No matter how long your list of ‘island getaways’ may be, there’s always room for one more ultimate destination. One such paradise that may not be familiar to you now, but soon will be, is Langkawi, Malaysia. Situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, this archipelago of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea is among the most admired regions by locals and visitors alike – so much so that it’s official name is Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah.
What is Langkawi? Until 1987, the area was best known as home to fishermen and other seafarers. But the Prime Minister at the time saw the potential of Langkawi as a vacation spot, and gave it tax-free (that’s duty-free for you shoppers) status to boost its visibility. Today, the local economy is sustained primarily by tourism, and the region was even named a ‘World Geopark’ by UNESCO in 2007. By 2012, the region was welcoming 3 million tourists a year (many of whom come during the dry season from November through February). While there are many islands in the archipelago, only two are populated – the eponymous Pulau Langkawi, and Pulau Tuba.
There are several options for getting there. The Langkawi International Airport welcomes several Asia based airlines, through hubs like Penang, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hat Yai, and Phuket. If you’re already in Malaysia, you can also get there by ferry. Penang, for example, is about 2.5 hours away, and the ride is only $70 RM (Malaysian Ringgit), which is about $17 USD as of this writing. If Thailand is part of your trip, you can also take a ferry from Ko Lipe – it’s only $32 USD and takes only 75 minutes.
Once you’ve arrived, getting around is best accomplished by renting a bicycle ($2-3 USD/day) or motorbike ($12 USD/day), or car ($13 USD/day). There is no public transportation, so make sure that you vet your rental options beforehand – identify legitimate rental services that have permits and are insured. And bring your drivers’ license with you at all times, as the local police will be strict.
The allure of Langkawi undoubtedly lies with its nature, which offers ample opportunities to relax and unwind. The Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls is not only a sight to behold, but its Seven Wells – large pools along its path – are a popular place to bathe. Fans of white sands can find themselves lounging on some of the best beaches they’ve ever seen, like the busy Pantai Chenang, which is filled to the brim with beachside markets, restaurants and bars, and Tanjung Rhu, where limestone caves and untouched waterways share space with upscale resorts.
In terms of watersports, boating and jet skiing are widely popular, but diving and snorkeling are reportedly not quite at the level of clear, aquamarine seas elsewhere. Other activities include cruises, cable car rides, bird watching, and eagle feeding. But nothing might grab your attention more than Crocodile Adventureland, where visitors can watch hourly feedings, ride a croc-drawn rickshaw, or get this… watch a boxing match between a man and a crocodile.
Exploring the local cuisine and picking up gifts is quite easy, as the main town of Kuah is filled with Duty-Free Shops and a wide-range of restaurants, and the island’s many hotels and resorts also offer dining options. Seafood, in particular, will be of interest to diners, as every day offers a fresh catch. For the best Malaysian food however, make sure to explore the local food stalls peppered along the streets.
But remember when you are drinking alcohol, that much of the population is Muslim. So please be on your best, most respectful behavior.
And whether your budget is large or small, lodging ranges from hostels to resorts. Those looking to spend less will be able to find lodging close to the beach for less than $40 USD/night, but the average for a resort style hotel will run you up to $250 USD/night, depending on the time of the year. For the most opulent beachfront hotels, like the Four Seasons or the Tanjung Rhu Resort, expect to spend about $480 USD/night. Other five-star hotels can be found nestled within rainforests, such as the Andaman Langkawi, the Berjaya Langkawi Resort, and the Datai Langkawi.
With its balance of nature, location, and price, Langkawi is certainly one for the books. Make sure to go before everyone else finds out about it.