One of the most beautiful islands in the Andaman Sea, the “Jewel of Kedah” has transformed itself from a quiet backwater at the time of Malaysian independence into a tranquil holiday resort and ecotourism pioneer in the region. Nowadays boasting a “World Geopark” status by unesco, the islands combines luxury hotels with beachside guesthouses, and natural charms, such as coral-reef diving, with themed attractions, such as a rainforest hill cable-car and canopy walk.
The island, being near the border with Thailand, was a source of constant dispute between the Siamese kingdom and the Kedah sultanate, with the island changing hands between the two and ending eventually with the conquest of Kedah by Siam. The arrival of the British settled matters, with the Crown establishing suzerainty over Kedah, and thus the Langkawi archipelago. It was not until the establishment of Langkawi as a duty-free zone in 1988 by Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that the island gained traction as a resort destination.
Islam, specifically the Sunni denomination, is predominant in Malaysia. Although constitutionally there is freedom of religion, there is also a legal requirement that all ethnic Malays be Muslims. Moreover, Islam is the “official religion” of the federation and of every state that was never a formal British colony. There are Islamic courts for family law and matters of religion and Islamic police to enforce them. In Langkawi, the majority of the population is Malay, with small communities of Chinese and Indians—however the overall climate is that of tolerance and friendliness to the constant influx of visitors.
The culture of Langkawi is influenced by that of Kedah, with its slightly more Arabised culture, long history of multiculturalism and particularities of the local dialect, called Kedah Malay or northern dialect (Pelat Utagha). Kedah is also the birthplace of the first prime minister and founding father of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, a prince of the Kedah royal household. The proximity to Thailand has influenced the wider culture of this region of the country, Langkawi being no exception. Many references to brown eagles (evoked by the name Langkawi) can be seen throughout the island, including in the main square of the town of Kuah, the administrative seat.
- PDA frowned-upon, as well as immodest dress (especially on women or visitors to religious sites).
- Besides handshakes, avoid touching people, and never do so with your left hand as it is considered ‘unclean’.
- Do not proselytise or discuss religious matters in public, or even in private with the pious.
- No public raging (even loud speech) or loss of face.
- Pay particular attention around the elderly, the pious, and modestly-dressed women.
Langkawi is located at the Andaman Sea, 51km west of Kedah, and bordering Thai waters. Langkawi is around 121km north of Penang and 413km northwest of Kuala Lumpur. The island exhibits a tropical savannah climate, with year-round hot temperatures, a pronounced dry season and rains from March to November
Langkawi is blessed with scenic beaches and lush, green hills, some like Gunung Raya as high as 893 meters. The Langkawi SkyCab, a cable car located on Gunung Mat Chincang, takes visitors to a viewing station 708 meters above sea level, where panoramic, 360-degree views of Langkawi Island and southern Thailand can be glimpsed.
Langkawi is noted for its varied eco-touristic offerings. At the Kilim River, sea otters, kingfishers and swimming macaques can be sighted. There are tours aplenty to the rainforest canopy, for jungle trekking, birdwatching and even crocodile feeding; plus a multitude of options for observing marine life.
Before you go
- Language: Malaysian, or Bahasa Malaysia, a standardised registry of Malay
- Currency: Malaysian ringgit (myr)
- Time Zone: Malaysia Time, utc+8
- Voltage: 240
- Electric Socket: Type G
You can conveniently buy a sim card at the airport, or any transport terminal, shopping mall or even convenience store.
There are 4 major operators in Malaysia. Celcom (Xpas) and Maxis (Hotlink) have the highest coverages (country-wide) but higher prices, while DiGi and U Mobile have more limited coverage but cheaper prices.
Expect to pay around $3.5 for a 7-day, 300-megabyte data credit.
- Banks opening hours are usually from 9.00am to 4.00pm and close on Saturday, Sundays, and Public Holidays (Except in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu where they close on Fridays, Saturdays, and Public Holidays).
- Some bank branches such as KLCC are open seven days a week.
- Moneychanger are very straightforward
- It is almost always better to change your money into ringgit once in Malaysia.
- Credit cards are widely accepted and atms are also conveniently located and work with all major international networks.
- Laksa lemak: A type of laksa (noodle soup) with a coconut milk-based, richly-spiced gravy. There are several varieties that can be found in this area, including Thai laksa with a fish-based gravy and red curry as well as laksama, a northern Malaysian version with thicker noodles and richer gravy.
- Roti canai: A type of flatbread usually sold in Mamak (Indian Muslim) stalls, usually served hot with a dhal (lentil) curry. There are many variations with the fillings folded inside the roti, as well as roti with protein such as kari ayam (chicken curry).
- Kari kapitan: Chicken curry, with kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk for mildness.
- Char kway teow: Fried flat rice noodles. The most famous version comes from Penang, usually cooked in lard with eggs, prawns, cockles, and a hint of Chinese sausage.
- Teh tarik: Black tea and condensed/evaporated milk that has been pulled, traditionally served hot but also can be iced.
Tipping is not mandatory in Malaysia
Taxis: Reward your cabbie for using the meter by rounding up the fare to the nearest ringgit.
Restaurants: it is customary to leave behind any loose change as tip. In high-end restaurants, a service charge of 10% applies. Hawkers and other eateries do not expect to be tipped, but if a place is full, a 5-10 ringgit tip to the hostess helps to reduce your wait.
Hotels: Most hotels charge the mandatory 6% goods and services tax, as well as another 5-10% of service charge to your bill. Porters can be tipped 10-20 ringgit for 1-2 guests. Leaving some tip bellow the pillow for the cleaning staff is also generous, at least on the first day.
- Suggested Vaccinations: Hepatitis A and Typhoid
- Crime in Langkawi is not an issue
- There are certain risks associated with road safety, particularly at night. Be on the lookout for other drivers who may be less cautious, especially if you are at the wheel.
- Do not feed wild animals on your own, particularly eagles and monkeys, who may become aggressive. Stay alert for jellyfish when swimming.
- Tap water is safe in Malaysia, but the pipes might be untrustworthy, so do buy bottle water.
- Drug use and contraband is heavily punished in Malaysia – with trafficking carrying a mandatory death penalty.
- Respect all local laws and stay away from demonstrations.
Emergency Line: 999
Klinik Govin (private hospital): Address: 1 Jalan Lapangan Terbang, 071`00 Padang Mat Sirat, Langkawi, Tel: (+60) 4 955 9499
Langkawi Hospital (public): Address: Jalan Bukit Teguh, 07000 Kuah, Langkawi, Tel: (+60) 4 966 3333
Tourism Board: Offices are in Langkawi airport as well as near the Jetty Point in Kuah, Tel: (+60) 4 966 7789/955 7155.
- Hello (in general): Selamat datang
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Ma’af
- Thank you: Terima kasih
- You’re welcome: Sama-sama
- Good morning/evening: Selamat pagi
- Goodbye: Sempai jumpa lagi
- How much is this?: Berapa harganya ini?
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Santi!
- Bon appetit!: Makan makan
- Where’s the toilet?: Di mana tandas?
- Help!: Tolong!
- I understand: Saya faham
- I don’t understand: Saya tidak faham
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Langkawi is served by the Langkawi International Airport or KLIA, which is located in Padang Matsirat, about 20 minutes from Kuah and 10 minutes from Cenang Beach. The airport handles a handful of destinations, namely Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Singapore, yet many international airlines connect via the former to Langkawi. The airport has modern facilities, although the vast majority of shops and eateries are located outside the restricted area. There is dedicated taxi counter where fixed-rate taxi coupons (Cenang: 18 ringgit, Kuah: 30 ringgit) can be bought. Car rental facilities are also available at the airport.
Most arrivals to Langkawi are via ferry to the Kuah jetty. There are year-round ferries to Kuala Perlis (rm18, 75min), Kuala Kedah (rm23, 105min), and Penang (rm63.5, 165min) on Malaysia, and to Satun (rm30, 75min) in Thailand. There are seasonal ferries to Ko Lipe in Thailand (no service from mid-May to October) as well as speedboats (not recommended for those with back/neck problems or prone to seasickness). None of the jetties in Malaysia are in towns near the train station, so a transfer either by bus or taxi has to be arranged. Trains to/from Kuala Lumpur arrive at Butterworth (for Georgetown, Penang Island), Alor Setar (for Kuala Kedan), and Arau (for Kuala Perlis). Alternatively, a bus can be taken directly from Kuala Lumpur (usually Pudu Central) to Kuala Perlis, which offers the cheapest and quickest ferry to Langkawi.
As the island has effectively no public transportation, driving on the roads is the only option. Taxis in Langkawi refuse to use the meter, but similarly to nearby Penang, work basically on a fixed-price system. Prices to/from the same two points in the island almost always cost the same. For example, taxis from the ferry terminal to Cenang cost 24 ringgit, from the jetty to Kuah town centre, 8 ringgit, and so on. Although this system does not result in the cheapest fares, the taxi drivers are well paid and thus feel less inclined to get funny when it comes to tourists as in other parts of Southeast Asia.
The roads in Langkawi are in good condition. With good exercise of caution, renting a car or a scooter in Langkawi can be a good choice, particularly for those looking to visit as many attractions as possible, which are scattered around the island. Renting a 150cc motorcycle costs around rm40-45/day, with smaller 125cc bikes costing around rm25/day. Renting a small car at the airport can go as low as rm50/day and a mid-size sedan rm70-150 depending on make and model. Make sure that you do have a valid driver’s license, and enough money to cover damages should the worst happen.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.