I live on a tropical island. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming, but it’s real alright - the white sandy beaches, the coconut palms, the water as warm as a flotation tank, the whole cliché.
This is my ninth year in Malaysia and my seventh on Langkawi's eponymous main island, one of 104 islands in the archipelago, just off the western border between Malaysia and Thailand. I'm a nature lover and couldn't have picked a better place to live. Half the island is still covered in virgin rainforest, with beautiful waterfalls and hidden hiking trails. Some of those paths lead to the summits of South East Asia's most venerable mountain range, estimated to be 550 million years old.
Unesco has declared Langkawi a Geopark, highlighting its unique geological heritage. There are hundreds of species of birds and butterflies, and plenty of monkeys and other wildlife. Then there are the mangrove swamps, great for kayaking and bird watching, and so many neighbouring islands to be explored, most of which are still uninhabited.
Langkawi is a duty-free island. I’m not much of a drinker, but if I was a can of beer would cost me the equivalent of 40 cents. It’s not expensive to rent a place to live and the fast broadband connection means I’m not totally cut off from family and friends. The few times I’ve had to go to the hospital I paid 1 Ringgit, the equivalent of 20 cents, to see the doctor, and that included prescriptions. The Malaysian healthcare system is one of the best in the world.
Because of the number of five-star hotels, foods that might not be found so easily elsewhere in Malaysia, outside of the cities, olive oil for example, or Camembert cheese are available. A few months ago my local supermarket stocked Kerrygold butter. I bought half the stock and ration it carefully. Of course there’s the local food too, and a profusion of tropical fruit. And for eating out there’s a range of reasonably priced restaurants serving anything from simple rice or noodle dishes, costing less than a Euro, to more elaborate international food too.
As tropical islands go, Langkawi is reasonably big, about half the size of County Dublin, or two thirds the size of Singapore, but with one-twentieth of the population density of the city state. It's not hard to find peace and quiet here. Nowhere is more than an hour's drive away. Traffic is almost non-existent, and you are never far from the sea. The air quality is good and it's warm every day. The pace of life is slow and gentle and the locals are friendly.
Malaysia is ethnically diverse, but here the majority are Malay, with a smaller percentage of ethnic Chinese, Indians and Thai. It makes for an interesting mix, plus there are visitors and residents from all over the world, drawn by the low cost of living and the high quality of life. The sun shines every day, or at least 350 days a year, and though they don’t last long the tropical sunsets are stunning.
Langkawi has its own international airport and ferries from Thailand and the mainland. It’s not hard to get here, but it can be harder to leave. You know that feeling when you’re away on holidays and you’re not looking forward to going back home? Well I don’t. I am always so grateful to get back any time I’ve been away. How could I not love living here?
In May, The Irish Times invited readers abroad to tell us about their relationship with the place they have made home, and why they love living there. This story is one of the entries we received. Read more here.
Marc de faoite has lived in London, Brussels, France, India, and now in Malaysia. He wrote previously for Generation Emigration: 'I can't remember a time when I didn't know I would leave'.