A word of caution to book tickets for our ferry to Langkawi in advance was flung into the hot breeze as we enjoyed our last day in Penang.
We woke up an hour later than usual and had to contend with taking the unbeaten track to Malaysia's spectacular beach destination.
Over-stuffing ourselves with free breakfast at the BnB in Penang, we waddled our way to the ferry station, only to hear the next ride was late that evening.
So we opted for the bus and found ourselves in a rickety unit, not unlike the ones at home, sitting among locals getting to work or returning from school. But it took us from Butterworth to Alor Setar, the capital of the state of Kedah, where we waited at the shelter for a bus heading towards Kuala Perlis. An hour and a half later, the right bus rattled to a stop, picked us up and wound its way to our ferry point.
Heavy-headed from the groaning travel, we endured a 45-minute ferry ride to Pulau Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah. We spied knob-like islands in the sea as the ferry bumped along the surface of the glassy Indian Ocean and we were greeted by Langkawi's sentinel eagle which stood guard at the entry to the tourist destination .
Our taxi driver knew where to take us, and threw in a free conversation about the sights and sounds of Langkawi. A fierce Malay, the squat man with a keen foot insisted that the island was the best part of Malaysia.
This was by far the best hostel as far as value for money goes. Based on trust, you take what you want from the fridge and browse the internet only to add up your own usage and stick it on the front desk. You can cook your own meals, provided you wash up after yourself. Bang opposite the beach and sitting nestled close to brunch spots that served "No American" food, the hostel was our home for three days.
We took a walk to Pantai Cenang that first evening and couldn't stop marvelling at the wonderful blue of the picture postcard ocean. All along the sidewalk towards the beach were stalls selling anything from curios to bikinis, flower-print slippers and bags. It was tourist exploitation at its exorbitant best.
Prawns the size of my fist lay curled up on display platters beside red snapper and some of the largest kingfish I've ever seen as we walked past the numerous shacks, restaurants and pubs juxtaposed with hawkers' stalls on the sidewalk. Five minutes of haggling and we had three pairs of slippers to carry home, all at a "special price".
Another item we got at a special price was beer. At nearly half the price compared to the rest of Malaysia courtesy Langkawi's duty free status, drinking Tiger Beer was no longer a second thought. Hangovers were washed away with a large brunch of beef rendang, nasi lemak and a salty batch of crunchy chicken feet to go on the side.
Hiring our tiny car with Tielke and Anne ensured the road trip around Langkawi was full of chatter and culture quirk swaps. First stop: underwater world. Giant gouramis floated by with grotesque smiles, silent spectators behind protective glass panels to our gawping mugs. Space-age jellyfish glowing neon in the dim lights propelled themselves around their cubic world while sea-horses darted under ocean vegetation to shield themselves from the prying eyes of curious visitors.
Back into the blazing sun, the air-con was turned all the way up as the car wound its way to the cable car and bridge that would give us a glimpse of Thailand. But it was the curse of the holiday horror when we saw the signboard that read: Cable car - Under maintenance for two days. Inconvenience regretted. Bah... something had to go wrong on this trip, and we'd flown across the seas to see this. This was the sight that brought upon the split-second decision to visit Malaysia.
Cursing, we stomped our way up the stairs to the Seven Wells or Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls, where a gushing stream tumbled over stoic boulders to collect in rocky pools, overflowed into a new waterfall and new pool over and over again. At the handicrafts bazaar on the way back, knick-knacks made of bamboo, wood and coconut shells filled up empty corners in backpacks, small reminders of our visit and little gifts for friends and family.
Hungover from the beer at 8 the next morning, we dragged ourselves to Pantai Tenggah right in time to hop into the speed boat as it lifted its prow clear of the water. With wind in my hair and water everywhere else we meandered through the smattering of rainforest islands reminiscent of those flying mountains in the movie Avatar only these were in the sea, making one stop at Pregnant Lady island (it really does look like a pregnant woman lying down) and then heading on the Geopark.
I have no words to describe how absolutely awesome it is to swim in the middle of a volcanic lake. The warm water slips away into a bottomless depth, a swimming blackness that is both slightly frightening and exciting at the same time. It stretches hundreds of metres to the other shore at the base of the wall of rock that rears straight up into the sky and stops just short of eternity.
We left fellow tourists still swimming and playing in its pristine waters to walk the narrow bamboo path back to the jetty, tip-toeing past the bands of ravenous, mischievous monkeys munching stolen Snickers' bars.
Colourful fish bounced sunlight off the backs when breaking the surface at the island beach we visited on our last stop. The sea was cool and very clear, and the white hot sand made children skip into patches of shade from the trees where their parents sat on gnarled roots with the picnic bags.
We spent our last few hours in Langkawi on the shores of Pantai Tenggah, wading in the shallows under the heat of the afternoon sun before we paid our bill and said our good-byes.
The ferry would take us back to the mainland, from where we caught our "supercool" bus to spend Vikas' birthday in Kuala Lumpur.