It is a beautiful night. The Southern Cross and the Big Bear constellations are easily found in this night sky as Imani
's crew lies hammocked in her forward tramp, reading the stars. Soundtrack to our stargazing, the sound of a lone amplified voice drifts by as the beautiful plaintive cry of the day's last call-to-prayer makes its way from the large Al-Hana Mosque on the shore. Yes, we are in Malaysia, on Langkawi Island just south of the Thailand border and we've found it to be a surprisingly easy and interesting place to exist on a cruising sailboat. Malaysia likes and welcomes cruisers and Langkawi is transforming itself into Malaysia's boating center.
Checking into Langkawi is an incredibly painless process. All pertinent officials, Port Captain, Immigration and Customs, are located in the same location—the Ferry Jetty Building, which is found just to starboard of the large eagle statue that juts out onto Kuah bay. Within one half-hour the check-in is complete. Ordinarily, for most passports (including US, EU, Australia, and New Zealand) the officials will ask if you would like to stay for one month or three, and then stamp your travel documents accordingly. These standard visiting visas are free of charge. Making a trip to Thailand with your boat or by ferry and returning gives you an additional three months to stay in Malaysia. We have met many boaters who have been moving between Thailand and Malaysia this way for years. The people of Malaysia are very easy going, welcoming, and respectful. We have found them to be very honest and helpful. Even being Americans in this Muslim country post-September 11, we feel very safe here among these very gentle people.
A first stop in Kuah town on Langkawi is the new yachtie hangout, The Sailor's Treff restaurant, run by Deiter and Norma Bosch (two former cruisers who have settled in Langkawi) and the delightfully welcoming Mardiana Shaari (a fount of information regarding everything Malaysian). It is located just in front of the dinghy tie-up in the Kuah lagoon. They offer morning beverages (coffee or tea) while lunch and dinner are available daily. The menu features tasty and reasonably priced Thai and Western dishes including this North American cruiser's favorite—a tasty cheeseburger and french fries. Many boaters especially enjoy the ice cold beers for RM $1.80 (US $1=RM $3.80), while taking advantage of the cozy couches and chairs and sharing the latest news. When it comes time to find boating necessities on Langkawi, such as stainless steel, bearings, water pumps, hardwoods, carpenters, we've learned that you should not hesitate to ask Deiter. Internet access is available at the Treff for RM $2.00 per hour, and there is also a "give-one-take-one" book and magazine exchange.
The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir, visited Langkawi in April 2002 for the grand opening of Wavemaster, a boat-building and repair center. Malaysian owned and Australian run, this outfit is designed to handle anything from small boats to mega-yachts, with a Travel
Lift with a 500-ton capacity and another of 140 tons, as well as a floating
dock capable of lifting 450 tons. Together with Langkawi's Sunsail yacht charter company located at the Royal Langkawi Yacht club in Kuah, this demonstrates how much the marine industry has been encouraged to grow here. A new 250-slip marina and resort is currently under construction at Pantai Kok (Pantai in the local dialect is the word for beach.)
Making a trip back home to work or to visit the family is extremely easy from Langkawi with an international airport on the island and flights that cost half of what they would if they were purchased in the US. Unlike Thailand you may leave your boat in Malaysia for up to two years without bonding or importing the boat. There is a full-service marina with 128 wet and 70 dry berths; the Rebak Maria Resort (available on VHF Channel; 69) has a 65-ton Marine Travel-lift so you can leave your boat safely on the hard or in the water. There are 40 moorings to consider at the Lankasuka Boat Club (also on VHF 69), on the west-side of Langkawi Island at Kuala Muda, which is close to the airport, and more moorings are available near the Awana Resort and in front of the Tiara Hotel in Kuah Bay. You should see Roger Prescott on the sailboat Solid Gold in front of the Tiara regarding rates and availability. There are also in-the-water slips at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club (VHF 69), close to the ferry jetty in Kuah, which currently experiences a lot of wake from the high-speed ferries. A wave-damper and additional slips are being constructed in front of the yacht club.
Provisioning is quite good here. The freshest produce can be found twice a week (Saturday and Wednesday nights) at the market in Kuah town. Many western products can be found at a number of wholesale and retail shops around the island. My favorite stop in Kuah town for nice frozen meats, olive oil, and excellent wine is Chop Sun Chuan. Lian, the proprietress, offers very fair prices for her goodies. Kuah also has two large supermarkets—one, Samudra at the Langkwai Fair Mall and another Teoh Soon Huat at the other end of town near the large wet market on the waterfront. Close to the Lankasuka Boat Club and Resort is where most of the island's wholesale firms can be found, including Mcphee's which is great when provisioning for a long passage to Chagos, the Red Sea, or the likes.
The Malyasian government is developing Langkawi to become Malaysia's premier tourist resort area. Consequently among the 104 islands that make up the Langkawi group, there are numerous anchorages on uninhabited islands or in rivers that are pristine wildlife sanctuaries for sea eagles, Macaque monkeys, brahming kites, hornbills, deer, river otters, and mouse-deer. The "hole-in-the-wall" anchorage in the Kilim river, Pulau Singa Besar (Pulau means island) with its multitude of monkeys, the refreshing freshwater lake on Pulau Dayang Bunting, and the beautiful beaches on Pulau Bumbon are must-sees. The water around most of the Langkawi group is not crystal clear because of the mud bottom. But Pulau Payar, the most southern in the Langkawi group, is just 15 miles south of the main island and offers clear water, beautiful coral reefs, and bountiful fish. It is a national park. Anchoring is not allowed on the reef, but moorings are there for visiting boats to share with the dive boats that frequent the island daily. Of course fishing is not allowed.
As we recline on deck, a gentle breeze kicks across the harbor, while whoops and whistles are heard. Nine dinghy sailors on Optimist sailboats cut across Imani's bows at anchor. Among those sounds, I hear "Mommy! Papa! Look at me!" Tristan jibes his small boat and heads upwind, gaining speed and distance on the other Malay kids. Kuah Bay's Optimist sailing program, free to any child who wants to learn to sail, is a good example of how committed the government and people are to growing their own sailors and putting Langkawi on the map as Malaysia's boating capitol.
Langkawi NecessitiesIf you're lucky enough to visit this idyllic region of Malaysia, here are a few indespensible contact numbers to make your stay even more enjoyable.
Sailors' Treff Restaurant
Persiaran Kelana Mas,
Kuah, 07000 Langkawi, Kedeh
Phone: 967-1645 Fax: 955-3013
8 Jalan Pandak Mayah
1, Pekan Baru
07000 Kuah, Pulau Langkawi, Kedah,
Phone: 966-7778 Fax: 966-7218
Rebak Marina Resort
Pulah Rebak Besar
P.O. Box 125
07007 Kuah, Langkawi, Kedah
Phone: 966-5566 Fax: 966-9973
Solid Gold Moorings (Roger Prescott)
Chop Sun Chaun (frozen foods)
29,Pandak Mayah 4
Kuah 07000 Langkawi, Kedah