Of the many things that will win your heart when you go Malaysia’s Langkawi archipelago, it’s the wildlife that will probably stay uppermost in yours and your kids’ minds. Getting so close to some of the creatures that you will encounter here is a dream for nature-loving children like my David Attenbourgh obsessed nine-year-old son.
Having barely arrived at our hotel – the stylish, colonial-style Danna in a sheltered harbour on the west coast – we headed off on a mangrove boat trip with Dev’s Adventure Tours. Guided by the charming Khirien, we set off first for the Gua Kelawar or Bat Cave, part of the Kilim Geopark area of mangrove forests, lagoons and beaches, and home to a large population of fruit bats in an atmospheric setting of stalactites and stalagmites. Coming out of the cave into a tangle of mangrove roots and small tidal pools occupied by crab and mudskippers (crawling fish), you’ll feel you’ve entered some prehistoric realm – a sensation that will permeate many of your adventures on Langkawi (an incredible experience for junior dino-lovers such as my son).
'The tour also included a stop-off on the most idyllic sliver of tropical beach, where we swam amidst flying fish in a blood-warm sea to the sound of monkeys and hornbills in the forested peaks around, and concluded with a cheap but delicious lunch in the floating restaurant Hole in the Wall.'
Other creatures we spotted on this wonderful boat tour were cobras, wrapped around mangroves, and sea eagles (the bird for which Langkawi was named) - both the reddish-brown Brahminy kites and the white-bellied versions. To see these majestic beings wheeling overhead is quite spectacular, but do choose an eco-friendly firm such as Dev’s to ensure that you’re not perpetuating the feeding of the birds with chicken-skins by less responsible operators, which diminishes the animals’ natural ability to hunt. The tour also included a stop-off on the most idyllic sliver of tropical beach, where we swam amidst flying fish in a blood-warm sea to the sound of monkeys and hornbills in the forested peaks around, and concluded with a cheap but delicious lunch in the floating restaurant Hole in the Wall.
After such adventures, the Danna Langkawi is the perfect place to retreat to. Set on a gorgeous white-sand beach looking out toward a couple of artificial islands created to protect against the unlikely event of a tsunami, this grand white-painted edifice offers stylish, spacious rooms and suites and is imminently also opening a number of beachfront villas. The centrepiece of our sea-view accommodation was a deep bath with sliding wooden doors so that you look out across the bedroom to the glittering waters beyond.
As well as a gasp-inducing three-tier infinity pool, the Danna has a children’s pool, a free kids’ club with activities including fish-feeding in the courtyard pools, beansprout-planting and Malaysian chess, and a games room – ideal for parents who want to snatch some pampering time at the excellent spa (although all guests get a fantastic 10-minute complimentary neck and shoulder massage on check in). The three on-site restaurants comprise a high-end Italian called The Terrace, the gourmet Planter’s with its innovative local and international dining (as well as daily champagne breakfasts!), and – my favourite – the casual Straits & Co with British-Malay dishes and afternoon teas. Don’t miss the mango lassi or the Gulai ikan fish curry.
But while it was tempting to just hang out at the Danna’s pools and or on the beach, we set off for more thrills and wildlife – this time courtesy of Umgawa Zipline Eco Adventures. Now, my kids and I are not strangers to exciting zipwires, but this is in a league of its own: the two-hour Big Waterfall Adventure takes you flying through the rainforest at a height of up to 80m, with 12 zipwires, three ropebridges and a final abseil to contend with. This was a proper challenge for me as I am no lover of heights, but it’s worth being brave just to be up in the treetops soaking up the views not only of the forest and the sea, but also of the impressive Seven Wells waterfall and of animals including flying lemurs, dusky leaf monkeys and some rather large but harmless spiders! Size dictates the minimum age for this activity, but in general it’s recommended for ages five plus, and there’s a shorter one-hour tour if you prefer.
The Danna is also very handily located for one of Langkawi’s main tourist sights, the Sky Bridge. Accessed by cable-car and then the Skyglide funicular, this modern structure snakes above the rainforest 660m above sea level, for incredible views of surrounding islands accompanied by waves of cicada chirps rolling through the trees. The cable-car brings you back down to earth at the Oriental Village, a strange but fun medley of shops and attractions including quad-biking and Segway. We loved the short but intensive Skyrex 4D dinosaur experience and the utterly bonkers 3D Art Museum, where selfie-lovers go into paroxysms posing amidst optical illusions.