In October 2015, me and my girlfriend (at the time) boarded a plane for Kuala Lumpur where we had 4 nights stay at the 5* Hotel Istana. Apart from 4 days in Hong Kong (2006) enroute to Australia, this was my first real trip to Asia so aside from what I've read, seen on TV or heard from friends I wasn't really sure what to expect. The only things I new for sure were a hot/humid climate, cheap food along with everything else, a fair bit of poverty and the odd exotic insect that resembled the bugs out of the 1997 classic Starship Troopers.
Well I can honestly say that Malaysia did provide all those things, but one thing I didn't expect was the level of hospitality we received from locals. People seemed to want to help us and smiled so much more than any other place I've visited. Maybe it's because we were westerners and 'appeared cool' to them but it's something I'll take away from the trip.
So onto the trip itself, being so busy with work prior I hadn't researched things to do and places to visit so the first days were spent exploring and getting lost in the city. Which is actually very hard since everything is so well signposted and the overhead walkways make sticking to the main tourist spots easy.
We did run into the Petronas Towers at KL City Park (pictured above) and a plethora of stylish indoor malls which all looked the same but were some the most luxurious shopping centres I've seen around. All decked out with your premium designer brands, you can see that tourism is a big source of income for the country and they do a good job at making everything look like it's state-of-the-art.
Also wanting to experience the best food we could, we booked reservations at Nobu and Dining in the Dark, both of which I would highly recommend. For anyone who loves sushi then Nobu is a must, with over 30 locations around the world it's very upscale so it does come at a price but the KL restaurant is pretty reasonable. Also, Marini's on 57 (just above Nobu) and SkyBar offer great views of the towers and so are definitely worth a drink or two.
As for Dining in the Dark, this was a new experience altogether and was something my girlfriend had found on Trip Advisor prior to the holiday. Basically it's exactly what you think! First, they make you place your phone or any other light emitting device into a locker and the host then leads you through a corridor of curtains which eventually opens up into a pitch black room.
After this excruciatingly slow conga style walk, you finally reach your table where they sit you down and help you find your drink and cutlery. They then wander off and leave you to it. Obviously it's a very unusual setting and subsequently we broke out into laughter. You can here the mutter of other patrons in the distance and once your eyes adjust the only light you can see is a red dot in the corner of the room which we determined was a security camera.
The courses came and went with a lot less hassle/spillages then we expected and that was that. Overall the food was average but the experience was like no other!
Over the next couple of days we stopped by the Batu Caves (pictured above) and took a guided tour which was quite informative but very entertaining (thanks to our tour guide). We spent half a day here and felt like that was enough. Our hotel reception also advised us to pop by the Central Market which we did.
It was a bit of a trek and off the beaten track so prepare to mix it up with the locals. We enjoyed it nevertheless and wandered around the regular stalls you'd expect to see in an Asian market. Another thing I didn't expect ahead of the trip was how much of a Muslim country Malaysia was and that's evident in the architecture you see around the city. The Central Market being one of them with it's ornate decor which was cool to see. The King Sultan Building below also showcases the Islamic architecture.
So with 4 nights spent in KL we were ready to soak up the sun and relax on the beach in Langkawi, but wait!!! One thing which I've yet to mention. Malaysia suffers from haze during certain months of the year which coincided with our trip. This is a result of Indonesian agricultural fires caused by corporations looking to clear vegetation ready for next years plantations. This obviously sucked but luckily for us, our flight was only delayed for several hours (due to poor visibility) and we were able to make it to Langkawi that evening.
We did know about the haze beforehand but it's something worth noting if you are planning a trip to this region. Both hotels we stayed at offered us masks and after several days of deliberating we took up the offer. Our throats and mouth had become sore and unbarebly dry so bear that in mind if you are wanting to go 'comando'. Put your ego aside and wear the mask. Also, I downloaded the Malaysia Air Pollutant Index app for the duration of our stay. It gives accurate haze levels and precautions that go with each. Another thing worth noting ;)
Once in Langkawi, we put our feet up and indulged in some great hospitality, food, drinks and for any british person HOT SUNNY weather (something we cherish). For the next 8 days we stayed at the 5* Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa, just a 20min walk to the Island capital Kuah, which 1 taxi driver said translates to English as gravy (random fact). Anyway the next week was paradise, the haze was clearing and we couldn't wait to take in all the riches of Langkawi.
Wanting to keep it chilled for the first couple of days, we stayed pretty close by and popped into Kuah to enjoy some local and Arabic cusine. On Tuesday's, there's a weekly street market in the town so we spent several hours there trying all the weird and wonderful snacks and drinks we could get our hands on.
After a couple of days of chilling by the resort beach we were ready to explore the island and booked a few activities through our concierge desk. First on our list, a 4hr Jet Ski tour around the southern tip of the island which was bloody fantastic! Our party was made up of one couple and 2 Malaysian chaps acting as our tour guide. We sped down the coast, passing the harbour and headed towards Dayang Bunting & Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.
The guides were pretty casual and could see that we were confident on the Jet Ski so gave us some freedom in regards to sticking to the route. They showed us the main points of interest but let us explore a small collection of the 99 islands that make up Langkawi. We were supposed to be on the water for 4hrs but almost spent 6 and got caught up in the high tide which made things a little more rough, but we still loved it. If I remember correctly, we spent £100 for the full day which we thought was an absolute steal!
We were hooked and once back at the resort we booked a couple more trips. People kept harping on about the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park so we booked a 2hr boat ride. This was a lot more chilled but allowed you to take in the natural beauty surrounding you. Along the way, you get to see monkeys (a lot of them), eagles feeding, a floating fishing farm/village, hidden beaches and bat caves.
The Langkawi Sky Bridge (picture above) was something I had pinned as a 'thing to do'. Aslong as you go on a clear day then you'll get the best views of the island. It's good to go and take a few photos, 2hrs should be enough to take it all in aswell as grabbing some food or drinks at the visitor centre at the bottom. There is a cable car that takes you to the top and back which does get steep and makes for a nerve-racking experience. So bare that in mind for anyone with a fear of heights.
If you wanted, you could drive around the island in 2hrs and getting taxis/drivers is very straightforward and cheap. We friended a young taxi driver who charged us around £40 for the full day. This way we had the peice of mind of having a ride and could dump some belongings in the car while we went and did our thing.
So after spending an hour or so at the skybridge we drove over to the Seven Wells Waterfalls (pictured above). It's quite a steep trek but you get rewarded with a collection of stunning waterfalls overlooking the valleys and sea below. At the very top of the walk there are a load of little rock pools, you could spend hours here if you wanted an alternative for the beach. There's loads of large boulders where you can lay you stuff down and soak up the rays.
Langkawi has 2 main toursity beaches, Tanjung Rhu and Cenang beach where we went (pictured below). Cenang was quite built up and just off the beach there's a strip with a load of restaurants, supermarkets and outlets. We spent the full day there and had a great time, the sea was crystal clear and the sand soft. Along the beachfront there's a cool bar called Yellow Cafe Langkawi (pictured above) which had a cool vibe to it. It was popular with both the locals and tourists so worth checking out.
With the end of our trip encroaching we hoped to spend the last days chilling at the resort but it dawned on us that we hadn't bought any souvenirs, so instead we were left frantically shopping around for gifts for friends and family. With that all taken care of our trip came to end and we boarded our 14hr flight back to the U.K.
For someone who hadn't travelled Asia before, I was pleasantly surprised at the hospitality and kindness we received from the people of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur was a real gem and Langkawi was the perfect place to getaway from the huslte and bustle of the city. Once you get passed the initial costs of flying and accomodation, Malaysia gives you so much back. I can't recall going anywhere else that gives you so much value in terms of an affordable, safe environment, with the attractions of what Malaysia does.
Now done with Malaysia, I've got an appetite for Asia. So I'm thinking Singapore and the F1 grand-prix will be next on the list :)
Last updated: 8 June 2016
Hey, I'm Luke, a digital designer whose focus is web and mobile design. I'm currently part of a proud team at Bulb Studios where I work with clients to create smart and engaging digital experiences.
Born in Coventry, my travels have taken me to 5 continents and I've lived in France, Australia and the United States. I've also had extensive stays in New Zealand and South Africa.