Kids playing at Tunjung Rhu beach, Langkawi, Malaysia

Complete Guide to Langkawi, Malaysia

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Pulau Langkawi – the island Langkawi – is just the largest of more than 100 islands that make up the Langkawi archipelago in the Andaman Sea. It’s located about 30 km from the Malay mainland (aka Malaysia Peninsula) and measures about 25x32km.

The biggest surprise upon my arrival was how much of its nativeness Langkawi has managed to retain. Yes, there are numerous tourist activities, shopping, and resorts. But there also quaint villages and plenty of unspoiled nature to be found throughout Langkawi. In fact, many islanders still make their income as farmers or fishers. So, after two months on Langkawi, I compiled my complete guide to the island: Where to stay, how to organize transport (to the island and on the island), what to do, where to shop, and – never to be missed in Malaysia – where to eat.

Where to stay on Langkawi?

Pulau Langkawi is the largest of more than 100 islands that make up the Langkawi archipelago in the Andaman Sea. It’s located about 30 km from the Malaysia Peninsula and measures about 25x32km. Read my guide to learn everything else you need to know to organize your visit to Langkawi. #southeastasia #destinationguide #beachvacationKuah

30,000-people Kuah is the only town on Langkawi. It’s harbor, Langkawi Jetty Point, is the entry point for anyone coming from Penang, Malaysia Peninsula, and Thailand.

Hotels here are mostly multi-story resorts, and the beaches are far.

Since Langkawi is a duty-free zone, Kuah is, however, excellent for shopping.

Pantai Cenang

I would recommend staying in the next-largest settlement on Langkawi, Pantai Cenang. The heart of the village is a one-way street that runs parallel to the long beach.

Here’s why I think you should stay in Pantai Cenang when you visit Langkawi:

  • Just a few kilometers from the tiny island airport
  • Walking distance to Cenang and Tengah beaches (see below)
  • Loads of accommodation in different price categories. The area around Finno Guesthouse and RL Budget Accommodations is my favorite as you are off the main road but still within walking distance to the village of Pantai Cenang.
  • Loads of food options: from cheap street food and a weekly local night market to fresh, upscale seafood to homemade pizza.
  • Several bars, some right on the beach.
  • Super-easy to organize tours around the island, buy ferry tickets or rent a scooter to go out exploring yourself.

I stayed at the Soluna Guest House, which offers simple but well-maintained rooms (starting at less than $20/night plus a cheaper dorm) within walking distance to everything.

Tanjung Rhu

Tanjung Ruh has two stunning beaches between the Kraft cement factory and the mangroves. You’ll find a few guest houses as well as luxurious resorts – like the Four Seasons – here. While there are a few stalls selling street food, the location is far from most restaurants, bars, and shopping. So you’d need ground transport, or you spoil yourself to a beach vacation relying mostly on your hotel restaurant.

Resorts

There are numerous other accommodation options on Langkawi, most notably lush resorts with secluded beaches, stunning views of the jagged Langkawi mountains, and even private golf courses.

Some examples to wet your appetite (according to Booking.com, prices start at $100 per room and night and go up to $1,000):

Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort And Spa, Langkawi is located right on Cenang beach.

Vivanta by Taj- Rebak Island, Langkawi is located on its own island off Pantai Cenang beach (you’ll see the lights among the island’s foliage when you have your sundowners at Meritus).

Ambong-Ambong Langkawi Rainforest Retreat near Tengah beach, just South of Pantai Cenang, offers studios and villas with private infinity pools on a forested hillside.

The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort, Langkawi, is one of those secluded properties on the northern end of the island with a private beach that non-guests will have a hard time getting to. It’s also close to the Els Golf Course – for when you want to play a round between the jungle and the sea.

As mentioned: All the luxe chains are on Langkawi as well. The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, is at Pantai Kok between Pantai Cenang and the Sky Cab, and if one is to believe the guest reviews, the property manages to strike the perfect balance between modern luxury and its natural surroundings.

Beaches

Pantai means beach and Langkawi has a few lovely specimen.

The waters around Langkawi are clear and turquoise. Along the beaches, the land drops lightly into the water, which means a fair bit of walking during low tide before the water reaches your waist.

Beware of sea urchins and spiky seashells. Wearing bathing shoes is advisable.

Go to the beach at least once after dark: luminescent creatures light up when the water hits the shore (or your legs).

A tip about “private beaches” on Langkawi: You’ll notice that many of the beaches border resorts and you’ll have security come up to you to stop you from using the beach. But the law is on your side: You may enter those “private” beaches as at any given time you are allowed to freely use 10 m of beach measured from the water edge. Tell the security guard that you intend to honor the law, and they should leave you alone.

Pantai Cenang & Pantai Tengah

Pantai Cenang is probably the most famous of Langkawi’s beaches. A large rock separates Cenang from Tengah beach. You can climb the rock (beware of spider webs) for a view of both beaches.

Cenang beach is white and surprisingly roomy for a beach right next to a tourist hotspot.

If you’re into adventure and sports, Pantai Cenang is the place to be: Jet Ski, Banana Boat, paragliding,… Buy individual activities or packages from a handful of providers right on the beach.

Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah are also perfect sunset spots. So it’s lucky that along most of their lengths, you’ll find eateries and bars allowing you to sit on or with a view of the beach while enjoying an ice-cold beer.

Tanjung Rhu

Tanjung Rhu is my favorite beach. It’s split into two parts:

As you go along the road, the first part looks at the Langkawi Kraf cement factory in the distance (note the small balls of unhardened cement washing ashore once in a while). On the weekends/holidays, you’ll see locals (and backpackers) play beach volleyball and other sports. A few eateries offer local (cheap) food, and apart from major local events, the beach is tranquil.

Leave the first bit of beach behind you, and just follow the road to get to paradise Tanjung Rhu. If you’re on a scooter/in your own car, park where it says “Crocodile Cave” and continue to the beach on foot.

Crocodile Cave is the starting point for tours of the mangroves. You can catch a glimpse of the mangroves to your right as you drive along the tree-lined road to the beach.

There are a few restaurants and shops selling everything you need for a fun beach day (but no alcohol) before you enter the long stretch of white sand.

To the right is where most people go as you can find shade among the pine trees throughout the day.

Walk to the left, and you’ll have the beach almost to yourself (you just might have to ward off eager resort security personnel – see above advice). And if you come in the afternoon, the sun will be on the other side of the island. So you can find shade by the treeline if you need it.

One particular spectacle Tanjung Rhu offers is the possibility to walk on water. How? Come for low tide, and you’ll see a stretch of sand emerge from the water that leads to one of the rocks (shaped like a whale) out in the bay. But be careful: sea urchins have chosen the tiny island as their home and can leave nasty stings in your feet.

Teluk Datai

Teluk Datai is among the more remote Langkawi beaches. Access is easiest from the water or as a guest of one of the resorts along the beach. Otherwise, I recommend befriending a local who knows a secret jungle path to the beach.

Pasir Tengkorak Beach

If you can’t make it to Teluk Datai, stop by Pantai Pasir Tengkorak. This beach is only a few hundred meters from the Temurun waterfall (see below). It’s neither long nor spectacular, but it’s not crowded, and cheeky monkeys are exploring the delicacies guileless visitors hide in their backpacks.

Black Beach (Pantai Pasir Hitam)

Black Beach sounds great. But I didn’t even visit – everybody who did see Pantai Pasir Hitam, told me that this beach right next to the Kraf cement factory is a) not black at all and b) covered in litter. Head to Tanjung Rhu, which is right next to it, instead.

Waterfalls

Langkawi has several impressive waterfalls with drops of 50 to 100 m. They are favorite weekend and holiday hangouts of islanders and visitors from other parts of Malaysia. Most of the waterfalls feature natural pools at the top, the middle, and/or the bottom of the falls that offer perfect refreshment on sweaty days.

If you want to climb to the top of the falls, make sure you bring shoes with grip as stairs tend to get slippery.

Seven Wells Falls

Seven Wells Waterfalls is the most famous (and highest) of Langkawi’s waterfalls. Taking the SkyCab cable car up to Gunung Machinchang, you’ll get a good view of the falls to your right.

There are numerous pools at different levels as well as eateries and shops. Of course, that means a visit to Seven Wells is rarely an intimate experience.

If you want to connect a little closer with nature, bring your grippy shoes and check out the hiking paths from the top of the falls into the jungle of Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park.

Durian Perangin Falls

Durian Perangin Waterfalls is another local favorite with huts lined up along the bottom of the falls where families meet up for a barbecue.

If you didn’t bring a picnic, you could buy food and drinks at a restaurant and a few shops along the path to the falls.

The climb up the slippery stairs to a few meters below the top of the falls is absolutely worth it as you’ll likely have the pool of ice-cold water up here to yourself.

Temurun Falls

If you are looking for a little more privacy, head up to Temurun Falls between Teluk Datai and Tengkorak beaches. When there is water, the falls might be even more impressive than Seven Wells and Durian Perangin as the water drops almost straight down a sheer rock wall.

While there are no eateries or shops here, you can hang in two crystal-clear pools.

Secret Falls

As with the beaches, it pays to have Langkawi friends to discover hidden waterfalls that you won’t see on any map.

SkyCab & SkyBridge

Arguably one of Langkawi’s most famous sights, the SkyCab cable car is not for the faint-hearted. The journey from sea level to the top Gunung Machinchang (Mount Mat Cincang), Langkawi’s second highest peak, is 2.2 km long and requires the visitor to spend 15 minutes in a small capsule suspended from a wire.

However, the views from 1,700 m are breathtaking. On a clear day, you see not only the whole of Langkawi island but also Thailand in the North.

Once at the top, you can opt to walk onto the SkyBridge (for an extra $1.50), which is suspended 100 m above the jungle.

Tip: Make sure you check with your accommodation or on the official SkyCab website to see whether the cable car is operating as SkyCab will diligently shut down in case of forecasted rain/winds. 

SkyCab and its surroundings are good for several day trips, especially with kids: once you’ve experienced the cable car, there are, for example, Seven Wells Waterfall, numerous hiking trails in the jungle (you can also book a guided hike along the cable car route to the top station), the SkyRex dinosaur experience, the Oriental Village Shopping and restaurants, 3D Art Langkawi (an interactive museum), etc. Plus, in the vicinity, you’ll find the Skytrex Adventure Park with canopy walks and zip lines in the jungle. Not to mention Telaga Harbor and Telaga Beach.

Nature

Langkawi is not just for beach tourists by offers plenty of nature that you can explore on your own or as part of guided tours.

Among the classics are tours of the mangroves, either by boat, by jet ski or by kayak, with stops in several caves, and watching Langkawi’s “national” bird, the eagle, being fed.

Or explore a few of Langkawi’s 100 islands on an island-hopping tour by boat, kayak or jet ski.

Or dive deep into the jungle on a nature trek, discover endemic snakes, bats, butterflies, birds, and – of course – monkeys.

If you want nature but little work, take your scooter or car up to Langkawi’s highest peak, Gunung Raja.

Note: While the drive is easy and the road in an ok condition, some rental companies won’t allow you to take their vehicles up there for the frequent landslides onto the road.

Even easier: A visit to Langkawi’s hot springs in Air Hangat (Ayer Hangat). For only $1.50, you can bathe your feet in three different mineral springs or for a few dollars more you can rent a private jacuzzi room and soak for hours.

Shopping

Langkawi is a duty-free island. Consequently, you’ll have a fair few shopping options on the island. The biggest malls are in Kuah and in Pantai Cenang. Here, you can get everything from chocolates to alcohol to clothes and accessories to electronics.

Note, that while alcohol is included in the tax-exempt status, you are still in Muslim-majority Malaysia and not all shops/eateries sell alcohol.

Langkawi Food & Drinks

Since Langkawi is an island, it’s also a seafood haven. Just walk down the Pantai Cenang main road, and you’ll find numerous restaurants with the fresh catch of the day on display.

Beyond the seafood, you can have your pick of everything from:

  • Thai food (try Siti Thai at the corner of routes 115 and 154) to
  • plenty of local fair (my favorites: D’Lima, the stalls opposite the Melati Vip Dorms Hostel, and Warung Burger Makteh) to
  • Indian food (try roti and the Popia Basah at the Restauran Almaz) to
  • Shawarma (so much shawarma! but Cruises Kebab has the best lamb shawarma) to
  • authentic pizza (at Pizza Maker in Pantai Tengah)
  • to fast-food and any Western food style you might crave.

If you find yourself on Langkawi on a Thursday night, head over to the Pantai Cenang night market on route 154, near Bohok Guesthouse. The food here is fresh, abundant, and cheaper than anywhere else.

Traveling to and from Langkawi

Pulau Langkawi is the largest of more than 100 islands that make up the Langkawi archipelago in the Andaman Sea. It’s located about 30 km from the Malaysia Peninsula and measures about 25x32km. Read my guide to learn everything else you need to know to organize your visit to Langkawi. #southeastasia #destinationguide #backpackingLangkawi Ferries

There are only two ways to get to Langkawi: by boat and by plane.

Ferry destinations in Malaysia are Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah, Penang, and Tamalang. All boats leave from Kuah Jetty.

If you are traveling by car/motorcycle, use the car ferries from/to Kuala Perlis.

Ferries to/from Thailand also use the Kuah harbor, destinations are Satun and Ko Lipe.

Note that Ko Lipe, Thailand, has no harbor. You’ll have to transfer onto another boat offshore (to be paid separately). The smaller boat will then take you to the beach (and immigration). However, if you book your passage from one of the numerous vendors in Pantai Cenang, the transfer boat and all handling will be included in the ticket price. Note, that you can also buy packages to other destinations in Thailand.

While the ferry operators have websites, where you can book your tickets into and out of Langkawi, I’ve found that non-Malay credit cards often don’t work on these sites, and it’s easier to book your tickets on the ground (ticket prices are the same or max. $1.50 more).

Flying to/from Langkawi

Langkawi Airport in Pantai Cenang is not big but still an international airport with flights from/to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Guangzhou (China), Singapore, and other Malaysian destinations.

AirAsia has the largest number of direct flights from/to Kuala Lumpur, and I paid $20 for my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi (including checked baggage).

Traveling on Langkawi

Langkawi public transport

Public transport in Langkawi is subpar. This is largely thanks to the huge number of taxi drivers on the island. However, there are a few bus lines (operating away from the tourist hotspots), and, more importantly, taxis are cheap.

Even cheaper than taxis (in most cases) are Uber and Grab (the Asian version of Uber). Simply download the app(s) and sign up with Facebook or your email. Drivers are abundant and a 5-km ride will knock you back less than $2 (paid cash).

Self-drive (rental car/scooter)

Of course, you can also explore Langkawi with your own means of transport. When you arrive at the airport, you’ll see several car rental places in the arrival hall. Unless you need a car on the spot ask for their business cards and negotiate.

Many accommodations, as well as a handful of offices in Pantai Cenang, offer scooter rental for as little as $8/day. That is slightly more expensive than in Vietnam or Thailand but machines are usually relatively new and well-maintained.

Don’t forget to bring your international drivers license (most places will only ask for your national license, however, the police might fine you if they catch you without an international license).

There are several gas stations in the vicinity of Pantai Cenang and Kuah as well as here and there throughout the rest of the island. Gas prices change daily but usually are below $1/liter.

That sums up my guide to Langkawi, Malaysia. If you have any questions that have remained unanswered, sound off in the comments, and I’ll do my best to deliver an answer. Also, as usual, I’d be grateful if you use the affiliate links for Booking.com and Get Your Guide in this post; using these for your bookings on either platform will come to you at no extra cost but gives me a little bit of income to maintain the site. Thank you & happy travels!

Comments

  • Jane
    2018-01-09

    This is genuinely somewhere I could see myself visiting. Is it expensive compared to say Thailand or Vietnam etc. The only place I really know in Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur and even that looks awesome. Thanks for the holiday inspiration.

  • You have emphasized an important aspect in this article of yours, that is the ecological integration between tourist activities and the life of local people. In some places of great tourist appeal, often are developed realities and attractions that have swept away the rural space, and the identity of the place that is made by the natives. This is a subject that is very dear to me, because in my travels I always try to get in touch with the real, non-prepackaged reality created specifically for tourists. Needless to say, reading natural resources such as waterfalls, made me want to book the first possible flight.

  • Leona
    2018-01-15

    It looks beautiful. Would you say it was a family friendly destination?

  • Sarah Ricks
    2018-01-15

    Wow, this sounds like the kind of place that you could spend days wandering and enjoying. And helpful tips to avoid the beach that was covered in littler. Anyplace that can only be reached by plane or boat sounds like the first great step to a relaxing time.

  • Jessica
    2018-01-16

    I really love the photos of the beaches – they look really idyllic! The nature also sounds appealing in addition to the normal tourist activities. Did you see any of the monkeys or other animals you mentioned while on the island?

  • Punita
    2018-01-16

    Those are a lot of beaches! Somehow, whenever I think of Malaysia, rainforests come to mind more than beaches. That is something I would be keen to explore in addition to the suggestions you have given.

  • Amanda Kendle
    2018-01-17

    Very comprehensive and useful post! I am gradually getting to see more of Malaysia (I live in Perth so it’s not so far away) – have spent time in Penang, and in JB, and this year will finally have time in KL – but Langkawi is definitely somewhere I want to get to. Great tips.

  • Bob
    2018-01-18

    This is a fantastic post! The beaches look breathtaking, and the information is so complete that it is like a ready-to-go-guide! Must have been an amazing trip!

  • Medha
    2018-01-19

    I was just speaking to someone the other day about how I’ve been to Malaysia on a cruise and felt that I did not have enough time to explore each of the cities and must go back one day to do it properly. They asked me that given a choice, which of the three cities I’d want to go back and I picked Langkawi. I went to Tanjhung Rhu beach and absolutely loved it, the resorts by the beach were amazing and I would want to stay there for sometime and enjoy those lovely waters and some activities. The one thing I missed doing was visiting waterfalls, I would love to hike to one of those lovely waterfalls!

  • TravlinmadLori
    2018-01-19

    Thanks for the thorough overview and guide! Langkawi looks amazing, unspoiled and not heavily touristed. And I love the detailed listings on waterfalls and beaches. Any place whose location can still be described as “between the cement plant and the mangroves” is my kind of place, especially with accommodations in the $20 a night range. Sounds heavenly!

  • kellyrdunning
    2018-01-20

    Believe it or not, we spent 3.5 months in Malaysia and we never went to Langkawi! I would love to go, it looks gorgeous. I would love to see the luminescent creatures in the sea after dark. How did you find the prices in Langkawi? I found that prices in certain spots in Malaysia were more expensive than Cambodia or Vietnam. You say that the hotels are mostly resorts… are there cheaper options too?

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