Island life in Malaysia

by Dan.Hipgrave

The island of Langkawi is part of a beautiful archipelago of tropical islands - just the place for a first-time fishing trip

It wasn’t exactly challenging, considering where best to embark on my virgin fishing voyage. Either the ponds on Hampstead Heath near my north London home, on a cold rainy morning, with maybe the chance of catching a couple of scrawny polluted fish; or Langkawi, an idyllic island off the west coast of Malaysia with its crystal-clear warm waters heaving with juicy fish. After some long and careful thought I went with the latter. A fine choice, I feel.
OK, it’s a long way to go for a spot of fishing but Langkawi is the sort of dreamy holiday destination one doesn’t need too many reasons to visit. Only an hour from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, it's an archipelago of 99 islands near the border of southern Thailand. The small islands protrude out of the electric turquoise water like turtle shells, every inch covered in lush green foliage. It all looks rather beautiful.
The main island itself is full of natural beauty, with fascinating geological landscapes including a million-year-old rainforest, a mangrove and some enchanting waterfalls. My first impressions of the island were of surprise at its modern touches and cosmopolitan lifestyle. With great restaurants such as Sun café in the Pantai Tengah area and Bon Ton in Pentai Cenang, both with superior al fresco menus and modern interior design, you feel far from a small island yet still get that island vibe. The people are infectiously friendly, with impeccable manners, making me feel I was the only visitor who mattered. Before even arriving at my hotel I could tell by the plethora of fishing boats on the horizon and roadside market stalls that fishing here is a serious business!
Luxury base
My hotel was the divine Four Seasons Resort in the Tanjung Rhu area on the northeast side of the island. Unlike other five-star luxury hotels, this one was suitably understated. The entrance wasn’t shouting out with pillars and flags; it was more Moorish elegance. The philosophy behind this stunning architecture is to lure the guest in and let the natural beauty do the talking. Set on a long stretch of private white sandy beach, the buildings blended harmoniously into the peripheral landscape of rainforest and wondrous limestone cliffs. With private villas the size of most folks' homes this could well be heaven!
It’s the little touches that make this resort one of the best I’ve stayed in. Each guest is allocated a mountain bike to explore the island if they wish. It’s also handy for getting around the sprawling hotel complex, which is linear in design, giving the impression it’s larger than it is. With only 90 rooms, it’s nearer to a boutique-size hotel than an international chain.
After checking in to my room, I lunched with Aidi the on-site naturalist at the exquisite Kafe Kelapa. As I tucked in to my (rather posh) crab and lobster wrap, Aidi proceeded to explain the week’s activities. He’d arranged for a twin 250 horse power fishing boat to take us out to the south islands around Pulau Dayang Bunting, where he promised some interesting catch, including grouper, red snapper and maybe even some squid.
Touring the island
Although fishing was my priority, some of the other excursions were excellent too. There is plenty to do in Langkawi. The mangrove forest tour was fascinating. Our small boat weaved itself through the magical ecosystem’s veritable maze, discovering nature at its wonderful best. Tangled overhanging fauna with its genius reproduction systems, hilarious spitting fish that could fire a direct hit onto their target with 100% accuracy, caves inhabited with thousands of sleeping bats, and imperious eagles swooping hypnotically above our heads... at times it felt as if we’d entered a lost world. With Aidi’s knowledge of the natural environment and Malaysian life, I learned a thing or two also.
Morning activities included a wonderful and much advised mountain bike ride through the tranquil padi fields. The morning is far cooler; temperatures at midday reach 35° year round. The bike ride took us through landscapes simply begging to be painted and passed through villages like Ayer Hangat, where locals live with such simplicity and are so seemingly happy, it asked questions of my own city lifestyle. Another first for me was aqua yoga; self-consciously I bent my body into positions I didn’t know possible and quite enjoyed it!
Going fishing
But that wasn’t what I came for, and the morning we set out on our mammoth fishing trip I became nervous at the possibility of returning empty-handed. After all, I’d come a long way. Arriving at Kuah town royal yachting club we boarded our sleek-looking vessel equipped with rods, nets, squid bait and the essential cooler of beer. The three crew members and I set out beyond the dotted islands and anchored in a ‘good spot’. Flinging my bait out to sea like a golfer taking his first swing, it was quiet and relaxing. Every time I felt a pull on my bait I reeled in the line to find it was simply the cunning fish ignoring the rules of engagement by stealing the bait without biting the hook. Towards the end, just as I started to lose faith, there was a big tug - and after a manic turning of the reel, there it was in all its glory: my first ever catch, a foot-long grouper. 
Looking back on the island from my boat I realised what a great choice I’d made in coming to Langkawi, an island of understated style and beauty and, unlike other destinations, still in control of its own destiny. I hope I don’t return one day to find it over-developed - or over-fished!


Dan Hipgrave made his name as the guitarist in rock band Toploader. He now travels the world as a journalist, writing regularly for publications such as The Independent, The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. He also presents a regular travel item on BBC2's Market Kitchen. Dan believes the best way to truly discover a place is to immerse into local cultures and hang out with locals - they always know best! Favourite places: Andalucia Fes / Marrakech and anywhere in South East Asia