The Sungei Kilim mangroves located on the North Eastern tip of Langkawi was given UNESCO status in 2007. The rivers and estuaries twist through the park stretching 100 square kilometres while the mangroves roots and branches fight one another to swallow up the water.
Earlier in the morning we were greeted by our guide Kieran, a stocky broad shouldered man. We were joined on a kayak tour with a group of six French, a couple on their honeymoon from Kuwait and three Australians.
We first boarded a motorized boat and cruised down the main artery of the mangroves and stopped outside a cave. As we disembarked Kieran stopped us and told us that we are in the middle of the mangroves and that we shouldn’t touch any of the plants as you don’t know what harm the mangrove plants can cause you. As he said this he pulled one leaf from a tree, a drop of white, liquidy sap dripped out of the leaf. “See this when we are constipated we drink two drops of this and then in a couple of hours we are good as gold but don’t ever drink anymore as he recalled he knows someone who drank ten drops and two months later he is still in hospital.”Kieran smile beamed from ear to ear I actually never knew if he was joking or telling the truth. “The same sap if it gets in your eyes will give you temporary blindness for about five to six hours, so please be careful”. Kieran has been a Naturalist for six years with Dev’s Adventure tours and he knew a remarkable amount about the mangroves plants and animals.
Outside the cave, a group of long tailed macaque monkeys guarded the entrance “Don’t look at them in the eye and don’t show your teeth as its an act of aggression” warned Kieran as the monkeys dispersed as we entered the cave. Inside it was dark, stalagmites and stalactites poked out of the ceiling and floor before clearing way to two small chambers where bats slept hanging from the ceilings.
“Bats are blind” said Kieran “so how does the mother know which babies are hers” pausing he waited for some guesses before saying” that the mother urinates on the baby and tells by the scent of her urine.” The babies and adults live in separate chambers and after about four months when they can fly they then go and live in the adults chamber.
The boat swept down the estuary to where we were to start our kayaking from the Hole in the Wall Fish Farm. We were shown around the fish farm where there were small tunas, garoupas, and other fish. A Malay man dropped some fish into a pen setting off an electrifying reaction as the larger fish splashed water in its sudden surge for food. I bent over and gave the stingray a small fish, it nuzzled on my hand making a slurping suction sound as it swallowed the fish as the stingray has no teeth.
The kayaks that we sat in were stable, great for a beginner,like my son Rei and I. We practiced in the open estuary maneuvering the kayak. We paddled together simultaneously searching for a rhythm with our oar. We set out on a long paddle occasionally stopping by the mangroves to listen to Kieran’s explanations of the mangroves.
In 2004, South East Asia was devastated by an enormous powerful tsunami that left many fatalities especially in Thailand, a neighboring country to Malaysia. Langkawi was left rather unscathed with only one death. The mangroves protected Langkawi by sheltering them from the force of the waves.
We paddled down narrow channels as we weaved through a maze of mangrove trees the roots entwined around one another fighting, reaching out to try and touch us. Kieran made sure only one person sitting at the back of the kayak would paddle as he didn’t want two paddling as it may cause damage to a tree. Just before squeezing through the maze Kieran put a little fear in us all by casually mentioning that poisonous viper snakes live in mangrove trees so if you have to touch a tree make sure it’s from high above.
We squeezed through the maze and the water opened up to an expansive waterway. We continued to paddle on, brown sea eagles soared above waiting for a boat of tourists to throw pieces of chicken out onto the water before swooping down and catching the chicken in its talons and soaring back up into the air again. Dev’s Adventure tours frowns upon this practice as its very unnatural for the birds and has caused health problems to the eagle.
We powered on down the water biceps, triceps and shoulders starting to ache. Kayaking is as good as a workout at the gym. We spent four hours on the water, learnt about the importance of the mangroves, shared a laugh with our guide and other kayakers and explored where no boat could take you. This is what makes kayaking so enjoyable and there is no better way than exploring the mangroves than on a kayak.
Did you kayak the mangroves in Langkawi? Where are other good places to kayak? We would love to hear all about it.