For a grand Malaysian adventure that takes you up mountains and deep into the sea
With international borders still closed, it’s the ideal time for a great Malaysian road trip – one that begins right at your doorstep. Or, if you aren’t up for quite so much driving and want to start closer to the finish, just take one of Malaysia Airlines’ newly reinstated domestic flights to your starting point, and pick up a rental car from there.
This drive, from Penang to Langkawi, is not even 150km long, but it packs so much variety – of landscape as well as flavours – that you’re best off budgeting several days to take it all in. Start with the street eats of Penang before moving onto the hikes around Lojing Highlands and finally the stunning jungles and dive sites of Langkawi. (For seven other road trip ideas, click here.)
Total distance: approximately 120km
Suggested duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Perfect for: Anyone seeking a beach escape and jungle adventure
Before you hit the road
Be sure to soak up the best of Penang before starting your journey. Make a beeline for the food carts lined up along George Town’s New Lane or the hawker stalls at Kimberley Street for delicious Penangite classics like satay, oyster omelettes and laksa.
Stone Nine at Auto City is the place to be if you’re a fan of hot pot. Here, you and your companions get to feast in a warm, oak-furnished setting, complete with personal pots, artful plating and fresh, premium ingredients such as beef from New Zealand and Australia. Start by choosing from a range of soup bases, including kimchi, tom yum and spicy miso dashi, before selecting from a mouth-watering menu of more than 15 types of meat and seafood. Must-tries include the Kingfisher Nest (homemade three-flavoured meatballs), the winter melon nori soup and the A5 Wagyu.
With a full belly, check into one of Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La’s 387 spacious guestrooms, which include family-friendly units that can sleep up to six. Overlooking the ocean and surrounding hills at Batu Ferringhi, most rooms also come with retractable Murphy beds that can comfortably accommodate an extra guest. There’s also complimentary WiFi, an LED TV and a DVD player. The resort also features two restaurants, including the nature-themed Garden Cafe, which serves local and international dishes, and Italian food at Sigi’s Bar and Grill on the Beach. What’s more, local residents and staycationers get daily credit of RM100 to spend on site.
Pitstops along the way
After a good night’s sleep, drive over the Penang Bridge and head north towards Kuala Perlis. Along the way, stop at Tupah Recreational Forest in Kedah. This lowland forest has a mighty river running through it and is a popular spot to hike, swim and picnic. Adventure-seekers can do an additional detour further south, to the Lojing Highlands, which form the start of the trail up Mount Yong Belar. It’s not an easy climb, even if you’re fit, but the views are worth it.
When you reach Kuala Perlis, take your car on the ferry to Langkawi or leave it in a parking lot, which costs about RM10 per day.
The final stretch
Dive into Langkawi’s rich landscapes, which you can explore through offerings from eco tour group JungleWalla, a tour operator co-founded by renowned Malaysian naturalist Irshad Mobarak. Embark on a kayaking expedition or boat tour to see the mangrove forests of Langkawi. If you’re up for a challenge, try hiking to the top of Mount Machinchang, the island’s second-highest mountain, and marvel at the ancient limestone and sandstone formations. For something a little more laid-back, go birdwatching in the rainforest. Besides oriental pied hornbills and eagles, you might catch sight of monkeys and flying squirrels too. There’s also the option to book combo tours so you get the most out of the island.
To cool off, sign up for a jet ski tour at Mega Water Sports. You can take full control with a jet ski all to yourself, or share it with a partner. Mega Water Sports even offers GoPro camera rentals for RM250 each, so you can film your adventure in first-person. Opt for the award-winning Dayang Bunting Island Tour, which covers eight different islands in the span of four hours, including the famous Dayang Bunting, the second-largest island in the Langkawi archipelago. Another great, family-friendly option is the four-hour Three Island Tour, where you’ll get to visit Beras Basah Island, Singa Besar Island and Rebak Besar Island.
While KL and Penang are undoubtedly Malaysia’s food capitals, Langkawi’s dining scene is also one to keep an eye on. You can wander through the bustling night markets, swing by its first plant-based restaurant Kolma Langkawi, or try the island’s famed nyonya laksa at Fat Cupid. For those seeking a beach bar scene, hit up Yellow Café along Pantai Cenang for a spot of cold beer and great music.
When you have had enough time lounging out in one Langkawi’s many beach bars and reached the granite peak in the middle of the Gunung Raya Reserve Forest, nature lovers should take a breather at Ambong Pool Villas, a seafront sanctuary nestled on the southwestern tip. Named one of Asia’s top 25 small hotels by Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards, it features only nine private, tropical-chic pool villas, each boasting a 12-metre pool and stunning vistas of limestone cliffs and the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. Some of its villas even include outdoor tubs. Savour into a sumptuous barbecue meal, prepared by a personal chef, while taking in the sunset, or treat yourself to a bespoke spa treatment, where trained therapists marry traditional Malay techniques with the soothing properties of local herbs and flora.
Of course, you can’t head back in the car without first clocking in a few epic dives or snorkelling trips at stunning sites like Coral Garden and Sponge Reef around Pulau Payar Marine Park.
With thanks to our partners Stone Nine, Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La, JungleWalla, Mega Water Sports, Ambong Pool Villas