Selva found me sipping espresso in Casa del Mar restaurant. He introduced himself then burst into an exceedingly loud, cheerful, infectious laugh followed by a huge grin, his eyes shining. Glancing up at Selva and confronted by his startling laugh, I instantly felt energized. I jumped up, took my last few sips of espresso and departed with Selva. We walked out to our waiting van, where I met the other members of the Langkawi cultural tour ‘Untold Stories‘ by Dev’s Adventure Tours. Selva was our gregarious guide.
I have to admit to being slightly skeptical about learning anything new during a local Malaysian cultural tour since I’d been immersing myself in SE Asia’s various cultures for 14 years already. I’d visited batik factories, wood and stone carving centers, museums, art galleries, and innumerable villages. I’d stayed with families, made local friends, worked in several places, spoke their languages, and had eaten local foods almost exclusively since 1998. I knew it all, right? As I soon found out, not at all.
In truth, Selva continued teaching me things I didn’t know about Malaysian culture for our entire 4-hour tour. He taught us about the construction and architecture of traditional Malaysian houses and how that gradually changed during the colonial period, due to influences of British, Chinese, and Indians who settled there along the great Asian-trading route. His explanations were enhanced immensely by a visit to the original Malaysian, Thai, and colonial houses set at Bon Ton and Temple Tree Resorts. The houses had all been relocated there and re-assembled by the foresighted owner.
As we walked along, Selva constantly pointed out plants, flowers and trees. He plucked leaves, which he crushed for us to smell or taste as he explained their various traditional culinary and medicinal uses. Selva had learned it all from his father, a homeopathic doctor ‘on the side’, who had put his vast knowledge to use helping their local community.
From Temple Tree resort, we drove around Langkawi on narrow back country lanes, through fields and tiny villages. We stopped at several places to wander around while Selva explained other cultural intrigues and encouraged us to sample more useful plants. We also stopped at a roadside stall, where Selva bought us a selection of local sweets and snacks. All the while, he continued joking, grinning, teasing us on occasion, and bursting into his loud, startling laugh. Selva was immensely entertaining.
He took us to some striking white cliffs in the center of Langkawi, the location of a Thai cave temple and an Indian Hindu temple. There he explained a bit about the developments of Buddhism and Hinduism, after which he took us inside the cave temple to show us his own personal morning meditation / chanting routine, which he performs right there at that very temple every morning.
We visited Langkawi’s roving night market and wandered the aisles, peeking at tropical fruits, local sweets, and cooked meals. Selva somehow managed to even tell me things about Malaysian markets that I didn’t know, much to my great surprise.
The finale of the tour was yet to come though. Selva took us to his own home to eat an Indian banana leaf meal cooked by his charming wife, Alma. She was ready for us: banana leaves on the table and curries bubbling in pots. She proceeded to serve a huge array of vegetables, chicken curry, fried fish, and a heaping pile of rice. The meal was delicious. I especially appreciated a delicious meal since Langkawi’s only downfall is a lack of good local food.
Selva and Alma chatted with us about their families, lives, and travels while we gratefully devoured our home-cooked dinner. We felt immensely welcomed, as if we were visiting good friends.
Too soon, our transport van arrived to return us to our hotels, and off we went, bellies full, and spirits enriched by our entertaining, educational, and personalized cultural tour.