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Published: January 18th 2016
'tis the season! But we weren't singing fa-la-la-la-la or being jolly in the normal cold and wet this year - we were being jolly on Langkawi, surrounded by golden beaches, rich blue seas and coral reefs. Oh, and it's a duty free island, so we were a little extra jolly with the cheap booze...
We were staying in a cool little concept hotel on Langkawi, called Tubotel. Each room was a large concrete tube, with a massive bed across the whole thing and glass doors at the front, so you would lie on your bed and have an unobstructed view straight out onto the tropical ocean. Pretty nice! Away to our left stretched Pantai Cenang, the main beach on Langkawi, and the stereotypical glorious tropical beach (although marred just a little by the vast number of jet skis whizzing about way too close to swimmers). We headed down as soon as we could to the duty free shop and stocked up for the celebrations - I'd been missing gin on our travels, so the discovery that a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire was 9 quid there filled me with really quite a lot of festive joy...
On Christmas Eve
we had an unexpected little gift - we happened to be sat looking over the ocean sipping a beer at just the right time, as the hotel owner went past and told us he was going out in his speedboat and asked if we wanted to come out for some tubing. Man it was fun! His speedboat got up to 55mph at full throttle, which seems very fast indeed when you're being dragged behind it on a rubber ring. He got gradually faster and turned in ever tighter circles as we were thrown left, right, centre and vertically up across the wake, until he managed to throw the rider off, much to his amusement. Great fun. We even saw some dolphins on the way back in to the hotel to complete the experience.
One problem with Langkawi is that the food is terrible, at least compared to the rest of Malaysia. There's barely an authentic Malaysian eatery available on Pantai Cenang - but we didn't mind too much, having eaten fantastically the whole way up the country to that point. So we booked into a Western place for Christmas Day and had a slightly dodgy turkey dinner, sat on
the beach with sand between our toes, washed down with plenty of wine. Afterwards we tottered happily back down the beach to our hotel, tried to Skype with our families with limited success through the dodgy hotel WiFi (the main down side of our tropical Christmas - missed you guys!) and had a couple more drinks to complete the day. Merry Christmas all!
Between Christmas and New Year we'd booked to do our PADI Open Water scuba diving course, in the hope of doing a fair bit of scuba diving as we work our way around SE Asia. The course didn't start brilliantly - the first day was supposed to be learning the required skills in a swimming pool, but we arrived at the hotel they use to find the pool a vibrant green colour; apparently the hotel had 'run out of chlorine' and just let the pool go to the algae. Nice! Instead we headed back to the beach and learnt the skills we needed in among the swimmers, para-sailers and jet skis, in a torrential downpour, in the one metre of visibility of the churned up beach water. Not ideal, but nonetheless we learnt what we needed
to and woke the next morning excited for our first proper scuba dives.
Our two dives were at a site called 'The Stable', so named because they sometimes see seahorses there. Visibility is terrible in Langkawi - 2-4 metres at best - so they focus on trying to find that kind of small stuff hidden away in corals. As we were doing our course, the main focus was on practising the skills we needed, which all went fine other than a brief panic when simulating running out of air and sharing respirators (helpful hint for any future divers - you're supposed to breath in air
, not water
). After we'd done the lessons, our instructor started taking us exploring the reef. We weren't sure beforehand what our chances were of actually seeing seahorses, but were lucky enough to see two common brown seahorses and one very lovely tigertail seahorse, a bright yellow beauty, floating around in his coral. Our instructor found him by poking around all the corals until one emerged and then herding him back and forth between his hands (corralling him within his coral, if you will), which I somehow suspect isn't the marine biologist approved method of
spotting seahorses; but it was still a great thing to see.
The next day was our final two dives, and we were blessed with about the best visibility Langkawi gets to, about 4 metres (just about enough to see your dive buddy, which is always helpful). On our first dive the instructor decided the current was too strong to learn anything, so just took us exploring for the whole thing - an awesome dive, we saw all sorts of great stuff, including clownfish, lobsters, various angelfish and a cute little golden trevally, who rather than swimming away from us like everything else kept us company through the whole dive, darting around us. We also saw a scorpionfish which was cool - nasty little buggers, about as venomous as anything gets, it looks almost exactly like a rock and clings to the wall; one of the many reasons not to touch anything if unsure on a reef, even (perhaps especially) the seabed or walls! Then all too soon it was our final dive; last sets of skills ticked off and back to the beach with our Open Water qualifications done. We definitely have the bug for scuba diving, and plan
on doing a lot more over the rest of our travels.
The rest of our time in Langkawi was back to relaxing and drinking. On New Year's Eve we booked into a place with an open bar where you just grabbed full bottles of wine as you needed, a system I can very much get on board with. Determined to get our money's worth, we had perhaps a little more of this wine than we should have done; our memories of seeing in the new year are hence somewhat hazy. From photos on our phones we can deduce that Pantai Cenang at midnight must have been quite a sight; Chinese lanterns everywhere, bonfires and fireworks at every hotel, huge crowds all over the beach... How would we get by without smartphones? We do have some vague memories - Tania deciding we should lie down on the beach for a bit for a rest (verified by the huge amount of sand in the bed the next morning) and me safeguarding an unopened bottle of wine from the free bar all the way back to the hotel to be hair of the dog the next day, only to drop it on
the concrete and smash it immediately before getting back (although we never found any evidence of that the next morning, so maybe we drunk it... That could explain the size of the hangover). A good night all round; it wouldn't be New Year's without over-indulging a little!
Malaysia, it's been fun. Next stop Thailand.
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