Langkawi

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.

 

When to go

Langkawi is hot and sunny all year round. July to October are traditionally the wettest months, and November to February the dryest.

Visa requirements

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.

Money

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.

Transport

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.

Health and safety tips

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.

Emergency details

The nearest embassy is in Kuala Lumpur at 209 Jalan Tun Razak (tel: (603) 2161 6277, www.mfa.gov.sg/kl).
 

Police/Ambulance/Fire brigade: 999 (112 from a mobile phone)

Basic greetings
English Malay
Hello Helo
How are you? Apa khabar?
Fine, thanks Khabar baik
Goodbye Selamat tinggal
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Maafkan Saya!
Thank you Terima kasih
Yes Ya
No Tidak
OK Baik
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?
Help! Tolong!

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Kuah

Jalan Pandak Mayah 5 and surrounding streets

 

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

Hotel pick-up usually included in tour.

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)

Gunung Machinchang (near the cable car station)

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

Jalan Pantai Cenang

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

Kilim jetty. Hotel pick-up usually included in tour.

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

Cable Car Station, Oriental Village, Burau Bay

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.

Shop

Atma Alam Batik Village

Padang Matsirat (near the Petronas petrol station)

Husband-and-wife artists run Atma Alam Batik Village, a lovely batik gallery and workshop. One-off hand-painted batik designs are available in everything from framed artwork and fabrics to tablecloths and purses. Of note are the beachwear and Malay baju kurung outfits. There are also batik demonstrations and batik painting workshops, the latter for groups. A section sells ceramic and hand-made souvenirs.

Budget $$$

Cenang Mall

Jalan Pantai, Pantai Cenang

The only mall on this beach is Cenang Mall, small, contemporary and with lots of events befitting the lively vibe of this strip. Its 42 retail outlets sell mainly international high-street brands but other products include cameras, pharmaceuticals and clothing, especially beachwear. It also has a supermarket, a good bakery, eateries, bars and a bank. The air-conditioning offers respite from the heat and the RM1-per-entry toilets are clean.

Budget $$

Kompleks Kraf Langkawi (Langkawi Craft Complex)

Jalan Teluk Yu

A unique product on sale at Kompleks Kraf Langkawi, a government arts and handicraft centre, is Langkawi crystal – handblown glass made from local sand and silicates. Visitors can watch a demonstration of this (closed on Friday). Other handicrafts on sale are batik, the gold-threaded songkek textile, silverware, brassware, pewter and items woven out of rattan and other forest products. Children will enjoy the batik painting classes. There are also exhibition galleries depicting aspects of Malay culture such as a wedding, musical instruments, fishing and weaponry.

A unique product on sale at Kompleks Kraf Langkawi, a government arts and handicraft centre, is Langkawi crystal – handblown glass made from local sand and silicates. Visitors can watch a demonstration of this (closed on Friday). Other handicrafts on sale are batik, the gold-threaded songkek textile, silverware, brassware, pewter and items woven out of rattan and other forest products. Children will enjoy the batik painting classes. There are also exhibition galleries depicting aspects of Malay culture such as a wedding, musical instruments, fishing and weaponry.
A unique product on sale at Kompleks Kraf Langkawi, a government arts and handicraft centre, is Langkawi crystal – handblown glass made from local sand and silicates. Visitors can watch a demonstration of this (closed on Friday). Other handicrafts on sale are batik, the gold-threaded songkek textile, silverware, brassware, pewter and items woven out of rattan and other forest products. Children will enjoy the batik painting classes. There are also exhibition galleries depicting aspects of Malay culture such as a wedding, musical instruments, fishing and weaponry.
Budget $$$

Padang Matsirat batik stalls

Padang Matsirat

Stop by the batik stalls at Padang Matsirat. Batik sarongs are a hot item in Langkawi as they are cheap and available in a large variety of designs and quality. Most come from Indonesia but a few stalls sell batik from Langkawi or the east coast of the peninsula. These small shops are part of the bazaar lining the narrow road to the Beras Terbakar (Field of Burnt Rice) attraction. Be sure to bargain. Other cheap goods sold include t-shirts, bric-a-brac, household items and artificial flowers.

Budget $

Pasar malam

Kuah and various locations

The itinerant pasar malam (night market) is wonderful for cheap goods, tasty bites and real local atmosphere, even if increasingly more stalls are advertising their wares in English for tourists. The largest market is in Kuah behind the main shopping strip on Wednesday and Saturday. Other locations are Padang Matsirat (Sunday), Ulu Melaka (Monday), Kedawang (Tuesday), Pantai Cenang (Thursday) and Air Hangat (Friday).

Budget $

Teow Soon Huat

A14–15 Pokok Asam, Juah (just outside Kuah)

Teow Soon Huat is a home-grown concern that has become a multi-storey department store selling cosmetics, cigars, electronics, vodka, luggage, clothing and shoes. Its basement supermarket has a good selection of local produce. The store is located within the Langkawi Parade Megamall, slightly away from the main shopping area.

Budget $$

Dine

fatCupid

La Pari-Pari, 2273 Jalan Teluk Baru, Kampung Tasek Anak, Pantai Tengah

From hearty continental breakfasts to spicy Nonya favourites and modern Australian cuisine, the fatCupid bistro serves it all up with flair yet keeps it relaxed. The night-time ambience is super-chilled, aided by jazz music and low lights. Run by three cousins, it is a little off the beaten track but worth putting in the effort to locate.

Budget $$

Jala Restaurant

The Andaman, Jalan Teluk Datai

Jala Restaurant is an open-plan restaurant with forest or sea views and – uniquely – sand underfoot. The dress code is 'resort casual' but the dining is haute cuisine. Fishermen bring seafood directly to the hotel every other day and the chefs dish up beautifully presented, fine Malay and continental cuisine. The well-trained staff are at hand to help diners make their choice. Open only for dinner.

Budget $$$

La Sal

Casa del Mar, Jalan Pantai Cenang

Diners can choose from a range of dining spaces at the well-known La Sal, whether it be a wine room, a covered patio or the beach itself, unsurprisingly the most popular option. Start with a cocktail then choose mains from a menu that includes Malaysian staples as well as innovative Western concoctions. Seafood features heavily but steaks and BBQ options are available too.

Budget $$$

No. 7 Sup Corner

Jalan Penarak

Even if you miss No. 7 Sup Corner, a self-service restaurant at the road bend after the small mosque, you will not miss the number of cars parked at the road shoulder or the locals heading to it during lunchtime. The eatery serves an assortment of Malay dishes buffet-style. For dessert, try the ABC, a sweet dessert topped with ice shavings. Open Saturday to Thursday, from 10am until the food runs out. Closed on Fridays and during Ramadan.

Budget $

Sun Café

8 Sunmall, Jalan Teluk Baru, Pantai Tengah

Families will enjoy Sun Café, a chirpy, contemporary eatery whose offerings include hearty sandwiches, thin-crust pizzas, vegetarian meals and spicy local fare. The barracuda special is worth trying and the crème brûlée and milkshakes unmissable. Like the other restaurants in the Sun group, the design of the bathroom is quite remarkable.

Budget $$

Wonderland Food Store

Pusat Dagangan Kelana Mas, Kuah

An oldie but goodie, Wonderland Food Store is one popular restaurant which sees tourists and locals rubbing shoulders. Go early to ensure a seat at a red table-clothed table. The decor is firmly no-frills but the ingredients are fresh and the service fast. This is the place to order typical Cantonese-style seafood – steamed, stir-fried or deep-fried – and in sauces such as black pepper, butter or sweet-and-sour. Open for dinner only.

Budget $

Stay

AB Motel

Jalan Pantai Cenang

One of the most established motels in Pantai Cenang, AB Motel offers accommodation on the long sandy beach as well as across the road. All rooms are air-conditioned and most have hot showers. Wi-fi is available near the reception. Breakfast isn’t included in the room rate, but being centrally located on the crowded beach strip means there are ample choices nearby.

Budget $

Casa del Mar

Jalan Pantai Cenang

Casa del Mar, a Spanish-influenced resort (whose name means 'home by the sea'), has 34 rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling sliding picture windows that open onto patios for stunning sea views. It has a famous restaurant that is worth trying, and its beach is quiet considering how easy it is to access the Pantai Cenang bustle from here.

Budget $$$

La Pari-Pari

2273 Jalan Teluk Baru, Kampung Tasek Anak, Pantai Tengah

The boutique resort of La Pari-Pari has 12 charming rooms, 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) of gardens and a strong emphasis on sustainability. The beach is a short walk away, as is the action of Pantai Tengah. The service is warm and great attention is paid to cleanliness. Don't miss the excellent food at the wonderfully contemporary fatCupid.

Budget $$

Sarong Hostel

2021 Jalan Ranggut, Kg. Ranggut, Kuala Teriang

Warmth and homeliness make for a great stay in Sarong Hostel. Located in a quiet fishing village midway between the airport and the cable car station, you would need a motorbike or car to get around. However, the bunk beds are comfortable, the rooms are air-conditioned and there's Wi-fi. The common area is great for people to congregate and the local vibe unbeatable.

Budget $

Temple Tree at Bon Ton

Jalan Pantai Cenang

In Temple Tree at Bon Ton you can stay in one of six antique homes that have been relocated here from various parts of the peninsula to be fully restored. Each house is tastefully decorated and you can rent one or two rooms or the entire house. Continental breakfast is placed in your fridge the night before. The owner, who adores cats (many of whom roam the grounds), promises that half the profits benefit the Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary Foundation. Temple Tree has a superb restaurant and bar.

Budget $$

The Datai Langkawi

Jalan Teluk Datai

This award-winning Balinese-inspired luxury resort, The Datai Langkawi, is set in isolated lush surroundings in the north. It has a beautiful beach and offers privacy. Its 124 villas and rooms are luxuriously appointed, its spa has a wide range of treatments and wonderful views and its three restaurants are highly rated. Take advantage of the free morning guided walk to experience the rainforest.

Budget $$$

Ironman Malaysia

Date varies in September

Athletes from around the world gather to swim, cycle and run in this qualifying race for the World Championship in Hawaii. The action happens in Kuah as well as on the highest point on the island, Gunung Raya.


Langkawi International Laksa Carnival

Date varies in May

This quirky event celebrates the beloved spicy noodle dish, the laksa. All the regional variations are available to sample and there are cooking demonstrations, competitions and music. Head to Laman Padi at Pantai Cenang.


Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA)

Date varies in December

This is a biennial showcase for the latest design and engineering in ships, boats, aeroplanes and other flying machines. Crowd favourites are the maritime demonstrations and aerial shows.


Langkawi International Water Festival

Date varies in April

Held during the hottest time of the year, this festival has family activities such as sandcastle-building competitions, beach sports and skim-boarding a well as exhibitions and workshops. The main arena for this is Pantai Cenang.


Le Tour de Langkawi

Second half of February

The first stage of this 1,500km (932-mile) international road bicycle race goes round the island and through some tough climbs. The race attracts international teams and the competition is intense. For more information, 


Royal Langkawi International Regatta

Second week of January

Dozens of yachts race each other in 11 classes in the 


Romantic Getaway

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.

 

 

Places to visit:
Pantai Tasik Tengkorak, Temurun Waterfall, Beach sunset, Sunset cruise.

Adventure

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.

 

 

Places to visit:
Machinchang rainforest walk, Machinchang cable car, Kayaking in Kilim.

Foodie

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.

 

 

Places to visit:
Breakfast Bar, Pantai Tengah, La Sal, Night Market.