Picturesque Langkawi is comprised of a group of about 100 islands, located in the Andaman sea, 30km from the mainland port of Kuala Perlis, at the very north of Malaysia, on the western coast. It’s 1-hour ferry ride away both from the mainland of Malaysia and Thailand.
Some say there are 99 islands, others – 104, but what matters here is that from wherever you will be travelling to Langkawi you will get to the same one island like other travellers. Getting to others, the majority of which are uninhabited, is possible later by boat already from the main Langkawi island.
Pulau Langkawi is a serious tourism hotspot in Malaysia and with its stunning views, white beaches and crisp waters you can see why; the archipelago of islands also makes for some great day trips.
With a population of 70,000 Langkawi Island is the largest island of the whole archipelago, both by size and population, and the best known as well. Langkawi, known also as The Jewel of Kedah (Kedah is the name of the state), is a popular destination because of its natural beauty and water-based activities, like yacht charters, kayaking and parasailing. Being only 20 kilometres wide and 15 kilometres long it’s small enough to be explored in a couple of days if you are short on time.
What’s also worth mentioning is, that since 1986, Langkawi has been a duty free island, which means that here you can buy alcohol, cigarettes, imported sweets and some other things significantly cheaper than in other places in Malaysia.
Places to stay in Langkawi:
There are only two places in Langkawi where most of the backpackers are staying. They are – Cenang beach (Pantai Cenang) and Kuah town:
Kuah: Kuah is the biggest port town on the island and staying here is easy and simple. It’s where you get off the boat from the mainland and the town teeming with cheap accommodation for backpackers on a budget on this sometimes expensive island. There are few high-end hotels, a couple of mid-range hotels and some budget guest houses. It is also arguably the best place to rent motorbikes or cars on the island, you’ll also be near to shopping malls, yacht club and ferry terminal.
Note: there is no public transport in Langkawi so getting around can be expensive.
Cenang: Just a 10-minute taxi ride south of Langkawi airport, Cenang has a great beach and is by far the most sociable place on the island, with packed-out pubs and restaurants lining the streets. Unlike Kuah, (which is 10 – 15 kilometres away from the beach) Cenang is right on the beach and there are plenty of different accommodation options, including hostels, a lot of restaurants, shops and also a shopping mall. Most of the activities available on the island can be arranged from travel agents working in Cenang.
The north of the island: There are tonnes of fantastic resorts on the far north of the island, but they’ll cost you for their slightly more scenic and relaxed atmosphere.
Things to do:
Island hopping, private and group yacht charters, parasailing, diving, snorkelling tours, mangrove tours, kayaking, eagle watching from the boat. All of it and even more you can arrange already in Cenang.
Rent a motorbike to explore this beautiful island. As there is no public transport on the island, only taxi, it’s also the best way for getting around.
Spend a day on secluded Tanjung Rhu Beach and visit the waterfalls. Tanjung Rhu is a scenic, secluded northern beach nestled in mangrove forests, and great for a chilled day in the sun. 5km from here, you can also head up to Perangin Waterfalls, which never run dry. However, as the beach is within protected area you will not be allowed to go to it after 5-6pm (depends on the season). You can also try a Langkawi speciality at Tanjung Rhu, as it’s the last place in the area to get the traditional Langkawi dish ‘mee gulung’, due to the growing expense of the key ingredient – tiger prawns.
Swim in the pools of Seven Wells waterfall. Do it if you are coming to Langkawi at the end of rainy season, which is at the end of summer/beginning of autumn and when there is more water.
Try Langkawi’s cable car. From the otherwise tacky Oriental Village, you can take the island’s only cable car, (and supposedly the steepest cable car ride in the world!) where you can walk across the stunning sky-walkway for a unique view of the cluster. The cable car is a 20-minute journey, across 2.2km and brings you over a 360-degree view of the Andaman sea, 708m above sea level. Go on a sunny day and from the top platform, you will have the best view of Langkawi and islands around it!
Go to Langkawi Oriental Village. There are few less frightening attractions as well, not just a cable car. Art in Paradise, for example, is one of the largest 3D museums in whole Asia. Give it a try!
Malaysia’s largest aquariums – Underwater world, is in Langkawi, too. Close to Cenang beach.
Go to the top of Gunung Raya Mountain. It is the highest mountain of Langkawi and the best sunset viewing spot on the island. It’s possible to go there by motorbike or car, and if you’re feeling energetic, it’s possible to take stairs and climb. The latter one I wouldn’t recommend if you are going up for sunset, as to get to the top and back you will be going through the rainforest, climbing almost 5,000 steps in one direction. Trust me it’s not the most fun thing to do when it’s completely dark!
Hand-feed sharks on Pulau Payar: The island is a rough hours boat ride away from the main island, but is rich with marine life. Many tourists coax sharks roaming nearby to feed and you can go on loads of diving trips, some down to see the blooming coral growing on deep sea wreckages.
Head to the ‘Island of the Pregnant Maiden’: The second largest island of the group, Pulau Dayang Bunting provides visitors with a unique experience of deep fresh and salt water lakes, thought by the locals to aid conception. You can even rent paddle boats to see the quiet, scenic lakes at your own pace.
You can fly or you can take a ferry. Langkawi has an international airport, that is easily accessible from the mainland port of Kuala Perlis – with boats operating on the hour. There are direct flights to and from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu, Penang, Singapore and Guangzhou.
Getting to Langkawi by ferry from mainland Malaysia is possible from three places – Kuala Kedah, Kuala Perlis and Penang (Georgetown). It is also possible to get here by ferry from Thailand. There are two options – Koh Lipe and Satun.
Where to go next?
- Penang: You can get a boat from the main jetty across to Georgetown to explore the multicultural haven that is Penang.
- Cameron Highlands: Head south-east across from the mainland to hit the Cameron Highlands, deep within Peninsular Malaysia, to enjoy the peace and tranquillity provided by this scenic area.
- Trang: Going in the opposite direction, head to Thailand and gorgeous islands of Southern Thailand. Tired of islands and beaches? Go to Trang in Thailand and explore caves and waterfalls scattered around it.
Author’s Bio: This article was written by Kaspars, a long-term traveller and blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non-fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are travelling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. You can follow their travels on their blog, WeAreFromLatvia.com.
Photos in this article by Patrick Lowe from his ebook ‘Langkawi Backpacker’.