If the soaring rainforests, pristine beaches, steamy paddy fields and azure water don’t make you want to throw in your day job and emigrate to Langkawi, the duty free booze will.
Nestled in the Andaman Sea, 30km off the coast of mainland Malaysia, Langkawi is both a single island and an archipelago of – depending who you talk to – either 99 or 104 such islands (counting becomes a little tricky when duty free drinking is involved).
Langkawi (the island) is a heady mix of the old and the new. Boasting untamed jungle at its centre (you can get a taste of it at Langkawi Wildlife Park and Snake Sanctuary), the island has developed into a tourist Mecca without relinquishing its hold on the traditional. An adventure on Langkawi could either take in traditional handicrafts at the Handicrafts Cultural Centre, lazing around on Tanjung Rhu Beach, or buying oversized bottles of pump-action vodka at bargain basement prices.
It could see yourself dangling precariously in a cable car 708m above sea level (not advised if you have recently partaken of the aforementioned vodka), or it could see your credit card getting a hammering in Kuah’s shopping complexes. In Langkawi, you set the pace, no matter whether you want to immerse yourself in history, sunshine or 80% proof alcohol.
Langkawi’s Top 10
10. Masjid Al Hana (Al Hana Mosque) Breathtaking mosque with traditional architecture.
5. Kompleks Kraf A palatial handicrafts centre where you can watch traditional craft-making and purchase authentic artefacts.
9. Crocodile Farm Tour Allows you to get up close and personal with some toothy friends.
4. Langkawi Cable Car Takes you to the peak of Gunung Machinchang.
8. Field of Burnt Rice The site of a mass rice-field burning by the Malaysians in 1821 to prevent the invading Siamese from getting the food.
3. Air Terjun Temerun Waterfall Located in the Mat Cincang Nature park, this waterfall is either spectacular or… not. (Make sure you see it in the April-October wet season!)
7. Underwater World Offers a glimpse at Malaysia’s teeming ocean life.
2. Gua Cerita Is a mystical cave, thought to have played host to both a captive Chinese princess and a lonely giantess. Not at the same time, obviously.
6. Kota Mashuri Legendary tomb of a woman wrongfully accused of adultery. When she was killed her blood was pure white, proving her innocence. Pretty high price to pay for a good reputation.
1. Black Sands Beach Ancient fishing villages and no shortage of myths as to how the sand became black, this one is definitely worth a visit.
- Kota Mahsuri – A historical complex that commemorates the Malay princess Mahsuri.
- Al-Hana Mosque – Opened in 1959 by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Features Islamic architecture influenced by traditional Malay.
- Padang Matsirat – Called the Field of Burnt Rice, the Siamese burned everything in this area when they invaded in 1821.
- Gunung Raya and Gunung Mat Cincang – Two mountains which, according to local legend, are actually human beings who turned into mountains after a fight ensued at a wedding.
- Caves of Legend – Two limestone caves facing the sea that local legend claims are havens for vampires and fairies.
Langkawi Art & Culture
- Air Hangat Village – A village known for its hot springs and occasional cultural shows.
- Galeria Perdana – This museum displays the gifts given to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and other heads of state.
- Kantan – It has been declared the country’s largest restaurant and serves local cuisine such as redang.
- Ibrahim Hussein Foundation Museum – An art museum featuring the works of its namesake.
- Dataran Lang – A large sculpture of an eagle facing the sea serves as a welcome to those who come to Langkawi by boat.
- Kompleks Kraf Langkawi – A large centre containing handcrafts. Features several places where you can watch locals create their crafts.
- Oriental Village – A shopping complex with a wide variety of choices.
- Telaga Harbour Park – A combination of shopping complex and yacht marina.
- Samudra Duty Free – A duty-free store where you can purchase souvenirs, monuments and statues.
- Langkawi Fair – A mall containing a variety of retail stores and restaurants.
Langkawi Gay & Lesbian
- Chime – A mixed club situated in the Sheraton Hotel that usually has interesting events on Monday nights.
- Sunba – Features lives bands and retro music for dancing. A good place to socialize.
- Eagle Rock – A mixed disco.
- Pantai Cenang – A beach that is a popular meeting place for gay men and lesbians, with shops and restaurants nearby.
- Dataran Land – Another popular meeting spot for the local GLBT community.
- Laman Padi – An ecotourism site where you can view ducks and water buffalos and learn about rice cultivation.
- Underwater World – The largest aquarium in Malaysia is home to over 200 species of freshwater and marine creatures.
- Lagenda Langkawi Dalam Taman – A folklore-themed park that sits on the waterfront.
- Langkawi Crocodile Farm – This farm is best for adults and features a stunt show twice a day.
- Langkawi Cable Car – This cable car will transport you to the top of Gunung Machinchang.
- Take a peek at what lies under the water by going snorkelling at the Marine Park..
- Go golfing at the Gunung Raya Golf Resort or the Gulf Club Datai Bay.
- Go diving in the Pulau Payar.
- Relax by taking a yoga class as dawn at Langkawi Yoga.
- Go horseback riding at Island Horses.
Langkawi’s answer to the Vegas Strip, what Pantai Cenang may lack in bright lights and casinos it certainly makes up for in spirit. By day, the pristine white beach is dotted with barely-moving sun-worshippers and frolicking children; by night, crowds of backpackers and Asian tourists alike merge in a throng of eating, drinking and shopping excitement. Make the most of a tropical breeze with an ice-cold drink at the Beach Garden Resort Beer Garden or stimulate your tastebuds with some spicy local fare at the Champor Champor Restaurant and Bar.
If, during your stay in Pantai Cenang, you grow weary of blissful relaxation… slap yourself. But if the nine-to-fiver in you still rears its ugly head, there are plenty of attractions to keep you entertained. Laman Padi is a nearby rice field where you can take an eco-tour to discover how the lifeblood of Malaysia’s farming industry is grown and produced. Underwater World is also worth a visit, even though non-Malays have to pay more.
Name your poison… then buy it duty-free in Kuah, a town that’s alive with the buzz of consumerism. It’s not as beautiful as Pantai Cenang (Kuah’s waters are often as murky as the authenticity of the ‘genuine’ DVDs being peddled in its street markets), but it boasts brilliant shopping, bars and restaurants in and around Dataran Lang, the central square topped by a majestic eagle sculpture. (Why? Because Langkawi means ‘reddish-brown eagle’ in ancient Malay.)
For something a little different, check out Al Hana Mosque or trek to the top of Gunung Raya, Langkawi’s highest peak. Beware, though, as a curse is said to have been laid on the hill by the giant Mat Raya.
For high-end luxury and seclusion, Datai Bay is the bee’s knees, the cat’s whiskers and the dog’s… something. Go celebrity-spotting (aka stalking) on the white sand, take in a round of at the über-elite Datai Golf Club, or gaze on tropical rainforest while having all the stress massaged out of you at the Mandara Spa. If you don’t mind parting with your cash, the Gulai @ Andaman should not be missed. An open-air rainforest restaurant accessible via a traditional ‘Titi’ bridge, the Gulai serves Indian/Malay cuisine and has a garlic naan and chicken tandoori so decadent you’ll want to cry tears of spicy joy.
From traditional Malaysian delights to an Indo-Malay-German ménage à trois of flavour, Langkawi is the place to open your mind and undo the button on your jeans.
Gulai @ Andaman Decadent, exclusive and set in the sensual, steamy rainforest, this is the perfect place to fall in love. Even if the object of your affections is your entrée.
Hawker Stalls Check out the range of local delights available along, where aromas drift up and mingle with the sea air.
Backofen Restaurant Reasonably priced with great service, this is the ultimate in East-meets-West. If you thought the only time Malaysian and German could work well together was in your uncle Gustaf’s marriage to his Internet girlfriend, think again.
Red Tomato Splash Beach Café Run by expats and offering all-day breakfasts, the brightly painted interior may be hard on the hangover but great for the gut!
Breakfast Bar The old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover applies here in spades. Delicious and well-priced
Ikan Ikan So nice they named it twice, this eatery is built in the style of a traditional Malaysian home and offers open-air dining in the grounds of the Four Seasons Resort.
Aquarium Seafood Garden Follow the locals and you’ll find this pearl in the oyster of seafood restaurants. Lauded as the best seafood in Langkawi, this restaurant serves lobsters that were in the ocean just that morning.
Saffron While prices are predictably high (it’s located within the grounds of the Tanjung Rhu Resort), the indoor/outdoor setting and dazzling views dampen the sting of the bill.
Restoran Siti Fatima The place to go for a taste of North Malaysian cuisine. Try the gulai ikan talang masin (salted fish curry).
Seven Roof Restaurant Set on a rooftop, this one pleases both aesthetically and gastronomically.
February is a busy month for events, hosting the Royal Langkawi International Regatta for yacht-lovers; Le Tour de Langkawi, the richest cycling race in Asia; and the wonderfully messy Squid Scooping Challenge.
In February/March, Langkawi’s Chinese community celebrates Kedah Chap Goh Mai, where pretty young maidens throw oranges into the sea.
In April, the Langkawi Water Festival features 30 water sports and beach games. Participate to win top prizes or just turn up and watch to win lucky-draw prizes.
In July, the Department of Agriculture organises the Rambutan Trail. Sounds dull, until you realise rambutan is the local fruit that has to be tasted to be believed.
31 August is Merdeka Day (Malaysia’s Independence Day). Celebrations start the night before and continue on and on and on…
In November, Langkawi hosts the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition, followed by the Langkawi Arts and Crafts Festival in December.
When To Go
Located on the northern hemisphere side of the equator (but only just), Langkawi enjoys a tropical climate where ‘seasons’ don’t really apply. Temperatures are consistently around
30-35°C (86-95°F) during the day, only dropping to around 28°C (82°F) at night.
Like the rest of Malaysia, Langkawi’s climate is split between Wet (roughly April to October) and Dry (roughly November to March) seasons;
Rainfall is heaviest around August/September, when Langkawi experiences monsoonal rains. The islands are much quieter at this time.
Humidity is around 80%, so be prepared to sweat and leave the hair-straightener at home. (If you tend towards the frizz it’s likely your hair will form a Jimi Hendrix-style afro the moment you set foot on the island. Embrace it.)
Getting There And Around
Langkawi is accessible by air from Kuala Lumpar and boat from Kuala Kedah, Kuala Perlis and Penang. You can also get there by ferry from Satun in Thailand.
Once on the island, you can choose between renting a car (keep your driver’s licence with you at all times and be aware that the roads vary from ‘good’ to ‘clutch-the-steering-wheel-and-pray’) or 150cc scooter (avoid sleeping buffaloes while on the bike and unlicensed, uninsured touts while renting it, and remember that wearing a helmet is compulsory). In rural areas, the locals’ attitudes to road rules are casual at best, so slow down. Alternatively, take a taxi but agree on a fare in advance to avoid being scammed.
What To Miss
On Langkawi, this really depends on what you’re looking for in a holiday.
For maximum relaxation, bypass Kuah Town and head to a pristine beach like Pantai Cenang. The shopping is exciting in town, but you can experience similar markets throughout mainland Malaysia.
For an authentic taste of local culture and life on Langkawi, avoid the exclusive resorts. They’re beautiful, but you’ll leave without much of a cultural insight.
For a molestation-free holiday, give Tengorak Beach a miss. Gangs of local monkeys (seriously!) have a habit of attacking humans for food. They’ll scatter if you pretend to pick up a stone to throw at them, though. Cowards!
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