Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. The islands are a part of Malaysia's Kedah state, but are adjacent to the Thai border. By far the largest of the islands is the eponymous Pulau Langkawi (Langkawi Island) with a population of some 45,000, the only other inhabited island being nearby Pulau Tuba.
Sheltered by the mountainous backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, Langkawi escapes the northeastern winter monsoon entirely and enjoys sunny skies in winter when the eastern provinces are flooded. Coupled with natural white sand beaches, lush jungle foliage and craggy mountain peaks - but hampered by inaccessibility - the island was at one time touted as "Malaysia's best-kept secret".
Things to see & do
For some people Langkawi offers nothing much compared to the bustling beach thoroughfares in neighbouring countries such as Thailand's Phuket or Indonesia's Bali. However, it is a matter of taste and preference as Langkawi offers a much more sedate, laid-back, family-friendly package. Sex is not the pull of these beautiful islands. It just doesn't need to be sleazy to offer one of the best tropical island holidays money can buy today. And by the way, recent reports that Langkawi is the training ground for Thai terrorists are not true. No one can conduct such activities on Langkawi without being easily spotted. Langkawi is just a friendly peaceful place for all peace-loving people of the world.
With a paced and controlled development, Langkawi is virtually free from pollution although at certain times of the year some of the more popular locations can be rather crowded. These would include the main beach thoroughfare of Pantai Cenang.
What do you do in Langkawi besides just lazy days of sunbathing on the powdery white sandy beaches? It depends on your preference again. I would suggest taking a boat ride to visit the many out-lying islands, most of which are uninhabited and just great to get lost for a day. Get stranded on one with a day's supply of food and drinks (beers and spirits are dirt cheap as they are duty free in Langkawi) and you will know what I mean. And as for selections you are only moments away from your favourite brand of beer, whisky, brandy or great wine.
Seafood is abundant in Langkawi, although not all are sourced from the waters off the islands, but imported from nearby Thailand. But, who cares? They come from the same seas anyway. Partake of the myriad ways food and seafood are prepared. Chose anything from barbequed barracuda, fresh squids, prawns to various shellfish.
With its proximity to Thailand, some of the local cuisines would, invariably, have some Thai influence. Just look at the number of restaurants and stalls offering Thai Tum Yam style cooking.
You will also not be at lost should your palate accept only western food. English, American, Italian or even French cuisine can be had almost anywhere at really reasonable cost.
For the nature lover in you, the islands and the jungle on the main island offers endless days of bird-watching, trekking and exhilarating immersion within the peaceful confines of the verdant jungle. Talking about birds, take half a day at least to get up close and personal with the famed Brahmini Kite eagles of Langkawi. There are boat tours that take visitors to their favourite feeding grounds around Pulau Beras Basah and Pulau Dayang Bunting.
Pulau Dayang Bunting is worth a visit. Set in the center of the island is a fresh water lake. Some may compare this to the Thale Nae emerald salt water lake in the Ang Thong National Marine Park of Thailand near Ko Samui. For visitors who are adventurous, you can rent a kayak to go across the lake to a look out point. Here you can see the lake behind you and sea just in front of you from a spectacular lookout point.
Mangrove tours are a must. These can be arranged with the boat operators at Pantai Cenang. There are many locations for this activity, including the most popular one at Kilim. Other operators will take you to the mangrove forests of Pulau Dayang Bunting or Tanjung Ru.
Great caving can be had, especially around the north shores of the island. Get yourself a book on the caves of Langkawi as a guide and explore these dank and dark subterranean environments to the hilt.
Like most popular destinations, always be wary of tourist traps. Although not many in Langkawi, they do exist. Just talk to a friendly local or a long-staying visitor and you will get by nicely.
Langkawi is affected by the milder western monsoon (May-September), and while diving is possible in the nearby Pulau Payar Marine Park 45 minutes away by boat, water clarity tends to be poor. Lately evidence of the ravages of tourism can be seen and there have been a public outcry to bring the island back to its original state.
Visit the Cable car set in the Oriental Village. Its a must-see for the views of the islands and the seas it provides. But make sure you visit it on a day with clear skies. Otherwise there's not much point in going 700+ metres high up just to watch clouds. It costs RM15 per person.