If you’re looking for an island getaway that offers the best of everything, you’re in luck. Find out why Langkawi is Malaysia’s best-kept secret
The island of Langkawi, with a population of around 70,000, lies off the northwest coast of Malaysia. Surrounding the main island are approximately 99 smaller islands, some only visible during low-tide.
Slightly smaller than Singapore, the island offers a reprieve for city folks with its spectacular views of paddy fields and Malay villages set against mountainous backdrops, white sandy beaches and emerald blue seas. The island is filled with as much tropical wildlife, flora and fauna as it is with legends and folklore – some hilarious, others tragic. There is a tale of a prince who ate half-cooked rice during a wedding feast, suffered indigestion and farted at two spots now known as Pulau Kentut Besar (Big Fart Island) and Pulau Kentut Kecil (Small Fart Island). Probably the most famous legend is the one about Princess Mahsuri who was unjustly accused of adultery and put to death. Her tomb stands today at Makam Mahsuri and rumour has it that visitors are blessed with good fortune, so be sure to visit.
You might want to read up on some of the bizarre wildlife that you might encounter on the island such as the four species of primates: the long-tailed macaque, dusky-leaf monkey, slow loris and the world’s only gliding monkey, the Colugo (flying lemur). And there are no less than 200 species of birds including the white-bellied sea eagle and the mountain hawk-eagle, among others. There are no dinosaurs on the island but you might see a flying “dragon”, a close cousin of the komodo dragon.
The list of things to do in Langkawi is endless – from visits to waterfalls, islands and beaches to boat rides around mangrove swamps, cave exploration and eagle-feeding. If you’re staying at one of the larger resorts, there would be a host of activities available such as sailing, spa treatments, yoga and golf sessions.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
1. Go on a boat tour at Kilim Geoforest Park on the north end of the island. As you marvel at the pre-historic limestone hills, caves, mangrove and wildlife, you will understand why Langkawi was accorded World Geopark status by UNESCO. The highlight of the tour is the eagle-watching session.
2. Take a ride on the cable car which has been renamed Panorama Langkawi SkyCab (www.panoramalangkawi.com) to the summit of Mount Machincang for a panoramic view of the island. From there you can check out the SkyBridge or trek a few short kilometres to Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells), a popular waterfall located within the forest. Do check their website before going to make sure the service is not stopped for maintenance.
3. You can either go on an island hopping tour or opt for cave exploration at the famous Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends), which is accessible from Tanjung Rhu by boat.
4. Pulau Payar Marine Park is also worth a day-trip for snorkelling or diving. The coral reefs around there are one of the best preserved in the region and rich with marine life. However, if you don’t want to get your feet wet, try The Underwater World (underwaterworldlangkawi.my). They even have penguins in addition to an impressive display of freshwater and marine life.
5. An activity you can enjoy for free is watching the sun set at Pantai Cenang. If you prefer to have a drink while watching the sun go down, head towards Cba, the beachfront bar and restaurant just outside Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa.
TOP 3 DINING EXPERIENCES
1. If you have time on the island for just one visit to an upscale restaurant, head to Gulai House at The Datai Langkawi (www.thedatai.com). This traditional kampung-style restaurant, just a few steps from the beach, serves dinner amid a symphony of cicadas and all kinds of critters from the jungle including kamikaze bugs, who may either make a dive for your dessert or your face. Critters aside, the selection of Malaysian dishes, curries and Indian tandoori will leave you salivating for more. Expect to pay a premium for the experience, though.
2. The Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah stretches offer the greatest concentration of restaurants, bars and cafes but if you’re looking for an authentic Japanese restaurant, Unkaizan (www.unkaizan.com) is almost an institution on the island. Their resident chef sees to it that all ingredients are sourced fresh and no details are spared. Perched atop a small hill, you get to enjoy a beautiful sunset while dining.
3. If you prefer casual dining around the Kuah town, check out Wonderland (T: +6012-494 6555), a Chinese restaurant located in a food court. Locals and long-time island residents all know where it is and will visit regularly to get their fix of local stir-fried dishes and catch-of-the-day including crabs, mussels and prawns.
Other great eating places include Orkid Ria (T: +604-955 4128) for local seafood at reasonable prices and Red Tomato Garden Cafe (redtomatorestaurant.com.my) for crunchy pizzas, homemade bread served hot from the oven and tomato soup.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many luxury hotels on the island including the recently refurbished Datai Langkawi which is sequestered on the northwestern tip of the island, Four Seasons Langkawi (www.fourseasons.com/langkawi) which is the epitome of luxury and The St Regis Langkawi (www.marriott.com) located in Kuah.
A little easier on the wallet but no less alluring are Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa (www.meritushotels.com) and Ambong Ambong Langkawi Rainforest Retreat (www.ambong-ambong.com).
WHEN TO GO
Langkawi enjoys sunny weather all year round except for the western monsoon season between May and September when it may be wetter than usual. If you hate crowds, avoid school holidays and the peak summer months, especially August and September, when hotels around the island are all booked out with tourists from Europe and the Middle East. It is also best to avoid the month when The Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition (www.limaexhibition.com) is scheduled to take place.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
A number of airlines fly into the Langkawi International Airport. Once on the island, you can easily get around via taxis or hail a ride using your smartphone’s Grab app. Car rentals are also cheaper because cars are tax-free on the island.
Photos © iStock by Getty Images.