Mangrove Tour, Feeding the Eagles & Floating Restaurants
Langkawi’s cozy airport houses several companies that offer cars for rent as well as tours. I highly suggest renting a car, specially if you’re visiting the island with your family. It gives you the freedom and convenience to move around Langkawi, plus it will be much cheaper than taking the cab. The roads of Langkawi are easy to navigate.
Prices for tours vary from one operator to the next. We book ours in the city (there are plenty to chose from) and practice our haggling skills. We arrange to have a Mangrove Tour the next day, with someone from the tour company come pick us up from the hotel at nine in the morning.
The driver arrives at nine-thirty, in a white van. Masood and I share the vehicle with a middle-aged American couple, a young couple from China, and two young ladies from Singapore.
That is the official price per boat. You may choose to share the ride with other visitors or, as with most of the Middle Eastern couples and families I’ve noticed, hire the entire boat for yourselves.
The Kilim Geoforest Park, part of the UNESCO-endorsed Langkawi Geopark, is spread out over 100 sq km and features striking contrasts from well-protected flourishing mangrove forests to isolated sandy beaches and deep lagoons.
A rainforest by the sea, mangroves are an ecosystem that comprises for salt-tolerant trees. These trees have specially adapted aerial and salt-filtering roots, enabling them to occupy an area of desiccating heat, choking mud, and salt levels that would kill an ordinary plant within hours.
Yet the forests mangroves form are among the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on Earth. Birds roost in the canopy, shellfish attach themselves to the roots, and snakes and crocodiles come to hunt. Mangroves provide nursery grounds for fish; a food source for monkeys, and a nectar source for bats and honeybees.
Mangrove forests also play a vital role in trapping sediments, thereby stabilizing coastlines and protecting coral reefs and sea grass meadows.
Mangrove forests are one of the world’s most threatened tropical ecosystems. Unfortunately, more than 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone. Our guide is very passionate about imparting this information to us, urging us to learn about mangroves. He says only part of the mangrove is open for tourism and the rest are protected.
Our guide informs us that they used to spot cobras and other snakes in the area. However, there are visitors who, upon spotting a wildlife, get wild themselves. They throw bottles and sticks at the wild animals, just to provoke them. Now snakes, our guide tells us, are shy and private creatures. Disturbed by the increasing number of tourists, they moved to a different location altogether.
Monkeys are the only wild animals we see. We are strictly forbidden to feed them anything. The boat stops briefly not too far from a branch where a few monkeys are hanging out, and we take pictures.
I would also like to point out that mangroves release hydrogen sulphide gas, which means the place is smelly – like rotten egg. It’s quite tolerable, though.
The Bat Cave
One can not simply just saunter over the caves and say hello to the bats. The cave is located on the opposite side of the Kilim river, which means one needs to take a boat. After getting off the boat—it’s quite a short trip, really—there is an wooden footbridge that goes through mangrove swamps and right into the Bat Cave.
The cave is so named because of the large population of Malaysian Fruit Bats that reside here. So no, these creatures aren’t the blood-sucking type. They’re vegetarian.
Several blogs I read online make note about the creepiness of the cave. See those tourists in the picture, one of them busy taking pictures? Well, none of them look uncomfortable or creeped-out.
Our guide gives us the following instructions: be careful when entering the cave so that you don’t hit your head, no flash photography, he’ll point a flashlight briefly toward the roof of the cave so that we could see the bats, the wooden planks are slippery so be careful when walking, don’t hold onto the railing because they’re covered with bat excrement, don’t scream.
“Do I make myself clear?” he asks, making sure we all understood the instructions. We all nod together in agreement.
A woman hits her forehead while we enter the cave. A guy takes a photo with the flash on. A few bats get agitated and fly to another spot. A couple of girls shriek in fear.
The Bat Cave is small, damp and smelly. It’s my least favorite part of this tour.
White-Bellied Sea Eagles
We stop briefly to watch the eagles. According to our guide, they won’t come unless you bribe them. So he takes a handful of fresh chicken skin, drops them in the water, and signals the captain of the boat to run the propeller (to scatter the bait). Eagles begin circling above us within seconds.
I can watch these eagles for hours, as they soar or catch their food with precision. According to our guide, they do not feed these eagles besides the handful of chicken skins that they throw for them into the water so that the bird’s hunting skills remain intact. The eagles mostly eat fish and baby monkeys.
There were crocodiles here once upon a time. Now, it’s just a low and natural limestone tunnel through which boats pass. Unfortunately for us, it’s high tide. So as you can see from the picture above, there’s hardly space for our boat to go through.
Lunch on a Floating Restaurant
We stop for lunch at one of the floating restaurants. They have a small fish farm too, mostly to show to tourists. There are toilet facilities so we could wash up before our meal.
Some of the folks from our group go ahead to feed the stingrays. And some of us remain to hold the horseshoe crab, which, technically, aren’t even crabs!
In fact, they aren’t even crustaceans. Unlike real crabs and their kin, horseshoe “crabs” lack antennae. So, where do the strange ocean-dwellers belong on the arthropod family tree? Biologists classify them as chelicerates, a subphylum that also includes arachnids. Members possess two main body segments and a pair of unique, pincer-like feeding appendages called chelicerae (hence the name). source
For lunch, we are served orange juice (which tasted like Tang), a clear vegetable soup, fried rice, and fried chicken. Serving is good for a 12-year-old girl paranoid about her weight.
And then it rains.
One of my favorite moments from the tour – experiencing the rain from the floating restaurant.
The rain lasts for fifteen minutes.
30 Minutes In a Secluded Beach
We stop for about thirty minutes at a small secluded beach of one of the islands. Before the boat even comes to a complete halt, the captain’s young boy—not more than five years old—immediately peels his shirt off and jumps in the crystal clear water.
Too bad there isn’t a place to change so I couldn’t swim. We simply hang around and take pictures.
Before heading back, we put on our life jackets and then the captain increases the speed of the boat and we enjoy a very fast and thrilling ride!
Cycad, The Jurassic Plant
They are among the most striking plant species in the area — the limestone cycad (Cycas Clivicola) — an ancient gymnosperm which found its niche in the crevices of the limestone hills. Some of them grow almost on the vertical surfaces of the hills with their stems and crown dangling into the open, and their roots anchored in the shallow crevices.
Although the Mangrove Tour is quite touristy, I would still recommend it because you get to cruise through the mangroves, learn about them, and appreciate their existence. You get to do a boat ride through the beautiful ocean, see the monkeys, fishes, and eagles unclose. Plus, you get to have lunch on a floating restaurant.