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January 3, 2007

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Happy New Year! Like most people, I canít believe 2006 has already come and gone Ė did it fly by or what? In terms of traveling, it was a banner year for me. My goal was to visit 10 new countries -- and Iím elated to report I visited 11 new ones! In 2006 alone Iíve been to 22 countries on five continents Ė how awesome is that? Itís mind-boggling when I think about it. Some of them I havenít even written about yet Ė but I do have a "2006 year in review" video at the bottom of this page, along with a video of this weekís destination. It takes us to a place so plush Luciano Pavarotti said, "I almost cried to see how beautiful God had made this paradise." If you want to check in to an over-water bungalow above the Straits of Malacca, hop aboard! Weíre getting on a 60-foot yacht to a private island, heading into 2007 in style!

Last week we left off at the beautiful Tanjong Jara Resort in northeast Malaysia (hereís a link to the archives). From there we hopped on a 35-minute Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL). You have to love the KL airport, because itís so efficient. I wish U.S. airports would learn some of their simple tricks to make our traveling lives so much better. For example, each baggage claim has a monitor with the exact time counting down to when the first bags will appear. It took less than 10 minutes -- and the airport is huge!

We headed to Pangkor Laut Island. It has won all kinds of awards, including Number One In The World (Conde Nast Traveller UKís Top 100 list) and Top 10 Most Luxurious Spas (Tatler U.K.) Getting there is difficult, unless you have deep, deep pockets and hire a helicopter ($5,000 -- one way). Most guests drive three hours from Kuala Lumpur, then take a 30-minute boat ride. We hired a van and driver through the resort, for RM850 ($240). To pass time my friends and I played perverted car games, and stopped along the way to raid a gas station convenience store. We bought almost every different type of unusual potato chip flavor we could find (each bag cost only 45 cents). Surprisingly, they all were tasty! When we arrived at the Marina in Lumut, the islandís 60-foot private yacht was waiting for us. Each way costs $200. Another option, a public ferry, costs RM 50.00 ($14) each way for adults, RM 25.00 ($7) for children 2 to 12 years old.

It was raining, so the boat ride was not as pleasant as I imagine it normally is. But it was still special, and pulling up to the island -- seeing all the bungalows sitting patiently above the glistening water -- was memorable. Pangkor Laut is a 300-acre, privately owned island in the Straits of Malacca three miles off the west coast of Malaysia. The resort has developed only a fraction of the unspoiled two million-year-old rainforest, where some trees reach 150 feet high. This island is both lush and exotic! When we stepped off the boat an army of porters grabbed our bags, and a greeter walked us to the lobby. Along the way our mouths dropped open in amazement. From that short walk alone we could tell this place would be like Fantasy Island -- and the three nights we had there would be far too short.

We were served a non-alcoholic fruit drink made of roselle (it has a cooling effect like lemonade), and given cold towels and the usual paper work as we watched peacocks roam the lobby. We were quickly briefed on Pangkor Lautís 148 Malaysian-luxury-style villas. Later we saw a couple of the eight estates in a nearby secluded cove. They belong in Robin Leachís homes of the rich and famous. In fact, many celebrities have stayed there, including Pavarotti and Joan Collins. However, I was staying (and couldnít have been happier) in one of the 22 over-water bungalows standing elegantly on stilts over the sea in the new Spa Village section of the resort (they are known simply as the Spa Villas). Twenty-one other villas -- basically the same but a few years older and a bit cheaper in price -- are called Sea Villas. If youíre worried about being over the water, thatís okay; there are also 105 Beach, Hill and Garden Villas.

Getting to the Spa Villas from the lobby is kind of a hike: either 10 minutes along the wooden walkways of the Sea Villas and through a couple of restaurants, or an 8-minute hilly shuttle ride which travels back and forth every 15 minutes. I prefer the walk, which I did often to use the free wireless high-speed internet signal in the lobby (there are also three free computers in the library).

Walking at dusk was even more magical, because the fruit bats came out then. Watching them fly between palm trees, with the sea and its reflecting lights as a backdrop, was unforgettable. Speaking of unforgettable: Walking through the Spa Village for the first time, I stumbled upon four monkeys (yes, monkeys!). They were sitting on a wall along the path three feet away, staring at me. The bellman told me if I ignored them, they wonít bother me. He also warned me not to feed them. It was like being told not to pet a dog when youíre a kid Ė theyíre so cute, you want to reach out and grab them. But Iím smarter than that (I think).

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Pictures From

The Trip


Malaysia Airlines


Drive To Lumut


Raiding The Convenience Store


30 Min. Boat Ride


Pangkor Laut Island


Over-Water Bungalow




Flowers Everywhere


Walk To Spa Villas




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