Service on our trip was top notch and it started at the Incheon airport in Seoul. We got to the airport in plenty of time (two and a half hours early). As we walked around the airport we found a Korean traditional center that offered activities for waiting travelers. We were invited to paint a traditional design on a fan while we were waiting for our flight. More airports should do this. The calm of the activity made the time fly buy and we got a free souvenir from it.Interacting with other cultures continued throughout the trip. Here are some of the highlights and some other observations and interesting info.
Langkawi gets its name from the eagle or 'helang' in the Malay tongue. 'Lang' for short and in old Malay 'kawi' means reddish brown - thus, Langkawi simply means reddish brown eagle.Malay people were overwhelmingly friendly and ready to cater to tourists. Meals on the island were never served quickly and they truly expected you to sit at the table all evening long and enjoy yourself.
Formerly occupied by the French and later the British before becoming independent, Malaysia is seemingly a mish-mash of cultures. One thing the British left over from their time was the absurdity of driving on the wrong side of the road. We had rented a car and it took a little bit for me to get the hang of it in my little Proton. I didn't have any problem driving on the left. In fact that was actually quite easy. The trouble came when I wanted to turn or shift. I was unaccustomed to have the gear shift on my left hand side. When ever I wanted to turn, I would flip on the windshield wipers and reach for the door handle. Oops!There were so few Americans on the island. It was really nice to be completely immersed in another language and culture. Even in Korea I am constantly surrounded by Americans. I'm not complaining but in some strange way it feels that I never left the States. There were many different nationalities on the island but it was very easy to get around. Because the tourists speak so many different languages - Dutch, German, Arabic, etc. - English is the common tongue used to communicate. Everyone involved in the tourism industry speaks excellent English.
Because Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, it is a hot spot destination for many Arabs and people from the Middle East. Muslim customs are so interesting! The women always cover their hair and many times cover their entire body, face, eyes and hands in public (even when eating or swimming). I secretly snapped a photo of a Muslim mother completely covered taking her daughter for a walk on the beach.Langkawi is ripe with numerous folk tales and legends. On one of our day trips on the island, we stopped at the tomb and memorial of Mahsuri. Mahsuri was a woman of unsurpassed beauty and was accused of adultery and sentenced to death because of a jealous rivalry. As she was killed, white blood gushed from her wound and with her dying breath she cursed the island for seven generations. Pretty gruesome tale but the most popular and beloved of all their lore.
Other tales tell of feuding giants at a wedding that throw pots, pans, cookware and even the wedding ring; all of which become geographical landmarks of the island. The two lovers at the center of the feud fell to become the two tallest mountains on the island.Another highlight was experiencing some traditional Malay music. Mostly percussion, it was really neat to listen to.August was supposed to be peak tourist season - or at least that was what people kept telling us. With that in mind, we kept wondering why the island seemed so deserted. Malaysian weekend is on Thursdays and Fridays (not Saturday, Sunday as in most other places) but that didn't seem to explain it.
About half way through our vacation, we started running into huge police escort caravans all over the island. They must have called in reinforcements from the mainland. The day we were set to leave was the start of an International Dialogue Conference "Poverty Eradication through Human Capital Development and Capacity Building." Over 500 participants from 40 countries including 10 heads of state from African and South Asian countries attended the conference. We watched as dignitary after dignitary invaded the island with their entourage.
Without knowing it we had perfectly time our vacation right after the main force of tourists but before the onslaught of world leaders.