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Archive for the ‘Malaysia’ Category

A Day Trip to Kukup

11 May 2011: Kukup, Malaysia

The time now is half past seven. My worst fear has just crystallized. Our excited spirits were dampened by the congested queue snaking along the Johore Malaysian Immigration. And our trip to Kukup has barely started.

Just one week ago, the Malaysian Immigration mandated a new biometric thumbprint scanning systems, requiring all foreigners entering and exiting Malaysia have their left and right index fingers scanned at the checkpoints. Inevitably, the expanded use of biometrics resulted in more delay at the ports of entry. But what truly infuriated the traveller was the authority’s decision to implement the new system during the height of Malaysia’s tourist season; and it was reported that the malfunctioned system caused many to wait as long as five to seven hours. For the records, ours was four hours!

Starved and exhausted, we FINALLY commenced our Kukup trip at 12 noon. The basic instinct was to fill our stomach at Taman Perling, JB. After the brunch, it was shopping time. First, replenishing our titbits and snack at the “Mr Sotong” Shop…

Just like all other arranged tours, the local guide gladly ushered the tour group into the designated gift shops. One of the stops was at Yong Sheng Confectionery, one of the leading confectionery manufacturers in the southern region of Malaysia. Established in 1952 in Muar, Yong Sheng produces some of the best quality wife cakes, moon cakes, cookies and pastries in Malaysia.

It is little wonder why our tour guide was grinning from ear to ear…

Kukup

Kukup is a small fishing village located about forty kilometres southwest of Johor Bahru. Nested next to the Strait of Malacca, it is famous for its open-air seafood restaurants built on stilts over the water.   

Located in the seas of Kukup are fifty or so fish farms, commonly known as “kelongs” . Besides raring fishes, these entrepreneurial fish farmers wisely combined their daily work with hosting of tourists at their fish farms.

After the late lunch, we boarded the bum boats from the ferry terminal to visit one of the kelongs.

 

To many urban dwellers like me, these kelongs do have its quaint and rustic charms. As we disembarked and balanced our steps on the creaky wooden walkways, the life science and marine lessons commenced. 

The fish farm owner dredged out a few species of fish from the  fishing net as he gave a running commentary about grouper, nurse shark, puffer fish and horseshoe crabs. We were simply busy with clicking of our cameras.

What caught my attention were these small fishes which could spit jets of water out of water at their preys…and with amazingly good accuracy!

Today, I had a good view of a distinguished Horseshoe Crab. This pre-historical creature has a long blade-like tail and is said to have the ability to flip itself right-side up if it is ever placed upside down. Amazing, isn’t it?

 Final glimpse of the kelongs heading back to the shore…

For some of us, shopping at the sundry stores in Kukup created some nostalgic moments…

The finale ended with another sumptuous seafood dinner at the Xin Hui Bin Restaurant before returning home. Fortunately, the traffic at the Immigration had eased off significantly. The time is 10.30 pm now…All we wanted is head straight home to bed.

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3 – 6 May 2010: Penang, Malaysia

This week, I am in Penang to attend a conference. A hotel van was arranged to pick us up from the Penang International Airport. It was a 45 minutes journey to our hotel at Batu Ferringhi (meaning “Foreigner’s Rock”), a popular beach area in Northern Penang, characterised by miles of sandy white beaches and green palm trees. “You heard of Penang white coffee? They are very nice.” The van driver’s offer to stop by some coffee shops received luke warm response. Undaunted, he announced, “Yesterday, I brought your colleague to eat the famous Chendul (“Chendol”). Keen to try?” Finally, there was a resounding consensus this time. 

Penang Road Famous Teo Chew Chendul

The best Chendul is found at the Keng Kwee Street. It is a mobile street stall with virtually no seats. Most people just stood around the stall to devour the sweet snack while standing up.

Chendul is a concoction of pandan green jelly, red beans, creamy coconut milk in shaved ice and topped with palm sugar syrup (commonly known as Gula Melaka). This popular dessert takes its name from “cendol”, a Javanese term for “green worm-like jelly”. Chendul was first introduced in Penang by the Indian hawkers. Founded more than 50 years ago, this Teochew-styled Chendul has surpassed all competitions and earned its reputation as the Penang’s best known Chendul stall.

Unlike most other Chendul, the pandan green jelly here is both smooth and firm. The generous topping of the red and kidney beans with the subtle blending of the gula melaka, the fragrant coconut milk and crushed ice makes this dessert light and refreshing. It is probably the best Chendul I had for a very long time.

Beach Corner Seafood Restaurant

Richard had dinner planned in advance, with directions explicitly mapped out in this tiny piece of paper. A Chinese restaurant named Beach Corner Seafood, located near to Eden Seafood Village and The Ship along Batu Ferringhi. The food was so good that we went back to the same restaurant three days later!

Most customers come to experience the stall owner’s Yam Duck (鸭芋), a Nyonya-inspired dish of braised duck with taro (aka “yam”). After adding the cooked taro into the claypot, the creamy flesh of the yam quickly absorbs the flavour from the stewed duck. The feathery soft yam simply melts in your mouth.

Having tried Mr Lim’s famous Fish Head Curry at our last visit, our taste buds withdrew to a simple dish of Steamed White Pomfret tonight. The success of this dish greatly depends on the freshness of the white pomfret and the right amount of time to steam the fish.

Besides ordering the signature dishes such as the Spring Roll (aka “Popiah”) and the Belacan Fried Chicken, Mr Lim recommended a plate of  Lala (mussel-like shell fish) fried in spicy sauce. Heavenly!

Now for the verdict of tonight’s dinner…

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7 May 2010: Gurney Drive Hawker Centre @ Penang, Malaysia

Named after Sir Henry Gurney, the former high Commissioner of Malaya 1950-1951; Gurney Drive is Penang’s most popular seafront promenade. Spotting the limelight as the famous food heaven, Gurney offers you an unique gastronomical experience of “Penang Hawker Food”. Street food is in the heart and soul of every Penang resident. Ask a local to showcase his Penang, you are almost certain that he will talk about hawker food and Gurney Drive Hawker Centre.

Forget about air-conditioning, comfort and restaurant menu, we are here to “sweat it out” under the pretext of al fresco dining.

Cuttlefish with Kang Kong vegetable

I was pretty surprise that Stall 90 has a signboard that precisely reads “Cuttlefish with Convolvulus”. Water Convolvulus or ” water spinach” is commonly known as “Kang Kong”  (蕹菜) in Asia. This leafy vegetable, with hollow stems grows naturally near waterways, is one of the main ingredients of a popular local speciality called Cuttlefish with Kang Kong (鱿鱼蕹菜). 

Blanched cuttlefish are neatly paraded in front of the stall. Once the dual is cooked together, a gravy made of thick shrimp paste, chilli paste, dark soy sauce, tamarind paste and sweet soy sauce is poured over the greens and the cuttlefish. Roasted chopped groundnuts and sesame seeds are then sprinkled over the gravy to give the dish a hint of crispiness and texture. 

Asam Laksa

There are two basic types of laksa in Malaysia: curry laksa and asam laksa. The former is a coconut-based curry soup with noodles, while the latter has a distinguished taste deriving from its spicy fish-based broth. Penang laksa refers to Asam Laksa.

Asam is the Malay word for tamarind, which gives the stock its sour flavor. Mackerel is poached and makes into flakes in order to prepare the fish-based soup. The Penang laksa gets its distinctive flavour from a conglomeration of ingredients and spices, such as lemon grass, galangal (“blue ginger”), chilli, mint leaves, slices of pineapple, cucumber, onion, ginger bud and shrimp paste. Asam laksa is normally served with thick rice noodle.

Satay

Satay is a very popular delicacy that was said to have originated from Indonesia. This barbecued-style kebab is now available almost everywhere in South-east Asia – from street-side vendor to upper-class restaurant and hotel. Bamboo sticks are used to skewer the marinated meat before grilling on the spot over a charcoal fire.

The meat used is usually chicken and mutton. Turmeric is commonly used to marinate satay, giving its characteristic yellow colour. Under the dancing flames, the tender succulent chunks of meat gradually caramelised to a delicious crispness. Once the barbecued kekbab is ready, it is served together with a spicy peanut sauce dip and complete with slices of cucumber and onions as sides.

Penang Char Koay Teow

Penang Char Koay Teow is another signature hawker dish. Very often, the rice noodle are stir fried in pork fat (including crisp pieces of the pork lard) with prawns, eggs, bean sprouts and Chinese chives. In the final step, fresh cockles are added to accomplish the unique taste.

Rojak

Rojak is a Chinese salad dish,consisting of mixed fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, turnip, pineapple, rose apple and green mango. Think twice if you start conceiving it to be healthy. Non-fruit ingredients added to this salad are cuttlefish, jellyfish, fried dough fritter (aka “You Char Koay”) and a dressing made of prawn paste, belacan (shrimp cakes), chilli powder, and sugar. A generous topping of grounded roasted peanuts and sesame seeds is sprinkled on the dressing. But trust me, it is certainly a heavenly sin that is worth committing once in a blue moon.

Oyster Omelette

Fried oyster omelette is called “Oh Chien” (蚵煎) here. In Penang, potato starch is added to give the omelette the softer and sticky texture. It is gansihed with coriander or parsley and served with a dip made of chilli sauce and garlic paste. 

Boiled Cockles

Boiled cockles are sold here at the hawker centre. Bamboo sticks are provided for you to pick the fresh out of the shells. Dip it in the belacan chilli. It is an ultimate experience for the strong stomach and those innoculated against hepatitis.

Grilled Stingray

Slathered with Chili Sambal and grilled over hot charcoal fire, this inexpensive and largely ignored fish suddenly transformed into a food treasure…

Wanton Mee

Wan Tan Mee said to be a Cantonese dish, originated from South China. The name “wanton” refers to the Chinese ravioli that comes with the noodle and BBQ pork (aka Char Siew). Personally, I like Wan Tan Mee served as a dry dish whereby the noodle is marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil. Deep fried crispy wantons are added by the side.

Pasembur

Pasembur is another popular hawker food in Penang. This spicy salad dish is often called the “Indian Rojak”. You are free to pick and choose the ingredients at the stall but it is usually comprises of shredded cucumber, Chinese turnip, potatoes, fried beancurd, bean sprout, prawn fritters and sliced boiled egg. After these ingredients are neatly chopped and stacked up, the whole dish is topped with a bright red, spicy gravy made from sweet potato. Heavenly!

Apom

You should not leave Gurney Drive Hawker Centre without trying out Apom. It is an Indian pancake with the thickness of a paper. A good Apom is crispy on the outside, while the middle is thick and soft. Unlike the Chinese pancake (“Ban Chien Koay”), Apom is always plain without fillings in it.

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6 May 2010: Penang, Malaysia

The tambun biscuit (淡汶饼, also known as Tau Sar Piah, 豆沙饼)  is perhaps the most sought after bring-home snacks from Penang. The problem is there are so many brands of tambun biscuits in Penang. Strangely (but definitely not coincidentally), many of them carry the name ending with “Heang” (literally means “fragrant”) – Him Heang (馨香), Ghee Hiang (义香), Chuan Peng Heang (全平香), Sheng Hiang (城香), Seng Hiang (成香) and many more “Heangs”!

A colleague of mine whom have worked in Penang for several years shared some insights with me. “There are only two brands that is authentic and good – Him Heang (馨香) and Ghee Hiang (义香). Ghee Hiang has been around for many years and Him Heang was opened by a former baker who left Ghee Heang several years ago.”

Him Heang

I tried both. While both are equally formidable, my preference is Him Heang as the taste is well balanced with the right level of sweetness. Its ingredient is not too moist nor too dry. But it is not easily available as Him Heang does not have any branch anywhere other than the main shop at Jalan Burma.

Ghee Hiang

Originated from Fujian, Ghee Hiang has been serving this traditional pastries in Penang since 1856. Through the years, Ghee Hiang has expanded its product range to sesame oil and pure white coffee.  And itit offers the customer convenience and easily reachable at its main shop at Macalister Road or any of its few outlets in Penang.

Him Heang or Ghee Hiang? You decide!

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7 May 2010 : Penang, Malaysia

We have a MISSION and a secretive one. Encoded in a palm size HTC machine, the assignment was brief. We are instructed to leave the hotel before sunrise with an empty stomach and complete all the tasks before noon.

Yes, you have hit the right nail! Sharon, Richard, TS and I are on a exclusive (and probably elusive) Penang Street FOOD adventure. At 7 am, the taxi driver promptly picked up the four hungry souls from the Golden Sand Resort Hotel. From this exact moment, the mission clock starts to tick!  

Mission #1: Super Hokkien Mee @ One Corner Cafe

The first stop is at an ordinary looking coffee shop located just “behind giant”.  Situated behind Penang Plaza Giant in Burmah Road, the One Corner Cafe (和喜茶室) houses one of the best hawker’s Hokkien Mee in Penang. The fact that it has shamelessly adopted the name “Super Hokkien Mee” probably tells you its supremacy. “This has to be our first stop”, TS said, “Otherwise we will have to wait very long for our noodle.” While we were in awe accepting the fact that the average waiting time is 45 minutes during the business peak, TS quickly added, “Tell you, the Hokkien Mee usually get sold out before 11 am.” 
 
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After 15 to 20 minutes, our prized noodle finally appeared. Yes, we only ordered one bowl. Well, the day is long and we don’t want to be burping right at the first kilometer of the food marathon.

Hokkien Mee is more commonly known to us as Prawn Mee back at home.  The secret to a great bowl Hokkien Mee lies in its broth. There is no short cut. The potency of the stock clearly derives its deep flavouring and colouring from the hours of boiling the prawn heads and shells until rich concentration of the pigments contribute to the amber hue of the soup. The sweet prawn soup is certainly satisfying to its last drop. And don’t forget to ask for the pork lard to go with the hokkien mee. Mission Completed!

Mission #2: Ban Chang Kueh @ Pulau Tikus Market  

Pasar Pulau Tikus is a market in the middle of a neighborhood by the same name which means “Rat Island”. It was said that the name was adopted after a mouse-shaped island off Penang’s coast.

 The street is still quiet as Richard queued patiently for the famous pancake (aka Ban Chang Kueh, 曼煎糕) behind a van by the side stall.

I am surprised that the stall owner is young chap and presumably, a second generation of this trade. My doubts are quickly dismissed by his skilful and flawless timing of saucing the flour paste, putting in the ingredients and folding the pancake into half-moons. 

Soon, the stimulating aroma of the brown sugar wakes our senses. Before our eyes are pancakes filled with generous serving of roasted peanuts, cream corn, sesame seeds and brown sugar. We just could not wait to take the first bite on the piping hot Ban Chang Kueh. Oozz…the texture is chewy and favourful while the sides remains crispy.

Here’s another version with traditional rice cake sandwiched in the centre. Marvelous! Mission Completed!

 

Mission #3: Pulau Tikus Balai Hokkien Mee @ Swee Kong Cafe 

We were told that there is yet another famous Hokkien Mee on this street. It is located in the Swee Kong Kopitiam, directly opposite to the Pulau Tikus Police Station.

Hokkien Mee again? Well, since Penang is reputed for its Hokkien Noodle, we guess there is no harm getting a “second opinion”. At this hour, the Swee Kong Kopitiam is already packed with partons, mostly crowding round the Pulau Tikus Balai Hokkien Mee stall waiting for their takeaways. Judging from the crowd, we are almost certain that the noodle will be sold out before noon. We quickly cramp into a small table at the shop corner and wait patiently for the husband and wife team to prepare our order.

After 15 minutes or so, they served the steaming hot noodle, which looked somewhat like the Super Hokkien Mee (deja vu). Now for the taste challenge. The unanimous verdict is the broth is definitely more luscious than the former. A sheer winner and bonus to us. Mission checked!

Mission #4 : Johnny Nasi Lemak @Jin Hoe Cafe

Jin Hoe Cafe is a small coffee shop along Jalan Cantonment, on the quiet street next to the Pulau Tikus Market. It is no surprise that we take longer than usual to locate the stall. Luckily the tell-tale sign is the faithful stream of customers, forming a beeline to the main road. 

Stall owner, Johnny, donned a plain white cap which almost hides his youthful face from its customer. While some customers try to talk to him, he stayed very focused in dispensing the fragrant coconut rice from the aluminum pot onto a glass plate and topping  it with sambal chillie, prawn, deep-fried kuning fish, ikan bilis and peanuts and a few cucumber slices.

The quality of the coconut rice is the soul of the Nasi Lemak. Johnny’s rice is soft and moistened with the perfect blend of coconut milk. Though the red hot sambal chillie lights up the unbridled thirst on our tongues, it is simply unforgettable.

It is perfectly understandable why absolutely nothing was left on the plate when we depart from the coffee shop. Mission completed! Burp!

Mission #5: Fried Carrot Rice @ Macalister Lane 

The Eoh sisters dominates the Macalister Lane with their famous fried carrot cake (Char Koay Kak, 炒粿角) pushcart stall for almost 40 years. Ever since the sisters took over their father’s helm 30 years ago, it was said that they has faithfully abidded to the same recipe throughout these years. The elder Eoh sister with blue apron is the master chef. Despite the fact that she must have served over a million plates of Koay Kak, she takes pride to make each plate her consistent signature.

Made from rice and corn flour, the carrot cake is  tasteless by itself. A perfect plate of Char Koay Kak requires mastery in blending the right portion of dark sauce, chillie and salted radish (chai poh) on the hot frying pan. At the crucial final stage, eggs and a handful of bean spouts and chinese chives are added to enhance the fragrance and taste before serving it on a banana leaf.  As we savour the soft and smooth-textured Koay Kak, our taste buds are pleasantly electrified by the sweet-saltish aromatic sensation.

 

Our mission is beginning to get tougher for two reasons. One, our expectations are constantly raised after surveying each dish.  Second, the diminishing returns of our stomach are sinking in. 

Mission #6: Chee Cheong Fun @ Macalister Lane (Seow Fong Lye Cafe)

Outside the Seow Fong Lye Cafe along the Macalister Lane is the famous rice roll (aka Chee Cheong Fun, 猪肠粉) stall ran by another husband and wife team. The recipe of their success is the unique topping of fresh prawn paste and sweet sauce over the silky, smooth rice rolls.

 

Mission #7: Iced Coffee and butter-kaya toast @ Toh Soon Cafe

We almost fail the next mission. Toh Soon Cafe is a quaint little cafe situated at an alley which you can easily miss it if you did not pay attention. Fortunately, TS would not give up finding it. Pacing up and down the adjacent street, her sharp feelers soon detect an unusually large crowd among a jumble of tables. “Here!”  she pointed proudly.

The menu is brief – Kaya toast, half-boiled eggs and coffee. Luckily, there is an un-inspiring twist of choosing either wholemeal bread or white bread, hot or ice coffee. “We want both types of kaya bread and four cups of ice kopi!”  The main specialty of this shop is toasting their bread with traditional fire charcoal! The bread turns out to be much crispier at the outside but the inside remains soft and moist coated with the subtly sweet kaya and saltish butter. Yummy!

The ice coffee is the saviour in revitalising our body and mind. The thick concoction of the rich coffee and condensed milk is powered by generous topping of crushed ice and evaporated milk. Our weariness are instantly eradicated and now, we are ready to take on the next assignment!

Mission #8: Coconut Jelly @ Dato Keramat Road

There are no proper tables and chairs at Thum Enterprise, a shop selling pandan coconut jelly. Just heaps of  green and yellow coconuts, all over the shop (literally!).

  

The coconut jelly are sealed air-tight with cling wraps and look like any other ordinary coconut you can find on the street. But once you remove the cap, you can see that the coconut juice has turned into translucent jelly. We were told that the coconut jelly is made by roasting the coconut in an oven and subsequently chilled in cold rooms. No additive or artificial chemical is added to extend its shelf life, making the coconut jelly so refreshing that we could not stop at one. “Boss, another coconut please!”

Mission #9: Char Koay Teow @ Dato Keramat Road (Khoon Hiang Cafe)

It is relatively easy to spot the plain looking Khoon Hiang Cafe at Dato Keramat Road. We are here to attest Ah Leng’s fried flat rice noodle (aka Char Koay Teow,  炒粿条),  acclaim to be Penang’s best.

 

Ah Leng breathes life into the wok by skilfully frying and tossing the flat rice noodle. Besides the abundance of fresh ingredients, the right mixture of soy sauce and oyster sauce are added to create the succulent texture of the Char Koay Teow.  In the final act, he quickly stirred in the fresh, juicy cockles and fresh prawns. The product is a palette of golden, flavorful Char Koay Teow and the quartet’s squeals of delight.

As we passed by Lorong Selamat, TS quickly pointed out another famous Char Koay Teow stall to us. The stall owner wears a bright red cap and has an over-sized pair of goggles.“She’s very notorious for being arrogant and she will not entertain your special requests. You want her Char Koay Teow, be prepared to wait the long queue!”

Mission #10: Ice Kacang @ Laksa Pg Road

The morning heat is turning up and we are seeking solace from a nice bowl of Ice Kacang at Laksa Pg Road. Somehow, we all feel very skeptical once we sit inside the coffee shop. Our guts could not associate the setting of the stall, ice machine and even the stall owner (sorry!) with the attributes of great desserts.  See what we mean!

Our beliefs are soon confirmed when this was served to us – a paddle of shaved ice with lifeless dressing of sweetcorn and vanilla ice cream. To add to the woe, a distasteful “cola” flavoured syrup is added, which totally demolish the taste experience. We concluded that either we had landed at the wrong place or the original stall owner had already moved out. Mission failed! To make up for the blunder, we decide to take up a second attempt of Mission #10…

Mission #10: Lor Bak @ Sri Bahari (Kheng Pin)

To me, Lor Bak sounds like meat braised in dark sauce. But in Penang, Lor Bak is a favorite local dish of meat marinated with five spice powder, wrapped in tender bean-curd sheet which turns crispy when deep-fried. The Kheng Pin Coffee Shop offers exceptionally tasty Lor Bak. Afterall, the owner, Mr. Lau has been frying these treats for more than  35 years and serves a wide motley assembly of snacks from prawn fritters and deep fried squids to root vegetables dipped in batter and cucumber slices.

The meat in the lor bak is soft and delicately wrapped within a thin and crispy roll. This skin is non-greasy as Mr Lau fries the food at the right temperature without letting excessive oil seeps through the food.

  

This is the grand finale. The debrief of our mission over the last few hours is equally brief: soul-searching, heart-warming and stomach-filling. We take nothing with us but pictures and loads of fond memories. At the same time, we leave nothing behind but footprints of this food adventure! Cheers!

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The Petronas Twin Towers

1 – 4 Jul 2003: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

My interest to see the Petronas Twin Towers began after watching the Hollywood mega-hit, Entrapment, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Besides the plot, what I saw was the making of a truly classic and magnificant architecture standing tall in the midst of this busy capital. Built in 1998, its title as the tallest buildings in the world was short-lived when Taipei 101 surpassed its height record in 2004. Still, the Petronas Twin Towers remain as the world’s tallest twin buildings.

The Petronas Twin Towers have a sky-bridge between the two steeples on 41st and 42nd floors. This 58m-long bridge is not permanently attached to the main structure, but is designed to slide in and out of the towers to prevent it from breaking in the strong winds. The skybridge could act as a safety gateway in the event of a fire or other emergency in one tower, tenants can evacuate by crossing the skybridge to the other tower. Although the bridge is open to all visitors, they are only allowed on the 41st floor by obtaining the limited free passes issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Langkawi

7 – 10 May 2002: Langkawi, Malaysia

Unknown to many, Langkawi is actually an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca. The main island is called Pulau Langkawi and two-thirds of this island is dominated by forest-covered mountains, hills and natural vegetation.

Andaman Datai Bay, Langkawi

I would love to stay at renowed and luxurious resort, The Andaman Langkawi; but we were staying within our budget at its neighbouring sister resort at Andaman Datai Bay (no complain). Built in the middle of a virgin tropical rainforest, both resorts took on the most exclusive address in Langkawi in the isolated  beach of Datai Bay and the majestic Mat Cincang Range.

Enveloped by centuries old trees, many with huge buttress roots and jungle twines, this heavenly place was really a shelter from the bustle of city life.

A morning walk along the beautiful, pearly white sand beach is guaranteed to draw away your worries. The peaceful emerald rainforest is  surpassed in beauty only by the breathtaking views of the deep blue Andaman Sea. 

Langkawi is such a mystical island. I did not explore much but seemed very in touch with its nature…

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