After Kuala Lumpur there was a quick jaunt to Malaysia’s Pearl of the Orient, Panang, and then it was time for the most anticipated part of the trip: the beach. Langkawi is a fairly big resort island off the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, and it caters to a tourist base of Malaysians, other Asians, and Europeans. Apparently it also particularly caters to Swedes: we heard that there’s some direct flight from Stockholm, and you couldn’t spit (oh wait, I forgot we’re not in China anymore) without hitting a Swedish college boy when we were there.
We arrived fresh off an all-nighter (for some members of our group) and the Horrific Ferry Ride of Horror, enjoying being trapped in a windowless cavern of airplane-style seating for three hours. And then there was the annoying hassle of finding a last-minute place to stay (again, I don’t recommend doing it this way again, necessarily), which wasn’t resolved satisfactorily until the following day. But then suddenly…island paradise.
Most of our days on the islands were spent as follows: Wake around 11. Sunblock. Eat. Play in water. Sunblock. Read on beach. Eat. Play in water. Sunblock. Read on beach. Have a drink. Shower. Bug spray. Eat. Go out. Sleep at 3am. Repeat. One day on Langkawi, we visited the cable car on the other side of the island, exchanging a slightly ridiculous number of Malaysian ringgits for a ride in sky buckets (yes, this type of gondola should always be referred to as sky buckets, after the long-gone Disney ride) and panoramas of the island. Another day, on Koh Lipe, we took a several-hour snorkel trip. Other than that, such were the days of our lives.
And there’s quite the nightlife. In general throughout the trip, every other night was a pull-out-all-the-stops kind of night, usually featuring a heady mix of dancing and meeting freakish fellow travels. Because you see, there are a lot of long-term travelers you meet on these islands, and especially in the places we visited and at the hostels where we stayed—people who quit their jobs and are spending a year “experiencing” Asia before returning to the real world, or the like. There were cool travelers, almost always European (we literally met four Americans on the trip, not including in Chiang Mai), whom we hung out with here and there. But mostly there were weirdos: dreadlock-sporting, midnight-swimming, fire-breathing, techno-dancing, circus clown-attired weirdos (and yes, each of these descriptors refers to specific individuals).
After Langkawi, we took a shorter and much less hellish ferry to one of the southernmost Thai islands, Koh Lipe. Although I had read some warnings that Lipe is no longer the serene, empty paradise that it was even five years ago, with our Chinese-colored glasses it still seemed deserted and way undeveloped. There are no cars–only a couple of narrow roads for pedestrians or scooters–and little other than beach, restaurants, and dive shops. There isn’t even an ATM on the island (this is more annoying than quaint).
One of the most amusing parts of staying on such a small island is that, much like on a cruise ship, you start to see the same people over and over again. We ran into our “friends” the Italian clowns at two bars, on the pedestrian street, and on the beach over the course of four days. We hung out with another set of Italians, the guys who ran the amazing Neapolitan pizza restaurant next to our guesthouse, another three times. I had no phone card and was having trouble getting in contact with high school friend Brittany, who also happened to be on the island, but fortunately we managed to run into each other somewhere on the island nearly every day. “Have you seen the guy with the neon patterned speedo, cropped belly top…” she asked me once—“and neon yellow ugg boots?” I finished. Yep, everyone had seen that guy. It’s just that kind of island. On the last day on Koh Lipe, when Gareth, Amy, and Lindsay headed home while I headed off to Chiang Mai, there were definitely tears.