Malaysia's Lankawi offers a playground for adults and children alike, writes Paul Chai.
Who knew that romance lurked in the shade of a 3.5 metre, water-spouting plastic dinosaur? The folks at the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa on Langkawi Island in Malaysia did when they installed the kids' water park just an ice cube's throw from the far-more-adult spa pool. Here my wife and I sprawl on rattan sofas, keeping our kids close and our tropical drinks even closer.
The recently renovated Meritus Pelangi Beach is 14 hectares of traditional Malay kampung-inspired housing on Pantai Cenang (Cenang Beach), a wide strip of sand that faces a cluster of plump green offshore islands between which the sun lays its head each night. We have come to Langkawi for a family getaway, but I have an ulterior motive to snatch some time away from the kids and bring back the romance. It may be a little early for Valentine's Day, but I'm still going to try to get cupid to draw back his bow.
To this end, and for the first time, I am staying at a "family" resort hoping there are enough things to distract the kids so that we parents can finish a conversation, or even a sentence, and so far, with the help of a plastic dinosaur, it's working.
That said, we still have children so we have spent the morning wandering the grounds, collecting coconuts and trying to smash them open, playing on swings we found on the resort grounds and trying our hand at mini-golf where the kids squeal with joy as they putt into the mouth of a giant concrete crocodile. I have also shared a beverage at the swim-up bar in the Cascade Pool, but it was with my two sons while my wife took a nap back in the room. Romantic, no? Well, it's time for the kiddies to take a back seat and let the adults drive.
We return from poolside drinks early evening, settle the kids with our babysitter and head to the beach for a candlelit dinner; a four-course treat including goats cheese ravioli with morel mushroom cream sauce and a bottle of bubbly. Our table is right on the beach beneath a private cabana, gauzy white curtains billowing in the sea air, it couldn't get any more starry-eyed if the late Barry White flapped into view holding a tiny bow and arrow.
The Meritus tries to be all things to all people and for the most part it manages this. It is a huge resort sprawled along the sand, so big that even a conference being held here does little to interfere with our dinner, except for when the after dinner movie starts on a nearby outdoor screen.
However, dessert is over as the movie begins, so we could use a stroll and wander along Pantai Cenang past revellers gathered around beach bonfires and shishas, couples on towels with just their smartphones for light and kids out past their bedtime.
Our destination is Little Lylia's Chillout Café, a tip from a local we met where tables are planted at skewed angles in the sand and the service is, well, chilled. When our drinks arrive the live music kicks off, a mellow set that manages to reggae-fy everything from Adele to Coldplay.
Little Lylia's is the perfect beach bar you would dream up. There is a nightly sunset barbecue, local art hanging from bamboo beams and thongs are considered formal wear. Firelight, feet in the sand, cold beer and a hot date, Little Lylia's is big on romance. We walk home along the beach almost remembering life pre-kids.
The following day, we set off to explore the interior of the island. Langkawi has as its main attraction a lush jungle and busy cable car, but as crowds and terrified wives (fear of heights) are far from the romantic ideal, we drive to the less-touristy Temurun Waterfall a little further north.
The highest waterfall on the island is at 30 metres, where the water tumbles down into a chilly pool popular with young local boys who leap from the waterfall face.My wife is also keen on a dip so we strip off and take the plunge into the bracing water, the locals encouraging us to climb the rock face with them, though we are nowhere near as fleet of foot.
What is more lovey-dovey than a spontaneous waterfall swim? One without a four-year-old clinging to your back, I suppose. I do manage a bit of chivalry on the return to the car when we find it has been surrounded by a gang of marauding macaques (my wife also has a monkey phobia). I make my way through the monkey mafia as they lean nonchalantly on the car with looks that tell me to feed them or I will be sleeping with the fishes. I beep and rev and the gang slowly moves, and so do we.
Kids, phobias, hectic schedules and juggling work and play – these things can all take the shine off romance. But as we drive back to our beachside bungalow then spend a sunset burying our three-year-old up to his neck in sand and sculpting him the body of a mermaid, I think our weekend on Langkawi, known as the jewel of Malaysia's Kedah province, has put some sparkle back into it.
The writer was a guest of the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa.
Major airlines like Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com) and Malaysian Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com) fly direct to Langkawi from Sydney and Melbourne, but it is more common to transit via Singapore. Several low-cost carriers service Langkawi regularly from Singapore including Tigerair (tigerair.com), Air Asia (airasia.com) and Jetstar (jetstar.com).
The Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa on Cenang Beach offers a family-friendly stay that uses traditional Malay architecture as the inspiration for its generously sized rooms. Double rooms from MYR752.
Get great local meals at Pelangi's Spice Market restaurant. Grab a beach BBQ at Little Lilya's Chillout Café (Pantai Cenang, access via the beach); tuck into beachfront fish and chips at Scarborough's Fish & Chips (Lot 1388, Jalan Tanjung Rhu, Mukin Air Hangat).