If you are in search of a tropical beach paradise in Southeast Asia, one place that has probably cropped up while doing your research is that of Langkawi. This island is part of Malaysia and is located about 30 km off the northwest coast of the mainland, and is also not too far from the Thai border, making it a popular first port of call in Malaysia for those travelling from north to south, down through Thailand. Due to its proximity to Thailand, there are many signs of this, with Thai influences being felt in the food and culture of the island. If you’re not quite ready to leave Thailand but your plants necessitate otherwise, Langkawi can be a good compromise!
Tourism on Langkawi
Since 1987, when the island was granted tax-free status, tourism on Langkawi has really come to life. That raises the question: is Langkawi still worth visiting for those who are travelling around Southeast Asia and want to avoid the bland package holiday destinations?
While Langkawi is certainly popular, it’s not the party island some travellers might be expecting. Despite the duty-free status of alcohol on the island, which translates to an abundance of cheap booze, there isn’t much nightlife here. To avoid disappointment, don’t come here expecting to find nonstop parties and packed bars. Thai islands like Koh Phangan and Phi Phi are your best bet for that sort of thing.
While many backpackers and those travelling the region come through the island at some point, it seems to be more popular with couples and families on holiday. The accommodation suited to backpackers just doesn’t really exist on the island, at least not in the quantities found at other similar destinations in the region.
In fact, for those travelling with kids, Langkawi could be the prefect tropical beach destination. Family friendly establishments are a common site here and there is none of the blatant, in your face red-light tourism that Thailand revels in. With lots of accommodation options to choose from, including top end resorts like the Four Seasons, the Sheraton and The Westin, not to mention the largest hotel on the island, the Berjaya Langkawi Resort, those looking for a place to stay with the family in tow, should be spoilt for choice on this Malaysian island. Despite this long list of quality hotels that have set up shop here, the island still feels very much undeveloped when exploring. Due to this lack of development, it is worth remembering that there are only a few ATMs on the island so come prepared.
Langkawi with Kids
When we came to this island with did so with our one year old daughter in tow. Our resort had its own private beach and swimming pools but we still ventured out of the virtual compound as much as possible. The abundance of wildlife on the island, which includes many monkeys of various specifies, including the dusky spectacled langur, will keep even the most jaded of children entertained. While the locals aren’t as child mad as their Thai neighbours, kids still get a very warm reception here, much more than they would do back home (depending on where that may be for you of course).
To keep the kids happy, and for a chance to see less free-range wildlife, the Underwater World indoor aquarium at Pantai Cenang provides a not wholly unpleasant environment in which to see birds, fish and other animals from the world of sea and rivers. With lots of family friendly restaurants along the main strip of Pantai Cenang, there should be something for even the most fussy and spoilt eaters to get their teeth around. Just be warned, there is little air con at these places, due perhaps to the lack of floor to ceiling walls and doors, so things can get a bit hot during either the hot or the hotter seasons of Langkawi. Look for a restaurant with ceiling fans to avoid hot and grumpy kids!
As mosquitos feel rather at home on the island, make sure you stock up on the necessary sprays and potions before setting off on your travels. While some brands are available on the island, you know what your strength sprays your kids can tolerate so come prepared.
The Best Attraction of Langkawi
While the beaches of Langkawi are certainly one of the highlights of the island, for those travelling around the region, they might already be suffering from common ailment of indifference to tropical paradise. If so, one attraction on the island that isn’t commonly found elsewhere is the Langkawi Cable Car and the Sky Bridge. If you want to get a good view of the island, and take some cracking photos, make sure this attraction is part of your trip.
While most of the island might seem slightly lacking in western standards in terms of public transport, infrastructure and construction, the cable car and Sky Bridge thankfully have been completed to a high standard and there was never any sense of impending doom when we made our visit to them, complete with our intrepid toddler.
The cable car takes you on a 2.2 km journey to the peak of Gunung Machinchang, where you can then transfer onto the Sky Bridge. The bridge is a 125 metre walkway suspended by cables and is 700 metres above sea level, providing many excellent photo opportunities and views of the island. If you really want to understand the island and get your bearings, head up here at the first possible opportunity on your trip. Although if you are even remotely afraid of heights, I suggest you give this one a miss!
Is Langkawi still a Tropical Getaway?
If you are wondering if this island is still in a condition undeveloped enough to qualify as a tropical beach paradise then the answer could very well be a resounding yes. With a basic infrastructure and a smattering of high end resorts there are certainly parts of the island that cater to holiday makers with big budgets, that insist on a resort with a private beach and no reason to leave the confines of the complex. Other more economically challenged travellers can experience the few beach bars and budget pizza restaurants along the main stretch of sand at Pantai Cenang, which they would find at any beach town or island in Thailand or Malaysia or their other neighbours. But for those who crave life off the beaten track Langkawi still provides many spots that can be classed as being up there with the best stretches of undisturbed beaches, palm trees and lack of concrete exploitation to be found in Southeast Asia. While there is nothing particularly unique about the island as a whole, and it doesn’t really stand out for any specific reason amongst the many others of its type in the region, it is definitely recommend for those without much tropical beach experience. Even for those with many islands under their belt already, there is no reason not to come here if you are still craving some downtime on beautiful beaches, with friendly locals and amazing food and low prices.
Getting to the Island
While the island has an international airport, for travellers wishing to take a more scenic approach to Langkawi there are ferry services from a few Malaysian destinations, including the culinary paradise that is Penang as well as ferry service from Koh Lipe in Thailand. This makes Langkawi the prefect destination for those continuing their travels from the southern Thai islands down into Malaysia.