One of the most overlooked getaway spots in South East Asia is the island grouping of Langkawi, off the coast of the northern state of Kedah in Malaysia. Legend has it that the islands were cursed for seven generations following the controversial death of a beautiful and virtuous lady named Mahsuri, whose grave has been preserved in the small village (kampung) close to the airport. The end of the curse came around the turn of this century and since then, the government and tourism providers have worked towards building the breadth of offerings around the islands. The island was awarded duty-free status at the same time and the availability of cheap chocolates, liquor and household goods is a large drawcard for many visitors.
Getting to Langkawi
Many visitors arrive by air at the international airport on the southern side of the main island which is the main focus of development. The airport is, however, mostly served by flights originating from nearby destinations, on Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Firefly or Malindo flights. A good number arrive by cruise ship in Porto Malai as a stopover and a large number arrive at the port in the largest town Kuah in the south east of the town. Passenger ferries arrive from Penang (Swettenham Pier), from Satun, Thailand and Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah on the mainland of the Malayan Peninsula. If you want to make a day of getting there, you can leave from Penang and enjoy a few hours of snorkelling and swimming at Pulau Payar on the way, before arriving in the late afternoon in Kuah.
Where to stay?
Choosing where to stay in Langkawi depends largely on whether you’re there for shopping (Kuah Town or Pantai Chenang) Home stay accommodation or a relaxing beach holiday. There is a good variety of inexpensive, mid range and high end accommodation in all these localities and the area around Pantai Chenang is probably where you’ll find the most diverse mix.
Pantai Chenang is also where you will find a wide range of restaurants serving local and international cuisines and you must try the coconut shakes (a coconut smoothie) available all along the strip. There are lots of places offering massage and reflexology services and even fish pedicures. The Underwater World aquarium is along this road and further south is the Cruise terminal at Porto Malai.
For a private beach resort, you will be looking at higher end accommodation, mostly found on the north of the main island around Tanjong Rhu or the South West along Burau Bay.
If you have transport or can arrange it with your accommodation, you will widen the list of activities available unless you just want to relax on the beach. You can hire a car at the airport (Bargain!) or a motorcycle in town. Be careful when you do self drive or ride a bike as you may be unfamiliar with the local driving styles, the terrain, driving/riding in the rain and the sudden appearance of monkeys on the road. It’s also a good idea to check your travel insurance as well before you sign on the line to ensure you are covered.
That said, having your own transport is a great way to see the island and you can do some shopping in Kuah town, have a foot massage in Pantai Chenang or drop by the Mangrove park between Kuah Town and Tanjung Rhu, near Kampung Kilim along Jalan Ayer Hangat.
Culture, history, beautiful beaches and cool geography
If you want a cultural experience, visit Mahsuri’s Tomb or Makam Mahsuri. Just north of the airport near the village of Padang Mat Sirat, you can learn of the curse that promised misery for seven generations. The drive through padi fields especially at sunrise or sunset begs for you to pull out a camera.
At the western side of the island lies the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, a unique geological area. The 90 islands making up the Langkawi group form the first UNESCO-endorsed Geopark in Southeast Asia. There are many caves in the area, some of which can be visited with a responsible guide. Ride the cable car to the top of Gunung Machinchang to have a birds eye view of the geological formations, beaches and countryside.
So next time you’re looking for a tropical getaway, consider Langkawi, the possibilities identified here are just a few of the things on offer in a very much under-rated location.