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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

LANGKAWI: Islands of Legends

Wednesday, March 15. *four more sleeps and we're off!

Ever since I was a kid I've been fascinated with pirates. Beginning with my introduction to Capt. Hook in Peter Pan, the motely crew of Treasure Island and many others who I related to in a big way having an over-ripe imagination, I've studied about the pirates of the Caribbean (including a couple of notorious women pirates); cruised around in the waterways where pirates lurked in the Mediterranean and now, it's the pirates of the Adaman Sea in south Asia. So: Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! (or maybe a mai tai or two) Ahoy, matey! Avast ye land-lubbers! Come join my friend Ruth and me on our excellent island adventure!

There are 104 islands lying off the north west coast of Malaysia in the Adaman Sea. These islands, situated along a major trade route, have a long history as a refuge of pirates. Now they have become internationally known as a resort destination, ideal for a tranquil romantic holiday. With soft power-sand beaches, misty limestone hills and the age-old emeral green jungle forest as a back-drop, these islands are irrestistable.

Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 tropical islands. Historically, Langkawi, the largest of the island group, has attracted seafarers throughout the ages because it is located on the tradtiioanl spice route. Early references date to charts of the 15th C. when renowned seafarere Admiral Cheng Ho from China visited enroute to Malacca in 1405. Pepper and rice were the main produce of Langkawi then. The French General Augustus De Beaulieu, in the service of King Louis XIV of France, arrived in 1621 to trade in pepper.

The Langkawi Islands are also noted for their many legends. One of the most famous is that of Mahsuri, a lovely maiden married to the Chieftain's son. She was wrongfully accused of adultery with a wandering troubador and executed. As she lay dying she put a curse on the island -- that Langkawi would be barren for seven generations. Soon after, the Siamese (now Thailand) attacked the island and ravaged it. As evidently the seven generations have passed, now the island is a lush paradise with an abundance of flora and fauna. There is a mausoleum near the town of Kuah named for the unfortunate maiden.

Another of the many legends is centered in the main town of Pulau Langkawi (Kuah, meaning "gravy") . It is said that two giants spilled a pot of gravy (I wonder what kind of gravy?) at the spot where the town is located. The island's two highest mountains Mat Cincang and Mat Raya are named after the giants.

There are many quaint fishing villages on the islands, and mystical coves, caves and myth-haunted lakes as well as pristine beaches for the traveller who wants to just relax on a white-sandy shore. The water is ideal for snorkeling and diving where sloping reefs harbour an abundance of marine life or sunken wrecks to explore. Yachts and charter boats sail in the calm turquoise waters and you can go island hopping to some of the other islands, each with its own charm. The sea teams with fish so fishing trips can be arranged. There are many scenic destinations to explore too, including hot springs, rubber estates, padi fields where buffalos wallow lazily in the mud, rustic Malay kampongs. There's a crocodile farm at Geluk Datai where there are over 1000 crocs including several rare species, and alligators. There is also an abundance of birds and butterflies not found anywhere else in the world.

We will be staying on Langkawi Island for seven glorious days, lots of time for exploring or just relaxing in the sun on one of those beautiful white-sand beaches. If we can, we'll take a ferry trip to the island of Penang which is 100 K. south of Langkawi. It's known as Malaysia's "Pearl of the Orient" and was the first British trading post in the Far East. It's capital, Georgetown, has a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures. Penang also boasts some famous beaches and coconut groves.

So, think of my travel buddy and me in a week's time, lazing in the tropical sunshine on these beautiful islands.
And watch for more stories and legends as we embark on this remarkable adventure!

I wonder why the tunes from The Pirates of Penzance keep running through my head?

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