The lure of Langkawi

06 August 2015

A famed tropical paradise, Langkawi Island is one of Malaysia’s most iconic tourism destinations with an exciting array of things to do and see. It boasts shimmering azure waters, white sandy beaches, duty-free shopping, UNESCO Geopark status, world-class amenities, delicious food and a fascinating cultural heritage.

Located north of the Straits of Malacca, Langkawi is actually made up of a collection of 99 islands. It is hailed as the Jewel of Kedah, a northern state in Peninsular Malaysia, and is easily accessible via ferry or plane. Visitors can also opt to drive or ride the bus, train or taxi to the nearest ferry terminal are other convenient options. With such easy access, it is a hot destination for locals looking to take a quick break as well as for international holidaymakers desiring an island getaway.

Langkawi’s tourism potential has grown from strength to strength, recording some three million tourist arrivals last year. This translates to around RM2.6bil in revenue receipts. The archipelago has also benefited from domestic and foreign investments after Malaysia launched its Langkawi Tourism Blueprint 2011-2015, which aims to position Langkawi as one of the top 10 island destinations.

A ride on the cable car offers a 360 degree spectacular view of Langkawi. (Photo credit : Tourism Malaysia)

A ride on the cable car offers a 360 degree spectacular view of Langkawi. (Photo credit : Tourism Malaysia)

The first activity of choice for many visitors is the Langkawi Cable Car, which offers panoramic views as it goes all the way up to Langkawi’s second-highest peak, Machinchang Mountain, towering some 708m above sea level. At the station on top, visitors can stay to enjoy the sunset or venture along a 125m curved suspension bridge where they can enjoy otherwise inaccessible glimpses into the island’s virgin jungle.

A duty-free zone since 1986, shopping is without a doubt one of the biggest attractions for travellers to Langkawi. In this shopping paradise, avid shoppers can be found thronging the various duty-free shopping malls and snagging clothes, luggage, alcohol, chocolate and even home decor at tax-free prices. For tourist items such as souvenirs, fashion accessories and local handicrafts, Pantai Cenang is a hot favourite. Visitors can also purchase eyewear such as spectacles or sunglasses at discounted prices. No shopping holiday is complete without a trip to the Atma Alam Batik Art Village, where travellers get to learn about the rich batik textile culture before purchasing some unique pieces for themselves.

Eco-tourism is a tremendous draw for travellers, who flock to the spectacular Langkawi Geopark for its stunning rock formations. Declared a UNESCO Geopark in 2007, the first in Southeast Asia, it comprises three distinct areas: Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park, Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park. This last attraction is even more significant because the rocks on the islands are over 500 million years old and tell the story of how Malaysian land was formed, and is especially breathtaking as the rock formations are surrounded by beautiful natural resources including rainforests, mangroves, caves, waterfalls.

Pulau Payar is known for its best snorkelling and diving spots, on top the chance to feed baby sharks upclose. (Photo credit : Tourism Malaysia)

Pulau Payar is known for its best snorkelling and diving spots, on top the chance to feed baby sharks upclose. (Photo credit : Tourism Malaysia)

The Payar Island Marine Park is beloved by divers, snorkellers and swimmers alike for its clear waters and spectacular marine life. Divers love the famous ‘Coral Garden’, located at the marine park’s south-western tip, which abundant in multi-coloured soft corals. All sorts of marine life, including lobsters, baby black-tip sharks, big-eye snappers, and giant groupers can be spotted at the park, making it an educational and thrilling holiday experience whether with family or friends.

Island hopping is also a must-do activity, with many island tours available for convenient registration upon arrival. Lasting around three to four hours, tourists get to visit Pulau Singa Besar (or Big Lion Island), where avid photographers get beautiful shots of majestic eagles swooping down to catch meat thrown by the boat operators. Next up is Pulau Dayang Bunting (Pregnant Maiden Island), where visitors can swim and play in the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, a freshwater lake with supposedly magical properties. According to legend, women who have difficulty conceiving would become fertile after taking a dip in the lake. The last stop is Beras Basah Island (Wet Rice Island), renowned for its pristine beach and lush vegetation, where visitors get to laze around and soak up the sun.

Langkawi also boasts a growing nightlife scene, with travellers recommending the strips along Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah and Pantai Kok as the places to be. Depending on personal tastes, you can enjoy a cold drink at one of the beachside bars or sip fancy cocktails at a swanky lounge. Plenty of good live music can be found while nightclubs are also available for those who want to party until late into the night. Travellers also love the live entertainment, including traditional dances, offered at some hotels and restaurants.

Sail away into the sunset at Langkawi's best beaches. (Photo credit : Tourism Malaysia)

Sail away into the sunset at Langkawi's best beaches. (Photo credit : Tourism Malaysia)

Dining in Langkawi is a beautiful sensory experience in itself with the sun, sea and breeze. Fresh seafood is high on the menu and offered in a diverse range of local and international cooking styles to satisfy even the pickiest palate. Since Malaysians adore eating and make a hobby out of it, all visitors need is a quick search on the Internet to find top-recommended restaurants and dishes before venturing out for a meal. Prices also vary widely according to the outlet so visitors have the choice of splashing out cash on an extravagant meal or choosing something simple and inexpensive, but delicious.

Accommodation in Langkawi ranges from luxurious 5-star resorts to cheap and cheerful bed & breakfasts (B&Bs). Of particular interest is the boutique beach resort Casa del Mar Langkawi, recently picked as the second most romantic hotel in Asia in the 2013 Travellers’ Choice Awards. It was a stunning coup, lagging behind only Baros Maldives, as the winners were selected based on millions of traveller reviews worldwide. It is also rated number one out of TripAdvisor’s 95 listed hotels in Langkawi.

An inextricable part of Langkawi’s allure is its many urban legends. Most famous of these is the Legend of Mahsuri, a beautiful woman who lived over 200 years ago. She was put to death after being falsely accused of infidelity with a handsome minstrel while her husband was away at war. Some say that white blood flowed from her wound while others say a white mist suddenly enveloped the spot she was murdered at. The legend goes that with her dying breath, Mahsuri said, “For this act of injustice Langkawi shall not prosper for seven generations to come." Interestingly, Siam invaded Langkawi not long after she died, forcing the residents to collect all the rice on the island and burn it in Padang Matsirat. Indeed, Langkawi suffered decades of hardship and misfortune and it was only towards the end of the 20th century that things began picking up again. It is little wonder that the Tomb of Mahsuri is one of the most flocked-to tourism sites in Langkawi, while to this day, you can find what appears to be burnt grains at Padang Matsirat.

With such a big spectrum of holiday activities, it is little wonder that Langkawi has earned many devoted fans and a reputation as a one-stop tourism destination. Recognising that there is still a vast amount of untapped potential, the Kedah state government has announced plans to attract RM5 billion more in investments, while creating at least 4,200 new jobs for locals. Efforts have also begun to position Langkawi as the region’s fashion and lifestyle capital with the recent conclusion of the In Style Langkawi tradeshow. Additionally, when a 13.35ha eco-theme park and an exclusive island resort finishes construction over the next four years, it is anticipated to help boost tourism receipts to RM3.8 billion and aims to attract 1.2 million visitors annually by 2017. With a booming property market as well, Langkawi is well on its way to become one of the top 10 island destinations worldwide, alongside the Maldives, Hawaii, Bali and Mauritius. 



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