Every now and again, my wife and I get some baby-sitters, and jet off somewhere exotic for a child free week. Sometimes we hire a car, but if it's a nice warm place, she lets me hire a bike instead and we explore on two wheels.
February 2005 saw one such occasion.
We scoured the internet for somewhere to go at short notice, and came up with Langkawi, an island in Malaysia. We nearly always pick unusual locations, and it's nice to go somewhere hot, in contrast to dismal Winter months back home.
In this case, there was slightly more to it than that. The time was only a few months after the Tsunami which devasted many parts of South East Asia. I firmly believed in the premise that the best thing you can do for these communities, is to get back out there, and spend some money to help them rebuild.
We tracked down and pre-booked a self-catering chalet at the Mutiara Buru Bay resort, in the North of the island, only about 10 miles North of the airport. We took a taxi from airport to hotel, but less than 24 hours had gone by before we hired a little bike to travel around on. I say "little bike" - it was tiny - but to them it was "BIG" and it's the best there was. It was a single cylinder four-stroke of 150 or 175cc I think. Utter crap really, but that's not the point. It's just good to be on a bike, in an alluring destination, with the warm wind in your hair.
As opposed to a Mondeo Estate, in the UK drizzle, with screaming kids in the back.
I can't even remember the make of the rental bike. It was some cheap unknown-brand copy of a Honda CB125 I think, Styled in the popular Asian easy-rider look. It was slow and handled really badly with us two lumps on board. The first one we got was yellow and had an awful carburation problems. At constant throttle it surged all the time, and would sometimes actually accelerate, when you rolled back the throttle to slow down. We swapped it for the green one pictured. Some hawk-eye should be able to remind me what make it was.
This is only a snapshot review, co I'll be brief.
The climate is hot & humid, with air temperatures about 35-40 degrees C, and the sea not much cooler. The sea was pleasant to swim in, although not cyrstal clear, and there were quite a few jellyfish about. We suffered minor stings virtually every time we went in, but these were just a minor irritation.
The hotel had a nice sanitised pool, for non-adventurers, although the unscheduled entry of a 7 foot long Monitor Lizard one day emptied it in minutes.
The island is not big. About the size of the Isle of Man perhaps - something like 30 miles from top to bottom. The roads are not stunning, there's little gradient, although some sections are nice and twisty, with coastal and jungle sections. The place is a little scruffy, but in hindsight, we think a lot of this was Tsunami damage which left a lot of debris which hadn't been cleared up.
There are some impressive (ish) mountains in the North East of the island, but these are reached by an amazing new cable car, not by road.
It's very much an Islamic state. In the current climate of saying no wrong against Muslims, suffice to say it's different. No alcohol in truly local cafes etc. but don't worry, there's plenty cheap beer and spirits for sale in special tourist shops, and of course toursit hotels have standard Western entertainments. It's only my opinion, but I feel it's a bit "us and them". There isn't the same welcoming smile, and seamless integration you find just over the border in Thailand.
Getting punctures is a frequent occurence, but somehow you find a repair shop within minutes, and it's fixed for about 20p, or however many Ringits that is.
It's primarily a beach holiday, with a bit of biking thrown in. There aren't many genuine natural attractions, and you get the impression they are trying almost too hard to manufacture things for tourists to do, and find ways to extract more of your money.
But accepting it's limitations, it's a great place for a week's escape in Winter.
I'll give it a set of ratings here, from 1 to 5. (one is low = very poor, 5 would be outstanding). This site is for adventurous motorcyclists, so star rating might appear low, for us well-travelled, roughie-toughie bikers. (for example, Langkawi might seem an extremely exotic and adventurous location for a coach potato venturing abroad for the first time. But, it's a jumped up beach resort as far as I'm concerned)
Adventure Factor 3* (of 5)
Quality of rental bikes 1*
Wife friendly factor 5* (book by the pool place mainly)
Would I go back? YES
Good for a specific bike tour? NO