Be mesmerized by the natural beauty of Langkawi’s islands, beaches and ancient rainforests awarded with the UNESCO Global Geopark status.
Set in azure waters, this thickly forested archipelago of 99 islands attracts visitors in search of relaxation, romance and nature. Langkawi is actually the name of the main island where the facilities are, and where it takes about an hour to drive from one side to the other. Visiting the other islands by boat is easy.
Langkawi's draw is the natural beauty of its islands, beaches and rainforests, but it is its geological heritage that has won it Unesco Global Geopark status. Three areas of ancient rainforest have been awarded geopark status: Machinchang, Kilim and Dayang Bunting.
Adding to the islands' allure are numerous legends. One tells the tale of an epic fight between two giants, whose frozen forms are what constitute Machinchang, while spilt gravy from the fight 'fell' where the main town, Kuah, is. A more recent myth is that of a maiden, Mahsuri, who was wrongly accused of adultery and cursed the island for seven generations. It is said that the island's development as a duty-free and tourism destination coincided with the end of the curse.
With tourism has come a slew of non-islanders, including expatriates and investors of high-end resorts, who have enriched the island's culinary offerings. Still, the locals hold their own and tourism is helping to revive a Langkawi special, mee gulung (noodles in an omlette), available in villages and some hotels.
Langkawi is hot and sunny all year round. July to October are traditionally the wettest months, and November to February the dryest.
Passports must be valid for at least six months at the time of entry. Generally, no visas are required for citizens of Commonwealth countries for stays of up to three months, and for citizens of ASEAN countries for stays of up to one month. Check the Immigration Department website (www.imi.gov.my) for details.
The Malaysian ringgit (RM) is divided into 100 sen. Bank notes come in units of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100. Coins are 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen. The largest number of banks and money changers are in Kuah. Credit cards are widely accepted. For ATM withdrawals, banking networks include MEPS, Maestro, Cirrus and Bankcard.
Langkawi International Airport is about 20km (12 miles) from the main town of Kuah, 8km (5 miles) to Pantai Cenang and 43km (27 miles) to Teluk Datai. Taxis will take you into town (buy a coupon at the airport) or you can rent a car at the airport.
Renting a car or motorcycle is the best way to get around the hilly island. Rental agencies are everywhere. Rates can be high during Malaysian school and public holidays and the end-of-year peak season. Alternatively, taxis are plentiful and can be booked by the hour. Negotiate the price with the driver before getting in.
Langkawi has high health standards and a good hospital. The well-stocked pharmacies are in Kuah, but major hotels keep medicine and can provide medical assistance. However, be sure to buy medical insurance and get hepatitis and tetanus shots. Visitors suffering from respiratory illnesses should avoid visiting during the haze period in August and September. Make sure the water you drink is boiled or bottled, and avoid dodgy-looking eateries. Use suncream in the day and insect repellant in the evening. Keep valuables in hotel safes and avoid carrying too much cash around.
|How are you?||Apa khabar?|
|Fine, thanks||Khabar baik|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Maafkan Saya!|
|Thank you||Terima kasih|
|What's your name?||Apakah nama anda?|
|My name is…||Nama saya ialah…|
|Pleased to meet you||Gembira berjumpa anda|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Awak ada Facebook/Twitter?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Di manakah kafe internet?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Di manakah saya boleh mendapatkan teksi?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Di manakah stesen bas/keretapi?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Tiket sehala/ulang-alik ke…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Ada bilik untuk seorang/dua orang?|
|When's check out?||Bilakah untuk mendaftar keluar?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Bolehkah anda mencadangkan sebuah restoran/bar?|
|A table for two, please||Sila berikan meja untuk dua orang|
|A menu, please||Sila berikan menu|
|The bill, please||Sila berikan bil|
|Where's the toilet?||Di manakah bilik air?|
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The town of Kuah is great for shopping, with everything from department stores and boutiques to souvenir and home-decor outlets. It also has some interesting sites, including the Tok Ibrahim temple near the library, which houses a datuk kong, a deity in the form of a Chinese statue dressed in Malay clothing. This fusion of Taoist and Muslim elements is believed to have originated in the northern states centuries ago. Eagle Square with its massive Brahminy kite is pleasant to stroll around in the evening.
Pulau Dayang Bunting
Half-day speedboat tours usually cover several islands and one of the most popular is Pulau Dayang Bunting (Island of the Pregnant Maiden), a geopark protected for its ancient limestone-marble geology. It is also famous for its eponymous freshwater lake – the legend goes that women who want to conceive will succeed after bathing in its waters. The Teluk Cecawi bay in the south has a beautiful swimming beach. Try to avoid Pulau Singa Besar (Big Lion Island) where some operators encourage visitors to feed the resident eagles as this hampers the birds' ability to fend for themselves.
Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells)
The Telaga Tujuh seven-step waterfall requires a bit of a climb to get to, but is worth it, particularly during the rainy season between August and November. Legend has it that mountain fairies come to these pools to bathe but vanish at the sight of humans. Pack swimming gear so you can soak in the water – a wonderful experience on a hot day – and a picnic to enjoy afterwards. Note that the rocks can be slippery and the monkeys a nuisance sometimes.
Pantai Cenang is the liveliest beach on Langkawi, with shops, eateries and bars galore. There is also beach-fronting accommodation here for every budget. Children will enjoy Underwater World Langkawi, Malaysia's largest aquarium, whose highlights are a walk-through glass tunnel and a good rainforest section. Pantai Tengah, south of here, is quieter but is also seeing the mushrooming of trendy cafes.
Kilim Karst Geoforest Park
Tours by boat or kayak go through Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, a remarkable mangrove ecosystem along the Kilim river and its tributaries. Uniquely growing on limestone substrate, the mangrove vegetation and stilt roots are remarkable up close. Look for wildlife in the mud and among tree branches, especially birds. Limestone features to note are caves, irregular slopes, folds in the limestone and fossils. The tours sometimes include a swim and lunch at a fish farm.
Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park
Wonderful vistas of and from the oldest mountain in Malaysia can be found in Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park at the top of Gunung Machinchang (Mount Machinchang), accessible via the Panorama Langkawi cable car ride. At 708 metres (2,323ft) above sea level, the viewing platforms and suspension bridge offer breathtaking views. On clear days, sunset is a great time to be here. Always call ahead as the cable car doesn't operate during scheduled maintenance days and in bad weather.
A tropical island that comes laden with myth is hard to beat for romance. In such a setting, Langkawi's surf-lapped beaches are ideal for all-day lazing or seaside strolling. If you want a change from your hotel beach or are staying inland, head to Pantai Tasik Tengkorak (Sandy Skull Beach) in the northwest of the island. Part of the mythical battlefield of a duel between giants, it is a lovely public beach for relaxing. Round the corner from it is an excellent coastal walk, Tanjung Buta, where large-scale, century-old geological formations can be seen.
If it is the rainy season, head east towards Teluk Datai, to check out the Temurun Waterfall. The water gushing down the steep rocks is quite impressive and the pool at its base refreshing to swim in.
Well before sunset, head to any of the resorts along the northern beaches, whether at Teluk Datai or Tanjung Rhu. These afford the best sunset views on the island which all the hotels here capitalise on with open-air, sea-facing bars. Sip on a cocktail and enjoy watching the night descend; it is a swift descent in the tropics, but amazing red hues and cloud patterns often precede it. Once dark, indulge in one of the many dinner options that include candlelight and/or sitting under the stars.
Another way to experience the sun setting is to sail into it. Cruises depart from Kuah, Pantai Tengah or the Kilim jettty and last around three hours. Packages can include dinner and sometimes free-flowing champagne.
Pantai Tasik Tengkorak, Temurun Waterfall, Beach sunset, Sunset cruise.
The magnificent rainforests of Langkawi are definitely worth experiencing. Dawn is the best time to appreciate the fresh dew-soaked forest, when birds and other creatures are most active. Head to the northwest of the island to the foothills of the Machinchang range near the Datai. A number of nature guides offer this tour. The walk is on a tarred road with little traffic and affords wonderful views of the primary rainforest, where dipterocarps are the dominant family of trees.
A more adventurous option is south of here, on the guided trek through the forest up the hilly Machinchang Formation. However, most people take the cable car; the 15-minute ride to the top provides breathtaking views. At the top, enjoy the amazing vistas from the viewing platforms and suspension bridge. While the vertical cliffs and rugged mountain peaks are stunning, pay attention also to the minute, in the form of wave ripple marks on sandstone. These point to the beginnings of these highlands, when an ancient seabed was thrust upwards.
Spend the afternoon kayaking in the mangroves of Kilim in the northeast. This is the only site in Malaysia where the mangroves grow on limestone. Meandering through the river passages, kayakers will see rugged rock formations such as irregular cliffs and rounded domes. Besides appreciating the unique vegetation that thrives in the mix of salty and fresh water, look out for mudskippers and fiddler crabs among the roots, and in the trees, kingfishers and – if you are lucky – monkeys.
Machinchang rainforest walk, Machinchang cable car, Kayaking in Kilim.
Pantai Cenang is the place to head to for breakfast. The iconic thatch-roofed Breakfast Bar has been going for decades and still dishes up the best roti canai (South Indian bread) and dhal on the island. Accompany the meal with piping hot teh tarik (literally 'pulled' tea) for the ultimate Malaysian breakfast experience.
Come lunchtime, head down the strip to Pantai Tengah where there is a variety of eateries. The Sun Café is a bright, breezy outfit with delicious sandwiches, pastas and pizzas. Down the road is another bistro, fatCupid, which is part of the La Pari-Pari hotel. The menu is inspired by local Nonya as well as Australian tastes.
For dinner, return to Pantai Cenang for the much-raved about La Sal. This high-end restaurant, which belongs to the Casa del Mar hotel, is well known for its cocktails, fresh seafood and romantic setting with tables on the beach. Alternatively, head to Kuah for a more down-to-earth experience. Wonderland Food Store is another Langkawi institution, a no-frills pork-free eatery which dishes up hearty Chinese seafood meals in a kopitiam (coffee shop) setting.
After dinner – and if it is a Wednesday or Saturday – stroll through the local pasar malam (Night Market). Located behind the main Kuah shopping strip, itinerant stall owners sell a host of fruit, snacks and meals. The Thai-influenced food is typical of the peninsula's northern states. The night market moves to other parts of the island on other days.
Breakfast Bar, Pantai Tengah, La Sal, Night Market.