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To the Nasi Land that the World loves

Covid brought a major upheaval to people’s lives all across the world. Lives, livelihoods, and future plans were all lost in the deadly pandemic that hasn’t died down even though a couple of years have passed by. The losses have been humongous that I do not even attempt to compare the same with the minor setbacks that we faced while planning our wedding, and a subsequent trip to an exotic foreign location. It would be fair to say that our lives were also impacted by the same. After foiled plannings, some refunded and some non-refunded flight tickets, and countless email conversations with airlines, booking agents, and insurance companies, we went over the process all over again and the travel plan was finally set in motion in the August of 2022 - a good two years after our scaled-down wedding during the lockdown days.

There are numerous decisions to be made while planning a vacation, the foremost one being the destination. The destination sets the tone of the holidays I believe. Many other details - including the time to travel, the activities to be done, the places to visit, the flavors to try, and the kind of clothes to wear - are all byproducts of this decision. If we are to go by the binary (and very much oversimplified) classification of beach holidays vs mountain holidays, we belong to the category that prefers the former. With beach holidays, some of the most exciting and affordable options lie in the Southeast Asian region. The front running options are Thailand, the island of Bali, the Maldives (not exactly South East Asia), Malaysia, Vietnam & Philippines.

After a careful review of our options - Thailand (my first travel transcending national boundaries. Had a blast there and would have loved to go back. Yet wanted to experience somewhere different). Bali and Maldives (have seen alluring photos on Social Media. Definitely on the wishlist) and Vietnam (a destination that is growing in prominence day by day.), we chose Malaysia because it ticked several of our boxes - an experience of a multi-cultural cosmopolitan city, exotic islands with crystal clear waters and rich coral and marine life, pristine white sand beach towns where every night is a party. After countless blog posts, youtube vlogs, insta reels, and searches on booking sites - an itenary satisfying most of our interests were taking shape. Of course, getting the help of professional travel planners would have been the easy way out. But, for me, the research and planning of a trip gives almost as much high as actually executing it. Moreover, planning the itinerary by ourselves gives us better flexibility.

We traveled in August for multiple reasons:

Countries were relaxing travel restrictions and we hoped that travel would be pretty free by August.

August was one of the recommended months to have a great experience in the islands - with minimal rains and pleasant weather.

We had a long weekend in August as Independence day fell on a Monday - had to leverage that.

Our anniversary is in August.

When we started researching Malaysia, we came to know that it offers way more than the city delights of Kuala Lumpur. There was a lot to choose from from the beach town Langkawi to the artsy Georgetown to several exotic islands like Tioman, Semporna, and Redang. As the days on our hands were numbered, we shaped our itinerary with three main spots - KL for the city attractions, Sabah for the islands and water activities, and Langkawi for the laid-back holiday feel. It is safe to say that all the spots delivered what was promised.

Day 1 - August 13 (Saturday) - Hello KL

KL Tower lit up at night

We started our journey from Cochin International Airport (I still do not know why they go by the colonial era name Cochin instead of Kochi) on the midnight flight service by Malindo Airlines (now Batik Air). It is a four-hour flight from Kochi to KL, and the Malaysian timezone is two hours and thirty minutes ahead of us. So we landed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at a little after eight in the morning. Yes, there was some delay in departure. KLIA is huge. It is so huge that most of the flights taking you to other parts of Malaysia, or even other destinations such as Bali or Vietnam have layovers here.

After the dreaded immigration procedure (We had our documents, but the irrational fear of having missed out on something crucial and the immigration officers deporting us even before we set off in the country loomed large in our hearts.) and baggage retrieval, we stepped out of the airport after a light breakfast of random somethings. The next step was reaching our place of stay.

If you are familiar with the jokes associated with the Bengaluru Airport, this one would be relatable. For the KL in its name, KLIA is not even in the city of Kuala Lumpur. It is in a different state, Selangor, and is situated about sixty kilometers from the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC). It’s not Uber or Ola, but Grab is the most common ride-hailing service there. We had already installed Grab on our phones, and we were ready. However, the real hassle began after the booking was made. Since KLIA is so vast, there are multiple levels to it and the online cabs pick people up only from a particular level. Obviously, we did not know that. So we stood outside waiting for the cab while the cab stood outside waiting for us. We could not find each other and our first cab canceled on us. Great Start!

Determined, we booked again. Luckily for us, the second guy was more communicative. He conveyed to us the mysteries of KLIA and exactly where we ought to be for us to be picked up by him. We obliged and finally reached the point after traversing multiple huddles and mazes. On a non-rainy day with moderate traffic, the ride from the airport to the city center takes about one hour. And what a smooth ride it was! The difference in the condition of roads is something that we begin to experience as soon as we step outside of Kerala. Potholes are rare, roads are wide enough to have multiple lanes, and the drive was definitely better. It is interesting to note that right before we set off to Malaysia, the movie ‘Nna Than Case Kodu’ had released and had also stirred up some controversies for allegedly taking a jibe at the rather pitiful conditions of our roads. It is true that the incessant rains do hamper the work and also cause damage to the roads, but I believe there would be some technical solutions for longer-lasting roads that can brave the downpour. The city of KL also receives its fair share of rains regularly but the roads are not as worn down.

After about one hour, we reached our stay - Oasia Suites - and were greeted warmly by the staff. The elevators in the hotel surprised us as we needed to swipe the room card in order for the keys in the elevator to work. The suit itself was pretty comprehensive, complete with a living room, attached bedroom, mini kitchen, and even a washing machine.

Planning a packed day is a bad move as you would need time to compensate for the loss of sleep on the flight and get fresh. So that’s how we spent our first morning in Malaysia - sleeping. A couple of hours passed by and soon, hunger pangs started overpowering our need to recapture. A quick shower and we are out on the beautifully laid out lanes of KL. If you have been to South East Asia, you might know that 7-Eleven Stores are pretty ubiquitous around the region. These retail chain of convenience stores - selling everything from ready-to-have meals, packages snacks, and even beverages - are a great spot to grab a quick, pocket-friendly bite. There was an outlet right beside our stay and that is exactly where we went to satiate the growlings in our bellies.

Once the pressing priorities were dealt with, we decided to wander through the city on foot to get to know it closely. Also, there is no rickshaw concept there, so the other option was to hire cabs. Walking seemed more affordable as well. The first stop was the famous bustling Jalan Petaling, more commonly known as Chinatown. Malaysia has a significant Malay, Chinese and Indian population, and therefore it was hardly surprising that KL had a Chinatown. Chinatown was on our itinerary as the busy area thriving with souvenir shops, street art, and Chinese delicacies was an offer too good to say no to. 

During our walk to Chinatown, we realized that even though KL was this modern city with lots of skyscrapers, they had also ensured to pack in as much greenery as possible. For the balance, we are guessing. Micro gardens occupied space wherever possible, and it was a pleasing sight as well. We reached Chinatown in the afternoon, and it was pretty hot by then. Our hotel had given us an umbrella to cope with the unpredictable rains, and it came in handy to deal with the Sun as well. We walked along the street, buying random artifacts that captured our imagination and tasting some unique offerings like the rice cake coated in peanut flour (mochi).

From Chinatown, we drifted to the air-conditioned shopping destination - the Central Market. More window shopping and a little bit of actual purchase ensued. That’s where we got to try the trending Matcha Tea. By then, all the walking exercise had burned off whatever quick bites we had earlier. As soon as I found a food court within the complex, I decided it was enough shopping for me. After doing a couple of circles in front of the numerous stalls offering various dishes, I decided on Curry Laksa - a soupy dish made of rice noodles, prawns, and other ingredients I am not too sure to say what. Let the picture speak for itself. The dish had a stronger flavor than I had expected. For balance, I treated myself to a glass of the popular Malsyai beverage Teh Tarik as well. Teh Tarik is the cousin of Indian chai - and hot water, condensed milk, and tea go in its preparation. Teh Tarik was my new friend in Malaysia.

After having done some shopping and having experienced some local authentic food, we decided to visit the iconic Petronas Towers - the tallest in Malaysia. It is a couple of kilometers from The Central Market, and we were in no mood to walk all the way. As we stood contemplating hiring a cab, we noticed a bus stop. Wanting to get a feel of the bus ride there, we headed to the bus stop and chatted up with the friendly locals, who told us about the special free bus service that would take us to the heart of KLCC - Bukit Bintang. From there, we would either have to board a second bus or walk to see the twin towers.

Elated at the prospects of the free bus ride, we waited there and in a matter of a few minutes, the bus arrived. We hopped on. After a few more minutes, we hopped off as we reached Bukit Bintang. This is the most commercialized, liveliest, happening center of the city. A lot of shopping centers - from high-end Malls like Berjaya Times Square and Pavilion to street vendors dot this area. There were people all around us. People going somewhere. People coming from somewhere. People are groups. People going solo. It was s sight to witness. 

From Bukit Bintang, we resumed our walk and reached the Petronas Tower in another twenty minutes. The afternoon was slowly giving away to the evening - yet it seemed we were a couple hours earlier. The famed water fountain light show wouldn’t start until after seven, and we did not know what to do until then. After having managed to capture the entire towers on our mobile screen somehow, we decided to walk back to our residence. On the way, we bought our supper from the Korean chain CU.

We were completely exhausted from the day’s activities, and found respite in the comforts of the bed, keeping supper for later. We were to spend only one night in this hotel, and I badly wanted to check out their rooftop pool. After some prodding, Nithya agreed and tagged along - a rewarding decision that became apparent as soon as we reached the rooftop - 

One. The pool was empty.

Two. The famed KL tower was nearby our hotel, and it was all lit at night. The view of the tower from the pool! Spectacular is the word to describe sight.

What we missed with the Petronas, we had gained with the KL Tower. Day One ended on a high after all.

Day 2 - August 14 (Sunday) - The journey to the middle of the sea

Thean Hou Temple

Did I mention that our airlines played a key role in shaping our itinerary? After booking our flights, they rescheduled our flights multiple times so we had to plan and replan our itinerary according to the updated schedule. This meant that our stay in KL had to split into two chapters - and we had to leave KL for Sabah on Day Two itself.

East and West Malaysia are divided by the South China Sea. The West has the capital city KL, the beach destination Langkawi and many other popular spots. The East lies in the Borneo Islands, which are divided by Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Sabah is a state that falls in Malaysian Borneo.

Anyway, we had to board the afternoon flight and be airborne for about two hours and thirty minutes to reach the Tawau Airport in Sabah. Since the afternoon would completely be spent on travel, we wished to make the morning worthwhile. Since Malaysia has an active Chinese population, I researched some Chinese Temples to visit in the area. Seeing a bit of culture always brings a refreshing balance to our entertainment-oriented vacation. Of the suggestions, Hean Thou temple stood out. That’s where we decided to head out in the morning.

After getting ready, we hired a Grab to the temple complex, where we reached in about twenty minutes' time. Beautifully maintained complex. The temple is itself on the second and third floors, while the ground floor is dedicated to an eatery and multiple souvenir shops. The morning was still in its nascency, so we decided to explore the temple complex before the crowd took over. The ornate structure was a spectacle to witness. Buddhist and Chinese temples are way more liberal than Hindu temples in the sense that we can go inside the shrine and even click pictures, something unimaginable in our temples. There will be tall statues of Buddha and the Chinese sea Goddess Mazu. The Buddhist hymn of Om Mani Padme Hum… played in a loop in the background, adding to the mystical, divine vibe of the place. After clicking a few pictures, we decided to step put to give way for people praying. As we walked outside of the shrine, clicking more pictures, we also witnessed a wedding taking place in the temple complex. Soon, the Sun started shining brighter and hunger started knocking. We made our way to the ground floor cafeteria. The options were limited to noodles and fried rice, and we could add toppings of our choice - that ranged from fried fish skin to pork in a curry form. Again, imagining meat alongside a temple setting itself would be a big no-no here. But over there, it was the norm. And we picked a pretty diverse spread, with a mutual understanding to share the delicacies among us.

After the delectable breakfast, we wandered some time in and around the souvenir shops, buying a couple of collectibles, before booking another Grab that would take us back to our hotel. By the tie we reached back, we had about one hour left to pack, get dressed and check out. Pack, get dressed, and check out of the hotel is exactly what we did for the next hour. After bidding adieu to the hospitable staff, we set out on our way to KLIA2, the second terminal of the airport, to catch our next flight to Sabah.

One difference that we noticed at the Malaysian Airports as compared to the Indian ones was that there was no security check at the entrance door. We could go in with all our baggage. The checks happen inside. As we stepped into KLIA2, wondering if we missed the security check, we felt as if we had entered a shopping mall by mistake. The immediate interior space was covered by shops of various kinds - souvenir shops, shops selling perfumes and other branded goods, light snacks, meals, and even an outlet of the retain chain Family mart. We bought our lunch from the retail mart and proceeded to initiate the check-in counter. Finding the correct counter was a bit of a hassle. First, we went into the international check-in area, then got redirected to the domestic area where we realized that baggage drop could be done by ourselves if we had completed the web check-in. Alas, the automated baggage scanner was not working fine, so we had no other way but to join the rather long and slow-moving line for the assisted baggage drop.

We had reached the airport a good two hours prior to our scheduled departure, but the rather complex procedure involved in the process meant we lost enough time that they put out a special call to passengers yet to complete check-in for our flight, which helped us skip the queue and proceed to board. No further hassles and we began our three-hour long journey from teh Air Asia flight. We had not chosen seats, as we did not want to pay extra for them. It meant that we did not have the privilege of enjoying the brilliant views of the city and the seas from the window seats. Making a point to book window seats for the return flight, we sat back and try to catch any glimpses possible from our middle and aisle seats.

We arrived at the Tawau International Airport at about six in the evening. It was a very small airport, possessing none of the flashiness of KLIA. Our stay at Sabah was at the Sea Coral Water Chalet, which was built in the middle of the sea, at about a ten-minute boat ride from the Semporna Jetty. Semporna was a bit more than an hour’s drive from the Tawau Airport. Soon after retrieving our luggage, we immediately booked our cab to Semporna. It was a rather long drive, and the cab driver was pretty chatty. Having realized that we were Indians, he shared his own relationship with the migrant Indian population in the area, even suggesting an Indian restaurant, Bismillah, if we wanted to try Indian-influenced Malay cuisine, such as Roti Canai.

We arrived at the Semporna Jetty nearly at eight. (Our cab driver had stopped midway near the mosque to perform namaz, something that had unsettled us briefly as we were in the middle of nowhere in an unknown town and it was getting dark). Our resort had promised to arrange a boat transfer as per our timings. However, as it was late, there were no motorboats available. A rowing boat came to pick us up. No life jackets. No light. And the rower did not understand a word of English. He wanted us to turn on the flashlights on our phones so that he could have some sense of direction, but it took a while to understand what he wanted.

After the boat ride of ten minutes that felt more or less like an eternity, we arrived at SeaCoral Water Chalet - not in our happiest state of mind. The resort only has four private cabins with attached bathrooms, and three shared rooms with common bathrooms. The guy at the reception initially misunderstood our booking plans and led us to the common dorm at first. Our spirits dampened further. If they had made a mistake and had assigned our private room t someone else, it was not like we could get out of the place and look for accommodation elsewhere. For the next three days, we had to depend on their boat service to reach the land area. Luckily, it was just confusion and our room was indeed waiting for us.

The entire structure was made out of wooden planks, which gave the resort a special charm. The attached bathroom was not exactly the most comfortable bathroom that we had seen in hotel rooms. Especially, the commode was a bit rusty and looked it could do with a bit more cleaning. We settled in, compromising on the lack of certain amenities considering the fact that we were living right in the middle of the water. Waves rocked us to sleep that night.

Day 3 - August 15 (Monday) - Snorkeling at Mabul & Kapalai

Mabul Island Resort

The day India celebrates Independence. We decided to celebrate our own freedom by living in the middle of the sea and trying to catch the underwater life as up close as possible. Sabah was not a part of our initial itinerary. In fact, many of the popular itineraries online had focussed mostly on KL and nearby areas alone. We added Sabah later as snorkeling was a huge item on Nithya’s bucket list, and Sabah was one of the hottest destinations to do the activity.

We had searched for snorkeling packages around Semporna on Klook and had found a few attractive options. SeaCoral also offered similar packages, and we booked with them as they charged lesser. Semporna has about five islands nearby, all of which were renowned as excellent dive sites. We decided on a package that would take us to Mabul and Kapali Islands, where we could snorkel.

The boat picked us up in the morning, after breakfast, and headed to Mabul Islands which were about forty-five minutes of boat ride from our resort. Except for a white couple who would deboard at another dive resort midway, all others in the boat were Asian and knew Malay. As Malaysia has a considerable Indian population, the guide mistook us for locals as well and began explaining things to us in the native tongue. Probably sensing from our blank looks that something was off, he checked with us if we knew the language. To his surprise, we didn’t, and he had to translate everything into English as well for our benefit.

We arrived at the Mabul Report after fifty minutes of boat ride- this time with our life jackets on. The resort was much bigger than the one we were staying in, and the setup seems to be curated for Instagram. Picture perfect would be the ideal way to describe the resort. Beautifully built-up wooden chalets, adorned with a bright bunch of bougainvillea in every other nook, crystal clear waters in an emerald green backdrop - all provided the perfect ambiance for your next social media upload. This was where our guide decided to flex his skills as a photographer. He showed us around, leading us to the pretty spots and capturing ourselves while making sure the beauty of the place was not lost.

After spending enough time marveling at the pretty complex and entering into a state of bliss, we had our lunch overlooking the waters as we watched small children of the island coming in rowboats, offering the tourists tender coconuts. It was astonishing, even worrying to see small kids manning the boats and chopping up tender coconuts all by themselves!

After lunch, we were asked to go back to the boat, as the first snorkeling activity was about to begin. Being a non-swimmer, I had my trepidation, and I was constantly trying to convince myself that all was safe and there was no way we could drown while having our life jackets on. Our extremely helpful guide took us into confidence and offered us a floating tire that we could hold on to, something that really helped me with my fears.

The next twenty minutes or so transpired to be one of the most spectacular phases of the entire trip. As we floated in the water, with our goggles and snorkels helping us see and breathe underwater, we could see some exotic-looking coral reefs, and schools of fish swimming very near to us. We stretched our hands in our little attempts to touch the marine creatures, but to no avail. Nithya went one step further and got off her life jacket in order to go deeper and see everything even closer.

After the session at Mabul, we resumed our boat ride and headed to Kapalai Islands which was only ten minutes away from Mabul. We could not explore the island itself as it was private and open only to the guests of the Kapalai Resort. We were more interested in our second snorkeling session anyway. During this session, as we watched more varieties of fish swimming past us, we also got to know that one of our co-passengers had a GoPro with him, which helped him capture videos underwater. While planning the trip, we also had the intention of renting a GoPro, which did not materialize due to some last-minute decisions. We were ruing our lost opportunity.  However, the guy agreed to share videos with us as well and we ended up getting some underwater sequences of ourselves as well.

Once both the snorkeling sessions were over, we returned to SeaCoral in the afternoon. One thing about SeaCoral is that the electricity and water supply is timed at pre-notified intervals. Luckily, by the time we had returned, the power was back. Once we reach the hotel, there was nothing much to do. You could not go out for a walk. We sat at our sea-facing balcony, enjoying the winds hitting our faces and watching strange fishes lazily pass by us. The resort would serve us with food three times a day so all we had to do was walk a few steps to the main reception area. There was a cat, Aming, at SeaCoral - so Nithya had some fun playing with it. The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully as if to balance out the memorable morning that we had.

Day 4 - August 16 (Tuesday) - The small town of Semporna

Prawn Satay

Apart from snorkeling, one other activity that we had planned to do at Semporna was sea walking. Where we would walk under the sea, wearing gear that would help us breathe, and watching corals and other marine offerings. However, for reasons unknown, our resort could not book a suitable package for us. Instead, we went parasailing that day. I had a prior tryst with parasailing from Goa about five years ago. It was a first for Nithya, though. This experience was different as we were doing it together as a couple.

The previous day, a boat came and picked us up from the resort. This time, we were the only passengers. After a ten minutes ride, they buckled us up and began preparing the parachute for our take-off. The setup was completed, and we were asked to sit on the deck. Soon, the parachute started flying up, and we were forced off the boat and pulled upwards. Letting go and going with the flow is the most exciting part of such activities. The sight from up above was breathtaking - the different shades of blue and green adorning the waters very well. Our guide was recording our take-off on our phone and was clicking a lot of pictures as well. After a few minutes, they lowered us enough so that we got to dip our feet in the waters before we were lifted up again. The whole activity was done in about fifteen minutes. Instead of going back to the resort and idling away the rest of the day, we decided to go back to the jetty and explore the town of Semporna.

Semporna is a small town, with none of the buzzes of KL, and we did not really know what to explore there. We visited a couple of souvenir stores, bought some collectibles from them, and wandered. Most of the other shops resembled the ordinary stores of our daily lives, not really sparking interest. Yet, we decided to visit some of the local stores to see the daily life in those parts of the world and were pleasantly surprised to see the influence of Indian items in the grocery section. Basmati rice, Dosa Rice with labels written in Tamil, snacks like Murukku, etc could be seen on the shelves.

We had decided to have our lunch at the restaurant Bismillah, which was run by Indian immigrants and offered Indian-influenced Malay cuisine. It was only three days, but we felt a wheat-based roti would be a welcome change from the sticky rice and noodle-based dishes. Before hitting Bismillah, we went through one of the biggest supermarkets we could find there, buying items like White Coffee and Teh Tarik powder - both to take home - and also chanced upon a satay store that sold different varieties of seafood satays, at one ringgit per stick.

Restoran Bismillah had Malay ladies waiting at the tables, but the Bollywood songs being played in the background gave the place the Indian vibe that we had heard of. We ordered roti canai and teh Tarik for ourselves. The hotel was basic, the food was good, and the rates were decent. The Tamil guy at the counter recognized our Malayalam - a language that we were using so efficiently out there to discuss anything without anybody else understanding - and tried to place us at Palakkad or Ernakulam. We chatted for a bit, and then parted ways. Left with nothing much to do there, we asked for the boat service to drop us back at the resort.

The only highlight for the remainder of the day was us trying out the different satay flavors, and also striking up a conversation with fellow guests at the resort over supper. Though Malaysia was a popular destination for Indians, it seemed that Sabah was not particularly popular yet. Most of the non-Malay tourists thronging the islands seemed to be white - Europeans, mostly. There was this Swiss guy and Italian couple with whom we discussed random stuff as we had our last supper from the place. We had a morning flight to catch the next day, and we made it a point to get our packing done before we called it a day.

Day 5 - August 17 (Wednesday) - Magnanimous Malaysia Airlines

SeaCoral Water Chalet

The only downside to an itinerary attempting to explore locations across the country is that we will have to dedicate a considerable amount of time to travel. Our itinerary took us from KL in the West to Sabah in the East, and then to Langkawi in the North West, and finally back to KL. This was the day when we were finally bidding adieu to Sabah and heading to Langkawi. As there are no direct flights, we first had to sit through a  three-hour flight to KL and then go ahead with another one-hour flight to Langkawi. Almost the whole day was dedicated to travel. In order to make up for our lack of window seats on our journey to Sabah, we decided to book window seats for both of us. This meant not sitting together - a small price to pay for salvation. We had chosen Malaysia Airlines as our carrier, and they did not charge extra for the seats with the view.

Choosing Malaysia Airlines was the best decision that we had inadvertently made, which really helped in making our whole day of travel way more comfortable. In addition to charging nothing additional for window seats, they also served free meals and drinks for all passengers, and even their in-flight entertainment system was in working condition. This was the best flight I ever had. As I chose fish and Nithya chose chicken meals, I wondered what would vegetarians have done - as fish and chicken were the only options. I started playing Batman on my screen, but could not complete it as I was constantly interrupted by the breathtaking visuals the journey had to offer. We had our hearts filled with photos and videos by the time we reached KL. After a layover of over an hour, we resumed our journey from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi.

The flight from KL to Langkawi was only for an hour, and we reached the island on the west coast by evening. Unlike Sabah, Langkawi seemed to be a popular destination among Indian tourists as well - as we could see some compatriots on our flight as well. East or West, Grab is the option around there.

Our stay at Langkawi, Pelangi Beach Resorts, was only ten minutes away from the airport. We had dedicated our stay at KL to exploring the city culture, Sabah to do water activities, and Langkawi was intended mainly for laying back and relaxing. Pelangi was the most opulent stay at Langkawi, and we were slightly worried if we were overspending on that. The lobby itself boasted of the property’s grandeur. The property was beachfront and sprawled across a vast expanse of land. We checked in to our cottage, and almost immediately walked to the beach. It was sunset time, something for which Langkawi is famous, and the pristine white beach of Pantai Cenang had a special glow. We slipped into the slightly warm water. Though we have great beaches like Varkala and Kovalam back home, what marks the island beaches different is that the beaches could stretch as a shallow patch quite deep into the sea and the waves are nowhere as strong. We could step into it and immerse in the waters without any fear of getting carried away by the waves.

As the Sun started setting and the skies started donning a different color, we started seeing numerous shacks and other joints lighting up along the shore. We stepped out of the waters, dried ourselves, and started walking towards all the action. We tried this and that from the different outlets. Some impressed us, and some did not. There was music being played out loud, and skilled performers showing off their skills in playing with fire. We enjoyed all the fun for a while, before going back to our rooms for some much-needed sleep.

Day 6 - August 18 (Thursday) - Paradise Island 101

Paradise 101 Island

There were two major places of interest in our Langkawi bucket  - the first one is riding the cable car to reach the famous Sky Bridge of Langkawi, and the second was visiting the Underwater World to see even more marine species up close.

However, it was very late into the trip that we came to realize that Sky Bridge could not be accessed as it was closed for annual maintenance around that time. It is almost impossible to wish for all the items on our list to tick off while on a trip. I consider it a pretty good trip if eighty percent of what we planned for materializes. Unfortunately, the sky bridge fell in the twenty.

That also meant that we needed to plan another activity for the day. We searched on Klook for suggestions and agreed upon a day outing at Paradise 101 Island coupled with a Sunset Cruise. Staying true to its legacy, the Spice Kitchen at Pelangi offered us a brilliant breakfast buffet, that included Indian, Middle East, Asian and Continental cuisines. This was where we could finally taste the national food of Malaysia - Nasi Lemak. Nasi means rice, and the dish consists of steamed rice in coconut milk, with servings of fried chicken, dried anchovies, sliced cucumbers, sambal paste, and boiled eggs. Recharged by all the awesome food, we headed out to spend our day lazing at Paradise Island.

We reached the island at about eleven in the morning, and the staff was very welcoming. We were the first guests to arrive at the island, which was another location prettily made up for Instagram. We were glad that we had the entire island to ourselves for some time, and made good use of the same by finding the pretty spots and photographing ourselves to our content. Soon, guests started arriving, and we decided to move on to find other ways to spend our time. There weren’t too many activities going on - which complemented our laidback plan well. We sat down to play a couple rounds of Jenga, and before we realized the passing of time, we were hungry. To have a change from the local cuisine, we ordered seafood pizza, which turned out to be a good choice.

After having satisfied the hunger pangs, we entered into the waters - after having strapped on our life jackets. Loved the experience. The complimentary banana boat ride provided another ten minutes of pure fun. By evening, all the other guests started leaving and those who had opted for the cruise stayed back. The cruise boat boarded us and there we were, sailing away as the breeze went past us, vibing to the music on the boat and enjoying the complimentary food and beverages. The boat even played a couple of Bollywood songs for the only Indian couple on the boat, which was a warm gesture.

Day 7 - August 19 (Friday) - Underwater World Langkawi

Sunsets of Langkawi

Another morning, another scrumptious breakfast spread at Spice Kitchen. Then we head out to The Underwater World, a large aquarium that houses a diverse collection of marine life - the show stealers being penguins and seals. We paced ourselves slow - going tank by tank, appreciating the wonders before our eyes. The timing was right as we were able to catch the feeding session of Rockhopper Penguins, one of the many attractions of the place. Sting Rays, Sharks, Jellyfish, Starfish, seals, birds, and a huge variety of fish were up to display. We captured most of them on camera - probably never to look back.

Once the aquatic display was over, what welcomed us were a couple of souvenir shops - from where we bought mini figurines and fridge magnets. We exited Underwater World to find ourselves inside a duty-free shop. Langkawi is renowned for being a duty-free island, which means anyone can purchase imported items like chocolates and liquor without paying customs duties. We wandered for a while through the shops, bagging whatever we found interesting. Once the shopping was done, we headed back to our room and later headed out to have lunch. Finding a local restaurant and having local food was the goal.

Google recommended Bella Restaurant, and Bella is where we went. A rewarding decision. A simple, tasty lunch. Some more shopping, and then we headed back to our hotel. That evening was our last in Langkawi, so we decided to make good use of the same by hitting Pantai Cenang beach to catch the action. We slept content that night.

Day 8 - August 20 (Saturday) - Jalan Alor Yay, Ramly Burger Nay

Jalan Alor Food Street

The last day to dine at Spice Kitchen, and we made good of it. Spent the next couple of hours packing all our stuff as we had to check out and catch our afternoon flight back to KL. The checkout time was 12 and the flight was at 3, which meant we had more than an hour to ourselves before we needed to reach the airport.

After leaving our luggage at the Pelangi reception, we set out on foot for another taste at Bella restaurant. That is where I got to taste the famous Beef Rendang curry of Malaysia. The dish lived up to my expectations.

After lunch, we collected our bags and set off on our trip back to KL. It was a rainy day at KL, which also seemed to slow down the traffic. Our driver was a Malay Tamilian, who offered to drop us back at the airport after our stay the next day. Braving traffic and the downpour, we arrived at the Ramada Suites at Bukit Bintang around six in the evening. We had booked this hotel as it was a stone’s throw from one of the top attractions for foodies in KL - the Jalan Alor food street. This street is a famed food haven - selling everything from satays, fried meat items, seafood, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese cuisines, and a lot of variety of other dishes and desserts. Our cab driver had warned us that even though the street is famous, they charge quite a lot from tourists. Yet, we had to visit it nevertheless.

The rates were indeed on the higher side, and it was a bit difficult to explore the open food street in the rain. We ended up trying only limited items - like fried squid, raw oyster with squeezed fresh lime, and pork satays. Then we proceeded with our food hunt with the search for another street food famous in KL - the Ramly Burger. That search ended on a sour note, as the locations Google guided us did not really have an operational joint on that night. Instead, we checked out a cart that was selling bao - a black bun with fillings that could range from fried chicken to lamb or beef or a combination of items.

We walked back to our hotel and decided to call it a night.

Day 9 - August 21 (Sunday) - That one thing we cannot experience at home

KL Cityscapes

You know a trip went good if the worst thing that happened is the dawning of the day of return. After waking up and having the complimentary breakfast - a pretty simple yet tasty spread - we packed, got fresh, and checked out of the hotel. Our flight was at nine at the night, and we had one final day to spend in the city. Also, we had some local currency left to spend. We began the day by visiting one of the high-end shopping centers of KL - Lot 10. Our enthusiasm fizzed out pretty soon as it did not offer anything exciting other than some branded outlets. We did check out a Japanese store and bought some never seen before flavors of Kitkat - but that was about it. As we had some loose change left, we had also made a reservation at a spa for massage - a bid to rejuvenate our bodies after a week-long of walking and exploring. The place was professional and had a calming ambiance - however, we are not sure if we would spend that kind of money on massages again. Not our type, I guess. By the time the spa session was over, it was lunchtime and we were getting hungry.

We were also getting saturated with Asian cuisine and wanted to try something else. Once again, we looked to Google for suggestions and spotted Paradise - a Pakistani restaurant very close to us. Now, despite the blooming food scene in Kochi offering varied cuisines - a Pakistani restaurant is definitely something that we cannot experience back home. We decided to give the place a try. The place had no artistically done interior to boast of, but the rush there seemed to be a testimony of the food on offer.

We found a seat for ourselves, and soon a staff appeared nearby and started speaking in Urdu, which is very similar to Hindi. Apparently, they only took orders for Rotis and other flatbreads. The curries on offer were lined up in the front, and we could take them as per our wish in bowls or plates. Later, they would serve the rotis, check out how much curry we had taken, and determine the rates. We tried servings of aloo paneer and beef curry. If they had any prejudice that no Indians ate beef, we wished to show the diversity here in whatever little way possible by us. The naan was very different from our version, this one being bigger and softer. Our short tryst with the Pakistani cuisine ended there and we headed out, trying to figure out how to spend our afternoon.

That’s when we discovered the lungs of KL - the large Botanical Garden that boasted Deer Park, Bird Park, and a section of rare fruit trees - among various other sections. Booked a grab and reached the park, and started walking. The green space provided a much-needed breathing space for the busy city. Our only letdown was not being able to spot even a single deer in there. After exploring the park on foot for a while, we returned to our hotel and collected our luggage. The Tamil cab guy from the previous day picked us up from our hotel at five, and we began our return to KLIA. En route, we discussed a bit of Malaysia - from the low fuel prices to the failed plan to relocate the capital from KL to Putrajaya. We also came to know that even though the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indian population seemed to be living in harmony, there was some friction among them. The Malay ethnic group is in the majority, and unsurprisingly they were trying to flex their supremacy. That you needed a Malay as a partner to open any business was something that we had not anticipated. Wherever there is diversity, it is apparent that there are skirmishes as well.

We reached the airport pretty well in advance, and the long queues at check-in and security validated our decision to come early. We spent whatever money remained in the airport duty-free shops, and waited for the flight that would take us back home. In our minds, we were already thinking of the next location to explore.



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