Some of the best beaches in Malaysia, scuba diving, snorkelling and a wealth of fascinating folklore when you want a break from it all – Langkawi has all that and more…
Malaysia's Langkawi is a land of a myriad legends. This beautiful Malaysian archipelago of 99 islands lies in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. Situated just minutes from the Thai border, Langkawi is well endowed in some of nature's best known landforms as well as steeped in old folklore. The legends of Langkawi stretch on detailing curses, battles, fairies and vampires. The brown eagle from which Langkawi gets its name stands as a tall proud statue guarding its capital town of Kuah.
Langkawi is particularly known for its beaches which are among the best in Malaysia. The beaches are picturesque with seemingly unending stretches of fine white sand. Some beaches are fringed by rocky outcrops and others with a backdrop of limestone mountains — they offer a wonderful combination of forest and sea.
We checked into log cabins which were set in a jungle habitat right close to the beach, so we could get the best of beach and forest. All night long we could hear the tapping of critters and unique jungle sounds of humming, buzzing, scratching and whistling. The cicadas in particular were very vocal, calling to their mates with shrill high pitched sounds of over 120 decibels.
A visit to the crocodile farm was a matter of intense interest and curiosity for my kids. The crocodile trainers entered the lair of a family of visibly aggressive and uncooperative crocodiles — the 1,000-kilo male crocodile was initially swishing his tail and snapping his jaws in a most belligerent manner. The trainer gradually built trust, staring in its eyes and stroking him on the forehead until the croc had mellowed down enough to allow him to ride his back and brush his teeth. The final curtain call act was when the trainer successfully inserted his hand inside the croc's open jaws.
View from the top
Langkawi is so close to the Thai border that on a clear day you can see parts of Thailand from certain places in Langkawi. Another way to get a great aerial view is by riding the cable car. The Langkawi cable car offers a panoramic view of the entire sea/forest landscape beneath — a must for avid photographers. It takes you up to the very peak of the Gunung Mat Chinchang mountain.
Langkawi is also a great spot for a bit of scuba diving and snorkelling. The Pulau Payar Marine Park is tailormade for these sport. Marine life is prolific in Langkawi waters and so are corals of various kinds.
For people who love to shop, this island is Duty Free and cheaper than the rest of Malaysia. The Night Market is a vibrant bazaar that comes to life every evening in certain parts of town. Here vendors bring in their wares and sell home-grown goods in a self-spun cottage industry that is noisy, clamouring and bustling with activity.
In 2007, Langkawi was given a World Geopark status by UNESCO. Even though the island of Langkawi is pretty small, having barely an area of 470 sq km, it is home to an interesting array of scenery, including tropical jungle, waterfalls, rainforest, unspoilt beaches and exotic Mangrove.
A trip worth taking is the Mangrove cruise down the Kilim river. Our boat was laden with a mix of Japanese, Chinese and Australian tourists and a naturalist who pointed out the lush evergreen mangroves and dense deciduous forestation on the volcanic limestone mountains. The river meandered through large dense growths of mangrove, providing home to mudfish. These are ancient prehistoric fish which use their fins to “walk” up the banks. Along the banks were families of long tailed macaque monkeys who swam up to our boat looking for scraps to eat. We stopped as the arch of the river got broader and brown Brahminy kites and gigantic sea eagles swooped down to catch fish from the surface of the waters. You can feed eagles at this spot — they eagerly grab chicken skins that visitors drop in the waters.
Rare fish farm
Lunch was at the Hole on the Wall fish farm which is the only floating fish farm on the river. The farm offers a fantastic opportunity to see the marine life found in these waters and enjoy a good meal of freshly cooked sea food. Around the fish farm are many moorings which are docking points used by yacht owners around the world. These boats which can stay tied for up to a year have stayed safe and even made it through the tsunami of 2004.
There are many caves to visit in the Kilim Geoforest and plenty of legend attached to many of them. Most caves are accessible by boat and the elaborate stalactite and stalagmite limestone formations add to the aura of mystery.
We sailed back to shore after that long view of history — a first-hand look at a land that took hundreds of million years to form. What we have in Langkawi today is a land that took years of weathering ever since it was brought to the surface around 500 million years ago. The limestone mountains that tower above us all around the Kilim river are from the PreJurassic period before dinosaurs came along.
And that is truly legendary.
By Boat: Langkawi is an hour and a half by boat from Southern Thailand.
By Air: There are quite a few options of national airlines and local carriers. Langkawi is an hour's flight from Kuala Lumpur.
Places to stay
There are luxury hotels by the beach as well as budget hotels and bed and breakfast places.
Cenang is a busy central area and has quite a few accommodations to meet a spectrum of requirements.
Kuah is the capital town of Langkawi and is quite close to some good beaches.
Things to see/ do
Mangrove river cruise/ eagle feeding/ bat caves
Langkawi Cable car
Snorkelling and scuba diving in Pulao Payar
Cenang Night Market
Crocodile farm and underwater world