It’s not easy finding a place with great wildlife encounters that’s is equally accommodating for families with young children. Read on to find see our itinerary, details of our amazing nature adventure and pick up some tips along the way.
Langkawi is a group of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea northwest of Malaysia mainland. Of the four habitable islands, Langkawi Island is the largest, most accessible and has numerous accommodations for any budget. Forest - covered mountains, hills and natural vegetation make up two-thirds of the island, which means, it is an ideal spot for wildlife encounters.
A short 1 hour ride on a puddle jumper from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, round trip fares can be as low as $29. Alternatively, Singapore, a major international hub, has direct flights approx. 1 1/2 hours for $89 round trip. Whichever way you choose, the trip is more then worth it and pretty easy if you tag on a few days at one of capital cities before heading here.
Traveling to Southeast Asia can be daunting when you are not sure what you will encounter. A consultation with a travel doctor can help ease the stress of any local disease you should be aware of and vaccines that are available. Since we were staying in a well developed area on the island, we were told Tetanus and Hepatitis A & B would be sufficient. However, local conditions can change rapidly so precaution is recommended especially traveling with children. Try to schedule appointment about 4 weeks in advance of trip as travel doctors need to be prebooked and vaccines take time to be effective.
WHAT TO BRING
Melatonin - Jetlag is the first obstacle you will encounter and it's worst going through it with kids. On our trip, we found Melatonin supplements to be highly effective with adults and kids alike. So pick up a bottle for yourself and for the little ones but be sure to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Bug Repellant - To our delight, we didn't have to use our bug repellant as the eco system was so good we were not bothered by mosquitos at all. However, it was dry season so conditions maybe different during rainy season.
Water Shoes - The beaches are not made equal here, some we found more prickly then others. We recommend water shoes especially if you will be kayaking or joining water tours.
Stomach Medicine - We only ate at hotels and at established restaurants so we did not encounter any dietary issues. However, if you are more adventurous and would like to try the food stands and night market delights, then it might be wise to be prepared.
With a week to explore, we could have stayed put at one resort but it actually paid off moving around in terms of animal sightings.
Arrival Langkawi Island transfer to The Andaman Resort
Rainforest Awakening Walk (hotel complimentary)
Spa treatment at V Integrated Wellness
3 hour Young Marine Biologist Program (for kids)
Free kayak to Pulau Anak Datai secret cove in front of hotel
Coral Nusery Feeding at noon (for kids hotel complimentary)
Rainforest After Dark Walk (hotel complimentary)
Private Guided Snorkel at coral nursery (hotel complimentary)
Transfer to Westin Hotel after lunch
Afternoon tea at St. Regis Bar
Sunset Nature Walk with onsite naturalist
Explore Pantai Cenang Beach area
Jungle/beach horseback riding with Island Horse
Sunset dinner at Ritz Carton Hai Yan Restaurant
THE ANDAMAN RESORT
Located in the Northwest region of Langkawi nestled next to a 10 million year old rainforest, The Andaman is located at the base of Gunung Mat Chinchang mountain formed 500 million years ago. This UNESCO World Heritage Geopark is the oldest mountain in all of Southeast Asia, so needless to say, plenty of exotic species call this rainforest home. Additionally, the hotel looks out into Datai Bay with a pristine crescent shaped beach, named as one of National Geographic's Top 10 Beaches in The World. This winning combo set the stage for 3 unforgettable days immersed in tropical bliss.
We took advantage of the free morning and evening walks on their property to see wildlife up close without even leaving the hotel vicinity, a bonus when you have kids. Our guide from Jungle Walla, a local eco - friendly nature tour operator was very knowledgeable and know exactly where to find the wildlife on premise. Don't hesitate to ask questions and get pointers on some of your bucket list sightings, like the Tokai Gecko in our video above, we found him under the stairway on the 4 floor in the back of the building.
Meal time is the best time to see exotic creatures. The Dusty Leaf Monkey and Giant Black Squirrel feed on tree leaves near the lobby at 8 am. The tour last around 45 mins and you can stay in your flip flops, there's no jungle trekking. We also saw Asian Pied Hornbills flying atop the trees in front of the hotel but they were so high up we could barely see them. Undeniably, the crown jewel of nature sighting is the Malayan Flying Lemur. For this, don't miss out on the night walk at 7pm to see all the nocturnal animals. Once you know where they congregate it's a treat to see them every night gliding from tree to tree. The sightings are so consistent and intimate even National Geographic filmed it at The Andaman. Just when we thought we were about done with surprises, an enormous Asian Monitor Lizard took a dip in the pool in broad day light. That about rounded out our wish list and we were more then satisfied to relax and enjoy the beach.
The Andaman has a private beach, known locally as the Pantai Teluk Datai, in a protected cove with soft powdery white sand and turquoise water. The water is calm and there are no motorized water sports or loud music, making it an ideal spot to chill, especially with children. We borrowed some snorkels at the Water Sports Center and went snorkeling in the afternoon but visibility was low and ended up with jellyfish stings. Apparently, the best time is in the morning and check with the staff to make sure the water is jellyfish free before entering. Kayaking to the tiny island Pulau Anak Datai in front of the beach is not to be missed. The water was even clearer and the sand softer but the best part, we had it all to ourselves. We were also delighted to find cuttle fish bone, something we have never seen before. Apparently, local fishermen dock around the area at night with green lights to attract them.
The Andaman survived the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami without any property damage or fatalities because of the massive coral reef in front of the hotel. Unfortunately, 70% of the corals died that day and ever since the hotel has been conducting rehabilitations efforts. Our visit to the coral nursery was fun and informative. The kids enjoyed a free educational snorkel tour of the marine life in the rehab pool. They learned all about the corals and sea anemones, as well as, the fishes they co-habitat with. For kids who are 8 years and older, they have an in depth 3 hour marine biology camp, conducted in their lab and on the beach, where they learn all about local marine species that live in the Datai Bay. Needless to say, it earned a seal of approval from Isla, Nature Treasure Hunter, who became well versed in local marine ecology after the class.
V Intergrated Wellness
If you are looking for a break away from the sun, a short buggie ride up the hill is V Integrated Wellness. While the kids were at marine camp, we effortlessly eased in to the incredible view of the Datai Bay and thoroughly relaxed in the open air treatment rooms surrounded by sounds of the rainforest. The fresh ingredients they prepared for the traditional Malaysian massage and scrub awoke all five senses immediately. To cap off the refreshing experience, we were offered a detox elixir while soaking in the view and boy were we ready for another day of nature treasure hunting.
Every restaurant had a kids menu and was very accommodating to dietary needs.
The Restaurant - the buffet breakfast spread was decadent and delicious. They include asian and western breakfast staples and even had a kids corner. Make sure to book rooms with breakfast included other wise it's quite expensive.
Jala - the seafood restaurant features fish caught by local fisherman delivered daily. Our meal was cooked to perfection and the atmosphere was so relaxing right next to the beach with sand under our feet.
Tepian Laut - we enjoyed casual lunch here everyday al fresco coming from the pool or the beach. The chicken satay was the best on the island and the kids couldn't get enough of the individually sized cheese pizza and gelato.
Dinner Buffet - every night they had a dinner buffet on the beach featuring different themes. We went on boxing day and enjoyed a wide selection of hot and cold food including meat and seafood along with a separate dessert table. The band that performed was excellent at creating the right mood, picking songs that were universally loved, while the fire torch performers wowed the crowd. We didn't feel pressured to leave as the kids just played in the sand after they were full.
THE WESTIN RESORT
Just outside of Kuah town center is the Westin Resort built on reclaimed land. The contrast to the lush rainforest seclusion we left behind was stark. This part of Langkawi definitely felt manufactured with less trees and more duty free shops and fast food chains. The Westin is a big hotel with a buggie service to get around and the convention center is on property directly across from the lobby.
The Westin encouraged a couple of Asian Pied Hornbills to take up residence on property by erecting two nesting boxes on the trees. Hornbills have a peculiar nesting habit, find out more here. They can be seen around the pool area eating their favorite fruit at dinner time or occasionally squawking at the room balcony and even knocking to try to get in. The naturalist on premise who took us on a 6 pm walking tour through the vast property was very knowledgable of local vegetations and was able to track down a group of Dusty Leaf Monkeys dangling in the trees. Amazingly, the whole gang paid us a visit the next day and we saw the elusive golden babies up close hanging on to their mothers. Read more about them here.
Situated next to the Kuah Jetty Terminal, the beach at The Westin had constant boat traffic along with murky water and prickly sand. Disappointments aside, shelling was fantastic. During low tide, we were able to collect a variety of local seashells and to Isla‘s amusement, nature treasure hunting can be equally satisfying on a beach less desired when there are giant mussel shells bigger then her hand. Fortunately, we didn’t go into the water since we saw two red jellyfish wash up on the beach the next day. It was quite concerning when the staff who cleared it off the beach wasn’t able to identify the species as he had never seen this type before.
With the hotel feeling less secluded, we ventured out to eat more then we did at The Andaman.
Seasonal Taste - The breakfast buffet offered a wide variety of asian and western selection and an incredible juice bar with over 10 types of juice to savor. However, we felt the food at The Andaman was certainly better.
Wan Thai Langkawi Restaurant - We took a 10 mins taxi ride into Kuah town to try this local Thai eatery. The food was average but apparently very popular amongst locals even Malaysian Royalty frequent here. The town at night was pretty quiet and we didn’t see any tourist shops within the vicinity.
St. Regis Bar - On the same plot is St. Regis, a sister property, a buggie ride away. We enjoyed a relaxing break from the sun at the St. Regis Bar indulging in their decadent afternoon tea set amidst piano music in the background. Isla was delighted to discover the free chocolate fountain at their pastry/sandwich shop Gourmand Deli. The hotel was definitely more quiet and refined but the kids didn’t feel out of place.
Hai Yan Restaurant - For a small island, Langkawi is certainly home to many 5 star hotels. A memorable one is the Ritz Carlton set on a hilly tree lined plot. We ventured over on New Years Day to dine at Hai Yan Restaurant and was thoroughly satisfied with our authentic Chinese meal and the beautiful decor. The hotel did not allow any non guest to wander around their property so we were greeted at the lobby and was shuttled to the restaurant and back. None the less, it was worth the 35 min ride from Westin as the sunset was breathtaking and their spa dome Instagram worthy.
With only one week on the island, we found it hard to peel ourselves away from the resort amenities. These were the two excursions we tried but in hindsight wish we did more to see the island.
Kilim Geoforest Park is a picturesque nature reserve lined with 500 million years old mountain - like limestone rocks and thick mangrove forest. This place is home to many animals and we saw a few of them in their natural habitat on our three hour tour. It is probably one of the most popular activities on this island as there were over 60 boats shored up at the pier when we arrived at 3pm. Most tours head out early in the day for a better chance to see animals as they hide from the hot sun. With less boats in the water, it meant for a more pleasant ride in the narrow river. We opted to tour with JungleWalla because they are an eco - friendly and do not feed the animals. Luckily, we did get a chance to see the spotted brown eagles feeding and a lone juvenile Long Tail Macaque checking to see if we had food in our boat. Locals call them naughty monkeys and they are known to hop into the boat if they see food. The tide was low so we were able to venture into the crocodile cave and spotted several bats after which we made a rest stop at the floating fish farm where we had some refreshments, watch fish feeding demonstration and tried local seafood. All in all it was good to venture out into the natural setting of Langkawi and gain some appreciation for this ancient land.
Island Horses is the only stable on the island. They offer a range of private tours for all different skill levels and even offer tours for kids as young as 5. We opted for the one hour beach and jungle ride which was quite enjoyable, except on the way back, when we had to ride on a two way street with cars coming towards us and behind us. If you are not so confident on a horse this could be quite nerve wrecking.
There are lots to see and do in Langkawi and we feel one week was not enough to explore all the options especially with kids. Depending where you stay, some of the activities can be 45 mins away so allow some days to stay in and just enjoy relaxing on the beach. Our favorite part of the vacation was at The Andaman and if we were to revisit, we would certainly stay there the whole duration.
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