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Langkawi, Malaysia: A traveller’s guide

By Manasee Joshi 21 October 2020

First, let us take a moment to truly appreciate the extent of diversity that is packed in an isle that is just over half the size of County Dublin. Consisting of some 99 islands, Langkawi is about the same size as Penang or Singapore. Yet, this tiny tropical gem hides a massive treasure trove of exciting things to see and do—from surreal magic of wild forests, and vast shorelines fringed by merciful beds of powder-soft sand, to being home to lofty jungle-clad cliffs that dramatically make their way out of the royal blue waters and craggy rock pools, Langkawi is all of this and much more!

And to think that an island as paradisiacal and mesmerising as this was believed to be cursed for seven generations by the legend of Mahsuri—a young woman on the island who was wrongly accused and executed for committing adultery—is almost unthinkable. Yes, Langkawi isn’t all about world-class resorts, picture-perfect beaches for amorous declarations, and centuries-old geological wonders. It is also an island where fact and fiction intertwine to narrate beautiful tales of valiant warriors, wronged maidens, and mystical birds. Today, the islet is fondly referred to as Malaysia’s paradise island and the jewel of the Indian Ocean. And there’s a good reason why! There are a number of top-selling features for the island of bliss and first-time travellers could really get overwhelmed. So, here’s a lowdown on what Langkawi does what it does best.

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Beaches

Langkawi is best at enticing its visitors with heavenly beaches. What is it about the sea lapping gently against the shore we find so calming? Is there really an evolutionary explanation behind this magical phenomenon? Come to Langkawi and it will all make sense. The rhythmic splashing of sea waves on rocky coastlines, the occasional balmy sea breeze that perfumes the air and ruffles through our thoughts, and the hypnotic swaying of palm trees in the background—all make it seem like an out of this world experience.

Clearly, the island knows no shortage of surreal bays and beaches, and needless to mention, they have emerged as one of the top tourism drawcards for any type of holidaymakers—be it locals, beach-bummers, adventurers, or families just looking for some quality-time fun in the sun. Langkawi beaches are well spread out, so the best way to explore them is to ditch those typical resort recommendations and rent a scooter or bike to make sure that you are not confined to the ones closest to your place of stay.

Pantai Cenang beach, a long 2 kilometre stretch of golden sand and turquoise waters, deserves a mention simply for being one of the busiest tourist hotspots in whole of Langkawi. A series of premium resorts and affordable cafes have sprung up along the beach with many of them having chalets and shacks right on the sand. A thrilling oceanarium will let you have an up and close encounter with some of the ocean’s cutest and deadliest creatures at the same time. Although there are no dearth of activities and places to grab a bite on this bustling stretch of sand and water, do plan a sunset meal at The Cliff restaurant—set atop a cliff at the end of Pantai Cenang. Affluent travellers usually choose to unwind here after a long day of exploring Langkawi and relish the dramatic sunset views with the cool breeze and blissful sound of waves.

Tanjung Rhu beach is one of the finest beaches that comes alive when the sun starts to go down. The beach is a breath-taking sight of white sand, shaded by palm trees as limestone crags jut out from the shallow waters. You’ll find no rowdy beachgoers or tour groups running amok here, primarily due to its off the beaten path location. Instead, you will be rewarded with soft white sands, lush vegetation, and peaceful blue waters that look stunning against the backdrop of crimson skies.

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Datai Bay beach is another off-the-beaten-track escape your inner recluse needs when the constant assault of overcrowded beaches and perennially packed restaurants exhaust you. The only catch is that it is exclusive to two swanky private resorts—The Datai and The Andaman. This is a practically untouched private island where you could go days without seeing another soul. The resorts scream luxury with prime sunset views from your private beach cabana and black-lava stone pool, where your every wish is attended to by your very own butler, and the turquoise Andaman Sea is put on prime display exclusively for you.

Waterfalls 

We all imagine Langkawi as a faraway tropical paradise with alluring and idyllic natural beauty, inspiring tales of legends, and its spectacular cultural heritage. What is lesser-known are its gorgeous, serene waterfalls that add a diverse mix to its expansive beaches. Consider this—a mysterious water hole that seemingly delves into an abyss. Wouldn’t they set the perfect scene for some of the best photoshoots?

Aptly referred to as the ‘home to fairies,’ the Telaga Tujuh waterfalls located at the Mount Mat Cinchang certainly do manage to whip up the magical charm with spectacular sights of a chain of cascades in the heart of the thick rainforest. The gorgeous flora encompassing it is equally beguiling. If you are up for a bit of an adventure, you could brave a precipitous climb to the top of the waterfalls, past the massive limestone rock formations and through the series of seven pools. More often than not, you’d be greeted by the region’s impressive faunal diversity on the way, which includes encounters with some swift and brazen giant squirrels, cheeky monkeys, and noisy hornbills.

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By Amrita Katara Chandnani 5 September 2020

Due to its tropical landscape, Langkawi enjoys occasional heavy rainfalls and strong monsoon winds between the months of August and October. Come monsoons and the waterfalls gush down in full speed cascading over the mighty edge of the mountains. Temurun waterfall, located at the edge of Mount Machincang, is one such waterfall that truly comes alive during this time. As the waterfall gushes down a beautiful mountain adorned with lush green vegetation in full force, it forms a pretty little pool at the base. You can cool off by jumping in the forest green water and taking a swim beneath the spectacular waterfall set amidst peaceful surroundings and get that unique feeling of freshness one can only get in natural waters.

High rainfall and an abundance of hills and mountains mean that waterfalls in Langkawi are not hard to come by. In fact, the region was so enamoured by the beauty of these crashing cascades that it even created one of its own. Langkawi manmade waterfall is Malaysia’s most beloved pieces of creation. Here, you can admire the three-tier ornamental waterfall made of stone, a totem pole, and waterside woodlands. Gushing through the 50-metre road cave tunnel are these fascinating little waterfalls that perfectly complement the surrounding natural flora. The fact that a large number of swallows, butterflies, and flame-back woodpeckers have made a home here gives the place a feeling of real serenity in the heart of Langkawi.

Mountainsides

At the island paradise of Langkawi, rice paddies dilly-dally with lush tropical rain-forests, and secluded beaches set the scene for stunning sunsets. Countless superb hiking trails run up and down the flanks of many mountains, begging to be explored on foot. For the sake of the downright spectacular views from atop Langkawi’s mountain cliffs that reward their climbers generously for the sometimes pretty challenging accents, you need to bookmark this for an altitude-ascending adventure.

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Standing tall at over 880 metres, Gunung Raya is hailed as the tallest mountain cliff in Langkawi and arguably the most popular spot for hiking. The summit overlooks dense forest reserves and rural landscapes, and encompasses several other peaks, thus creating a panorama that’s worth the hike. Among the hundreds of legendary tales that originate from these very lands, Gunung Raya’s is likely to be the most interesting one. The story goes like this: Mat Chinchang and Mat Raya were two incredibly powerful and affluent families who lived on the main island of Langkawi. On the day of the engagement of their children with each other, the two got into a scuffle which took a violent turn in the end. Eventually, the devastation that took place during the fight was believed to be the reason of the formation of Langkawi’s most famous peaks—one of which was Gunung Raya.

Legends aside, today, Gunung Raya is anything but cursed. The densely packed rainforest, spanning across 5,000 hectares, is home to some of the most precious flora and fauna and boasts a sizeable collection of exotic species. Its well-paved road with a gentle gradient makes for a reasonably manageable trek and an impressive setting for jungle safaris and nature walks. You could either choose to drive all the way to the top, which takes about 30 minutes, or simply go on foot or bike. Either way, the well spread out lookout points will offer magnificent views of Langkawi’s verdant surroundings, numerous islets in the vicinity, and the grandeur of the Andaman Sea, which will make this hike a truly unforgettable experience.

And while you’re here, do not forget to check out the D’Coconut Hill Resort, famed for its pretty-as-a-picture manicured lawns, an eight storey viewing tower, swanky restaurants offering sprawling views of the surroundings, and one of the best spa facilities in the region—making it the perfect stopover for a meal (and a massage!).

Another peak that’s worth the climb is Mount Mat Cincang Peak. As they say, “Sometimes getting the best perspective of a place requires a little bit of exercise.” The trek to its summit is quite challenging, and is usually undertaken by experienced hikers. But that shouldn’t deter you from pushing yourself beyond your limits. It begins with a steep climb of over 630 steps, which take you to the foot of the Seven Wells waterfalls. From this point onwards, it will probably take a lot of pushing and pulling yourself up as the route itself is steep and trail passes through the thick forest which will require you whack your way through the vegetation. You will soon know it’s all worth it when you reach the top when you're greeted with spectacular 360-degree scenic views of Langkawi.

Cuisine 

The beauty of food in Langkawi lies in the fact that each cultural group adds its own flair to delight you. The myriad of spices and flavours brought over from India, China, Thailand, and Indonesia mean that each dish produces complex flavours that somehow come together like orchestral music. When a cuisine uses spices in such abundance that the meat and vegetables seem like an afterthought, you know you're dealing with best of the best. Welcome to Malay cuisine!

First things first, let’s talk about where to eat in Langkawi. Ask any local or guide and you are likely to hear names of large beachfront properties or restaurants offering excellent sunset views. And while that has its own charm, let us take a moment to look beyond the obvious and explore best in the town eateries spread all over the island, and not confine ourselves to main beach areas.

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By Pavan Shamdasani 21 January 2020
By Rachel Yeo 1 October 2020

Nasi Campur definitely tops the list for its easy availability—be it vibrant night markets, open-air street food stalls, or fine dining restaurants. You’ll find that you’re never too far away from a satisfying plate of Nasi Campur in Langkawi. Although an Indonesian-inspired dish, its Malay version is quite popular amongst locals and travellers and the reason is obvious. Who can resist a steaming hot plate of boiled rice that willingly takes the centre stage, paired with a well-arranged assortment of seafood, crunchy vegetable fritters, soft boiled egg, and soy products embrace it like a warm hug?

Each plate of Nasi Campur is a meticulous art and there are only a few restaurants that do justice to this crowd-puller and Wan Thai, located in Kuah in Langkawi, is one of them. The place has won its fair share of rewards and recognitions from food critics and people usually flock in to taste their delicious Nasi Campur, among many other Malay favourites. Although frequented by large groups, the staff ensures they give due attention to every order and service.

When you’re in Langkawi, you can never really get enough of sate. It’s practically everywhere on the menu—family-owned restaurants, beachside shacks, or luxury resorts. One can literally gnaw on this skewered candied meat all day and not feel guilty because of the bite-sized portions. Although this dish too, is an adaptation of Javanese-style Satays and Indian-style Kebabs, it’s definitely made its way to the heart of people from Langkawi too.

To taste the best sates in town, head straight to any of the bustling night markets within Langkawi island and look for Terragrill Satay Café stall. If you really want to experience the entirety of this island then these constantly thriving night markets are a great way to do just that. And Terragrill Satay Café, with its over 25 years of experience in serving perfectly succulent sates without compromising on barbecuing method or marination process, will make sure that you wouldn’t leave disappointed.

Finally, end your Malaysian food journey on a sweet note by having a mouthful of Ice Kacang—a popular Malay dessert which literally translates to shaved ice sweetened with flavoured syrup and topped with generous portions of nuts, palm seeds, and jelly. Located right at the entrance of Chenang Beach is a restaurant that lets diners feast on top-quality Malay cuisine, including the crowd-favourite Ice Kacang, right in the heart of a lush paddy field. The food here is as traditional as it can get and its one-of-a-kind dining experience will fill your tummy as well as the heart with some good old Langkawi memories.

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Manasee Joshi

Contributor

Manasee is a Hong Kong-based freelance writer by profession and lover of fascinating cultures, lip-smacking cuisines, and a vibrant social life. Having worked as a travel guide all across APAC, Manasee has dug deep into historical fun facts, architectural styles, and the best places to eat and drink in the places she visited. As a travel writer, Manasee aspires to inspire readers to follow in her footsteps. After a long day of work, you can find her binge-watching Netflix shows with a glass of crisp wine.

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