Half a billion years seems like long enough to fly under the radar.
Now, this prehistoric Malaysian island is making moves
with the help of new luxury.

I have visited Langkawi a handful of times in the 20+ years I’ve lived in Asia.  I traveled there on holiday in the late 1990s and again in 2012.  And I explored the island in 2008 on assignment for Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.  It would seem I’ve come full circle, returning to Langkawi once again exactly a decade later to photograph the May 2018 cover feature for my friends at T+L SEA.

Langkawi doesn’t often come to mind when people think of a tropical destination — typically Thailand or Indonesia or the Philippines is at the top of their list — but as T+L’s Deputy Editor, Jeninne Lee-St. John, explains in this month’s ‘Legends of Langkawi’ cover story, “the famously lush island… is not just another white-sand-beach-ringed Southeast Asian paradise.  It has 500 million years of uninterrupted geology: scientists can chart limestone, sandstone and mudstone from each prehistoric era one by one.  The only terrain on Earth with similar visible pedigree is around the Grand Canyon.  It has fun endemic mammals and majestic birds native and migratory among some of the world’s oldest rainforests as well as manifold mangrove swamps and mudlands and scrublands that make it an ecological treasure.”  In fact, in 2015 Langkawi was awarded UNESCO Global Geopark status, which both celebrates and helps to protect the 99 islands that comprise the legendary Langkawi Archipelago.

Add to this that a new wave of luxury accommodation has arrived on the island in “the opulent new” St. Regis and the “jungle-tucked” Ritz-Carlton properties, while the “sprawling wonderland” Four Seasons has been given an extensive facelift, and it seemed like an opportune time to return to this prehistoric Malaysian paradise.

My assignment on Langkawi was a whirlwind as I photographed these three resort properties back-to-back, while squeezing in time to go soaring through the rainforest canopy at Umgawa Zipline Eco Adventures and gliding through the “mangrove forest utopia” alongside Four Seasons’ head naturalist, Aidi Abdullah.  My shutter never seemed to stop clicking, and I loved that my days on the island were filled with so much excitement and creativity.

I also relished that I was able to meet and interact with so many interesting, dedicated, talented and creative people whom I encountered along my way, from resort staff and management to local entrepreneurs and artisans.  However, one evening’s experience stands out for me in particular: I had the pleasure of photographing the inspired Kayu Puti restaurant at the St. Regis, and in doing so, I met Executive Chef Gaetan Biesuz.  He invited me to dine at Kayu Puti that evening and personally attended to me throughout my meal, customizing a menu for me and himself presenting every plate that he and his team had prepared.  Gaetan explained to me in detail his inspiration for each of the dishes, dissecting for me every ingredient, flavour and texture — it was like admiring a painting while standing right beside the artist.  After the meal, Gaetan joined me at the table for a glass of wine, and we sat together in his Bill Bensley-designed restaurant for more than an hour, chatting about photography and food and wine and travel and adventure; it was a wonderful way to complete an unforgettable meal — and a fantastic memory of my time spent exploring the island.

Read about our Langkawi adventures in this month’s T+L cover story below.  And click here to browse a broader selection of my Langkawi photography.