Langkawi

Sun, sand and sea on the beach

Langkawi,(Jawi:لانكاوي ) officially known as Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah (Malay: Langkawi Permata Kedah) is an archipelago of 99 islands (an extra 5 temporary islands are revealed at low tide) in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The islands are a part of the state of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai border. In 2008, Sultan Abdul Halim of Kedah consented to the change of name to Langkawi Permata Kedah in conjunction with his Golden Jubilee Celebration. By far the largest of the islands is the eponymous Pulau Langkawi with a population of some 65000, the only other inhabited island being nearby Pulau Tuba. Langkawi is also an administrative district with the town of Kuah as the capital and largest town. Langkawi is a duty-free island.

Understand

Legends of broken pots and seeping gravy

Langkawi's most prominent mountains, Gunung Macinchang and Gunung Raya, and a whole series of towns and villages are said to named after a local legend. The story tells the tale of a wedding between two families of giants, with Mat Raya's son wanting to marry Mat Cincang's daughter. During the wedding feast, a fight broke out between the two wedding parties, reputedly because the son was caught flirting with another woman.

During the fight, pots and pans were thrown, and a large pot of gravy (kuah) was broken and the contents flowed onto the ground. The place where the gravy was spilled became known as Kuah (the largest town on Langkawi island) and where the crockery (belanga) was broken (pecah) was location of the village Kampung Belanga Pecah. The gravy seeped into (kisap) the earth at the village named Kisap. And the hot water pot crashed where there are now hot springs at Air Hangat.

The name "Langkawi" has two possible origins. First, it is believed to be related to the kingdom of Langkasuka, itself a version of the Malay negari alang-kah suka ("the land of all one's wishes"), centered in modern-day Kedah. The historical record is sparse, but a Chinese Liang Dynasty record (c. 500 AD) refers to the kingdom of "Langgasu" as being founded in the 1st century AD. Second, it could be a combination of the Malay words 'helang', meaning "eagle" and 'kawi', meaning "reddish-brown" or "strong", in old Malay.

Langkawi eventually came under the influence of the Sultanate of Kedah, but Kedah was conquered in 1821 by Siam and Langkawi along with it. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 transferred power to the British, which held the state until independence, except for a brief period of Thai rule under the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. Thai influences remain visible in the culture and food of Langkawi.

Langkawi remained a sleepy backwater until 1987, when the island was granted tax-free status with the intention of promoting tourism and improving the lives of the islanders. The following boom was spectacular and now Langkawi figures on most every European travel agency's radar.

This spectacular boom was also due to the fact that Mahsuri's curse was lifted with the birth of her 7th generation descendant.

Sheltered by the mountainous backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, Langkawi escapes the northeastern winter monsoon entirely and enjoys sunny skies in winter when the eastern provinces are flooded. Coupled with natural white sand beaches, lush jungle foliage and craggy mountain peaks - but hampered by inaccessibility - the island was at one time touted as "Malaysia's best-kept secret".

The 10,000 hectares of Langkawi and its 99 islands were declared a Geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2007.

Sunrise over Langkawi

Get in

By plane

Langkawi International Airport (IATA: LGK) is located at Padang Matsirat, on the northwestern part of the island. Over a million passengers pass through annually.

The following airlines offer service to/from Langkawi: Air Asia, Malaysia Airlines, Firefly, Silk Air and Rayani Air.

Direct flights are available to Langkawi from Penang, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Kota Bharu.

By boat

Get around

There is effectively no public transport on the island, so your choices are to use taxis or to rent a car, motorbike/scooter, or bicycle.

By taxi

A taxi from the Airport to Pantai Cenang costs RM20. You can buy a coupon at the taxi desk in the airport. From the ferry terminal to Pantai Cenang the price is RM24. For those arriving at the Kuah Jetty and going into Kuah Town, the price is RM8.

By car or motorbike/scooter

Renting a car or motorbike/scooter is highly recommended due to lack of public transport. This can be done at the airport, the port complex, or from shops on Pantai Cenang. Refrain yourself from renting from touts, as many are operating illegally without permits and usually without insurance. Remember that accidents happen to tourists on motorbikes/scooters every day, so be careful although the traffic is not as chaotic as e.g. in Penang.

Renting an air-conditioned mid-sized sedan costs RM70-RM150 per day (depending on model, condition and length of stay) and a 150cc motorbike/scooter costs RM40 to RM45 per day. Cheaper but usually very used and older are the semi-automatic 115cc bikes for RM25 a day. A tired Proton with in Pantai Cenang maybe around RM60-90/day.

Remember to have regularly check on your fuel level, petrol pump stations, (gas stations) are far from one another. However, rental agencies do not care how much fuel is in the tank when the vehicle is returned so do not spend more on fuel than you have to. Fuel only costs about RM1.90 a litre and you should return the bikes with the same filling level as you picked it up. Some rentals do check the level and mark it when you sign the slip.

At the gas/petrol station for the first time will confuse you. You will need to guess how much fuel you need and pay first. Most saloon cars if empty are RM50 to fill up and motorbikes are approximately RM5. Sometimes you fill up your car/bike and you haven't used what you have paid for not to worry you can claim this back at the counter.

Remember to drive safely and slowly on the island and on the left side of the road. There are tourists, children and animals like chickens, cows and even buffaloes crossing. Take care not to run over the beautiful snakes or monitors. Cattle and snakes like to lie on the road at night; the blacktop radiates heat.

Laws you need to know.

  1. Driver's Licence needs to be with you at all times.
  2. Seatbelts are mandatory in all vehicles. Fines given ranging from 50RM plus if not wearing.
  3. Helmet mandatory. Fines same as above but more importantly the hospital does not have facilities to treat head injuries you will have to get medivac out to Penang 45min+ and that's if the helicopter is available.
  4. International driver's license not necessary but must have text in English.

Road blocks are commonplace in Langkawi; they are mainly interested in locals with no licence/tax disc. Make sure you have the above items and you will have no problems.

By bicycle

You can rent bicycles in many of the hotels. Expect to pay RM10-30 per day.

See

There is also a jungle trekking course available at the site which will lead you through a trail of about 2,500 m, up 2 different mountains. This trail is achievable with slippers, but it is best to wear comfortable hiking shoes or boots as some segments of the trail are nearly vertical. Be warned that these trails are not recommended for family trips.

Do

Sky Bridge

Beaches

Pantai Cenang - The most popular beach in Langkawi, features fine powdery sand and many beachfront restaurants and bars. Located at the south-western tip of the island, 2km long.

Pantai Tengah - Located just south of and contiguously with Pantai Cenang. 1km long. Means ‘Middle Beach’. Peaceful and tranquil alternative to the hustle and bustle of Pantai Cenang. All inclusive resorts popular with families.

Pantai Kok - Isolated, relatively undisturbed stretch of beach in the western part of Langkawi Island, 12km north of Pantai Cenang. Telaga Harbour as well cable-car ride to the peak of Mat Cincang Mountain and the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls are located here.

Tanjung Rhu - northernmost tip of the island. Centuries-old limestone caves, mangroves, waterways, limestone crags and sandy beaches make it a nature lover's paradise. This beach is made up of 2 long stretches that include Tanjong Rhu Resort and Four Seasons..

Datai Bay - The most expensive resorts are located here.

Burau Bay - Beach lined with rocky outcrops located at the West Coast of Langkawi. Nearby Burau island is also a roosting place for migratory birds.

Pantai Pasir Hitam - Means ‘Black Sand’. The sand is mixed in white and black shades, due to rich tin and iron ore deposits.

Pasir Tengkorak - Very beautiful small beach in the North of the island.

Tours

Tours can be arranged via any hotel or a multitude of online agencies. Prices vary; the ones given here are averages.

Jungle trekking is free if you follow any of the numerous jungle trek routes available throughout Langkawi. The vegetation is not dense and will be a memorable experience. RM150.

Prices vary, depending on the quality of the guide as well as the package components. It can range anywhere from 70-200rm for adults. Alternately, you can charter the boat for 300RM if you are more than 2 people. RM200 Adult, RM120 child.

Buy

ATMs and Money Exchange booths are available at the Langkawi Airport, at Langkawi Parade Shopping Complex, next to Underwater World at Pantai Cenang and at Cenang Mall.

Langkawi is a duty-free island, and alcohol is significantly cheaper here than in the rest of Malaysia.

Hotel tariffs and retail goods are exempt from government duty. Visitors with more than 48 hr stay in Langkawi are exempt on items like wines and liquor (1 liter), tobacco (200 cigarettes), apparel, cosmetics, souvenirs and gifts, food and food preparations and portable electronic items (one item).

Shop around before buying: the airport is probably the most expensive place to buy anything. Shop in Kuah town for batik, tobacco products and chocolate confectioneries.

Eat

Practically all resorts have their own restaurants and many tourists choose to eat in, but there are lots of other options as well. Be adventurous and strike out on your own to savour the numerous foods at the stalls and restaurants all over Langkawi.

Generally, restaurants are expensive and the portions are smaller there than at stalls, so you may want to order more than just a main dish at a restaurant. Also, if you don't like spicy food, watch out: Langkawi people like their food hot, and even if they tone things down at your request, you may still find your food challenging to eat. Try one of the many seafood restaurants, but beware of certain restaurants advertised in the brochures targeting tourists. An example of such restaurant is the 'Coco Beach Restaurant', close to the airport.

If you choose to order seafood or fish, take note if the price is by weight or by a set price for the dish. The unwary can be hit with a much larger bill than expected. Also, beware of restaurants telling you that they only have the bigger size lobsters available, as that is what they tell everyone (a common practice at Coco Beach Restaurant and Palm View Restaurant, at Pantai Cenang). When your lobster or crab is served, you will discover that you will definitely be paying for 900g of shell instead of meat! To counter this, order fish, squid and prawns, to be safe.

Budget

For a taste of simple Malay-style breakfast, just walk up to a small stall opposite the Underwater World in the mornings and feast on the famous freshly-prepared banana leaf-wrapped nasi lemak (steamed rice in coconut milk). The price is most affordable at less than RM 2 for a pack. Go local and enjoy this with a glass of hot teh tarik or really good local coffee. This very unassuming stall is just simple and great (clean too!) The nasi lemak comes with curried beef, squid in chili, friend salted fish or chicken.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Because of Langkawi's tax-free status, alcohol is much cheaper than in the rest of Malaysia. Religious Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks, and while they do tolerate non Muslims who do, try not to behave in a rowdy imbibed manner near them, their houses, mosques, and please respect local culture and communal sensitivities. For those living on a budget, you can obtain alcohol at cheap prices from the local duty-free shops - the larger the outlets, the lower the prices. Expect to pay RM25 for 1L Absolut, RM45 for 1L Kahlua, RM60 for 1L Bailey's, and RM5-12for 330 ml can beer.

Despite low alcohol prices, Langkawi is predominantly popular with couples and families. Single travellers and backpackers may therefore be disappointed with the lack of nightlife. Most bars remain empty, particularly in the low season, and the 1-2 nightclubs may only seem worthwhile in the peak season, and even then only on Friday or Saturday nights. Overall, Langkawi provides a family-friendly alternative to Thai locations such as Phuket and Koh Samui.

Sleep

Budget

If you are looking for budget accommodation, your best bet would be to walk along the beach and adjacent road at Pantai Cenang. It is hard to find budget accommodation in other beaches in Langkawi, except Pantai Cenang and Kuah town. Prices there normally range from RM50 to RM150 per room per night, on or next to the beach.


Langkawi actually does cater to budget single travellers although the type of chic backpackers' hostels available in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are not to be found here. Dormitory rooms are available on booking sites and hostel sites, but some dorms don't appear on all of them, so it's worth checking a few.


Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Telephone

Mobile phone coverage is very good in all built up areas of Langkawi. Many affordable pre-paid phone and data plans are available. Recharge cards are readily available except for the very cheap TuneTalk which is harder to find and SIM cards almost non existent. It is best to buy this back in LLCT where no commission is charged on the SIM. Full reception and reasonable data speeds can be achieved on the beach and inside the resorts on Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah.

Post

The main post office in located in Kuah Town. Mini post offices can be found in Padang Mat Sirat. There is no post office in Pantai Cenang, but you can buy stamps and send postcards in T Shoppe on the main road. Courier service, Poslaju shop can be found at Taman Berlian, Kuah.

Internet

Broadband is available and some Internet cafés can be found along Pantai Tengah, Pantai Cenang and Kuah. In addition, many of the upscale hotels and resorts as well as many restaurants provide free WiFi.

Stay healthy

The biggest health risk on Langkawi is from jellyfish stings, especially during January - June season. Uninformed visitors are stung every day and the lifeguards on Pantai Cenang and the hospital treat more or less severe cases of jellyfish stings most days. There are several species of jellyfish in Langkawi's waters, while most will give you a nasty sting or a burn, there are some that will cause partial paralysis or even kill, in case of the lethal box jellyfish. If you have been stung badly, don't exert yourself physically as this will pump the toxins around the bloodstream and aggravate the symptoms. Vinegar is the only scientifically proven treatment for tropical jellyfish stings, apply it for 30 seconds to block toxin which has not yet been absorbed into the blood. To stay safe, swim only in stinger suit.

Langkawi can have a lot of mosquitoes depending on the time of year and location (i.e. Mangrove areas), so don't forget to use mosquito repellent. "Off" spray and various citronella or DEET based products are available in most supermarkets.

Average temperatures are hot or hotter; it's the tropics. Be sure to stay hydrated. You will need to drink about 3 litres a day and don't wait till you are thirsty to drink. Room temperature water preferably. De-hydration accounts for a large percentage of dodgy tummy holiday illnesses.

See also Tropical diseases.

Stay safe

Speedboats can often bounce off the waves at very high speeds and passengers can get quite strong jolts into the non-sprung seats, so persons with back or neck problems should not travel on the speedboats, but on the ferry. There have been reports of serious back injuries happening on the speedboats. They are also known as 'vomit comets' due to the number of people succumbing to sea sickness. Bring lots of water and be prepared for a bumpy ride!

Be careful driving around Langkawi at night. Although main roads are well-lit, some of the more minor roads are not very well lit and may pass through Kampungs (traditional Malay villages) or rural areas where the locals seem to take a very casual approach to road safety. Drive slow and watch out for erratically piloted motorbikes, pedestrians and livestock. Inside Kuah Town, watch out for errors in the road arrows - they may lead you into wrong lanes or into barricades. at night, watch out for water buffalo sleeping in the road.

Crime is generally not a problem on Langkawi, especially compared to the larger cities in Malaysia. In theory, you don't even have to lock your car, because it cannot get off the island without customs knowing about it!

Beware of smart wild monkeys. Those at Tengkorak beach attack humans who have food. If attacked, pick up stones (or just pretend to do so) and throw them at the monkeys, this will scare them away. Also, do not carry plastic bags as the monkeys associate these with food. Don't let them get too close to you or they will steal your (sun)glasses.

Please read up on rip tides before you go; learn to recognise and to avoid them.

Respect

Langkawi is a Geopark but still needs to improve its environmental friendliness. Don't participate in certain activities such as eagle feeding and monkey feeding as this harms the animals by encouraging them to become reliant on tourists and you may give them the wrong food.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, April 02, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.