Swimming in the Andaman Sea
Updated: Jul 4, 2021
We only had to walk a few meters from our room, down the steps in the seawall and into the (finally!) warm waters of the Andaman Sea. After two months of swimming, snorkeling and diving in the cool (to us) waters of Indonesia – this was a very welcome change.
The Andaman Sea lies off the west coasts of Thailand and Malaysia, to the east of the Indian Ocean and has an abundance of coral reefs. The north-south boundary between the Burma and Sunda tectonic plates runs below the sea and results in a large amount of seismic activity, including the devastating 2004 Tsunami that killed over 280,000 souls. This happened when about 1,500 km of seafloor uplifted about 20 meters, displacing enough seawater to generate 28-meter-high waves.
We arrived at the airport on Langkawi after a short flight from Singapore on Thursday October 3rd. Langkawi is an island (and the name of the province and archipelago of 99 islands!) off the NW coast of Malaysia, where tourism only started taking off in the last 20 years. Immediately after leaving immigration we walked through many new duty-free shops selling liquor, candy and souvenirs and called a GRAB to get to our room on the north side.
The 30-minute ride from the airport wound through the hilly interior where shops, schools, mosques and temples were scattered along the well-maintained road. Everything was green and lush – a welcome change after the dry, brown appearance of the Indonesian landscape. We turned down a small dirt side road near the beach and then pulled into a courtyard of the Eagleye Villa and Cottage.
There were several one and two-story buildings of various designs and ages – none too exceptional. Our host greeted us and opened up the 2nd floor of a fairly new concrete building. The room was medium size and clean with a bare concreted floor that still smelled fresh, and a bathroom with a sink, flush toilet and flexible shower head. We had one cold shower before we found the master switch to power the electric, tankless water heater. About 38 USD a night.
100 meters away was the beach, which was picturesque but not suitable for swimming due to rocks and a questionable water source flowing into the surf nearby. Overlooking the beach was a small local restaurant we dubbed the No Name Resto, with a limited menu and no English speakers, but the food was tasty and close.
Susie performed her search magic so the next day we packed up and rolled our backpacks a km down the road to Labu Labi, situated right on the beach, for the same price. This place was bigger with about 10 or 12 ground floor rooms facing the beach, and a number of 2nd floor rooms that were out of service. Our room was large with a nice bed, fridge, TV, large bath and great shower.
Eddie was the manager and was always around with a smile and a quick laugh, ready to help plan activities or provide information. He booked a Mangrove Tour for us where we could get a good look at the NE part of the island, so the following day he drove us over to a boat camp on the river about 15 minutes away.
Our capable guide drove us and a young German couple through the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park which consists of 3 interconnected river estuaries. We saw many macaque monkeys and several reddish-brown eagles (Langkawi’s namesake per some sources) grabbing fish from the water. The shoreside terrain varied from low mangrove forest to towering limestone and granite cliffs, which looked surprisingly like the Ozarks shoreline in a few places. Our canvas top barely cleared the ceiling of a cave that we motored through – only because it was low tide. Then a short stop to walk through Bat Cave, which lived up to its name with hundreds of bats clinging to the ceilings.
Next up was a stop at one of the floating “fish farms” where the river widened. I should note that during the “drier” season of less rainfall these rivers were mostly salt a long ways inland. These fish farms are large anchored, floating structures with many sections cutout in the deck and net-enclosed cages hanging down, and a kitchen and dining area. (though I believe the ones we saw were mainly for tourists.) There was a large variety of fish including small & huge grouper, barramundi, shrimp, stingrays, crabs and lobster. Pick one out and it will be on the grill in a couple minutes! Not cheap. Here is a link to a modern aquaculture business.
Leaving the floating docks our captain motored out into the ocean which was beautiful and calm as we cruised along white sand beaches between rocky cliffs and boulders. The finishing touch was passing near a small school of porpoise feeding on some schooling baitfish. Nice!
Wind and waves in front of our room were typically dead calm in the mornings affording an amazing view of several small islets spread across the horizon. Perfect place for morning coffee. Every day a group of several men came by with rakes and bags, cleaning trash and leaves from the beach, so this was one of the cleanest we have enjoyed. We were perfectly happy to hang around all day just reading and relaxing, and walking next door or down the beach to No-Name for some food.
Susie starting chatting with Viviana & Julian, the delightful couple next door, who were on an extensive vacay with their 8 month old son Oliver. They met while working for IBM in their home country of Argentina, and moved to the Netherlands about a year ago and love it there. Ko Lipe, Thailand is only about 50km away and they were heading over there the following day. Once again the Amazing Sue found an incredible deal for 3 nights on Ko Lipe so – why not?
No "Fast Boat" this time – boat service was a diesel powered passenger ship this carried about 120 people in 2 enclosed cabins. Kind of slow and shaky, but we made it in 2 hours, where we were ferried to shore in small long-tail boats. Everybody line up to go through customs and immigration, then a 10 minute truck ride to the resort on the east side.
Ko Lipe is a gorgeous, tiny island that you could bike across in 30 minutes, surrounded by coral reefs and the sparkling waters of the Andaman Sea. Three main beaches grace the island between rocky granite shorelines, and many large and small resorts, bungalows and homestays are available for guests. High season starts in mid-October so we had 3 nights at the amazing Mali Sunrise Resort before the rates tripled.
Our huge room had lovely hardwood floors and arched ceiling, a beautiful wooden desk and large wardrobe, sofa and hi-def TV. Large modern bath and shower. When we mentioned the Internet kept dropping they promptly brought us a little WiFi amplifier that fixed it perfectly. The porch looked out on the huge swimming pool surrounded by lawn chairs, tables and umbrellas. Facing the beach was a restaurant, bar and sundeck, where the sumptuous complimentary breakfast was served. I could get used to this!
The main activity on the island is walking down the main road (and I use that term loosely) unimaginatively named Walking Street, and it is always quite amusing. Many of the shopkeepers are actively hawking their wares to the passersby, so you always hear a voice calling “massaaaaage”, or “fish todaaaaaayyyyy”. Mama Yoohoo is usually standing outside her resto in the evenings calling her signature “yoohoo – comein, comein”. We ate there one day – it was ok – Susie didn’t care for her soup. Next time we ate at the restaurant across from her – she didn’t like that.
Tropical Café caught my eye the first day with a promise of Eggs Benedict, so in we went. It was super delicious, and the WiFi was super fast, and the recorded music was good, so went back several times. Always tasty. Between there and several other places we sampled a variety of local Thai & Asian food, as well as pizza, and many variations of coffee and fruit juices.
After only a day I developed an earache, which is something that has plagued me since childhood. Next day it was worse which prompted a trip to the clinic on Walking Street. The lady doctor was very friendly and professional, and after examining and prescribing antibiotic pills and drops, she chatted about all manner of homeopathic remedies and philosophies for an hour, and probably would have continued on if another patient had not arrived. So much for diving this week.
But that’s ok, because the good dive spots are over an hour away by boat, and not spectacular by many accounts. And we are feeling a bit lazy, and quite content to wake up, have some coffee and breakfast, and laze around reading, writing or just watching the ocean, and then walking around for dinner.
Knowing our time was limited at Mali Sunrise, we walked the beach on the south side, stopping to look at rooms and check rates on several places. The beach over here was really spectacular! Florida has some amazing beaches so that is the Gold Standard we measure all others by, and Pattaya Beach comes up a winner. The white sand is powdery and clean, with a large shoreline even at high tide. It is a long beach with dramatic rocky points at each end. There were very few boats anchored in front of the beach, but that may change as the weather changes and more boats move around here from the east side. Most days the sea was so calm it mirrored the sky perfectly, creating gorgeous, surreal sunsets where the sky and horizon blended together.
Sita Beach Resort was very nice but the rooms in our price range were about 4,738 steps up the hill, by the 2nd pool. This was where Viv & Julian moved to, but we selected Dong Talay nearby, which had very basic grounds and pool and our bungalow was nice and directly on the beach. They also had a (much smaller) included breakfast, and paid dinner and bar. The lady owner and managers Lee & Don were super friendly and helpful, and we were all fast friends before we left.
9 nights on Ko Lipe – um, what did we do? Well, besides eating & drinking we both got our hair cut one day, so that’s a big event these days, lol. Paddled a kayak around the bay and just floated in the water – enjoying the perfect, warm salt water. Walked next door and visited with Viv & Julian while swimming in their pool. We will miss them as they are leaving soon to head back to Argentina for a while.
Time to head back to Langkawi, means back to immigration. Stand in line for that, then stand around a long time waiting for the little longtail boats to ferry us back to the big boat. Many more people going this time than the first crossing. Walking out of the harbor terminal in Langkawi I see a Kenny Rogers Roasters across the street! There used to be one in Ft Lauderdale 20 years ago and I loved their food – kind of like a Boston Market. I thought they had gone out of biz – maybe only in FTL? Always reminds me of the Seinfeld Episode where the KRR sign keeps Kramer awake all night! Lunch was pretty good – almost as I remembered.
Back in room 2D at Labu Labi we settle in for a few more days. This is Friday which means the Night Market is very close to us in Ayer Hangat, so we put on our walking feet and head that way. There were hundreds of little stalls selling different types of food, many of which were unrecognizable to us. It was also quite busy with large crowds of people walking through and sampling the wares. We tried several tasty dishes including spinach/bean sprout fritters, jack fruit, peanuts, mango shake & custard pie. Yumm.
Sunday (20/10/19) we took a GRAB over to the west end of Langkawi to see the waterfall and ride the cable car. Langkawi was fairly quiet until the 1980s when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad decided to promote the island since the curse of Mahsuri had finally expired. One of the attractions he envisioned was the Skycab cable car that rises 2.2km from Oriental Village to the peak of Gunung Machinchang, 680 meters above sea level.
Dropped off in the parking lot for Seven Wells Waterfall, we started the hike up some pretty steep steps, in 90 degree heat with plenty of sun, pausing a couple of times for some water. 15 minutes later we can hear the falls and see more people, and also quite a few monkeys scampering around, prompting us to stash our water bottles inside our backpack. Good thing too, because as we approach the falls, I see a monkey run up and grab a water bottle out of an unsuspecting tourist’s hand!
Known locally at Telaga Tujuh, Seven Wells Waterfall is named for the seven pools of water below the falls, and there are quite a few people of all ages and nationalities enjoying the area. There is a good flow of water falling about 90 meters into the main pool, full of smooth and slippery granite rocks and stones, and the water is not too cold. So – in we go! Ahhhhhhh………..
About 40 minutes later we notice some dark clouds beginning to form above the mountain and figure we might need to shove on. Opting to leave our wet clothes on we start the descent which is easier going down with the clouds lowering the air temperature somewhat. The starting point for the Skycab is in Oriental Village so we proceed over a short swinging bridge into a large shopping/entertainment area – not unlike Disney Springs or Universal City Walk on a (much) smaller scale. By the time we reach the Skycab ticket office it is starting to sprinkle, and a sign says the Skywalk at the top is closed.
Time for Plan B – let’s get some food and/or drinks! We choose a Chinese shop and had some delicious Caramel Coffee and fried noodles while it poured rain for an hour. Strolling around the shops later in a slight drizzle, I bought a box of Tiramisu chocolates and watched some good-sized water monitor lizards swimming in the pond. Then back to Labu Labi.
Next day we figure we will get to the cable car early to beat the rain, and arrive about 11am, going through a short line to get in a 6 passenger car. It takes about 15 minutes to ride to the top, and the views of the island to the south along the coast are wonderful. When we reach the top the clouds have rolled in and obscured most of the view. The Skywalk suspension bridge, which is an optional charge, is almost totally immersed in cloud so we decide to skip it. Boo. Still a nice experience.
We have greatly enjoyed our time on Langkawi and Ko Lipe, and have made some wonderful new friends. Edy had to go back to the mainland the day after we returned to Labu Labi, and that place was not as much fun without his smiling face. I never got around to having a lobster on Langkawi, so that is one reason to return. And so far, Ko Lipe is the closest to an idyllic tropical island to hang out on – but it is not that secluded. Not anymore. Guess we will keep looking……
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