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 kilometers 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.
If you choose not to fly, a ferry ride from either Kuala Kedah (51 kilometers) or Kuala Perlis (30 kilometers) 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. Lang is an abbreviation of the old Malay word for eagle—helang. Kawi is the eagle's distinctive color. 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.
Folklore & Fables
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 favorite 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 center 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 kilometers from Kuah, Pantai Tanjung Rhu is another favorite 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 gorgeous 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.
Like its legendary eagle, you too can fly free in Langkawi.
A good meal is like a journey. While dining in Langkawi you will experience elements of intrigue, excitement and pleasure. Your palate will be delighted with exotic flavours and the beauty of your surroundings will stimulate all your senses. The cuisine is a combination of regional and western, but as Thailand is so close, the mixture of the Malay and Thai cultures also results in a unique gastronomic experience.
Kuah has grown into a cosmopolitan centre and it boasts many interesting restaurants. Aquarium Seafood Garden offers delicious Thai and Chinese cuisine at affordable prices. If you are into fresh seafood, you can make your own selection at the huge tank filled with fish, prawns and other marine delights. Seri Indah Cafe is another popular spot that has an original and personal approach to its menu and offers excellent Chinese and Western cuisine. This cafe has been around for quite some time and is popular with locals and visitors. Amidst the sizzle and steam of woks and the resulting aromas, patrons at Phoenix Restaurant will be delighted at the combination of excellent food and a welcoming atmosphere. If you are looking for live entertainment, stop by Woodpeckers Lounge where the band plays great music. The beverage list is quite impressive and there is an extensive choice of tropical cocktails, wine and beer.
A growing diversity of cuisines can be found along Pantai Tengah —a place famous for its first class accommodation and excellent restaurants. The beachfront Coco Beach Seafood Paradise has a romantic tropical ambience, especially at sunset. Graceful, traditional Malay dance and music can be enjoyed here occasionally. The Safari Restaurant & Bar has been designed with mostly natural materials. Live bands will entertain you or you can try something different by learning how to make batik at their Safari Batik Gallery. Overlooking the marina, Boardwalk Cafe never fails to pull in the crowd. Not only does it offer breathtaking views, but also an eclectically influenced cuisine with a Mediterranean slant. Cactus Restaurant & Bar offers great music and traditional Asian flavours against a backdrop of impressive furniture, hand made from mangrove trunks. For a more homely feel, the friendly owners of Sheela's Restaurant & Cafe will make you welcome. There is a splendid landscape garden and alfresco dining here is highly recommended. The dish to try? The famous home-made pizza cannot be beaten.
Palo Palo , the friendly beach bar, is a must for sunset lovers. Breathtaking views are right at the doorstep. It only serves drinks but you can have a barbecue and bonfire on request. If you are looking for something a little different, Urwald Cafe is tucked away in the woods and is a really cool hangout on lazy evenings. Offering an enormous menu with something for everyone, splendid live music and occasional cultural shows, there is never a dull moment here. Mario's is recommended for Italian cuisine. Artistry, top class hospitality and outstanding food make a remarkable combination.
As soon as the sun sets, Sunset Karaoke & Discotheque comes alive. This nightspot features a spacious dance floor, karaoke boxes for shy singers and great music. If you are looking for a wilder evening Coco Jam Fun Pub will keep you swaying to the infectious live tunes. Considered to be the best entertainment spot on the island, this place is packed every night with regulars and visitors. With its beachside location, one can go for romantic walks in the moonlight for a breather.
Dining at sea does not mean you have to be on an ocean liner. The floating restaurant, Kelong Seri Melayu , will give you a dining experience you will never forget. Black Henry Discotheque gives you the opportunity to kick off your shoes and dance the night away.
The Spice Market , an Asian and Western cuisine outlet, offers a staggering number of goodies that are meticulously executed and are masterpieces of clever design. Champor Champor, voted as one of Malaysia's best restaurants some time ago, offers a romantic ambience. If you have spicy in mind, try Sun Bay Restaurant . Serving rich and exquisite Thai fare fit for kings, a must try here is the steamboat prepared from the freshest ingredients. Bon Ton at the Beach is the place to go for Nyonya and Western fare that is refreshingly imaginative yet uncompromising in taste. Strategically located by the beach, the Music Room Discotheque changes its decor every month to offer customers a different experience each time they visit. This is a great drinking spot. For a more laid back atmosphere, try the Reggae Bar where patrons can cool off and enjoy the great reggae beat.
Jalan Teluk Datai
The Pavilion offers fine Thai cuisine. As it is situated opposite a rainforest, you can enjoy the sounds of nature in the background as you eat. If buffet style is your thing, The Dining Room offers a great variety of food for both lunch and dinner.
The menu at The Saffron is original and personal with a Mediterranean style of cooking combined with a hint of Asian flavours. The seafood is particularly good. Serving sumptuous international cuisine, bistro-style The Sands features an impressive wine list and is adorned with local artifacts. Nestled on a quieter stretch, Rhu Fine Dining is creating a buzz in the food scene. With its intimate atmosphere, this establishment offers a touch of class and a tinge of romance as well as excellent food.
Exotic, exciting and vibrant is what you will feel at the Burau Beat Pub . Featuring hot music, the live band will entertain you till the wee hours of the morning. But if you are looking for something a little more laid back, hop over to to Sunken Pool Bar and Beach Bar and simply sink into one of the sofas and relax. There is no loud music here—just the marvellous sounds of Mother Nature to soothe your soul.