Arguably Malaysia’s finest resort island, Langkawi beckons with its stunning natural beauty, a vibrant year-round calendar of music and art festivals and a new crop of luxury hotels for the well-heeled
Known as the “Jewel of Kedah”, Langkawi is an archipelago off 99 islands on Malaysia’s northwestern coast. However, this tropical idyll has so much more than just sun, sand and sea these days. In recent years, it’s welcomed a crop of luxury resorts, new attractions including its first ever water theme park, exciting cultural festivals and more. Here’s a complete travel guide on where to go, eat and stay in Langkawi:
Things to do
1. Explore its natural attractions
Explore Langkawi’s UNESCO Geopark, Southeast Asia’s first geopark with 90 protected caves, waterfalls and mangrove sites. Not only are the rocks ancient and fascinating, it’s also rich in wildlife and nature. For stunning panoramas of the island, ride the cable car to the summit of Mount Machincang, walk over the rainforest canopy on a sky bridge and check out the Telaga Tujuh Waterfall on your return trip.
2. Frolick on its beaches
The beaches are no doubt Langkawi’s biggest attraction with the strip between Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah being the most popular. This busy and lively stretch is filled with budget accommodation, shops, bars and restaurants. It’s also home to Langkawi’s popular family attraction, Underwater World, a sprawling marine and fresh water aquaria housing over 500 fish species and more.
3. Langkawi’s big splash
Splash Out Langkawi is Langkawi’s new – and first ever – water theme park. Located in Kuah Town, this 12-acre park features over 10 attractions that will thrill both kids and adrenaline-seekers. If you fall in the latter, give the Ragin’ Racers a go: this high-speed water ride has you lying face down and speeding at 50 km/hour on a slide. For something a little muted, float about on the River of Life or brace yourselves to get dunked by a giant 250-litre bucket of water at the Big Splash Kingdom.
Beautiful Koh Lipe, located within Tarutao National Park in neighbouring Thailand, is just a ferry ride away from Langkawi. There are various morning departures from Kuah Jetty and Telaga Harbor in Pantai Kok, as well an afternoon return service from Koh Lipe.
5. Take in Langkawi from above on a helicopter ride
Langkawi is more than just beaches and yachts – get a bird’s-eye view of the island’s mountainous interior from the vantage point of a microlight plane courtesy of operators like Langkawi Air Recreation Park. Or, for an alternative but still cost-effective way to get a lay of the land, take a self-guided walking tour up the 4,270 steps to the summit of Langkawi’s highest mountain, Gunung Raya.
6. Wildlife encounters
No trip to Langkawi is complete without experiencing its incredible flora and fauna. Junglewalla, a Langkawi-based eco-tour group, lets you do just that, whether it’s via a rainforest night tour, wildlife and bird spotting trek, or signature cruise around the stunning geoparks. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Great Hornbill, a species native to Langkawi.
7. Music festivals, art biennales
Far from a sleepy island, Langkawi boasts a pretty vibrant calendar of events year-round. While these are now tentatively on pause right now, a few noteworthy events include the annual IRONMAN Malaysia Triathlon, Langkawi International Music Festival and even a Langkawi Art Biennale. Great news for art lovers: the biennale has fixed their new dates for October – follow its social channels for updates.
8. Batik-shopping at Langkawi Craft Complex
Thanks to Langkawi’s status as a Duty Free Port, shopping is a must while in the city. In between beach days, make a date at Langkawi Craft Complex, a sprawling space that sells authentic, handmade Malaysian handicrafts. Here, you’ll find a craft bazaar boasting traditional items from all 14 Malaysian states, including batik sarongs, woven baskets, homewares, wooden toys, and jewellery as well as dedicated showrooms for locally-made products like ceramics and hand-blown glass.
Where to stay
While international hotel chains such as St. Regis, The Westin, Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons have properties on the island, several deluxe homegrown hotels such as The Danna Langkawi offers digs that are just as enticing. This 5-star luxury resort, strategically located at Telaga Harbour Park, boasts an infinity pool, its own secluded 2km beach surrounded by lush greenery and a smorgasbord of outdoor fun-filled activities for guests.
In recent years, several high-end resorts and hoteliers have opened in Langkawi to cater to the well-heeled vacation-goers. Perhaps the most luxurious of the bunch is the stunning The Datai Langkawi, an ultra-luxurious and sustainable eco-resort offering an off-the-grid experience with plenty of creature comforts.
Where to eat
From casual cafes to high-end restaurants and bustling night markets to local eateries, Langkawi’s food scene is bound to spoil any foodies. Fat Cupid, has a menu featuring both cafe and brunch staples like pancakes, eggs and croissants and also one of the most highly-raved nyonya laksa on the island. For fantastic Indian fusion food, try Pia’s the Padi, a stunning eatery set amid rice fields.
Other recommendations are Red Tomato for delicious vegan-friendly grub like pastas and pizzas; Jake’s at The Royal Langkawi Yacht Club for a mean steak with picturesque marina views to boot; and Gallo Nero, Chef Lorenzo’s latest Italian outfit. For a bazaar experience, swing by The Sunday night markets at Padang Matsirat which serves excellent local snacks and fresh fruits. For fun, food, stellar cocktails and good music, visit Yellow Lounge or Thirstday Bar an atmospheric beach bar along the Pantai Cenang strip.
*In adherence to the new rules and regulations as well as recommendations by the World Health Organisation, the resorts and establishments mentioned have introduced new health and safety protocols. Do visit their official websites for updates or enquiries.
What to buy
Langkawi is a duty-free island, so many items are cheaper than on the mainland. Outlet stores like Zon Duty Free and Cenang Mall along Pantai Cenang are popular among tourists, but you can also find souvenir stores near the entrance to attractions like the cable car and at Jetty Point Complex in Kuah. Give the standard magnets and landmark tees a miss; for a uniquely Langkawi souvenir, pick up minyak gamat, an old-fashioned remedy made from dried sea cucumber that the locals swear by. The ointment is said to be perfect for healing wounds.
Show the folks back home what they missed with a copy of Enchanting Langkawi, a book that provides insightful information and great photos on Langkawi’s history, culture, food and main attractions. You can find copies from WHSmith at the airport on your way home.
What to know before you go
1. Getting around
Langkawi’s main island is 20 kilometres by 30 kilometres, bigger than Singapore, and is not one for walking around. Hire a car, use taxis or book a ride-sharing service to get from point to point, or even hire a bicycle to get a different perspective of the island.
2. Useful phrases to know
Langkawi is a resort island and English is understood in tourist sites, restaurants and hotels. If you’re new to Malaysia, why not learn a few words of Bahasa Melayu language to impress the island folks living away from the tourist hotspots?
- “Good morning” – “Selamat pagi”
- “Good afternoon” – “Selamat tengahari”
- Good night – “Selamat malam”
- Thank you – “Terima kasih”
- You’re welcome – “Sama-sama”
- How are you? – “Apa khabar?”
- Have you eaten? – “Sudah makan?”
- Yes, No – “Ya,” “Tidak”
- Goodbye – “Selamat tinggal”
- How much is this? – “Berapakah harga ini?”