Pulau Langkawi is a mystical place adorned with ornate fables from Malay mythology. This ‘Island of Legends’ has undergone a massive change in recent years from a sleepy backwater to the latest must-visit Southeast Asian tourist destination.
A good portion of this transformation is down to the astute decision to declare Langkawi a duty free island, meaning that visitors flock here as much to buy up alcohol, electronics and cut-price fashion as relax on the pristine white beaches.
Pulau Langkawi was nothing more than collection of sleepy fishing villages before it gained prominence as a duty free zone. Detractors have criticised Langkawi for being soulless and akin to a giant airport departure lounge, but this is an overly harsh view and the island has enough impressive sights, unique history and charming people to wow even the most seasoned traveller.
The main town of Kuah where the jetty is situated lies in the southeast corner of the island with the main beaches of Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah to the southeast. The international airport is found in the northeastern edge and has connections with KL, Penang, Phuket and as far as Japan. But there are countless offshore islands to explore with boat trips from Pulau Langkawi, many of which are owned by luxury resorts.
Crime is no real problem on the island except for the occasional opportunistic theft from careless tourists leaving valuables unattended. Sandflies can be a menace on beaches and, while you may not feel them sting, an itchy rash can appear on exposed skin later on, so it is best to lie on a sarong or sunlounger. Jellyfish can also descend upon the island from February to March, however these are rarely dangerous and merely just an annoyance.
What to see and do on Pulau Langkawi
There are numerous sights and attractions to explore on Langkawi and the easiest way to get around is to rent a car or motorbike. This enables visitors to access inland waterfalls, the crocodile farm, golf courses and hot springs. The Langkawi Cable Car is a great first stop as it provides marvellous panoramic vistas of the island and beyond to Thailand, whilst the Seven Wells Waterfall next door is a wondrous natural waterpark where visitors can slip from one moss-covered pool to the next.
Most people spend a good portion of their stay on Langkawi relaxing on the soft white sand. But if you run out of decent reading material and need a change of scene, there are plenty of activities to keep one occupied on the island. Golf courses, spas, sailing clubs and handicraft complexes are all within easy reach, whilst exploring the ocean on island-hopping trips provides plenty of fresh air to reinvigorate body and soul.
Hospitality options on Pulau Langkawi
There is no shortage of accommodation on Pulau Langkawi with every possible budget catered for. Backpackers will find cheap digs mainly located around Pantai Cenang with fan rooms a few minutes back from the sand available for just a handful of dollars. But those with cash to splash will find a plethora of options from luxury resorts on private beaches to entire tropical islands kited out like a millionaire’s retreat.
There is also no shortage of quality places to eat in Langkawi with Indian, Chinese, Arabian and traditional Malay fare all served up with consummate panache. The high-end resorts all have international restaurants which will offer top class cuisine from around the globe, but there are many stand-alone eateries which rival them for quality and taste.
Langkawi is a product of its duty free status and this naturally attracts many people who love to party. Although it is never going to rival the hedonistic exploits of Koh Phi Phi or Phuket, there are plenty of debonair drinking venues in Langkawi where visitors can let their hair down and enjoy a frivolous night of revelry. Pantai Cenang has plenty of pubs and bars including some lively places to have a boogie until the sun comes up.
Getting to Pulau Langkawi and away again
Unlike Penang to the south, there is no bridge to Langkawi but getting to the island is still a pretty simple endeavour. Regular ferries take around an hour from the mainland and there are onward bus connections to all major destinations in Malaysia from the nearby state capital of Alor Setah. This is also where to catch the main rail line north to Thailand and Bangkok or south to KL and Singapore. The island also has an international airport with direct flights to Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket and even Japan.