Langkawi, the “Jewel of Kedah” is an island blessed with lush tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches, gorgeous natural landscapes, intriguing legends and myths, and delicious seafood. Located about 30km off the mainland coast in the northwest of Malaysia, the island is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations — locals and foreigners alike flock to the island for some much needed rest and relaxation, and lots of fun in the sun.
I was lucky to have visited Langkawi twice in the last few months, spending almost a week during my visits. I rented a car on both occasions and had a great time just driving around the island and exploring everything it has to offer; from its most popular attractions, to hidden temples and small villages. Langkawi has a little something for everyone — the history buffs, the sunseekers, the animal and nature lovers, the adventure addicts and the shopaholics.
So from the experiences I’ve had on the island, this is my list of top 20 things to do in Langkawi for a complete island immersion.
1) Ride the Sky Cab to the Sky Bridge
This is one of the most popular (and probably the most expensive) attraction in Langkawi. The base of the cable car is at the Oriental Village, which is a large themed open-air complex with shops, fun activities, exhibits and restaurants. From there, for RM30 (with myKad) and RM45~US$11 (for foreigners), the Sky Cab brings visitors up the second highest mountain in Langkawi, Gunung Mat Chincang. There are two stops, the first at 600m, and another at 950m. It is at the last stop that you can access the Sky Bridge, which is a 125m long curved suspension bridge hovering over the mountain range. It costs an additional RM15~US$4 to get onto the walkway via the funicular railway, the Sky Glide.
The scenery from the mountain top is spectacular — the rainforest and the sea as far as the eye can see. You can also spot the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls, Tarutao Island in Thailand and other parts of Langkawi on a good, clear day. Walk up the stairs to the highest observation deck as well; it offers more stunning vistas, and a complete view of the Sky Bridge.
2) Go Island Hopping or Cruising
What better way to see Langkawi and the many islands surrounding it, than from the sea? The Langkawi island-hopping tour is provided by tons of tour operators, travel shops and hotels around the island. It usually costs about RM35-50 (~US$9-13) per person on the group boat tours. It covers three beautiful islands located south of Langkawi — Pulau Dayang Bunting (which translates to Island of the Pregnant Woman due to its shape) with a beautiful fresh water lake and trekking opportunities; Pulau Singa Besar (Island of the Big Lion) to watch the feeding and hunting of the majestic eagles; and Pulau Beras Basah (Island of Wet Rice) for swimming, snorkeling and lounging under the sun. If you’re up for an adrenaline pumping ride, there are island-hopping tours on jet-skis too.
If a tour is not for you and you don’t mind splurging a little, there are various charter companies on the island that rent out yachts for a one day, half day or sunset tour around Langkawi. I enjoyed my cruise around the islands — just the wide open sea, the beautiful views, the wind in my hair, and a glass of bubbly.
3) Dive in the Pulau Payar Marine Park
Snorkelling is a more popular activity, but I only recommend diving in the Pulau Payar Marine Park. The marine park is about an hour southeast of Langkawi, and encompasses four islands — the main Pulau Payar, and the smaller Pulau Kaca, Pulau Lembu and Pulau Segantang. Dive sites are scattered around these islands, and there are plenty of corals (albeit severely bleached at some areas) and lots of marine life. You can read about my dives here:- Scuba Diving in Langkawi.
Lots of people head to the Pulau Payar Marine Park to snorkel, but from my observation, many of the tour companies that offer snorkeling packages cramp about a hundred people onto one boat. So if this is something you want to do, make sure you read up and inquire beforehand, or hire a private tour. The tour usually takes an entire day (from about 8am to 4pm), and a good one should cost about RM200 (US$50) per person.
4) Learn the History of the Island
Langkawi is famous for its intriguing history and legends. Most of these stories have been told to me as a child, and the most well-known is the legend of Mahsuri. It is a story of love, jealousy and betrayal; and ending with Mahsuri’s death and her curse on Langkawi for 7 generations. A complete narration of the legend, as well as Mahsuri’s tomb can be found at Mahsuri’s Tomb and Cultural Center. There is also a Kedah Village in the vicinity, where you can find traditional Malay houses and buy some local desserts. The entrance fee is RM10 (US$2.5).
Another historical site in Langkawi is Beras Terbakar, or the Field of Burnt Rice. It is the very spot where the villager’s burned all their rice supplies to stop the Siamese from invading the island in the early 19th century (to no avail). There is not much to see at the site anymore, but it still holds a historical significance to Langkawi and its free to visit. I tried spotting some of the burnt grains (some say there are traces during rainy days), but it is all covered with grass now so obviously I didn’t!
5) See the Symbol of Langkawi
The symbol of Langkawi is the eagle, which is known as helang in Malay, or ‘lang’. Combine that with the world ‘kawi’, which in the Malay ancient language means bronze red — it makes up the name ‘Langkawi’, which translates to the bronze red eagle. A huge monument of this bronze red eagle can be found at the Dataran Lang, or Eagle Square. Located at the southeast corner of Langkawi near the Kuah Jetty, the majestic 12m-tall sculpture of the eagle poised to take flight greets visitors arriving on the island by ferry. The square itself needs a little upkeep, but it does offer beautiful views of the bay.
Next to the square is the Lagenda Langkawi Park, which is a beautiful park depicting the many legends of Langkawi with statues and sculptures. Another significant structure of the island is the huge Hollywood-esque Langkawi Sign in Cenang, and is best seen from the Cenang Beach.
6) Glide Through the Kilim Mangroves
Located at the Northeast corner of Langkawi, the Kilim Geoforest Park is a 100sq. km nature reserve with amazing flora, fauna and landscapes like limestone rocks, caves, lagoons, beaches and wetland mangroves. From the Kilim Jetty, you can easily hire a boat to take you through the park; stops depend on length of tour from 1 hour (RM250~US$60) to 4 hours (RM500~US$125) per boat. There are also kayaking tours provided by local tour companies.
I arrived at Kilim in the late afternoon. The first stop of my boat tour was at the Bat Cave, to witness the colonies of bats hanging and flying about the limestone caves and its gorgeous formations. After that, we stopped by the Floating Fish Farm to feed the fishes. My tour continued with us zooming across the mangrove-lined river towards the open sea, and I ended my day watching the sun go down behind the mountainous limestone rocks and the Kilim Geoforest Park sign.
Other tour sites of note are the Crocodile Cave, Langsir Cave, and Fossil Island; as well as some eagle watching and feeding by the boatmen.
7) Admire the Views from Gunung Raya
The less visited Gunung Raya, or Mount Raya, is the highest mountain in Langkawi. Located almost in the center of the island, the mountain stands at about 881m high and is covered with dense rainforest. You can choose to walk up the maintain via the deserted stairway trail; but I took the easier route — a half hour drive up the 13km winding road. There is not much to do or see at the top; to get a full 360 degree panoramic view of the island, I had to head up the tower at the D’Coconut Hill Resort. Admission fee is RM10 (US$2.5).
There was hardly anyone around during my visit; so after taking the lift and a flight of stairs to the top deck of the tower, I had the entire wrap-around balcony all to myself. It was a beautiful, clear and windy day, and I could even see the many small islands in the distance. Gunung Raya is slightly off the tourist trail, but the views are worth it.
8) Walk Along the Paddy Fields
There are miles and miles of paddy fields all around Langkawi. Rice was once the main source of livelihood on the island, and a large number of villages still plant rice. Most of the fields are private lands, so if you want to visit a real life working paddy field, head to Laman Padi. It is located along Cenang Beach, and is a good place to learn more about the rice industry. The vast complex houses not only a number of rice fields; but also galleries, museums, gardens and exhibition space — showcasing the history of rice, how it is planted, grown, and harvested, as well as the tools and equipment used. Entrance fee is RM5 (US$1.5).
There is also a restaurant called Laman Ria in the vicinity. They serve traditional Malay dishes as well as kuih-muih (Malay desserts); and you can either choose to dine at the outdoor wooden deck, or in the small huts in the middle of the paddy fields.
9) Get a Taste of Some Local Fruits
If you are an eco-traveler, head on to the MARDI Agro Technology Park Langkawi. This 25-hectare park is a natural tropical forest with over 20 different tropical fruit trees and vegetable farms. For an entrance fee of RM25~US$6 (myKad gets a discount), you’ll be taken for a half-hour farm tour around the park on a tram and offered some of the day’s fresh fruits. During my visit, I stopped by the grape farm (the rest of the trees were not bearing much fruit), had a buffet of watermelons, honey-melons, starfruit, pomelos and pineapples; and was shown how to make a grasshopper with coconut leaves.
Other recreational activities at the park include trekking and vegetable farm tours, picnic areas, cycling, a watchtower for views of the park, and camping facilities.
10) Dip Your Feet in Saltwater Hot Springs
For complete relaxation and to rest those tired feet, head on to the Ayer Hangat Spa Village. In the Malay language, ayer hangat translates to hot springs, which is the main attraction of the spa village. The unique feature of the hot springs here is that it is a salt water hot spring, differing from the usual fresh water hot springs that are usually found. The entrance fee is RM5 (US$1.5), and you get to soak your feet in the three-tier hot springs fountain, walk on the foot reflexology path, and admire the fountains in the landscaped gardens for as long as you desire. I had a go at the saltwater algae pool; and despite the initial disgust at the brownish algae at its base, the warm water felt good.
For additional charges, the private hot springs jacuzzis are available for rent. There is also a spa in the vicinity, offering massages and full body care services.
11) Hike up the Many Waterfalls
Waterfalls are a great place to chill and relax, have a picnic and take a dip in the cooling waters. Langkawi is blessed with a couple of waterfalls for you to choose from. The Telaga Tujuh, or Seven Wells Waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall on the island; with seven natural pools at different levels of the falls, formed by the stream of water flowing down Gunung Mat Chincang. The pools are great for bathing; and you can either admire the falls from the base, or hike up the 638 steps up to the top at 480m.
During my trip, I visited the Durian Perangin Waterfall, a 14-tier waterfall that flows down the northern slope of Gunung Raya. It is named so from the durian (a pungent thorny tropical fruit) trees that can be found in the area. A hanging footbridge at the entrance leads to the pathway up the falls — it is an easy walk to the lower tier, but the upper portion requires a little climb. Unfortunately, I was visiting during the dry season so the falls was only a trickle of water. The best times to see the waterfalls in Langkawi is during the rainy season at the end of the year.
12) Find the Hidden Temples
The Thai Buddhist Temples in Langkawi are pretty stunning. They are located off the beaten path, and because there was no one in sight during my visit, I felt as if I had stumbled upon a secret temple. The first temple I visited was the Wat Tham Kisap, located in a large shallow cave at the foot of a towering limestone hill. I was immediately drawn to the 2 gigantic gold-colored Buddha statues and the many animal figures (mainly elephants) around its grounds. I also spotted a line of monk robes left out to dry at the temple, indicating that it is not as abandoned as it looks.
Another temple just a short distance away is the Wat Koh Wanararm. I was really impressed with the enormous white marble Goddess of Mercy statue that looked as if it was carved out of the hill side. The spacious temple compound also houses a main hall with a large Buddha statue; and a landscaped garden with eight enlightenment stupas, several pagodas, various Buddha statues, a prayer wheel and other religious Buddhist symbols. The temples are worth a visit.
13) Soak Up the Sun on the Beaches
From quiet secluded beaches, to those bustling with activities, there is a beach in Langkawi for everyone — whether you want to swim, snorkel, picnic, sunbathe, engage in the watersports, or do nothing at all. I really can’t decide on a favorite.
For a fun day in the sun, head to the most popular and developed beach on the island, Cenang Beach. It is a beautiful beach filled with tons of watersports activities; beach side cafes, bars and restaurants; and people. Tengah Beach, separated at the south of Cenang Beach by a rocky headland is lovely as well, and provides a more peaceful setting.
For something a little quieter, the northern beaches are a good choice — Pasir Tengkorak Beach is a rocky beach and a favorite among locals for picnics; Black Sand Beach, named after its black sand from minerals in the granite bedrock, is secluded and shaded; and the Tanjung Rhu Public Beach has a long stretch of white sand and some watersports activities. I also visited Pantai Kok Beach on the western coast, with its beautiful views of the bay and the many fishing boats, and shaded by lovely casuarina trees.
14) Do Some Eco-Adventure Activities
Most of the island is covered by lush rainforests, so there are tons of eco-activities to be experienced in Langkawi. Many tour operators on the island offer tours from cycling and off road adventures, to bird-watching, jungle trekking, and visits to local villages. If you want to see the miles and miles of green from the tree tops, have a go at zip-lining with Umgawa Legendary Adventures. You can read about it here: Zip-lining with Umgawa Legendary Adventures in Langkawi.
I chose to go for an ATV adventure into the rainforest and local plantations. A local recommended us the ‘Lets Ride ATV’ shop along the Teluk Yu Road in the north of Langkawi. At the shop, we were given quick instructions on how to handle the ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and had some training on a small sandy course, before heading into the back lanes of the island with our guide. During the 45 minutes ride, we passed by rubber plantations, fruit farms and village houses; and had a quick stop at a rainforest viewing point, as well as a coconut plantation to pluck our very own coconuts. The tour cost RM90 (US$23), and I had a grand time. Bear in mind that safety guidelines are often ignored in many free-standing shops, so always look out for yourself.
15) Drop by the Interesting Museums
I was pleasantly surprised by the museums in Langkawi, especially the Galeria Perdana. The museum displays all the gifts, souvenirs and awards received by Malaysia’s 4th Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah; from delegates and leaders from all around the world, as well as Malaysians, guests and friends during his tenure. The museum has over 2,000 exhibits on display, spread out over three interconnected two-storey buildings. From textiles, ceramics, art and various metal goods; to automobiles and weaponry — the Galeria Perdana is just filled with the most precious treasures. Entry is RM10~US$2.5 (half price with myKad).
Another museum I visited was the Kompleks Kraf Langkawi, or Craft Complex. It is a huge complex of buildings dedicated to the Malaysian arts and crafts. Inside, there is a crafts bazaar gallery for some local products shopping, craft demonstrations like songket weaving, wood carving and glass blowing; as well as a variety of museums like the Heritage Museum and the Cultural Wedding Museum. There are maps with the complex layout at certain points to help you navigate your way. Entrance is free.
16) Visit the Local Wildlife and Sea Creatures
If you’re an animal lover, or especially if you’re traveling with kids, what better way to keep them entertained (and yourself too) than by introducing them to the local animals, birds and sealife? There are a variety of animal farms around Langkawi — the Langkawi Buffalo Park allows you to try your hand at riding or milking buffaloes; the Langkawi Crocodile Farm is filled with more than a thousand crocodiles for you to watch, feed and fear; the Snake Sanctuary lets you see and learn about the many snakes found in Malaysia; and the Langkawi Wildlife Park and Bird Paradise is a great place to see a variety of exotic birds flying freely in the walk-in aviary.
Langkawi is also home to the Malaysia’s largest aquarium, the Underwater World Langkawi. Spread across nearly 6 acres, the aquarium houses over 200 different species of marine and freshwater life — from Amazonian arapaima and rockhopper penguins to seals, sharks and sting-rays. Entry is RM43~US$10 for adults and RM33~US$8 for children (myKad gets a discount).
17) Watch the Gorgeous Sunset
Langkawi offers some of the most beautiful sunsets all year round. This has got to be my favourite time of the day, as I watch the magnificent big ball of fire disappear into the horizon, and then admiring the myriad of colors dance around the beautiful skies. During my visits to Langkawi, I made it a point to witness the sunset at several locations around the island.
One of the most popular places to see the sunset is of course, the bustling Cenang Beach. Most people head here for a romantic sunset beach walk, but I think a lovely place to enjoy the setting sun is at the Nest Rooftop Cafe — you get a view of the entire Cenang too. Another beautiful spot to see the sunset is at the Kilim Geoforest Park. Imagine being on a boat in the open sea — just you, the limestone cliffs, the sea, and the sun. I also enjoyed the sunset hour sitting on the hammocks with a cocktail in hand at St Regis’ Kayuputi Restaurant. I heard that Pantai Kok Beach offers amazing sunset views too, and I hope to see it one day.
18) Wake up to the Sound of the Sea
You’re on an island, so stay by the beach! It’s the ultimate dream to wake up to the sound of the ocean, and the smell of the sea and the breeze in your hair as you step out of your room. Langkawi is filled with tons of accommodation choices — from backpacker hostels, to beachside hotels and international 5-star resorts. Many of them are located by the beach, with either sea view rooms or beachside chalets.
On my visits to Langkawi, I stayed in a couple of these seaside resorts. You can read about some of them here:-
Budget: Tubotel Langkawi is a concept backpackers joint with lovely sea-facing cylinder pipe rooms, and bunk-bed rooms.
Mid Range: Nadias Hotel is located along Cenang Beach, and is just a short walk away from the beautiful beach.
Luxury: St. Regis Langkawi has its very own private beach and lagoon, and luxurious sea-facing and beachfront suites.
19) Duty-Free Shop Till You Drop
If you’re a shopaholic, then Langkawi is your duty-free heaven. The island has plenty of shopping malls and retail outlets that cater to tourists — and lots of goodies like chocolates, liquor, perfumes, snacks, luggage and even cigarettes are sold at reduced rates. Some of the popular areas that offer duty-free products are The Zone at Cenang Beach, several shopping malls and complexes in Kuah Town, the Langkawi International Airport, and a few duty-free outlets at various attractions around the island. Remember to check what you’re paying for, as not all shops offer duty-free rates.
In Langkawi, you can also shop for unique handmade souvenirs, local products and authentic arts and crafts. I bought a lovely batik dress at the Atma Alam Batik Art Village — they sell beautiful quality batik souvenirs (like handbags, clothes and art pieces) at affordable prices. Next to the shop is a batik workshop and showroom to learn about the batik making process.
20) Enjoy the Delicious Food
Last but not least, the delicious food! Langkawi is a pretty popular place for seafood, and there are plenty of seafood restaurants all around the island. Two of my favorite spots for seafood are the touristy Orkid Ria Seafood Restaurant along Cenang Beach, and the popular local joint Wonderland Food Store in Kuah Town. The local food in Langkawi are really delicious as well — if you don’t mind letting your stomach rough it out a little, try the nasi campur (rice with a mixed selection of dishes) at Warung Jati Aisya in the Chandek Kura Village, or the absolutely mouth watering asam pedas (sour and spicy) fish dishes at OK Boss in Cenang.
And while you’re in Langkawi, make it a point to drop by one of the night markets. The night markets are set up at different locations according to the days, so ask your hotel. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the Malaysian culture, rub shoulders with the locals, and try some of the delicious street food.
*She Walks the World visited Langkawi in collaboration with Malaysia Airlines. As always, all opinions stated here are my own.
*All entrance fees and prices (and other details) are correct at the time of my visit in the first half of 2016. For more up-to-date information about the attractions, please check out their respective websites.