Upon the suggestion, again of our friends, Tom and Sohbee, formerly from Kuala Lumpur, then the Bay Area, and now Shanghai, we headed to the beautiful, sparsely populated Malaysian island of Langkawi. Sheri met Sohbee at the local community college, while they were taking an exercise class. They quickly became friends, as she learned of our travels, and wondered why we had never visited her home country, Malaysia.
After several dinners with them, we were convinced we needed to visit both KL, and the resort island of Langkawi, just off the Thai and Malay coasts. So, after a few days in KL, where we met Angela, we flew off to the island of Langkawi. We were set up to stay at the famous Datai Langkawi Resort, upon their suggestion.
The Datai resort sits in a ten million year old rainforest on the north coast of the small island. It is considered a 5 star resort, with a beach rated as one of the top ten by National Geographic. And an attached golf course, for those so inclined. Langkawi is just one of 99 islands off the coast of Malaysia, a mere 30 kilometers from the mainland, on the Andaman Sea. Langkawi is only185 square miles in size, or about the size of Singapore.
Having never stayed in such a remote place, we found the resort and island to be charming, yet different. It was quiet, mostly couples, in one of the most beautiful settings we have ever seen. From our room, the grounds, and the beach, we could see Thailand. The water was the bluest blue we could imagine. And the noises from the rainforest were almost deafening at times.
But, in those days, we had to use the now, long forgotten internet room to get email, and communicate with our further travels. So, on a lazy afternoon, perhaps after a round of golf, and walks on the beach, Sheri rested, and I went to the internet room.
Much like I met the famous Barry the V from Cape Town, in the internet room in Santiago, Chile, I was soon to meet Jason and Chun from Penang, Malaysia. Penang is another major island, closer to KL, off the western coast of Malaysia. Needless to say, we struck up a long and interesting conversation.
We found out later that day, that Jason and Chun were there to perform a civil wedding ceremony on the beautiful grounds of the resort. They were there as guests of the Datai, with a complimentary room, and round trip sea passage to and from Langkawi from Penang. We found out they were both teaching at the American school in Penang.
So, after finding out they were on their own after the ceremony, and free for dinner, we invited them to join us that evening, poolside, at the resort’s best restaurant. Our dinner must have lasted several hours, and a strong friendship began. They invited us to visit their island. Better yet, their neighbor was the general manager of Penang’s best resort, the Rasa Sayang, where we would get the “local” deal.
About two years later, we were headed again to Malaysia, with a stop in Penang. We stayed the first night in the city of Georgetown, Penang, at the famous Eastern and Oriental Hotel, owned by the equally famous four Armenian Sarkies brothers. The E and O (1885) was reminiscent of their even more famous Raffles Hotel (1887) in Singapore. What could possible be better?
So, a quick, 20 minute taxi to Batu Ferringhi, where the 5 star Rasa Sayang Resort would be our home for the next few days. Though newly built, the staff was incredibly seasoned, and most friendly. When they led us to our suite, we found out that we would have a butler, the tub and spa were located on our balcony, high tea would be at 3pm, and much, much more. And we had the most beautiful view of the cove just off the resort’s beach.
Our first high tea, after an afternoon at the spa, was an experience of a lifetime. Little did I know that high tea meant unlimited champagne, sushi, and hot food! I was in heaven! They really knew how to make guests feel welcome! And I made sure I enjoyed every glass and morsel. It was a great introduction to the fabulous Rasa, and to high tea.
But the best was yet to come. Jason and Chun cruised by to pick us up for dinner. They drove us back into Georgetown, about a 20 minute drive (about 7 miles) as I recall. We passed the downtown area where we stayed, and headed into a dimly lit residential neighborhood. We found a darkened driveway, and headed slightly downhill toward what looked like somebody’s backyard, butted up against the ocean! It was backyard seafood restaurant!
Again, we sat at the ubiquitous plastic table and chairs, on the partial lawn and beach sand of the yard. We could see a dimly lit sign on the side of the house, stating the name of this modest seafood establishment. We were secretly wondering what was in store for us.
But almost immediately, the sweet and familiar smokey goodness of barbecued meats and seafood infused our noses, and filled our senses. Jason immediately headed over to a older woman barbecuing chicken skewers over a small pot of coals. We found an empty table, soon to be covered with fresh newspaper. As we munched on the chicken, the seafood slowly arrived. Huge plates of prawns, stir fried veggies, braised fish, and noodles magically appeared. It was feast for both the eyes and the tummy.
The evening was about to get more interesting on two fronts. One, we were now headed to some local dessert stand, And two, we were going to hit the night market back in Batu Ferringhi. We could not possibly eat anything else, so we thought.
Again, headed to a little stand on the roadside, we stopped, and even saw many durian hanging from the stands. After telling our durian story, perhaps many times, we were hoping and praying we were not headed for an encore. Thankfully, we were about to try a typical SE Asian delight, called ABC, also known as ice kacang.
What is it? Ice kacang is a popular local dessert consisting of shaved ice topped with Gula Melaka syrup or colored syrup, toasted peanuts and evaporated milk. The colorful ingredients that are placed into a bowl are typically cendol, sweet red beans, creamed sweet corns, fresh fruit and grass jelly cut into strands or cubes. Depending on the stall and outlet, a scoop of ice cream is also added atop the shaved ice to complete the tantalizing experience of your sweet taste buds. Perfect to cool your body down during scorching hot weather!
What a great surprise. Now for the shopping. We found the usual knock offs found in SE Asia, as we bought some pirated “Seinfeld” and “24” DVDs. But it turns out Jason is an expert at evaluating the merits of the knock off products, in particular, the faux Rolex watches. We filled several requests for those watches from friends back home. And just note: all of them still work perfectly!!! Including mine, wherever it is.
Needless to say, after this great visit, we returned two years later. We stayed at the Rasa, and spent our evenings with Jason and Chun, including lunch at their apartment nearby. We invited them to have the big buffet breakfast with us at the Rasa. They heard what a treat it was, and appreciated the invitation. Bottom line, it is the best breakfast buffet we have ever experienced! Among other things, we consumed home made noodles, freshly made roti, fresh fruit of all colors and shapes, along with the typical brunch items in SE Asian hotels.
So, as we meet again in Penang, I will always be grateful for those few hours in the internet room on Langkawi. Never in our lives would we have figured out Penang and perhaps the best food in the world. And the wonderful couple, Jason and Chun, who shared their island secrets with us.
While we are here for just two days, we will have dinner both nights with them. I can only hope that Mike and his son Matt, will experience the same excitement that Sheri and I had some years ago, twice!