‘Tis the season to shun the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, with its famed white sand beaches and clear blue waters; the north-east monsoon has arrived, bringing with it relentless rain and choppy seas which will last till March. For sun, sand and sea, the west side is where it’s at, so goes conventional wisdom. We narrowed down our options to three popular beach holiday destinations: Langkawi Island, off the Malaysian state of Kedah, or, farther north, Phuket or Krabi in Thailand. In the end, we picked Langkawi, and despite the fact that we experienced unseasonal wet weather for much of our time there, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
It has to be said that the resort where we stayed had a lot to do with our pleasant experience in Langkawi, and had it not been for the unique delights that it offered, we would have written this vacation off as a bit of a disappointment. I had never heard of Bon Ton Resort until it appeared on the list of hotel options on my go-to travel website. We wanted an easy holiday so I thought a five-star resort with all the usual bells and whistles would be the way to go. But Bon Ton was highly rated by guests so I was intrigued, and when I clicked on the link to find out more about it, I was sold within minutes. I really could do without a free form swimming pool, buffet breakfast, spa, tennis courts and whatnot, if it meant I got to stay in an authentic traditional kampong house, especially one that has been upgraded with essential modern comforts like hot water, air-conditioning and wifi. It would be a rare opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds. And so we booked three nights at the Silk Villa, a 120-year-old house that can accommodate six guests.
We landed at Langkawi International Airport at 1.40 pm and it took less than twenty minutes to get from the airport to the resort by taxi (RM 17). We were greeted by Amir, a friendly, English-speaking gentleman, who sat us down at a table in the open-air Nam Restaurant and patiently explained to us how things worked there. We were to lock the main door with a padlock and key before we went out. We ought to close all the windows in the evening to keep mosquitoes out because yes, there were mosquitoes, of course, but rest assured that mosquito repellents and mosquito nets would be provided. There were cats too, at least eight that I could see, sleeping or sitting languidly, watching the world go by. Amir assured us that they were very friendly and mild-mannered creatures who would not bother us, but who had attachments to certain houses and might ask to be allowed to sleep in the house with us. It was up to us if we wanted their company, but it was best that we let them out at night in case they needed to answer the call of nature. They were rescue cats from LASSie (Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary), located within the property and funded by the resort. There were dogs too, but they were not allowed to roam freely. However, guests could volunteer to walk them if they wished. Breakfast, which consisted of bread and cake (freshly made daily), yogurt, orange juice, jam and butter, would be placed in our fridge the night before. This meant that we were not obliged to get up by a particular time for breakfast service. We would simply help ourselves to the food in the fridge. There was a toaster in our villa for the bread, as well as a kettle and a French press for making coffee – from ground coffee beans, not instant coffee.
We certainly had not stayed in any place like Bon Ton before. I was quite charmed.
It was drizzling when we arrived but Bon Ton still looked beautiful. Our Silk Villa was everything we wanted: cosy, tastefully furnished and spacious. (To watch my video of the tour of the house, click here. )
Dining table and lazy chair
Silk Villa, exterior
The swimming pool has a shallow part for children
We had lunch at Nam, then we retreated to our villa to wait out the rain. It wasn’t long before a cat made its appearance at our doorstep. Amir would later tell us that she was the lady of the house. We were a family of cat lovers so my sons were delighted to make a new friend. We took to calling her Boss.
The rain refused to stop, but it did not abate the boys’ desire to plunge into the pool, so I waited till almost 6 pm before allowing them to change into their swimming attire. They had the whole pool to themselves, and happily used the floats that the pool staff offered.
We didn’t feel up to venturing out of the resort for dinner, so we went to Nam again, but after a closer look at the prices on the menu, we decided that it would be unwise to continue having our meals there. The exchange rate was in our favor, but spending RM 40 on something like fried noodles felt criminal, even though the noodles were very tasty and packed with fresh seafood. The most expensive item that we ordered that evening was the Seafood Platter (RM 103). It was an indulgence not to be repeated.
Beautiful lounge area at Nam Restaurant
K and my aunt
Nonya Style Fried Rice
I am pleased to report that no one among us suffered from mosquito bites. Housekeeping staff would come every evening at around 7 pm to prepare the rooms: closing the windows, turning on the electric mosquito coils and unfurling the mosquito nets. Nighttime entertainment, mainly for the kids, consisted of DVD-watching. There was a TV in our villa and a DVD player but no TV or cable channels. We borrowed a total of seven DVDs from the resort’s decently-stocked library (free of charge) in the course of our stay. The only thing I would complain about were the flat feather pillows. I could use firmer ones.
The next day, we rented a car so that we could do a bit of sightseeing. The weather was still wet and dreary and the prospect of enjoying hours of frolicking in the sea was very dim. Still, it was good to be out and about. Our main destination was Tanjung Rhu, which supposedly has the best beach on the island. We stopped at what we thought was Tanjung Rhu but was in fact an unnamed beach. It didn’t matter to my sons. Even with the sea looking forbidding, they managed to have fun.
We did eventually find Tanjung Rhu Beach. We could only imagine how much better it would look on a clear, sunny day. Once again, my boys were undeterred, so I accompanied them as they played by the water’s edge, building and rebuilding sandcastles and collecting seashells.
Tanjung Rhu Beach
The sea looks rather calm but there is a warning sign of strong undercurrent.
On the left, the casuarina trees (“ru” in Malay) that give the beach its name.
K and my aunt didn’t feel the lure of the water, so they parked themselves at a table and enjoyed goreng pisang (fried bananas), keropok lekor (fried fish dough) and coconut juice from a roadside stall. The kids and I had some too once I managed to persuade them to call it a day and change into dry clothes. For dinner, we headed to Kuah, where we had RM 6 plates of fried noodles, fruit juices and a large grilled garoupa at an open-air restaurant, for a little more than the price of the Seafood Platter at Nam Restaurant. Lesson well learned.
My aunt left us in the morning because she had another short trip lined up, to Jakarta with my mother. We decided to laze the day away. We took our time with breakfast while watching a couple of DVDs. We let the kids take a long, noisy and splashy bath in the outdoor tub. There were fallen leaves and stems in it that had to be removed before I filled it with water, but fortunately no bugs. Once they were clean and dressed, they got busy playing with Boss and looking for other cats around the resort.
This lamington cake was my favorite.
I wanted to preserve the memory of Silk Villa and Bon Ton so I went around taking photos of all its interesting details, as well as the neighboring villas.
The outdoor bath has deck chairs too
Obviously we did not shower with the window open
The cat’s favorite spot in the house
An antique wardrobe that looks like a medieval torture device
80-year-old White Frangipani Villa
60-year-old Yellow Orchid Villa, formerly a fisherman’s house
80-year-old Ginger Villa
Almost imperceptibly, a little after lunch, the rain stopped and for the first time, the sun broke through the clouds. We could even see patches of blue sky. Bon Ton looked even more beautiful than before.
My sons quickly changed into their swimwear and had two glorious hours in the pool, under the sun. Other guests also emerged from their villas and sat on the deck chairs or did lazy laps. I chose to lie down with the cat, and K watched more DVDs. Sooner than we liked, it started pouring again and the kids came running into the house. We were determined not to have dinner at Nam again so in spite of the weather, we called for a taxi to take us to Cenang Beach. We had a good meal at a seafood restaurant, then shopped for souvenirs for friends and colleagues before taking a taxi back to Bon Ton.
Our flight back to Singapore was scheduled to depart at 2.25 pm, which meant that we had to head for the airport right after checking out at noon. The boys were already talking about returning to the place. I was very pleased that they felt they had a wonderful time. I didn’t think that cats, water and DVDs would be enough to occupy them, but it seemed that those were all they needed.
I have been known to eat cake for breakfast, but this was too rich for me. I could finish it without the frosting.
I had to pack my suitcase around the cat because it wouldn’t budge from its spot.
Amir was at his usual post at the Reception counter, with a dog called Sweety by his side. He warned us to stay away from her because she, a victim of terrible abuse by her former owner, had bitten every member of the staff except him, whom she was fiercely protective of. Amir said that we could leave as late as 1.15 pm, but we preferred to be two hours early, so he called for a taxi. While we waited for it to come, we chatted a little about the villas and the history of the resort. I learned that the houses were bought from various parts of Malaysia and transported to the resort, sold by families who wanted to upgrade to concrete houses. When the taxi arrived, we shook hands and I said that we would like to return at the next opportunity. Amir told us to book directly with them and mention that we were returning guests so that we could get a discount. He also said that it was best to avoid the Chinese New Year holidays, when the rates were likely to go up.
We certainly look forward to the next time.