Tucked away in a nice little corner of the Malay Peninsula, just off the major international shipping routes but along the leisure sailing routes, lies a collection of islands that provide a nice little alternative to Bali, Phuket or Samui. It also happens to be a favourite haunt. This is Langkawi.
Duty is Free
Langkawi, like a number of islands off Malaysia, has the special status of being a duty-free island (The others include Labuan, off Borneo, and Tioman, off the east coast of Malaysia). While the prospects of duty-free alcohol and chocolates (and kitchen ware. Do not ask why) seem to appeal to some, it can just be a happy secondary perk for others.
Expect to see price of alcoholic beverages to be significantly lower than on the mainland, or depending on the venue, on par with the mainland. Hunting for the ‘best’ duty-free value can also be a sport for those who come up from the mainland, and the selection of whiskeys, vodkas and scotch here is, at times, worth the effort.
With 99 islands to choose from (and significantly more during low tide), the options for you to get your own private beach retreat is endless, provided you do not mind taking the effort. Boats and yachts are available for rent or charter to explore the islands at a leisurely pace, or long tail speedboats that ferry excursions for island hopping.
For something a bit more human-powered, most beaches have kayaks, jet-skis and boards available for rents. Kayaking excursions include mangrove exploring or paddles to nearby islands, while jet-skis range from jet-ski tours to messing around along the shore.
Personally, I take a kayak out from Cenang Beach to Rebak Kechil Island, a good 20 minute paddle, depending on the currents. A good, private beach with a nice sandbar, with excellent views of the airport, arriving and departing planes, and that long stretch of commercialized beach.
For something more private, Datai Bay is more genteel in their watersport options, with excellent kayaking or stand-up paddle conditions in a protected bay. However, this option is restricted to in-house guests at the Datai Langkawi or Andaman Langkawi. Worth the premium.
Rugged Coastline Drive
The coastal road hugging the coast along the western coastline of Langkawi, from the airport towards Telaga Harbour, and onwards towards the Datai or Tanjung Rhu are some of the nicest drives in the country. Stunning shoreline, the sea peeking behind the trees, with sheer cliffs on your left and right as you do hair-pin turns on some bends.
Renting a car in Langkawi is a good option, especially if you intend to explore the island. Car rentals are relatively cheap, with good quality, new cars available from vendors. The only drawback would be finding parking if you happen to frequent Cenang Beach, though paid parking behind the mall is well situated in the middle of the strip.
Exploring the island on a bicycle is growing in popularity, heat notwithstanding. With Langkawi being the venue of the Le Tour de Langkawi and Langkawi Ironman, the closer it is to season, the number of cyclists getting used to the terrain might just inspire you to get on a bike.
Green Hills & Suspended Thrills
On approach to Langkawi, be it by air or sea, you would notice the beautiful green hills and peaks that dot the landscape. This being a UNESCO Geopark, options about to explore the natural beauty of the island.
While the mangrove tours along Tanjung Rhu would bring you around the wetlands, karst formations and eagles that give Langkawi her name (Lang being a Malay word for eagle, Kawi being a word for limestone), if you are short on time but do not mind splurging for a quick nature experience, opt for the Langkawi Cable Car that goes up Mount Matchinchang.
Langkawi Cable Car has three options, namely standard cable car, express cable car and express cable car + skywalk. While the cable car is an experience bringing you high above the jungle with vistas including the Seven Wells Waterfall, the skywalk is worth the extra premium, as you trek along the peaks with a guide who brief you on the nature in the area. The suspended skybridge is not for the faint of heart, as some sections of the Langkawi Sky Bride has glass panels for you to look down to the ravine below.
Water falls from sky to sea
Personally, one of the spectacular sights in Langkawi would be her waterfalls. In an island filled with fairy tales and legends, this particular waterfall resonates with a lot of myths and legends in Asia: located along Mount Matchinchang, up the road from Oriental Village and the start of the Langkawi Cable Car, is the Seven Wells, or Telaga Tujuh.
This is a collection of stunning waterfalls and pools that emerge from the springs close to the summit of Mount Matchinchang. While most would be at the base of the waterfall, looking at the stunning, immensely tall waterfall as it crashes down below and onwards to the sea, a stunning viewpoint can be had at the pools at the top of the waterfall.
Cool water, natural slides, rockpools and gently cascading water provides a great counterpoint to the sheer aggressiveness of the water as it goes off the ledge. This would be a good metaphor for Langkawi: peaceful yet hyperactive, commercialized yet rustically idyll.
Rent a car:
there are a number of car rentals available at arrivals of Langkawi International Airport. Taxis can be expensive, and hard to come by if you explore further afield.
Langkawi Cable Car:
-Normal prices start from RM30, but the wait can be painful, especially during weekends and holiday season
-Express: starts from RM90. Worth it.
-Express + Skytrail: RM120. Also worth it.
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.