Once a sanctuary for pirates, only the locals knew the delights of Langkawi until it was made a duty-free port in 1987. Since then, the construction of modern amenities has created an idyllic Malaysian getaway. Its natural beauty and intriguing folklore make a visit here one to remember.
Situated off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Pulau Langkawi is the largest among an archipelago of 99 islands collectively known as Langkawi. With a resident population of only 54,000, the economy is driven mainly by tourism. The most comfortable way to reach this exquisite spot is by air from Kuala Lumpur or Penang. The Langkawi International Airport is situated 20 km from Kuah, the main town. Although public transport is limited, touring is not a problem. To best appreciate Langkawi, a bicycle or motorcycle would be an ideal choice.
Kuah & Surrounding
If you choose not to fly, a ferry ride from either Kuala Kedah (51 km) or Kuala Perlis (30 km) on the mainland will bring you to Kuah. Here you can find hotels and restaurants to suit all pockets, banks and tour agencies, car and bike rentals and the story behind the town's name.
A stone's throw from the jetty lies Dataran Lang, or Eagle Square, with a statue of the island's symbolic eagle. Adjacent to the square is Lagenda Langkawi Dalam Taman – (Langkawi Legends in the Park). The garden, adorned with sculptures, will give you an insight into the tales of this legendary island.
Kuah is also shopping hub with numerous duty-free outlets. Visitors need only stay 48 hours in order to purchase at duty-free prices and the temptation to spend will be hard to resist. A popular place to start your spree is Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall featuring more than 100 outlets. Other shopping outlets worth visiting include Langkawi Duty Free, Jetty Point Complex and Teow Soon Huat Supermarket & Departmental Store. Souvenirs, sports attire, audio-visual items, electrical goods, perfume and liquor are among the bargains to be had.
Due west about 12 kilometres from Kuah is Kampong Mawat, the location of Mahsuri's Mausoleum. Legend has it that Mahsuri, a local village maiden, made a curse some 300 years ago to impoverish Langkawi for seven generations. To this day, Mahsuri is a celebrated figure despite the curse, which appears to have at last ended.
Lying to the north-east is Padang Matsirat, or Field of Burnt Rice. Once the island's granary, the village head ordered it destroyed during the Siamese invasion of 1821. It is said that remnants of burnt rice can still be found after a downpour and that these are a potent medical treatment. This is also the location of the airport and the The Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, where the biennial Langkawi Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) is held.
Further north-west are the 'seven wells' – Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls. Situated on the slopes of Gunung Mat Cincang, water, which streams down the mountain through seven natural pools, forms a series of cascading waterfalls. Reaching the highest requires some serious jungle trekking but the lowest is easily accessible via concrete steps. This is an ideal site for a picnic, and both the mountain and the wells have legends. Gunung Mat Cincang is believed to be a quarrelsome giant and the Seven Wells a favourite bathing place for the mountain fairies. Locals will tell you that a sweet aroma fills the air when the fairies are present.
Just to the east and home to Langkawi Crocodile Farm with more than 1,000 alligators on display. A few kilometres away lies Air Hangat Village, or Hot Water Village. This hot springs village is said to be a result of a disagreement between Mat Cinang (our quarrelsome giant) and Mat Raya over the marriage of their children. During the argument a cauldron of boiling water landed on the site of Air Hangat, while the pot of gravy was spilled at Kuah. A cultural centre at Air Hangat showcases batik painting, wood carving and traditional games.
Lush greenery and pristine beaches abound. Pantai Cenang on the western coastline is the liveliest of these, offering all sorts of water sports and the modern Underwater World Langkawi, which showcases 5,000 fish and marine creatures. This is also where most of the international hotels are located.
Much quieter, Pantai Tengah is a short distance to the south. It offers two idyllic beaches in Burau Bay and Pantai Kok. Further up at the north-western end is The Datai Langkawi, where an 18-hole golf course beckons. On the north coast, the Black Sand beach and the Beach of Skulls are worth visiting. Although they are not suitable for water activities, each has its own story, as suggested by its name.
About 20 km from Kuah, Pantai Tanjung Rhu is another favourite spot for adventurers. Popularly known as Casuarina Beach, it is rich in coral and marine life although the casuarina trees that once filled the area have long gone.
If beaches are not your style, try island hopping. Favorites are Pulau Payar, Pulau Dayang Bunting, Pulau Singa Besar and Pulau Rebak. Pulau Payar, along with Pulau Kaca, Pulau Segantan, and Pulau Lembu, is known for its beautiful coral gardens and has been rightfully gazetted as a marine park. Even if you are not an ardent scuba diver, a 45-minute boat trip to this beautiful island is highly recommended.
Pulau Dayang Bunting, the second largest island, is ideal for snorkelling. It also offers two interesting spots – Lake of the Pregnant Maiden and Gua Langsiar, or Banshee Cave – with legends to be unravelled. Pulau Singa Besar is an animal sanctuary with deer, peacocks, horses, and macaques. Pulau Rebak, on the other hand, has a privately developed luxurious resort, Rebak Marina, equipped with all modern facilities.