JETSETTER

Eco Wonderland

The island of Langkawi has sun, sand, sea and the most amazing array of forests and wildlife

February 2019

When it comes to island getaways, Singaporeans are spoilt for choice. Ask them which one they’ve been to and they will probably rattle off Bali, Phuket and Samui, if not Sentosa, Batam or Bintan. 

But few seem to ever mention Langkawi even if this island just off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia is nearby, has pristine beaches and is a Unesco global geopark. 

For anyone excited about the remote possibility about that last bit being a type of theme park, it is not. 

Rather, a geopark refers to an area with international geological significance, and Langkawi has that in an abundance with its lush rainforests and unspoilt mangroves. 

Gem of an island
Langkawi is part of Kedah state and its officially name is  Langkawi, Jewel of Kedah. It is actually an archipelago of 99 islets, with the main eponymous island about two-thirds the size of Singapore. 

One interesting fact is that despite is quaint villages and forest-covered hills, Langkawi is a duty-free haven. So there is zero tax on alcohol, cigarettes and cars. 

But of course, most Singaporeans don’t come to Langkawi with the intention of buying a Mercedes-Benz for one-third the price at home. 

Maybe some will get cheap smokes and beer but almost all of them want to enjoy the many natural wonders.

Kilim Karst Geoforest Park
The geoforest park is a ecosystem of rich wildlife that is best experienced by boat on a guided river tour. 

As you approach Kilim Karst from a distance, you will catch sight of its awesome limestone cliffs. 

Drawing nearer, the mangrove trees come into view with the amazing fauna within. 

Mangroves are a bit like the mutants of the plant world. They sink their roots into seawater and instead of withering and dying from a high sodium diet, filter the salt out through a membrane in a natural desalination function that makes Hyflux green with envy. All this while absorbing important nutrients too. 

And then there is the intriguing variety of species flourishing among the mangrove roots. 

Like the mangroves, they can also pass for mutants, but of the animal world. 

There is the mudskipper, a fish that are not only able to survive out of water because of their inflated gills, but can also travel on land by using their pectoral fins to push or “walk’’ along. 

There is also the fiddler crab, with just one outsized pincer that it uses like a club to swing at predators which want to devour its sweet flesh as sashimi rather than steamed. 

One of these predators is the macaque. 

But like its cousins living along Rifle Range Road, these mercenary monkeys are not averse to using easier means to find food. Such as begging passing tourists for a snack. 

While it may be fun for the squealing tourists, it is detrimental to the fragile eco-system. 

So is the practice of throwing chicken skin into the river to make  brahminy kites dive in. Some guides do this to set up a photo opportunity for their tour group but the rest of the community are resolutely against it. 

The Datai
One member of the Langkawi fraternity which strongly believes in preserving the beautiful environment is The Datai.  

This luxury hotel at the north-western tip of the island has respected its environment even before it was built. Nearly three decades ago during construction, it shipped Thai elephants in to clear the trees instead of using heavy machinery, and the wood reused.  

The hotel is literally built in the rainforest and has so many types of animals living among the buildings that the in-house naturalist takes guests on nature walks on the sprawling property. 

Another reason is that it is easier to spot an animal in a tree when walking on a footpath in The Datai than when trekking under a  dense canopy. 

An animal such as the colugo or flying lemur. This gliding mammal with the gentle eyes has skin flaps between their legs so it can “fly’’ from tree to tree. Sometimes while carrying its young. 

It is different from the red giant flying squirrel, which is a squirrel  with a membrane of skin only between its arm and leg. 

So if these nocturnal creatures happen to glide above you – as is very likely at dusk at The Datai – the colugo from below is shaped like a hexagon while you will clearly see the bushy tail of the squirrel extended behind it like a rudder. 

The sight of either should be more exhilarating than scoring a parking spot on Amoy Street at lunchtime. 

Yet they cannot compare with an unexpected glimpse of a mouse deer at dawn, shyly stepping out of the bushes to cross the path that leads to The Datai’s picturesque bay where humpback dolphins sometimes frolick. 

With its spindly legs and tiny hooves no bigger than your fingernail, the kancil is such a rare sight you’ll probably have a better chance striking 4D.   

But in Langkawi, where there is so much natural beauty to savour, there are much better things to do than dream up a winning number.

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