The Malaysian island of Langkawi is the picture-perfect holiday destination, and one that attracts millions of tourists annually from around the world. Resorts are spread along the expansive stretches of beach, each trying to outdo the next in terms of what they offer.
Thai influences can be seen all around Langkawi, from the typical bungalow-like buildings to the narrow river boats that ferry you around the small islands dotted about. The similarities are easily explained by the fact that neighbouring Thailand is just a few nautical miles to the north. While island hopping around Malaysian territory, your smartphone will often decide you must be in Thailand – sending you cheery welcome messages to commemorate each “border crossing”.
The same, but different
But in many ways the similarities are only geographical: Langkawi has not earned a reputation as a party-infested tropical paradise, something that is a large part of Thailand’s image. Don’t get me wrong: beach bars, clubs and local watering holes there are aplenty. But at the same time the island oozes an atmosphere of calm rather than high-octane partying.
There are quite a few things to do in and around Langkawi that don’t include roasting on a beach with a Mai-tai cocktail in hand. Around the harbour you will find several companies offering sunset dinner cruises. These adventures include food and drinks while you literally sail off into the sunset, with a quick stop for a dip in the sea. A standard trip takes about 12 people, with prices starting at 250 ringgit (EUR 58) per person.
Boats and boat-related activities can be found all over the island, not only on the coast. With rivers twisting and turning through the beautiful countryside there is a large demand by tourists for river cruising. Narrow boats carrying eight to 10 people take you through the dense jungle, in between hills and mountains. Among the unusual diversions are a bat cave (inhabited by real bats, not Bruce Wayne), floating restaurants and eagle feeding.
But it’s the island hopping that is really the highlight of the on-water choices. Larger boats – though still the same narrow shape as the river cruisers – ship tourists to some of the remotest and most exotic bathing spots in Malaysia, offering time to bask in the sun, tramp around quiet beaches and experience the wildlife.
Langkawi can be reached by ferry or plane – with the boat taking just over three hours from Penang, while flying will get you there in under an hour from Kuala Lumpur. Both the sea and air options are surprisingly cheap, and it’s well worth a weekend away if you are based in KL for the duration and feel like some serious relaxation.
It pays to be aware that some of the pristine white sand beaches belong to resorts. Several of the four-star and above resorts have guest-only private beaches. Although these do not offer anything massively different from any other stretch of sand on the island, staff can get quite grumpy if you go on to the “wrong” one.
Langkawi is the only tax-free location in Malaysia, so the three most heavily taxed items in the country – alcohol, cigarettes and chocolate – cost only a third of what they do on the mainland. Somehow this drop in price also means a slight drop in quality… beers and wines seem just a bit blander than the mainland equivalent.
Accommodation on Langkawi can be anything from ultra-basic to five-star, with prices climbing to match. Some of the more exclusive establishments charge upwards of 1,200 ringgit (EUR 278) for a single night in their most modestly priced chambers, with additional fees for ocean views, more space… you name it.
If you are travelling on a budget then there are more than enough options down by the beach, where a night can cost as little as 200 ringgit (EUR 46).
Eating out is one of the few things that will cost roughly the same as on mainland Malaysia, rather than more. Large restaurant chains and smaller local establishments still offer food at a reasonable price compared to tourist destinations in many other countries – but it’s not the bargain that alcohol is.
Spending two weeks on Langkawi is highly recommended, with the various activities mentioned offering a welcome break from the rigours of sunbathing and splashing about in the sea. But don’t limit your visit to the coast – the island offers so much more than just boat trips and tanning.
Make sure you explore some of the less popular tourist sites to get a feel of just how relaxed and welcoming this island – like Malaysia as a whole – can be.
For information about tours to Malaysia visit: www.azsiaspecialista.hu