I said goodbye to Georgetown before I started to feel any more padded around the mid-section, and made my way slowly to Langkawi, which, contrary to what I thought, is not only a single island but an archipelago of 99 islands. Similar to the state of Hawaii having an island in it called Hawaii.
Langkawi is surprisingly small, 99 islands makes it sound as though this place should be massive but some of the islands are really just tall rocks.
Every person I had met who’d been to Langkawi waxed lyrical about how gorgeous the beaches were, what a tropical paradise it was. “You can really get away from it all here, it’s heaven on earth.”
Well…maybe under the correct circumstances it is.
I’d booked into a hostel that had been described as “chill, walking distance to places to eat and close to the beach”. That sounds nice, doesn’t it.
It was in a little place called Pantai Cenang, which turned out to be one of the most touristy spots on the island. It’s not a big place by any means, but the main street next to the beach lined with bars, restaurants, and a multitude of shops selling everything from souvenirs to beach balls, took me back to the bustling resorts in the Mediterranean that are ghost towns for 8 months of the year. All those places are beautiful too once you venture far away from anywhere that has a fish and chip shop.
I looked in the stores, browsed the duty free shops (Langkawi is a duty free haven, no idea why but who cares? Whoop, whoop, duty free!) I went to the beach, prepared to experience tropical paradise.
Ah. Well.. the thing is, and I know I’m being a snobby whinge bucket right now, but my version of tropical paradise doesn’t include a bay that’s been over-run with banana boats, para-sailers, and jet skis.
Ooh, did you hear that noise, quite a substantial thud? Yep, that was one of my diamond flip-flops falling off.
After a bit more research, which I really should have done before I arrived in Langkawi, I discover that the best thing to do is to hire a scooter and go exploring. There is a ring road around the island which you could do in a day, and lots of picturesque places to see. Winner. Technically I am a novice when it comes to riding a scooter, but I am quite nifty on a bicycle, and really how difficult can it be? I’ve seen everyone from 10 year olds to geriatrics cruising around Asia on motos, why not me? Also, the roads in Langkawi are super smooth and, once you get out of the populated areas, uncrowded, so this seems like the perfect place to learn.
One teeny problem, Malaysia is a bit of a stickler for safety compared to the other lands of South East Asia. Normally I’d be one hundred percent behind this attitude. I love safety! Pass me that helmet, and why isn’t everyone buckled up? Hmmm? But on this occasion it meant that my hostel wouldn’t let me take one of their scooters after I admitted I didn’t know how to ride one, spoilsports. The rental place down the road actually asked me for a driving license!!! The majority of bike hire I’ve witnessed has been along the lines of you hand five dollars over and someone tosses you a set of keys.
The driving license scuppered me because of course it is one of the many cards I had stolen somewhere between Venice and Vienna, and have not yet been able to get replaced because I don’t have an address. This idle, travelling life… it’s not as easy as everyone makes out. Oof, the ruby straps on my back pack are chafing.
Back to the bicycle it was then. The nice thing about cycling though, is the second you start pedalling, you get instant gratification. Cycling is fun. You don’t have to ease your way into it, or wait for the endorphins to kick as you do with a tortuous step aerobics class.
For my destination I chose a waterfall called Telaga Tujuh, which I’ve been told means Seven Wells Waterfall. It might not mean that at all, it might mean “Poisonous water snakes live here”, or it might mean “Don’t piss upstream”, but let’s just go with seven wells. There are lots of waterfalls dotted around Langkawi, I chose this one because it was only about 10 miles away, since the road is flat that’s an easy cycle.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed that the road turns out not to be flat.
It was for the first half of the ride, but of course the thing about waterfalls is that logic decrees that they have to be high up in order for the water to be able to fall. A multitude of hills awaited me, snickering in anticipation.
I arrived at the car park to the falls, legs trembling, able to taste the salt on my skin from sweating so much (admit it, I sound super attractive right now, you want to date me), and no pride left because I got off the bike and pushed it, many, many times. As always I provided amusement for passers by (which was everyone, everyone passed me by that day, at great speed), and received lots of friendly waves and honks, and encouraging words. I hope they were friendly, the blood pounding in my ears muffled everything.
Still, no need to be despondent that I have arrived a physical wreck, there is a waterfall waiting for me. Sorry, wait what was that you said? Oh I have to climb up steps before I get to the waterfall… How many steps, just out of interest? 638 steps? Right, okay, um.. I’m just going to have a little rest first.
I must have looked abysmal crawling up those steps, every bugger I met coming in the opposite direction told me to keep going, it was worth it.
They were right of course, it was worth it. The view alone was incredible – a gracious sweep of hills, HUGE hills, covered in dense rainforest, tumbling into the ocean which twinkled away merrily as if a billion fireflies had decided to go for a dip. Although really that wouldn’t happen, if a billion fireflies decided to go swimming they wouldn’t make it all twinkly, they’d be dead and there would be only a macabre crunchy, firefly click on the surface.
The actual falls are a series of small pools over natural slides, further down is another set of pools suitable for clambering around, and swimming. The slides though are at the top. Who doesn’t love a water slide eh? The pools that they lead into are small but deep enough for a grown adult not to have to worry about injury, which is great because age and agility have an inverse relationship. The little kids and the teenagers slip into the water with the insouciance of an otter, whilst I spin around uncontrollably and enter the water backwards, head first and squealing.
This is one of the few places where I’ve felt really safe sliding around waterfalls. Fear normally prevents me from trusting a path of slick rock that leads into a stone bowl. When I was 19, a very good friend and I went to Erawan falls in Thailand where the top tier has a steep and bumpy water chute descending into milky green water and a big sign saying NO SLIDING. I can remember the feeling of my throat being too small as I watched my friend give me a big panicky grin before sliding down the chute, wildly grabbing at the sign halfway to slow himself down, dropping into the water and taking a few too many seconds to bob up above the surface all smiles and thumbs up. Another time on a road trip to Yosemite – with five guys who’d decided to have a healthy week in between their tour of American fraternity houses – we went to the Emerald pool, three of us jumped in and splashed around in icy water, whilst the other three screamed their way down a slippery rock path into an alternative, teeny-tiny pool. As their reward they got covered in leeches. A chap who decided to follow them ended up having to be airlifted off the mountain with a busted ankle … he didn’t check the pool before sliding so didn’t know there was a shallow rock on one side. We all slunk away quite quickly after that, and only noticed on the way out as we made our way squelching and dripping down the path, the again BIG sign, banning swimming or sliding.
Telega Tujuh however is known for the slides, they are short and not steep at all. Your biggest problem is how to get out of the pool at the end. Wriggling on your stomach and grunting like a walrus did the trick for me.