Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea,
some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The islands are a part of Malaysia's Kedah state, but are adjacent to the Thai border. By far the largest of the islands is the eponymous Pulau Langkawi (Langkawi Island) with a population of some 45,000, the only other inhabited island being nearby Pulau Tuba.
Sun, sand and sea on the beach
The name "Langkawi" is believed to be related to the kingdom of Langkasuka, itself a version of the Malay negari alang-kah suka ("the land of all one's wishes"), centered in modern-day Kedah. The historical record is sparse, but a Chinese Liang Dynasty record (c. 500 AD) refers to the kingdom of "Langgasu" as being founded in the 1st century AD.
Langkawi eventually came under the influence of the Sultanate of Kedah, but Kedah was conquered in 1821 by Siam and Langkawi along with it. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 transferred power to the British, which held the state until independence, except for a brief period of Thai rule under the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. Thai influences remain visible in the culture and food of Langkawi.
Langkawi remained a sleepy backwater until 1987, when the island was granted tax-free status with the intention of promoting tourism and improve the lives of the islanders. The following boom was spectacular and now Langkawi figures on most every European travel agency's radar.
Sheltered by the mountainous backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, Langkawi escapes the northeastern winter monsoon entirely and enjoys sunny skies in winter when the eastern provinces are flooded. Coupled with natural white sand beaches, lush jungle foliage and craggy mountain peaks - but hampered by inaccessibility - the island was at one time touted as "Malaysia's best-kept secret".
Langkawi, its formation was intricately associated with myths and legends. The two most prominent mountains in Langkawi Gunung Machinchang (Mat Cincang Mountain Range) and Gunung Raya (Mat Raya Mountain) tell the tale of the fight between families of giants.
The story tells the tale of a wedding - with Mat Raya's son wanting to marry Mat Cincang's daughter. During the wedding feast, a fight broke out between the two wedding parties. Pots and pans were flung at each other. Some said, the fight started when the son caught flirting with another woman.
Followed after the fight, a series of strange name fall on Langkawi. A large pot of gravy (kuah) was broken and the contents flowed onto the ground. Where the gravy spilt, became know as Kuah (the largest town on Langkawi island) and where the crockery (belanga) was broken (pecah) was location of the village Kampung Belanga Pecah (belaga pecah means broken crockery). The gravy seep in (kisap) through the land at the village named Kisap.
Most visitors arrive by air to Langkawi International Airport (LGK), which has frequent connections to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and even scheduled international flights to eg. London in the high season. The airport is fairly big and modern and has basic facilities like money exchange, ATMs and a taxi service.
Most flights are with one of three airlines:
- Malaysia Airlines fly several times a day to Penang and Kuala Lumpur. They are not the cheapest, but prices are still normally reasonable. Direct flights to London have been terminated.
- AirAsia operate 3 flights daily to Kuala Lumpur. Excellent for domestic flights, since they operate like buses and charged airfares from RM9.99 if you book well in advance.
- Silk Air fly to and from Singapore twice a day. This is a short-haul, lower service version of Singapore Airlines. The prices are reasonable.
- But many still prefer the more adventurous crossing by fast air-conditioned boats from Kuala Perlis or Kuala Kedah on the mainland. Some even take the special ferry services from Penang Island. The usual jump-off points are from Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah. The one-way fare from Kuala Kedah is RM15. Recently, the operators had wanted to increase the ticket price but the plan was met with stiff opposition from the public. Even if there is an increase, it would be quite minimal. Ferries also operate to Penang.
- From Penang to Langkawi - Ferry trips average 3 hours each way. From Penang, 8.15 am and 8.30 am ferry trips but ask if the ferry stops at Pulau Payar to pick/drop passengers. Avoid the Pulau Payar one as it saves about 15-20 mins. From Langkawi, the ferry trips to Penang are at 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Price for return trip (you can have an open booking for the trip back - confirm while you are on Langkawi island later) is RM85 per person. You can park your car at the parking space in front of the Penang Clock Tower for RM10 for the 1st day and RM5 for subsequent days. It is safe to do so - guarded at night by the Chinese who take the parking fee from you.
From Southern Thailand
For some people Langkawi offers nothing much compared to the bustling beach thoroughfares in neighbouring countries such as Thailand's Phuket or Indonesia's Bali. However, it is a matter of taste and preference as Langkawi offers a much more sedate, laid-back, family-friendly package. Sex is not the pull of these beautiful islands. It just doesn't need to be sleazy to offer one of the best tropical island holidays money can buy today. And by the way, recent reports that Langkawi is the training ground for Thai terrorists are not true. No one can conduct such activities on Langkawi without being easily spotted. Langkawi is just a friendly peaceful place for all peace-loving people of the world.
With a paced and controlled development, Langkawi is virtually free from pollution although at certain times of the year some of the more popular locations can be rather crowded. These would include the main beach thoroughfare of Pantai Cenang.
What do you do in Langkawi besides just lazy days of sunbathing on the powdery white sandy beaches? It depends on your preference again. I would suggest taking a boat ride to visit the many out-lying islands, most of which are uninhabited and just great to get lost for a day. Get stranded on one with a day's supply of food and drinks (beers and spirits are dirt cheap as they are duty free in Langkawi) and you will know what I mean. And as for selections you are only moments away from your favourite brand of beer, whisky, brandy or great wine.
Seafood is abundant in Langkawi, although not all are sourced from the waters off the islands, but imported from nearby Thailand. But, who cares? They come from the same seas anyway. Partake of the myriad ways food and seafood are prepared. Chose anything from barbequed barracuda, fresh squids, prawns to various shellfish.
With its proximity to Thailand, some of the local cuisines would, invariably, have some Thai influence. Just look at the number of restaurants and stalls offering Thai Tum Yam style cooking.
You will also not be at lost should your palate accept only western food. English, American, Italian or even French cuisine can be had almost anywhere at really reasonable cost.
For the nature lover in you, the islands and the jungle on the main island offers endless days of bird-watching, trekking and exhilarating immersion within the peaceful confines of the verdant jungle. Talking about birds, take half a day at least to get up close and personal with the famed Brahmini Kite eagles of Langkawi. There are boat tours that take visitors to their favourite feeding grounds around Pulau Beras Basah and Pulau Dayang Bunting.
Pulau Dayang Bunting is worth a visit. Set in the center of the island is a fresh water lake. Some may compare this to the Thale Nae emerald salt water lake in the Ang Thong National Marine Park of Thailand near Ko Samui. For visitors who are adventurous, you can rent a kayak to go across the lake to a look out point. Here you can see the lake behind you and sea just in front of you from a spectacular lookout point.
Mangrove tours are a must. These can be arranged with the boat operators at Pantai Cenang. There are many locations for this activity, including the most popular one at Kilim. Other operators will take you to the mangrove forests of Pulau Dayang Bunting or Tanjung Ru.
Great caving can be had, especially around the north shores of the island. Get yourself a book on the caves of Langkawi as a guide and explore these dank and dark subterranean environments to the hilt.
Like most popular destinations, always be wary of tourist traps. Although not many in Langkawi, they do exist. Just talk to a friendly local or a long-staying visitor and you will get by nicely.
Langkawi is affected by the milder western monsoon (May-September), and while diving is possible in the nearby Pulau Payar Marine Park 45 minutes away by boat, water clarity tends to be poor. Lately evidence of the ravages of tourism can be seen and there have been a public outcry to bring the island back to its original state.
Visit the Cable car set in the Oriental Village. Its a must-see for the views of the islands and the seas it provides. But make sure you visit it on a day with clear skies. Otherwise there's not much point in going 700+ metres high up just to watch clouds. It costs RM15 per person.
Practically all resorts have their own restaurants and most tourists choose to eat in, but there are a few other options as well. Be adventurous and strike out on your own to savour the numerous foods at the stalls and restaurants all over Langkawi. Try one of the many seafood restaurants.
For a taste of simple Malay-style breakfast, just walk up to a small stall opposite the Underwater World in the mornings and feast on the famous freshly-prepared banana leaf-wrapped nasi lemak (steamed rice in cocnut milk). The price is most affordable at less than US50 cents for a pack. Go local and enjoy this with a glass of hot teh tarik or really good local coffee. This very unassuming stall is just simple and great (clean too!) The nasi lemak comes with curried beef, squid in chili, friend salted fish or chicken.
- Restoran Fatimah near the Kampung Tok Senik Resort on the road to Ulu Melaka. Try this for really authentic Malay food. Their lunch spread is amazing - so amazing that they attract bus loads of Malaysian visitors. If you are bent on trying things local this is the place. Just enjoy the food and leave your cultural baggage and complaints behind as you will be in a totally different ambiance but friendly, nevertheless.
- Rafi's Place is a rustic shack sandwiched between Restoran Aliah's and Tomato Nasi Kandar on Pantai Cenang. No visible signboard either but ask around and you will find Rafi's. Locals come here for the nasi lemak (RM3) and the local tea and coffee (RM1) which are good by the way. Rafi is a Penangite but has been on the island since 1988 so he considers himself very much local. Ask him for recommendations and he'll happily tell you. Ample parking space in front of his 'shack'. Good ambience especially early mornings.
- AddaMaya Cafe on Pantai Cenang (near Haji Ramli's; or opposite Nadia's Comfort Inn) is a small, cosy place for meals and coffee. The chef can whip up great meals - from local dishes to western fast food easily (and in that little cabin of his). Problem is, it can get a bit dusty as it is located fronting the main road. Locals like to come here for good food at reasonable prices.
- Beach Garden Resort's Beer Garden Pantai Cenang  offers 1st class Western & Malay dishes in a stylish holiday - beach atmosphere. Superb wine selection, draft beer and German wheat beer (own import) as well as cocktails.
- Champor Champur, Pantai Cenang. Moderately wacky fusion food in a fusion setting courtesy of a Dutch-Malaysian couple with an affinity for Africa.
- Coco Beach, not far from the airport.
- Fook Look Chinese Restaurant, at the Oriental Village. Your dinner comes with a free Chinese theatre performance!
- Hole in the Wall Fishfarm & Restaurant, Kilim River,  Usually it is not a big deal to go out for a good meal but in this case only insiders will find the way to Rahmad's floating restaurant & fish farm. The Hole in the Wall is a unique spot where you can combine a pleasant seafood lunch or dinner with nature & lifestyle. They serve the freshest Malay style seafood you will be able to eat on Langkawi island. The traditional dishes of freshly caught fish, prawns, crab, lobster etc. are famous. Enjoy Lunch or Dinner in the green environment of the mangroves. Sailing yachts parked around the place give a very special ambience. Animal lovers can feed the resident stingray and other exotic fish. There are plenty of fantastic restaurants in Langkawi but none of them is floating on river. This stream is not like most people know rivers. It is part of the amazing scenery of the Kilim Mangrove Forest and its surrounding is so impressive that it is hard to describe only with words. After your meal you might have one, two or even more drinks at the floating bar. Apart from soft drinks,beer, wine and mixed drinks are served. Shuttle service from Kilim jetty to the fishfarm restaurant and return is free of charge for lunch and dinner guests. In case you arrive with dinghy or kayak, the restaurant provides free parking.
- Matahari/Sun Village, Pantai Tengah. Offers good but not necessarily authentic Malay food in an atmospheric garden full of lush greenery, water features and exotic art.
- Oasis (Pantai Tengah/Cenang) is a great beach hangout serving western meals and drinks. It comes alive in the evenings. Come shoeless as the feel of the soft powdery sand is, oh so, good...
- Tulsi Garden at Pantai Tengah. Good Indian food (northern and southern). You may even get to talk to the owner, Palani on some nights. Quiet place to have dinner and chat with friends. Best part is you can ask the chef to tone down the chili or spiciness levels.
- Mare Blu at Perdana Quay, Telaga Harbour Park (Pantai Kok) is the only authentic Italian restaurant on Langkawi island. Lorenzo, Partner & chef offers typical Italian food, good wines and draft beer. The Mediterranean style surrounding is just beautiful and the tables are set up right on the waterfront. The Telaga Harbour Park is near the Hotels Mutiara Burau Bay, Berjaya, Sheraton Beach and Tanjung Sanctuary, The Datai & Andaman.
- The Loaf at Perdana Quay, Telaga Harbour Park (Pantai Kok) is a Japanese-style bakery & bistro opened in August 2006 and owned by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia. Quality breads and full meals daily except Thursday. Open from 8am to 11pm. Amazing view of the harbour and the yachts especially if you have your breakfast al-fresco outside. Attentive staff. Bread prices starts from RM4 while beverages average RM8. Try Tun's Favourite Breakfast set (2 softboiled eggs, a bowl of mutton curry and thick toasted bread) with coffee and orange juice. Good place to have a leisurely breakfast.
Thanks to the island's tax-free status, alcohol is remarkably cheap at eg. RM 1.50 for a beer can, less than a third of the RM 5 (and up) on the mainland. Although alcoholic drinks come cheap please be advised that Malaysia is a Muslim country (a liberal and tolerant one at that) but all the same please respect local culture and communal sensitivities. Malays and Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks and while they do tolerate non Muslims who do, try not to behave in a rowdy imbibed manner near them, their houses, mosques, etc.
Budget accommodation is mainly concentrated at and immediately around Pantai Cenang.
- AB Motel is one of the many budget hotels at Pantai Cenang. Charges can be from 90RM for a beach side room to 60 RM with one on the other side of the road but with a balcony and 50 RM for a room without one.
- Awana Porto Malai - a charming holiday resort destination. Rates from RM145.
- Beach Garden Resort , a small, German managed insider resort right on the beach of Langkawi's Pantai Chenang. Short ways, clean rooms, small pool, ice cold draft beer and imported German beer. One of the best reataurants on the island. Cosy athmosphare.
- Best Star Beach Resort, on Pantai Cenang. Clean, comfortable and friendly. It is located just next to the AB Motel, which is best avoided.
- Eaglebay Hotel Langkawi, tel. 604-966 8585/6019-4499 880, facing the biggest park and the longest beach in town. 15 minutes walking distance from Kuah Jetty.
- Federal Villa, further up Pantai Cenang just at the end of Pantai Tengah. Part of the Holiday Villa Resort. Pleasantly priced beginning at about RM180 or so it is a brick and mortar complex.
- Kampung Tok Senik Resort, located along the road to Ulu Melaka. For a great rustic and rural ambiance try this full-fledged resort with a difference. No beaches here but a truly green surrounding.
- Langkasuka Beach Resort, Kuala Muda. The closest resort to the airport and sister to the Helang Hotel, this 215-room property has its own private beach. Rates start from as low as RM109 nett on promotional packages.
- Sandy Beach Resort, Pantai Cenang. Has been there for quite sometime. Rather sprawling... straddling both sides of the Pantai Cenang road. The beach-facing rooms are most popular. The regular beachside barbeque is great.
- Sunset Beach Resort,  on Pantai Tengah/Pantai Cenang. This is indeed a great place where you will find solitude and that much sought after quiet as the place is tucked within a narrow niche away from the bustle of the Cenang thoroughfare.
- Tropical Resort on Pantai Tengah, opposite Sun Cafe. Quiet and clean chalets which go for RM80 a night. Owned by Musa and his German wife, Laila. Rooms come with fan, aircond, attached bathroom (hot and cold shower) and two single beds and TV. You can walk right down to the beach as the chalets are but a minute's walk away. Convenience shops, Malay style eateries, car rentals, stylish cafes, spa and all the amenities you need are just a walk away. Long term stays at discounted rates are available. Tel:604-955 4075
- Berjaya Beach & Spa Resort  is the biggest on the island, with 502 rooms and suites. The hotel is located on Pantai Kok, just next door to the Mutiara Burau Bay. There are seven F&B outlets including the newly-opened Mizumi Japanese Restaurant.
- Four Seasons Resort  is the quintessential opposite of the Tanjung Rhu - its philosophy is of the school of thought of "If I'm here, I'm here", and thus makes no attempts to blend into the rainforest that it's located in. It's very luxurious, but many feel it lacks the tranquility and elegance of the aforementioned hotels.
- Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa  is one of the first 5-star resorts to open in Langkawi, way back in 1988. Recently rebranded as a Meritus, the resort's 350 rooms are spread over 51 clusters of elegant wooden chalets offering pool, sea or lake views. The Meritus offers seven F&B outlets including two pool bars and the excellent Niyom Thai Restaurant.
- Sheraton Langkawi  and Westin Resort & Spa  are the two Starwood properties on Langkawi. The larger Sheraton Langkawi is next to the Berjaya Resort and located on Pantai Kok in the North-West. The more luxurious Westin, formerly the Sheraton Perdana, is a 3km drive from Kuah town and has 200 recently-renovated rooms.
- Tanjung Rhu Resort  is a luxurious resort on what most people consider to be the best beach on the island. It is a very high quality hotel with all the "little details" that make a resort truly 5 star present and correct. It has been built to minimize any environmental damage and to blend in well with its surroundings. The facilities are stunning (60 metre pool, abundant gardens, restaurants, etc.) and very well maintained. Very expensive, although slightly less so than the Andaman and the Datai.
- The Datai  and The Andaman  are top flight resort hotels. Located on the island's north coast, these are among the best tropical island getaways in the world (the Datai has been rated one of the world's best hotels by Conde Nast Traveller) and are popular among honeymooners and jetsetting celebrities. Unfortunately they are also priced to match: list prices start around RM1000 a night during the off seasons and climb into the stratosphere.
Broadband is available and tourists can easily find an Internet cafe along Pantai Tengah, Pantai Cenang and Kuah.
It is safe on Langkawi. You don't even have to lock your car because it cannot get off the island without customs knowing about it! That said, you still need to be careful.