent erosion with their tangled root systems, acts as a filtration system to keep the area clean, and is a protective habitat for numerous species of marine life.

To drive this point home even further, visitors to Merbok River can do your bit for the environment by arranging a mangrove tree-planting session during your river cruise.

Bring along some mangroves tree seedlings for planting purposes at low tide. It won’t be an easy task wading through the sticky and muddy riverbank, but you can take heart that your effort will help Mother Nature do her work better!

  1. Oyster Farming and Tasting

In this traditional land of noodles in fish broth, curries, and rice, who would have imagined seeing oysters on the menu! But, yes, one can feast on these aphrodisiac delicacies harvested straight from the Merbok River.

The European way may be to take it raw and undressed (the oyster, not the diner), but here, it’s garnished with lemon, shallots and sambal, the Malaysian version of a hot sauce.

Aside from sampling the oysters, you’ll also learn about how the mangrove area provides the ideal environment for oyster farming as well as for aquaculture in general. The oysters are cultivated with great care and consideration for the environment. Visitors to the farm can learn in great detail about the farming process and even help to gently agitate the cages (to prevent the shells from fusing).

  1. Excavation Adventure

Fancy being an archeologist for a day? Well, at the Sungai Batu Archeological Complex, you can pick up some tools and start digging!

Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows nearby into Merbok River has an on-going archeology project where visitors can gain hands-on experience about the field of archeology while learning about the history that’s literally being unearthed there.

The Sungai Batu Archeological Complex, claimed to be Southeast Asia’s oldest civilization (older even than Borobudur and Angkor Wat), is said to be the lost world of Kedah Tua (Ancient Kedah), a kingdom complete with iron ore mines, smelting factory, a port, palace, burial sites and a thriving city!

Volunteers can work on some of the excavated sites, of which there are nearly 100, digging, cleaning, and reconstructing pottery, and even take part in brick making and iron smelting just like in the old days.

  1. Soap and Toothpaste Making

Another fun activity to engage in at Sungai Merbok is the natural soap and toothpaste making a session. The villagers conduct hands-on workshops on how to turn natural ingredients like coconut oil and charcoal into cleansing products to be used on a daily basis. The final results yield soaps that are natural, chemical-free, and safe for both the skin and environment, as well as black charcoal toothpaste that’s a healthier version to those available at supermarkets!

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PARADISE FOR FAMILIES

HEAVEN FOR FAMILIES, HAVEN FOR NATURE

By Anis Rozalina Ramli

The Andaman, Luxury Collection Resort in Langkawi is a special place where families and nature relax blissfully in each other’s company.

image credit to @edrwright from The Andaman Instagram page.

Tucked away in a million-year-old tropical rainforest, The Andaman has the warm, clear waters of the Datai Bay at its doorstep and the Mat Cincang mountain range as its backyard. Located on one of the 99 islands collectively known as Langkawi, the entire resort is blanketed in the green jungles of Malaysia so dense that nothing of this paradise resort is visible from the sea.

With the miracles of nature right at its doorstep — along with majestic sunsets, flying lemurs, giant squirrels, colourful corals and their resident marine friends — it’s not difficult to remember who’s boss here at this resort. It’s a daily reminder of how small we are in the grand scheme of things! Definitely no airs here even though the facilities and service standards reflect the property’s Starwood Luxury Collection branding.

Family Friendly

Despite its luxury positioning, it’s heartening to know that The Andaman welcomes kids with open arms. There’s nothing as humbling as catering to the needs of the most discerning of guests — the under 12s! They are tough to please but The Andaman certainly tries very hard and they’ve got the formula down pat. Kids menu, check. Wading pool, check. Babysitter, check. Kids playroom, check. Only, they’ve gone one step further with the SPG Kids Pass which allows children 12 and under to have three meals a day for just RM60 per day, per child. All the typically popular kid-approved favourites are on the menu – fish and chips, pizza and pasta – but there are a few adult-inspired creations as well such as cheese-and-fruit skewers, a caprese salad-type sandwich, and Asian vegetable rolls. Parents with kids will definitely appreciate this one-price convenience at meal times.

kids playroom at The Andaman

flying lemurs right at your doorstop

Holidays with Purpose

But, of all the facilities available at The Andaman, it is the coral nursery programme that’s a welcome distraction – both with young and old. Believed to be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, the coral nursery is a rehab centre, private snorkelling area and education centre all rolled into one. Tucked away at one end of The Andaman beach, the nursery is nothing more than a huge saltwater pool filled with thriving coral and marine life but its environmental purpose is one that resonates with many modern travellers who are more conscious of their travel footprint.

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, a 6,000-year-old coral reef fronting the resort was badly damaged. That was the impetus for the resort’s coral conservation project encompassing coral clearing activities and taking guests on educational coral walks to learn about the fragile marine ecosystem. At first, it was just the resort staff clearing the dead corals that were rolling over and damaging live coral in the sea – all part of the day’s work. Interested guests, both children and adults, soon joined them in their bit to help the environment and it naturally took off as a regular resort activity for guests.

During spring tides when sea levels pull back to reveal a 6,000-year-old reef, the resort offers guided walks along the stretch of coral garden where abundant marine life-forms make their home. Guests who are lucky enough to be at the resort during this time get to learn about this fragile ecosystem from the resort’s resident marine biologist, Dr. Gerry Goeden. Others purposefully check with the resort to make sure their visit coincides with the spring tide dates for this experience alone.

One of the highlights of the coral nursery is the opportunity to snorkel within its natural environment under the expert guidance of the charismatic Dr. Goeden. The coral pool, thriving with all manner of colourful tropical marine fish and the rainbow-hued corals, offers a still environment and great visibility for even first-time snorkelers to appreciate the blooming beauty of the underwater marine world. Without choppy waves in the open sea to sway you, it’s easy to manoeuvre around the pool with Dr. Goeden firmly by your side narrating the aspects of the coral environment. His deep knowledge of conservation and extensive experience with the Great Barrier Reef in Australia brings a more meaningful appreciation for the ecosystem. Expect to swim among friendly razor, clown and parrot fish as well as groupers, lobsters, sea urchins and starfish. Brain coral, and other hard and soft coral flourish here, showing of their full beauty.

With 80% of coral reefs damaged due to dynamite fishing, net fishing and overfishing, the resort aims to educate children about the importance of a coral reef ecosystem.  The nursery’s programmes such as Ocean in a Bucket, Young Marine Biologist and the Artificial Reef Modules (ARMs programme) all give important insights into the environment with opportunities for old and young guests to participate in marine conservation efforts at the resort. Guests can make mini versions of the ARM out of concrete and plant live coral on it, which will be nurtured and eventually released into the sea as homes for marine life! Meanhile, the Young Marine Biologist programme for 8 to 10 year olds aspiring to work in the marine environment gives a hands-on training in managing a marine environment at the nursery which includes cleaning the pool, feeding the fish and collecting dead corals.

Adult Fun

With kids contented, the adults can rest easy, too, and enjoy the range of resort services such as spa, beach-front bars, sun-deck dining and golfing.

The Andaman has great dining facilities at its six dining areas: Tepian Laut, Beach Bar, The Restaurant, The Japanese Restaurant, Jentayu Lounge and Jala.

Dining at Jala Restaurant, with beautiful sunset views and therapeutic sand floor (go barefoot in a little black dress for best effect), is great for the fresh seafood sourced from the local community. Its exciting menu respectfully blends aspects of the east and west in palate-enticing concoctions. Fresh seafood is available daily for selection and meal preparation according to diners’ preference.

The Japanese Restaurant is said to bring authentic Japanese menu to the shores of Langkawi each evening. For sashimi with a difference, try the cuts from local fish.

The Beach Bar, meanwhile, is a fun place to hang out in the day or at sunset. Day-time temperatures determine the discounts offered on drinks during Happy Hour, so soaring temperatures in the summer mean deeper cuts in price! The bar prides itself on such signature drinks as the Radiant Maiden, a curious blend of aged rum, kaffir lime, agave nectar, lime juice and chili pepper. Or try the Perfect Balance mocktail, a refreshing combination of kiwi, rambutan and lime suitable for guests of all ages.

Fusion of Fun and Healthy

Image credit to @TheAndaman Instagram page. Watermelon salad is a perfect cooling salad on a hot day by the beach

A healthy cuisine menu has also been carefully designed by the chefs at the resort to incorporate healthy ingredients with delicious results, enticingly presented to tease the taste buds. The menu has been curated carefully to include raw desserts and  gluten-free and vegan offerings with fresh and organic ingredients that are free of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and insecticides, with herbs and micro-greens harvested from the resort’s own herb garden. As the dishes arrive at the table, one truly feels the inspiration behind the creations that celebrate and honour sustainability, fair trade and local farms, and which are prepared with love and consciousness.

Another adult activity worth indulging while at the resort is golfing at the new Els Club Datai, designed by former number one golfing legend Ernie Els also known as The Big Easy. The 18-hole par 72 bunkerless championship course meanders its way through a 10 million year old rainforest, cascading down to the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea.

Those looking for some “me” time will appreciate the resort’s V Botanical Spa village. Located at the far north of the resort, V Botanical Spa is the first spa in Southeast Asia to offer 100-percent certified organic food grade products. Perched high on a verdant hillside are four treatment villas hidden away in the rainforest. While the range of spa treatments are relaxing and therapeutic, the beautiful view of the crescent-shaped bay and the lulling sounds of the ocean are what make this special place a heaven for tired minds and knotted muscles.

The Andaman oozes of traditional Malay architecture yet fulfils all modern expectations and is further made special with its magical location near sun, sea, sand, jungle and mountain. As a family-friendly resort, it has earned its stars among families with children, but what’s most heartening is that its heart is at one with nature.

 

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Unique luxury resorts of Malaysia

The Datai, Langkawi

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There are a number of luxury resorts on Pulau langkawi that can offer a great hideaway for you and your loved one. One of the finest of these is The Datai Resort which epitomises all that’s great about Langkawi.

As well as being nestled in the heart of the rainforest, the resort also overlooks the tranquil Datai Bay, one of the top beaches in the world as voted by National Geographic, leaving you with a choice of environments to relax in.

 

Pangkor Laut Resort, Pangkor Laut

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If it’s seclusion you’re looking for, you can’t get much better than Pangkor Laut Island. As there is only one resort on this island, it exudes exclusivity and makes an ideal location for some quality rest and relaxation.

In the sanctuary of this privately owned island, you have the secluded beaches and virgin rainforest all to yourselves. The resort has been sensitively developed to cover only a fraction of the island’s 300 acres so you can embrace the raw natural beauty of this idyllic setting.

The rooms come in a variety of styles including villas nestled in to the hills, chalets perched on stilts stretching out over the ocean, and character filled 2-4 bedroom private estates that harp back to the British colonial days of old Malaya.

 

The Lakehouse, Cameron Highlands

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Set in stunningly lush grounds, this Tudor-style boutique resort radiates old English charm. The immaculately groomed gardens and distinctive Tudor décor make this an ideal spot to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Enjoy refreshments on the terrace overlooking the Sultan Abu Bakar Lake and, to completely immerse yourself in the British theme, indulge in an afternoon tea of scones, jam and clotted cream.

Once you’re done exploring the beautiful surrounding hills for the day, snuggle up in front of the log fireplace in the antique filled lounge or retire to your romantic suite, complete with sunken bath, walk in wardrobe, and four-poster bed.

 

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang

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For a touch of history, head to Penang and the famous Blue Mansion hotel in Georgetown.

This 19th century grand estate was once home to one of China’s wealthiest tycoons but is now converted into a four star hotel comprising of 18 suites. It has been showered with awards for its impressive architecture and delicate restoration, making it a striking and unique place to spend a few nights.

 

Bubu Resort Villas, Perhentian

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Situated off the coast of Terengganu, the Perhentian Islands are considered some of the finest islands Malaysia has to offer. Still relatively untouched, this collection of tiny islands captures nature in its purest form. These islands can only be reached by speedboat which helps the area to preserve its unspoilt environment.

The smaller of the two main islands, Pulau Perhentian Kecil, retains its picturesque feel with a complete lack of roads and limited beach development. It also boasts some of the best snorkelling spots in Malaysia. Here you have the luxury of going right off the sandy shores or alternatively catch one of the boat tours out to some of the more spectacular sites. Turtles and sharks are almost a guarantee in this area so keep your eyes peeled!

Bubu Resort and Villas, located on Long Beach, is a great place to enjoy this natural beauty. The rustic feel of the island and its surrounding nature offers up the dream desert island experience.

 

 

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5 reasons to visit Pangkor Island

By Aura Farrando Image: Pulau Pangkor and its many islands

By Aura Farrando
Image: Pulau Pangkor and its many islands

Searching for that perfect weekend getaway? Perhaps something a little quieter than tourist hotspots like Langkawi and Perhentians? Look no further than Pangkor Island, located off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Perak, just 90km from Ipoh. It has everything you want for an island escape — and so much more — with sleepy fishing villages, relaxed atmosphere and amazing views. Here’s our Top 5 for Pangkor Island.

 

  1. Perfect Location

Unlike other beach destinations in Malaysia, Pangkor Island is quite easy to get to. You can drive or catch a bus from Kuala Lumpur to the ferry port at Lumut. The ferry from Lumut to Pangkor take 35 minutes and operates 7am to 8.30pm daily. Pangkor also has an airport, with Berjaya Air flying there three times a week. Once on the island, the best mode of transport is by scooter. Renting a scooter is relatively cheap, and will allow to you to cover most within 15 to 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can hail one of the island’s famed pink taxis.

Image: Pangkor’s famous pink taxis. — http://www.pangkorislandhomestay.com

Image: Pangkor’s famous pink taxis. — http://www.pangkorislandhomestay.com

2. Beaches and water sports

 Pangkor is just 8 square kilometres, but you’ll be surprised how much you can do, and what you can see. Of course, sun baking on the beach is the most popular pastime for visitors, with Nipah and Coral beach often dotted with holiday makers. There are also two small islands nearby — Giam and Mentagor — that are perfect for snorkelling with an array of coral, sea cucumbers and other sea life to be found. If you’re more adventurous, grab a kayak and circumnavigate the islands. Pasir Bogak is another famous beach, just 2km from Pangkor Town and it is the best place for jet skiing and parasailing.

Image: Snorkelling in Pangkor

Image: Snorkelling in Pangkor

  1. Food

With a thriving local fishing scene, it’s no coincidence that the choice of seafood is amazing. The main catch is cuttlefish and anchovies. Selling dried fish is still an important part of the economy, with locals often transporting large bags of dried anchovies from the port, to the mainland and to the markets. You’ll most likely experience a taste of these anchovies at breakfast with your nasi lemak. At evening, head to the many beachside restaurants and order ikan bakar or grilled fish. What more could you want to end your day. Oh, and it’s cheap, too.

 

  1. Explore by foot

If, for some reason, you are allergic to the ocean, there’s also plenty to do on land. There’s an uphill trek across the island with great vantage points of the local wildlife, particularly the hornbill. You can even feed these gracious birds every day at 6.30pm at Sunset View Chalet. Its owner Nordin Bakar has been feeding the island’s population of hornbills for the past 12 years. For nature lovers and hikers, also check out the jungle trails at Teluk Segadas Hill and Titi Ganung.

 

Pangkor Island has some must-see historical landmarks, too. The island has always been a trading enclave in the state of Perak. The vestiges of history can be traced in the Dutch Fort built in the 17th century. The reason behind its construction was to monopolise the tin trade in Perak and protect the Perak Chieftan.

Image: Hornbills rule the island

Image: Hornbills rule the island

  1. Relax and indulge

Pangkor Laut provides the ultimate luxurious experience. This private island is next to the bigger and busier Pangkor Island. The resort includes 140 villas and suites and has 300 acres of rainforest as a playground. If you feel like splurging, you can stay in the huge Pavarotti Suite. The tenor sang at the launch of the resort in 1994 and said the island was “paradise”. Other celebrities who have stayed here include Michael Schumacher, Eric Cantona and Michelle Yeoh. The resort will also organise your transport to and from the island. More information: http://www.pangkorlautresort.com/

Image: Paradise, Pangkor Laut Resort

Image: Paradise, Pangkor Laut Resort

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