Honeymoon islands are all the rage – and it’s easy to see why. Clear blue skies to match the colour of the ocean, palm trees and G&Ts, golden sands and a chilled pace of life.
ut there’s only one problem: away from those Indian Ocean beaches and the all-inclusive buffet, there’s not much on offer. And heaven help you if it rains.
But there’s a better option. Malaysia’s Langkawi is every bit the honeymoon destination, but there’s so much more to this tropical isle than mere beaches, as beautiful as they are.
Rainforests, wildlife, mangrove swamps, Bali-esque paddy fields, stunning beachfront hotels – there’s enough for any type of holidaymaker, from the adventurers and the wannabe David Attenboroughs to the families just looking for high-quality fun in the sun.
For a tiny isle just over half the size of County Dublin, it packs in more thrills than you could ever imagine.
Situated off the west coasts of Thailand and Malaysia, Langkawi is exotic, but up to now, has been tricky to get to. The good news is that a regular service on Qatar Airways is putting it on the map for Irish tourists. How exotic? The check-in staff for my mid-afternoon flight from Dublin had trouble finding the destination in their computer, as I was the first person to venture there.
It’s around seven hours to the first stop, Doha (see panel), and from there the next flight stops to let passengers off on the island of Penang before the final 15-minute hop up the coast.
And it’s worth the wait. I stayed for the first few nights in The Danna Langkawi, a colonial-style luxury hotel (think Raffles chic), situated by a beach and marina in the west of the island.
Just a 15-minute transfer from the tiny airport, check-in here is different – a room key and a head and neck massage. Welcome to a world of bliss.
What the hotel showcases well is the island’s big selling point: its friendliness. Many people chose to live here, fleeing the big city of Kuala Lumpur or beyond for a gentler pace of life. Food is at the hotel’s heart, and The Planter’s restaurant offers the best of local cuisine, a curious mix of Asian and India. Truth be told, I’d take the 10,000km journey all over again for a spoonful of its Murgh Makhani, the best curry dish I’ve ever tasted.
There are no bad rooms here, and the Grand Merchant rooms are recreated old-world opulence, overlooking the tropical courtyard gardens. The best of all are the Princess Villas.
I felt all hip-hop artist with my huge Dermot Bannon-style glass doors opening onto a private pool, in turn opening on to a beach lapped by the waters of the Andaman Sea.
This is accommodation on a different scale, with a huge living area, Netflix on demand and – it had to be done – hip hop blaring on the streaming speakers.
You can find beaches in the Seychelles or Mauritius, but you won’t find unspoiled rainforests. Dev’s Adventure Tours are eco-conscious operators, and their boat tours will bring you up close with nature. I encountered sea eagles, Asia’s oldest fossil (over 500 million years in existence), megalithic caves filled with hundreds of bats, as well as mating tree snakes during a boat and mangroves tour that was straight out of Apocalypse Now.
And there’s a multitude of monkeys. The nice guys, though hard to spot, are the unbelievably cute dusky leaf variety. At the other end of the scale are their cheeky cousins the macaques.
Smart and cunning, one once had the notion to knock on a hotel door, scamper past the unsuspecting tourist and raid his mini-bar. Mr Macaque was later found, the worse for wear, after downing a few cans and half a bottle of Shiraz.
But the locals now have the upper hand – stuffed tiger toys on kitchen tables are enough to keep the monkeys at bay in the remoter areas of the island.
The jungle is also home to plenty of adventure, and the best way to see the UNESCO geopark is from high up in the canopy of trees on a zipline – well, 12 ziplines (plus three bridges) to be precise – taking in the stunning views of the Seven Wells waterfall.
The chilled-out guides from Umgawa Zipline Eco Adventures are eagle-eyed in spotting the local wildlife, but I was thankful not to spot or be spotted by the jungle’s airborne lizards and, yikes, flying snakes. The cat-sized giant squirrels are an amazing sight though, and I finally managed to glimpse the shy dusky leaf monkeys.
Nearby is something you wouldn’t expect to find on a jungle island: a really cute theme park. Its Oriental Village is hugely popular with locals and it’s ideal if you’re travelling with kids.
It’s got a range of entertainment, with an outdoor 6D cinema, a dinosaur cinema ride and a range of restaurants and souvenir shops. Its big claim to fame, though, is that it’s the starting point for the SkyCab, the world’s longest free-span cable car.
It’s a steep climb, straight out of Jack and the Beanstalk, as you ascend through the jungle clouds, eventually arriving at the top of Manchinchang mountain. It’s a different world up there, with spectacular views as far as the Thai coast. To top it off, there’s a massive curved bridge suspended 100 metres above ground, so get the cameras ready for those Instagrammable moments.
For a taste of old Langkawi, the Old Langkawi Charm Tour is unmissable. On it, you’re helped by local experts to cook your own Malaysian feast – curry, stuffed tofu, seafood, satay sauces – in a real old house from back in the day, amid the paddy fields.
Tempted already? You might be thinking of a honeymoon here – and you won’t regret it – but you can also tie the knot on the beach at my last stop, the beautiful Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa.
Built in traditonal style, it’s all wood and foliage here, and you really feel you’re in old-world Asia. Getting to the long Cenang beach was a cinch – my room opened out onto it!
Just beside me was the hotel’s Cba restaurant, where it’s all about location, with dining available on the beach (definitely a wedding must). The hotel also has a prime spot beside the resort town of Pantai Cenang. It’s a duty free island (brand-name gins, for instance, cost €8-€10 a bottle).
The town is a delight: a main street full of shops parallel to a beach lined with bohemian bars. It’s a friendly spot and a melting pot of cultures. Majority Malay and Muslim, there are Chinese locals too, creating a curious mix that makes the island feel like the Caribbean of the East – no wonder that the youngsters lover reggae here, with Bob Marley seemingly a local icon.
I’m only scratching the surface of an island with so much more to offer, but the sunset cruise will live long in the memory. Filled with a bachelor party from Kuala Lumpur, the beer and spirits flowed through the night as the red-hot sun dipped over the tropical islands of the Straits of Malacca.
If you want a lifetime of precious memories, look no further than Langkawi.
Factfile → Hotels → Tips
⬤ How to get there
Qatar Airways operates direct from Dublin to its hub in Doha, and from there, it’s an onward connection to Langkawi. In Economy, expect full food and drinks service and a wide range of on-demand video, TV and music programming. I’d rate the cabin crew as the friendliest in the skies. Flights are operated with Dreamliners, one of the best jetlag-busting aircrafts too. Return fare from €739pp.
Many Irish honeymooners are opting for Business Class, which is the ultimate in luxury: attentive service, 17-inch TV screens and reclining seats to guarantee some sleep (the Doha-Langkawi leg is the longest, so aim to sleep then).
I’d suggest a stop-off on either leg in Doha, as hotel deals there are excellent. The hotels are high-end, but take time to do a desert tour and visit the old town, with cafes and shops straight out of old times. (qatarairways.com)
⬤ The hotels
The Danna (thedanna.com) is just pure luxury at an affordable price, with rooms much cheaper than in Europe, despite their five-star rating. Apart from Planter’s, there’s also the Terrace restaurant, overlooking pool and sea, the classy Churchill cocktail bar, lunch venue Strait and Co, and a beautiful spa (an Asian massage is a must).
The Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa is also ideal for honeymooners, singles and families alike, with a rake of facilities and activities. It’s right on the beach and you can even go jet-skiing around the myriad nearby islands, bookable on megawatersports.com, just a 10-minute walk from the hotel. (meritushotels.com)
You can book all of these online, but for packages, the likes of trailfinders.ie do excellent flights and hotel deals.
⬤ Things to do
A big shout-out for Dev’s Adventure Tours. They’re very eco- conscious, fun and reliable. They run the mangrove tour and Old Langkawi Charm tou. (langkawi-nature.com)
For the Oriental Village, cable car and bridge, see panoramalangkawi.com; for the sunset cruise it’s avante-holidays.com and the zipline adventure is on ziplinelangkawi.com.
For stacks more info on Langkawi, check out the local tourism website, lada.gov.my