Category Archive for Malaysia
Eco-travel attractions in Langkawi, Malaysia! Mangrove forest nature boat tour, sailing with Casa del Mar hotel.
Straddling a rainbow unicorn — that’s how we ride-or-die!
I think it’s fair to say… Yukiro and I had a magical time at our Malaysia beach resort, Casa del Mar Langkawi.
If you didn’t catch our first post, come take a look: we did a fun review of Casa del Mar.
In Part 2, we’ll venture beyond the hotel and see Langkawi’s famous natural attractions. We joined an eco-tour that let us witness monkeys, eagles, mangroves and caves filled with bats! The hotel staff even took us to their private beach by boat… and I couldn’t resist drawing a pentagram into the sand.
We spent several glorious days relaxing at Casa del Mar, a luxurious yet down-to-earth resort on Pantai Cenang beach. Our villa was footsteps from the beach, so we spent a great deal of time playing in the warm waves of the Andaman Sea.
Yukiro and I met an Asian couple with an inflatable unicorn floaty. They were kind enough to let us sit on the mystical creature — complete with a golden horn, rainbow-colored mane and tail!
Isn’t this the cutest swimming pool lounger? This exact unicorn float is for sale here and below (click thumbnails for details).
Yukiro and I could have hung out all day at Casa del Mar, sipping dragonfruit cocktails and lounging on the beach. However, we always like to mix it up, and get out to see the local life.
Langkawi, Malaysia is known for its incredible nature… so the hotel generously set us up on an ecological day trip with Dev’s Adventure Tours.
Dev’s Adventure Tours is a local company, with fluent guides who are clearly passionate about preserving and appreciating their natural surroundings. They offer a variety of tour packages that let you get close to the flora and fauna of Langkawi, without harming the environment. These include kayaking, cycling, jungle treks… but as you might guess, we “non-sporty types” went for a half-day boat ride through the mangroves and islands.
The tour company picked us up in a group shuttle in the morning. We soon arrived at Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, where we found ourselves surrounded by spectacular limestone caves and lush foliage.
When Yukiro and I heard that we’d be seeing Langkawi bats in a cave, we literally cheered! Our guide Kieran brought us into a deep cave, and briefly shone up a flashlight so we could see this Gothic sight: a colony of black bats, hanging upside-down from the ceiling.
The “Kelawar Cave” or Bats’ Cave is about 60 meters long, and located in the heart of Kilim mangrove swamps. Hundreds, if not thousands of these vampiric creatures live inside.
The sign outside describes how important they are to the ecosystem, particularly by aiding pollination and keeping insect populations at bay.
The bats truly look like like Count Dracula, wrapped in capes…. and waiting to suck your blood!
But seriously though: these Malaysian bats feed mainly on fruits. Our guide explained that there are three different species that “hang out” here, and ways we could identify them (body size, shape of nose). The biggest danger is accidentally touching their guano or excrement, but the cavern is well maintained by the geo-park staff.
We also admired the cave’s dramatic stalactites (that “hang tight” from the ceiling) and stalagmites, which come together to form a single curtain. These eerie formations look like alien teeth, or something from the mind of H. R. Giger.
Outside, our guide Kieran pointed out a pit viper snake with an arrow-shaped head. We stepped carefully towards it: sudden, close movements might make the serpent pounce and inflict a venomous bite.
We took a brief walk through the forested paths. Many species live in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, and can be heard or spotted: otters, birds, tree crabs, lizards.
Looks like this monkey is mooning us! These long tailed or crab-eating macaques are a common sight in Langkawi, Malaysia.
These fuzzy creatures have become accustomed to humans, which makes them rather naughty. They have bite, and come up to steal food and water bottles from visitors — so be prepared.
It’s too bad that many tourists are careless or unaware, and try to feed the monkeys. It’s best to leave the macaques to their natural behaviors and watch them from afar. (Not a bad place to get a back-scratch.)
Our group got onto the small boat, and we sailed past Langkawi’s limestone cliffs, tropical foliage and warm beaches. I loved watching the scenery pass by from the bow.
We got up-and-close with the mangrove forests: these intricate networks of roots, trees and water that form a dynamic ecosystem. The habitat houses all types of creatures, and protects coastlines from strong waves and winds.
Kieran reminded us of the devastating 2004 tsunami in Malaysia; thanks to the natural barriers of the mangroves, Langkawi was saved from much of the destruction.
He and the captain had a keen eye for spotting camouflaged creatures. He pointed out a blue kingfisher (tiny colorful bird found in Southeast Asia), and this spotted snake (can you see it, disguised as a branch in the middle of the photo)? On some tours, guests even see sharks and dolphins.
The boat sped up, and we went further out into the Andaman Sea. We watched giant eagles swoop and dive into the waters — such majesty! In Langkawi, there are two species: white-bellied sea eagles and Brahminy kites.
Dev’s Adventure Tours puts eco-preservation first, and therefore doesn’t feed the eagles. It’s important that these powerful birds are not dependent on humans, for the sake of the next generations.
Out to sea. We stopped by a secluded island with a white sand beach. Yukiro did a hand-stand in the waters!
Our crew ended the day with lunch, which was included in the boat trip package. Cheers to Dev’s Adventure Tours for the knowledgeable, eco-focused tour of Langkawi’s mangroves and wildlife.
As we waited for our pick-up, I couldn’t resist snapping this photo. How interesting to see the way many Muslim women dress on vacation: full-coverage burkas and sunglasses! I don’t know how they powered through the sweltering heat.
Another day, another adventure. Our hotel Casa del Mar Langkawi offers their own experience packages for guests as well. These activity options include a fishing trip and castaway beach picnic. We went for “Island Hopping,” as we were keen to see more of Langkawi’s 99 isles.
Casa del Mar drove us to a local pier, and our captain took us sailing on a private boat.
Close-up on my blue-eyed skirt: it’s from Print All Over Me and designed by Coucou Suzette. To avoid bug bites, I always cover my limbs in these climates: I’m wearing Joy Division Unknown Pleasures leggings.
Yukiro and I sailed past the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden (Pulau Dayang), which has a mountain range that resembles a pregnant belly. Our captain told us about the mysterious legend, and how many women come here to increase their chances of fertility.
We said hello to the eagles, and set anchor at Casa del Mar’s private beach. I loved the Robinson Crusoe feeling of being alone on an island (I made my mark, by drawing this pentacle into the sand!) Our captain brought out a cooler filled with juices, fruits and sandwiches; we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach, followed by a swim and sun-bathing.
We also made a stop at Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park, where visitors can rent swan-shaped boats to take out into the lake. However, I wasn’t fond of the touristy feeling of that place; my happy place is on a private Malaysian beach like this one!
For those who love to get deep into nature, Langkawi is a wonderful destination. I encourage you to tread lightly and take an educational tour, as it’s important to preserve the local wildlife while we can.
Did you have fun reading about our Casa del Mar Langkawi adventures? Have you ever seen bats or monkeys up-close, like we did?
(PS – you can get this fun unicorn floaty here and below, you know you want one!)
The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur hotel review! Malaysia hipster districts & shops, SS15 Subang Jaya, cassette culture.
Current obsessions: Cassette tapes, holographic bags, fishnets and unicorn hair!
This summer, I finally got a chance to visit Kuala Lumpur with Yukiro. Malaysia’s capital is not known as a subcultures destination… but you can depend on us to dig up some indie places. Keep reading for our guide to hipster / youth culture neighborhoods in Kuala Lumpur!
KL is a city of opulence, and we were excited to stay in style at The Ritz-Carlton hotel…
I think this photo sums up the feeling of “The Ritz,” which is consistently named one of the world’s best luxury hotel companies. No matter where you are, you can rely on exquisite furnishings and personalized attention from the staff. (You might recall my stay with The Ritz-Carlton Bali, in 2015.)
The hospitality began at the airport, where Yukiro and I were met by a private driver with a sign. When we arrived at The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur, the staff was waiting at the door to greet us by name, and take us to our suite.
My jaw dropped when I saw these sweets on the dining table. The Ritz-Carlton truly went above and beyond: the staff researched our aesthetic, and customized pastries to welcome us! Devil horn cupcakes, black and pink macaroons, dark chocolates… they nailed it.
It’s these small touches that make the brand stand out. Yukiro and I quickly posed for this photo before devouring the raspberry and blackberry macaroons.
The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur is located right in the city center, near all the major landmarks. Our two-bedroom suite had this view of KL Tower and surrounding skyscrapers, which took on a Blade Runner vibe at sunset.
Address: 168, Jalan Imbi, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We couldn’t believe the size of our luxury suite. 1,885 square feet with two bedrooms, a spacious living / dining room, full kitchen, and more bathrooms than we could count (we kept on opening doors and discovering more!). The space is decorated with elegance, and equipped with the latest technology to satisfy both business and leisure travelers.
Outfit of the day: I’m in a 80s retrowave mood, and couldn’t resist this glitter fanny pack by Spiral UK. I haven’t worn a belted retro-style pouch since my visit to Disney World in the early 1990s!
My crop top is this exact Michi Onyx bra. More designs from this label below:
Yukiro and I had fun strutting down this long hallway, which opened into the living room like a catwalk.
No need to be a water-bearer: the Ritz-Carlton has 24 hour in-room dining, laundry and valet. Since we were staying in this luxurious suite, we also had butler service at our beck and call.
The Ritz-Carlton’s pools and gardens are always beautifully designed. Love the stepping-stones over the swimming pool, and tropical foliage.
Not a bad place to lounge, wouldn’t you say?
The terrace feels like a secluded garden, even though the hotel is located in the bustling “Golden Triangle” district. It’s an easy walk to nearby shopping malls, as well as the entertainment / restaurant hub of Bukit Bintang.
We wandered through The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur’s meeting / conference / event rooms…
… and leapt for joy when we saw this futuristic art space.
We loved chatting with our outstanding guest services liaison, Stefano. We asked him about alternative culture in Kuala Lumpur, and he passionately recommended that we visit SS15, a hip district in Subang Jaya. He snapped this photo of us, helped us call an Uber, and we were on our way.
I came across an article about Teenage Head Records online, and decided this should be our first stop. Located in SS14, this fabulous record store is family-owned and run. The posters on the doors featured grunge, punk, indie and underground bands… all signs point to Yes.
As you can see from the DIY signs, the music shop celebrates “Cassette Store Day.” Every October 17, fans gather and pay tribute to the analog format that defined the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Inside, it felt like a party. Co-owner Radzi greeted us like friends, and joked that “Sigue Sigue Sputnik has arrived!” His young daughter hung out on the couch, engrossed with solving a Rubik’s Cube.
The staff is passionate about music, especially obscure bands and nostalgic formats. I was excited to run my fingers through several boxes of cassettes, featuring both regional and international artists. There are even cassette decks for sale, in case you’ve decluttered your old Sanyo or Teac player.
If you prefer to listen to vinyl, Teenage Head Records has got you covered. I spot Bowie, Queen and Tupac — there’s a wide selection of musical genres here.
I’m in throwback mode to the 1980s and 90s these days, perhaps due to the dreadful world affairs right now (in comparison, these decades seem like a golden age). It’s fun to rewind a cassette and blast synthpop, and pretend you’ve night-riding through Miami in 1987.
I was excited to turn up Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration, perhaps my favorite DM album. It was a must-get, and only about $2 US. (Remember when I visited the Depeche Mode theme bar in Tallinn, Estonia?)
Kuala Lumpur is a conservative city compared to other Asian metropolises – but we can always find pockets of alt culture!
Take a ride to Teenage Head Records, and maybe you’ll pick up a cassette or two as well. (I got this Malaysian mix of Italo Disco songs, win.)
Another day, another outfit. My seeing-eye skirt is by Print All Over Me. Anyone can customize a “template” such as this miniskirt, and create their own designs printed to order! PAOM also collaborates with fab artists, so there are thousands of designs you can choose from.
It matches my Spiral UK iridescent backpack – love the unicorn mermaid metallic look, which shifts and shines under the sun. This backpack is lightweight but sturdy, and comes in various finishes including rainbow sequins, black glitter and more below.
My geometric Ouija board cropped top is by Long Clothing.
Malaysia is a Muslim country, and the culture veers on the conservative side. In Kuala Lumpur, you won’t find a crazy youth culture hub like Harajuku in Tokyo, Hongdae in Seoul, or even Causeway Bay in Hong Kong.
Subang Jaya’s SS15 district would be the closest it comes to a neighborhood like this. There are several colleges in this area, and students come to this entertainment / shopping hub to hang out.
Cosans Coffee is a popular meeting spot in SS15. The drinks and snacks are excellent (and inexpensive).
If you’re in the mood for a drink or Malaysian food, there are plenty of choices in this area. And if you’re looking for something to do, we spotted pool centers and even a virtual reality gaming lounge.
We popped into the small stores found in SS15. Loved the mission of I Am Lejen, a bookstore that encourage youths to read and be part of their community. The cute lion logo sums up the mission of empowerment.
Lejen publishes paperbacks by emerging local authors, in small runs. The books are in both Malay and English, and always have eye-catching graphic covers.
The street art on the staircase was calling out for a photoshoot. Upstairs, I Am Lejen has a vape shop, and a boutique that sells clothes with positive messages.
Horror, cassettes and videotape… these are my type of paperbacks,
Lejen also carries works from local independent presses. We encourage you to swing by to give them some support.
Many women in Kuala Lumpur wear headscarves or more (I counted nine burkas in my customs line at the airport). Even if you cover up, you can dress fabulously at November Culture, an independent lifestyle store in SS15.
The shop is founded by Malaysian singer Yuna Zarai, and carries her brand 14Nov as well as others. We were impressed by the scarves and long dresses and jumpsuits. The garments covered up limbs and hair, but had creative cuts, colors and sparkling sequins.
When fashion has restrictions, it often encourages creativity. Check out these Malay magazine covers: the women cover up their heads and bodies, yet rock a fierce pastel style.
Before returning, we made an visit to the famous Petronas Twin Towers, conveniently located within walking distance from our hotel. These were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004.
The Petronas towers were designed by Argentinian architect Cesar Pelli. The style is postmodern steel and glass, and makes tributes to Islamic art motifs and Asian culture (there are 88 floors, a lucky number).
It was hot outside.. after a day of exploring, we were relieved to relax back at The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur.
We were regulars at the Club Lounge, which is open to VIP guests. (How could we resist the food and drinks at all hours?) Nay Tun and his team spoiled us with fine wines and freshly prepared dishes, such as Malaysian noodles.
KL is a foodie city, and The Ritz-Carlton delivers with multiple dining options. The Patisserie serves up both freshly-baked sweets and savories. How cute is the teddy bear red velvet cake above?
In the Lobby Lounge, we enjoyed a leisurely Afternoon Tea. The experience was pure “eleganza” – Yukiro and I sank down into plush high-backed chairs, and drank from a perfectly steeped pot of The Ritz-Carlton’s signature tea blend. Our server brought over a three-tiered tray of fresh scones with clotted cream, mini sandwiches, quiches and desserts. We indulged in these treats while listening to a live music quartet play jazz favorites.
Dinner at The Library was equally delightful. I’m a book-lover, and felt at home amidst these colorful shelves filled with volumes about film and art. The cuisine is international fine dining, featuring a daily Menu Du Jour paired with fine wines from around the world.
The deep red wines were a perfect match for our tender steak and salmon. For dessert, our server brought over a rolling cart of in-house sweets; we had a hard time choosing only these three.
To top off the pampering, I visited The Ritz-Carlton spa — talk about “serenity now!” This spa integrates contemporary with ancient Malaysian healing practices, using herbs and oils from the region. The spa menu includes unique offerings such as a “sound bath” and hot stone massages. I went for a treatment named after the Malay princess Tun Teja: a long massage and body scrub, followed by a soak in a giant round tub of milky water topped with rose petals.
Every time I’m at The Ritz-Carlton, I know I can expect a world-class stay like the one I had in Malaysia. The staff works hard and graciously to make every guest’s experience unforgettable. I was especially impressed by the attention to detail: they always greeted us by name, and knew our quirks and interests by heart.
Such as the devil horn red/black cupcakes that they made for us… perfection! Yukiro and I are also both Leos (born in August), and the Ritz’s lion logo felt like our spirit animal.
Have you been to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? Did you find any other hip / underground culture attractions in KL, which you can recommend?
Your favorite Goths on the beach are back!
Yukiro and I spent a few days relaxing in Langkawi, Malaysia — a new destination for both of us. We were transported to paradise the moment we arrived at Casa del Mar Langkawi, a boutique hotel right on the pristine Pantai Cenang beach.
My friends and I like to avoid tourist destinations, so Langkawi was the ideal tropical getaway. You won’t find large crowds or fast food chains here (unlike Thailand’s Phuket, Bali’s Kuta and other southeast Asian resort towns).
I found everything to be in perfect balance: There are top-end hotels, yet the cost of living is inexpensive. The location is quiet, yet there are enough activities to keep you engaged. And as you can see in these photos, the oceanfront is picture-perfect.
Transportation / How to get here: Langkawi is located on the north-west of Peninsula Malaysia. Several low-cost airlines fly regularly between Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, in less than an hour. (There are many direct flights from global cities to KL, making this an easy destination to access.)
Once you land, it’s just a 10 minute car ride to Casa del Mar. (Address: Jalan Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, 07000). The staff greeted us warmly with tropical drinks, and helped us get settled into our villa.
The hotel has 34 bungalow-style suites, each with a memorable name. (We were in Camaron, but I think Eksotic describes Yukiro’s look well!)
At the gate, there’s a jug of water and ladle for washing the sand off your feet. You can also flip a cute wooden sign to “eyes closed” if you don’t want to be disturbed.
Our beach bungalow was thoughtfully equipped with everything we needed for a chilled-out vacation.
The spacious room had both overhead fans and AC, and the staff provided unlimited bottles of mineral water. There was a shower and bathtub, which I enjoyed soaking in with the bath salts provided. In the evenings, we hooked up the computer to the large-screen TV to watch Netflix, while munching on the fresh-baked cookies in the room.
The glass-front sliding doors open up to a gorgeous view of the ocean. Take few steps out of the villa… and you’re right on the beach!
Outfit details: I’m wearing a skull shorter-all (overalls with shorts) by Print All Over Me.
Underneath, I’m wearing a spooky cute tank top by Stella Rose (who did a fashion collaboration with Print All Over Me).
My ear climber has a serpent holding a pentacle in it mouth. These rocking earrings are by the one and only Alex Streeter.
I’m in love with the slow-fashion, artist-supporting mission of Print All Over Me. They release unique silhouettes like these shorter-alls, which anyone can customize with their own colors and illustrations, and then offer for sale.
The garments are well-constructed in sustainable ways, and there are thousands of styles that you can choose from (each is custom-printed to order, so they’ll always have your size).
Yukiro and I always ended up coming back to La Sal pool bar, which is shaded under a palapa. The bartenders know their stuff, and the menu is an enticing mix of both classic and innovative cocktails.
We asked them to custom-make us drinks that suited our tastes, with ingredients like Asian five-spice, lemongrass, ginger and fresh tropical fruits. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but we’ll never forget the dragonfruit cocktail with house-infused spiced rum.
Also a winner: the mojitos with fresh mint, lime and spiced pineapple. We paired these with a roasted pumpkin salad that was bursting with flavor.
Cheers to lounging by the pool, with drink in hand! At full capacity, the hotel only has about 70 guests — which means you never have to fight over space, or deal with rowdy party scenes.
Yukiro demonstrates how to properly recline next to the hot tub.
It’s easy to understand why international guests keep returning to this laid-back palm tree paradise. Casa del Mar has a “fish club” for those who do multiple long-term stays (we saw names from Germany, Sweden, Canada, Japan). Some bring their families here for a month or more.
Every day, we looked forward to breakfast under the veranda. The menu has Malaysia, Asian and continental items that are all made fresh to order (there’s also a buffet area, and a fresh fruit station to my left). Once again, it’s hard to pick a favorite dish, but I kept returning to the eggs Benedict and veggie rice paper rolls.
Casa del Mar has free WiFi throughout the property, and plenty of activities on hand. The lounge area has a great selection of DVDs and books in various languages. Yukiro is excited to see the Japanese and Swedish shelves!
You can also borrow a bicycle to ride around the neighborhood (the hotel is flanked by international restaurants and small shops, which sell inexpensive clothes and souvenirs).
When you get an invitation to try the spa… always say yes.
We had a rejuvenating 60 minute massage at Satkara Spa, in the traditional Malaysian style. The ladies use only organic natural products, such as a bowl of flowers and orange peels to soak our feet. They moved on to healing each part of the body with pressure points and back-tapping, in the ancient tradition.
I think this image sums up the feeling of being on Pantai Cenang beach.
Although this beach is available to anyone, it’s pristine and uncrowded. Casa del Mar sets up private lounge spots on the sand, with umbrellas for cover and pitchers of water for hydration.
The weather was tropical perfection: sunny with a touch of humidity, but never overbearingly hot nor rainy.
Despite the mermaid hair, I’m not much of a swimmer… I’m happy dipping my toes in the foamy ocean waves!
Further down on the beach, there were bars and restaurants that pumped out music and had a club vibe. At Casa del Mar, however, the atmosphere is peaceful: a perfect romantic honeymoon spot.
Langkawi is a laid-back ocean town that attracts both locals and international travelers. You can wear any kind of swimwear here, but since Malaysia is a Muslim country, we saw quite a few burkas on the beach! Very interesting to see the contrast between the couple’s clothing (above).
I think we’ve been out-Gothed by this lady in black.
Such a pleasure to have dinner right on the white sand, at La Luna restaurant. The service is always spot-on: the chef came by to introduce himself and personalize our dishes, and the staff made sure we were taken care of all evening.
You can’t find a better atmosphere than this. We dined while watching the sun set… listening to the sound of the waves, and enjoying the ocean breeze.
The chef made us a special order of laksa (Malaysian noodles in hearty soup), since we requested it! They did a local version with fish broth and pineapple, which differs from the coconut milk curry version I ate in Singapore.
On the right: an oozing chocolate bomb with a warm center, with coconut and mango ice cream. Happiness.
On another evening, La Luna set up the Premium Beach Dining experience for us. We sat closer to the waves and away from the other diners, surrounded by candles and rose petals. (Silly Yukiro, the flowers aren’t part of the meal!)
We’re always keen to try local cuisine, so Casa del Mar prepared a Malaysian tasting menu for us. The highlights included fish in banana leaf, sea bass with sambal, and a strong lemongrass “tom yum” cocktail with chili.
All of the in-house dining has a variety of cuisines, including Mediterranean and Asian, to satisfy any palate.
I think we drank at least a half-dozen dragon fruit cocktails, which matched the colors of the sunset!
Our stay at Casa del Mar was seamless, and the staff anticipated our every need. For instance, our seaview suite came with large beach towels and these thong slippers, which were perfect for a day at the beach.
The hotel offers half-day trips such as fishing, island hopping, picnics and mangrove tours. I’ll show you what we did in the next post — the nature of Langkawi is not to be missed.
Or, you can just hang out under the palm trees, and pet one of the resident cats!
I loved the warm, understated Mediterranean design of the property. Lots of colorful tiles and greenery to enjoy.
No wonder Casa del Mar is part of the Boutique Collection by HPL Hotels and Resorts, as this group is known for its exquisite hospitality. (I stayed with them in the Maldives, at Gili Lankanfushi, as you may remember.)
I hope this photo diary inspires you to travel to Casa del Mar Langkawi, and experience all of this for yourself. I encourage you to choose lesser-known destinations by the ocean, for a more authentic and tranquil stay.
“Terima kasih” to the kind staff, many of whom have been at this hotel for a decade or more. Everyone was wonderful at making you feel at ease; the team was consistently gracious and knew each guest by name. I look forward to coming “home” again soon to the beautiful Casa del Mar.
Have you visited any beach towns in Southeast Asia? Would you make a trip to Langkawi, Malaysia?