Despite the island’s close borders to Thailand, I find that the top attractions in Langkawi have more in common with eco adventures of Borneo, than the generic island hopping tours along Thailand’s Andaman Sea. Which is of course a good thing, as the island is not only less crowded, backpackerish and annoying, but it is a lot more diverse in sightseeing and nature. As Langkawi just shares a wealth of experiences and attractions that are unique to only these shores of Malaysia. Yet the island does still have the conveniences of a big tourist destination, and the Pantai Cenang area would be the main tourist drag on the island (below left), which is often thought of as the Khaosarn Road of Langkawi. Only it’s nowhere near as bad as Khaosarn Road. But this area does host most of the island’s nightlife, which starts later than expected, as technically Langkawi is further north than a number of Thai provinces, yet it is set in a time zone, one hour behind (GMT+8). So sunset comes an hour later. Otherwise, we decided to escape the tourist hubs on our recent visit, at Resorts World Langkawi, on a peninsula just south (below top) which feels peaceful and world’s apart. So there are places to still easily escape the tourism. Anyway, here are some of our top attractions in Langkawi.
A Duty-Free Island
I have often touted Langkawi as being my favourite island in Southeast Asia, but it is for somewhat of a niche reason, as Langkawi is, in fact, a Duty-Free island. And alcohol is just ridiculously cheap (in an otherwise notoriously expensive country). And for me, a visit is almost like a free holiday (on returns from Penang) as I can offset my costs by bringing home cheap booze. Just check the image below/right. That’s two litres of Johnny Walkers Red Label for RM 75 (around 580 Baht). That’s two litres. That’s under a third of prices in Thailand. So bagging a few bottles of Penfold Bin 2 for example (as wine taxes are the worst in Thailand) and you’ve already offset the extra travel costs. Fill a suitcase and you’ve covered the trip. Although there is obviously a limit when crossing borders, so it’s best to be savvy. Anyway, it is a niche interest, but throughout the island alcohol will be cheap, at restaurants, and bars, and everywhere. Although, ironically, I find it more expensive at the airport’s duty-free. And the cheapest I’m near sure are along Pantai Cenang where you will find Zon, Warisan and Coco Valley (my pick) duty-free shopping centres all connecting to each other, next to Underwater World.
Langkawi Geoforest Park (Unesco)
Langkawi is somewhat synonymous for its eagles, and the island’s landmark eagle sculpture greets you on every arrival and exit to the main pier at Kuah. And the name Lang Kawi itself translates, loosely, as “Eagle Rock”. So it would almost be rude to visit and not see them. And the best way to do this is on the Langkawi Geoforest Park tours which stop at the main feeding sites of the island’s eagles. But the eagle’s are just the beginning of a rather fascinating eco-tour adventure, which includes attractions such as the adorable Dusky Leaf Monkeys which are famous for their bright ginger babies during the right season. Then there was the stop at a bat cave full of bats, and a completely unexpected stop on passing a deadly pit viper in the branches of the surrounding mangroves. And while I’ve seen hundreds of macaques before, this was the first I’d seen them swim, and ask politely for us to feed them (rather than just stealing our stuff). Then there were the groups of giant Fruit Bats which nest high in the tree tops of the rainforests. although much of the overall fun came from darting through dense mangroves, and between the picturesque archipelagos and karsts, in the back of a speed boat. The scenery is unforgettable. Check our full review here.
The Langkawi Cable Car
Admittedly the Langkawi Cable Car was not the most enjoyable of attractions, as it really is hugely popular and can be packed with tourists. But the views from above, over the archipelago’s emerald peaks and aquamarine surroundings, show why Langkawi truly is the jewel of Malaysia. As the island is just ridiculously beautiful from above. But also this has to be the first time that we’ve actually queued to be put into a queue (although there is always the express ticket option at triple the price). Where we found that queuing for the cablecar could be up expected to two to three hours. And while “Screw That!” would have been my usual response, it would have also been a waste of two taxi fares, so we held out. And luckily it did only take 40 minutes of queueing before our number is announced on the loudspeaker, for us to join another queue. During which time we fed rabbits, and ate lunch, and explored the various stuff on-site. Anyway, when we arrive to the queue, we wait again for roughly 40 minutes, before we are squashed into a cable car gondola with a local lady and her overexcited kids. And in all, I guess we just chose a bad day. Anyway, it was worth the wait, as the views from above, and from the cable cars are undoubtedly spectacular. And it’s definitely one of the top attractions in Langkawi.
This is another personal obsession of mine, as much of my time in Langkawi, or anywhere in Malaysia, or the world, revolves around eating local food. And Malaysian food is one of the most diverse and exciting cuisines I can think of bringing a mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay cuisines, but also many Thai influences in Langkawi due to the near borders of Thailand. But what I will always crave more than anything is the local Mamak food, and authentic Indian food (Mamak is, more or less, Malaysians of Tamil Muslim and South Indian origin) as I find that Malaysia shares some of the best Indian food outside of India. Honestly. And one of the best places to check it out Nasi Kandar Tomato, on Pantai Cenang, a twenty-four-hour restoran with a Nasi Kandar canteen (rice with various curries), a Tandoor oven area, and a Roti Canai stand. Some of the best foods include their Naan Breads, their Tikka and Tandoori Chicken, and probably a Mutton Murtabak (stuffed mutton roti) with curries. And then I’d hit the Nasi Kandar. Unbeatable food. Also, it makes the ideal breakfast stop where locals sip Teh Tarik (pulled tea) and Kopi (coffee) although there is only one down side to them, as they do not sell alcohol due to Halal influences in Malaysia (otherwise Chinese restaurants are fine). But don’t forget the Malay staples of the region like Assam Laksa and Nasi Lemak.
The Sunset Cruise
This attraction offers a bit of everything; with Good food, free flow booze and some spectacular sunset views. And a good indicator of how fun the night was, was the following morning, when we had to suffer through an early flight to Kuala Lumpur. Yet we have no regrets whatsoever as the sunset cruise was just so ridiculously fun, and the last thing I remember was dancing off the boat, holding a full glass of gin, which is really weird. As I never dance, or drink gin, or even join cruises for that matter. And while I have been down on similar haphazard “booze cruises” before, found often on the backpacker trails of the Andaman, the Sunset Cruise on Langkawi was more amiable, less raucous, and ultimately more enjoyable for everybody. Although I may have gone a bit overboard (not in the literal sense) on the all-inclusive barbecue buffet and liquor bars. But it was no doubt the perfect ending to our last fun-packed holiday to Langkawi. Although this will certainly not be our last visit.
Travel to/from Langkawi
Most of my visits to Langkawi follow Thai Visa runs from Penang, where boats leave daily, both in the morning (at around 08.00 to 09.00) from Georgetown’s Swettenham Pier. The journey takes roughly 2h30mins with the earlier stopping at Pulau Payar which is also worth a short visit (full routes, schedules and fares from Penang to Langkawi by boat). Otherwise, there is no direct flight room from Thailand and other overland options in Satun (as I did here) and Koh Lipe. It is however cheap to fly to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur, with the low-cost carrier Air Asia offering a handful of daily flights and both destinations make almost the ideal vacation in Malaysia. We flew between the two for just over 100 RM which is similar to the price of overland travel by train and boat from Kuala Perlis. In short, it’s cheaper and easier to fly. Arriving at Langkawi pier there is then a connecting mall area with a taxi stand out front where taxis are a fixed price starting 6 RM around the island. To Pantai Cenang it cost a fixed price of 24 RM and haggling ended in the same result.