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The island of Langkawi
Planning to travel around West Malaysia? Want to visit a stunning island with beautiful beaches, amazing people, cheap food and drink? Why not check out the island of Langkawi? Here’s why you should and everything you need to know about the island:
Langkawi, a duty-free island
Let’s be serious, everyone loves a bit of duty free. Especially if you smoke or like me, you’re quite partial to an alcoholic beverage or 10 at night time, then Langkawi will not disappoint! In comparison to the rest of Malaysia, Langkawi is dirt cheap when it comes to cigarettes and alcohol.
For example, In Langkawi, 20 cigarettes can be found for as little as RM 2 (0.5USD). Head to the next island of Penang and your talking RM 15 (3.75USD). Don’t get me wrong, its still cheap by UK standards but as a poor backpacker on a minimal budget, these things make a big difference.
Then there’s alcohol. As bad as it sounds, a fair chunk of my monthly travel budget goes on the amber nectar. So, a quick example of the price difference of a refreshing, ice cold can of Carlsberg in Langkawi will set you back RM 3.50 (0.87 USD) and in Penang RM 14 (3.50 USD).
Best time to visit
Anytime of the year can be a good time to visit Langkawi, to an extent it all depends on what you’re looking for. I was there at the end of May/beginning of June and the weather was really good and the beaches pretty empty. Don’t get me wrong there was a couple of rainy periods in the 10 days I stayed on the island, but they never lasted longer than 2-3 hours and the rest of the time was glorious sunshine.
Here’s a quick rundown of the different seasons and what you can expect:
High season on Langkawi runs from January to March. During high season you can expect endless days of strong sunshine with pretty much no rain and temperatures well over 30C every day. Inflated prices for accommodation, tours and crowded beaches means this is not the time I’d choose to visit.
Mid-season on Langkawi runs from April to August. At this time of year, the weather is still really good with the odd rain shower here and there, normally in the evening or over-night. One good thing about the rain showers is that it brings temperatures down below 30C and gets rid of a fair bit of humidity as well. Couple that with cheaper prices and empty beaches and it’s not hard to see why many returning tourists choose this time of year to visit Langkawi.
Low season is between September and October. With temperatures averaging just 27C, it’s a good time to visit this beautiful Island and get away from sweating constantly. Also, the Island is in full bloom and the rainforests lush and green. Expect a little rain in the evenings and rougher seas. On the windier days, some of the boat tours won’t be able to operate, so if you want to go for a week and book as many excursions and tours as possible maybe the low season is not for you.
How to get there?
I took the ferry from the port of Kuala Perlis to Langkawi. It costs RM 18 (4.50 USD) and takes around one and a half hours. The sea can be a little choppy so if you get seasick it may be wise to take a trust brown paper bag with you.
You can also get a ferry from Kuala Kedah or Penang.
Luckily, Langkawi also has an airport, so flight is also an option. Internal flights in Malaysia are very cheap. Check out the AirAsia website for the best last-minute deals. I found next day flights from Langkawi to Penang for as little as RM 38 (9.50 USD).
Where to stay
That all depends on what you’re looking for/how deep your pockets are….
There’s an abundance of pretty swanky beach front hotels and apartments to choose from, ranging from RM 100 (25 USD) per night, right up to, well, too much!!
Seen as I’m a backpacker with short arms and deep pockets, I obviously didn’t stay in some fancy hotel.
So where did I stay?
The Rainbow Lodge backpackers is where. To be fair, even though it’s one of the cheapest places for accommodation on the island, in all honesty it was pretty decent.
The dorms, start at RM 18 (4.50 USD) per night and are quite basic but clean and quiet. If there’s two of you travelling together then a private room works out roughly the same per person.
A 5-minute stroll to the white sands and calm waters of Cenang Beach. Even less to the main strip with all the restaurants, tour offices and shops. The location is good! The staff are amazing. Very helpful and happy to have a couple of beers with the guests after work.
There’s also a café which serves some pretty nice food between the hours of 8am-2pm and 5pm-11pm. Although not the cheapest, the food is good and well, sometimes you’ve got to pay for convenience.
Motorbike hire from the hostel is RM 25 (6.25 USD) per day. Unlike Thailand, where you can’t walk further then 50m down the road without coming across a motorbike hire shop, it’s a little more difficult in Malaysia. Less rental shops, higher prices and you’ve got to have the correct license. Yes, they actually check in Malaysia!!
Where to eat?
As with all of Malaysia, the multi-cultural heritage means that everywhere you go you’ll be spoilt for choice. Malay, Thai, Indian, Chinese or if you’re not feeling to adventurous then there’s always western food restaurants.
Langkawi, being an island means a vast variety of fresh seafood restaurants. Many have the tanks where you can choose which lobster/fish you want, obviously for a premium!
Again, me being the skint traveller that I am. Skipping the nice restaurants is mandatory. Why pay RM 40 (10 USD) when I can get some tasty street food for RM 6 (1.50 USD). In all honesty 9 times out of 10 the street food is just as good as the restaurant food and you know that the money you spend actually goes to the person cooking the food, not some fat cat.
One little gem that I found literally 20m from the Rainbow Lodge hostel is called simply “local food”. That’s exactly what it is local food at local prices. RM 6 (1.50 USD) for a large serving of chicken fried rice. Yeah it ain’t no Michelin Star restaurant but everyone who eats there enjoys the food. Nuff said!!!
Getting around Langkawi
Getting around Langkawi, without a car or bike is going to be fairly expensive. There’s no public transport on the island so the only way to get around without hiring some transport is by using taxi’s.
Most taxi ranks in Malaysia have a large board with destinations and prices so at least you know you’ll always be paying a fair price.
This is where the grab app comes in. Luckily, there are plenty of grab drivers on Langkawi and at roughly half the price of a standard taxi, get it downloaded!!!
Ideally though, hiring a bike for a day or two is the way to go. RM 50 (12 USD) for a couple of days hire and RM 20 (4 USD) on fuel and you’ll see the whole island. Much cheaper than taxi’s.
A few things you should do while in Langkawi
The Langkawi cable car
For RM 50 (12.50 USD) you can take a ride on the world’s steepest cable car, up to 708m above sea level and to the top of Langkawi’s second highest peak of Mt. Machinchang. The view from the top is amazing. You can see hills, bays and even a waterfall.
Once at the top you can buy a padlock, have it engraved and lock it onto the railing with the thousands of others before you.
Once you’ve done that, for an extra RM 5 (1.20 USD) you can head over to the sky bridge. Opened in 2005 it spans a gap between two peaks and has a glass floor where you can look down over 100m up in the air.
In high season, I’d recommend getting there pretty early as even at the beginning of june it was pretty busy.
At the base of the cable car there is a little tourist village, complete with Japanese garden and lake with plenty of gift shops and places to eat.
Checkout Temurun Waterfall
There are a couple of waterfalls on Langkawi, one of which you can see from the cable car on the way up to the sky bridge and the more impressive one quite a way out of town (hire a scooter). At just over 200m top to bottom the Temurun waterfall is free and definitely worth checking out. I’d love to see it after a few days of rain, but I was there in early-June so not too much flow. Still worth a look!
Watch the sunset at the Kalut bar
After a hard day exploring Langkawi, why not head over to the Kalut beach bar grab a beer or 3 and watch the sunset. The Kalut beach bar is one of the more popular backpacker haunts. Come 6pm, the giant bean bags are out and the oldskool hip-hop and reggae is on.
It’s a nice place to meet people and have a relaxing beer. RM 7 (1.75 USD) for a small beer, not the cheapest but not too bad.
Go on the island-hopping tour
Generally, I try my best to stay away from tours if possible. Seen as I don’t have my own boat, island hopping without a tour is kinda, well, impossible.
For RM 30 (7.5 USD) I got hostel transfers to the marina. Then onto a speed boat with say, 20 other people, a 15-minute ride past some stunning rock formations and then onto Pregnant Lady Island. Where we got to disembark for an hour to walk into the centre of the island that one big freshwater lake. Entrance to the fresh water lake is RM 6 (1.50 USD).
It’s possible to hire a pedal boat to explore the lake a little more. I didn’t bother, spent all my time chasing monkeys round trying to get some nice photos.
* WORD OF WARNING!! The monkeys on Pregnant Lady Island may look cute but believe me they can be ferocious! Soon as we got off the boat one lady was knocked to the ground by 5 monkeys and her bag of food stolen. So yeah, don’t take any food on this tour!
After leaving Pregnant Lady Island, another boat journey to the outskirts of another island where you’ll stop for 5 minutes to feed some eagles that miraculously appear from nowhere.
Then, to the final destination……… Here you’ll spend an hour swimming and snorkelling in crystal clear blue waters (there’s also monkeys on this island) before heading back to the marina for your transfer back to your hostel.
Now, you can do this tour for RM 25 (6.25 USD) but that’s without hostel pickup.
All in all, a four-hour tour for RM 30 (7.50 USD) Bargin!!!
Hit the beach for some water sports
Cenang beach is home to all the usual water sports that are available in most places. Jetski, parasailing, banana boat etc… The price for most of the activities is RM 180 (45 USD) but be prepared to barter a little. Especially in low season. Within one minute I had knocked RM 30 (7.50 USD) off the price with very little effort.
Throw some shapes down at Sunba
On this side of the island there’s only really one nightclub that stays open until the early hours. A 15-minute walk from the centre of town is Sunba, a rather small but lively bar. Again, it’s not too cheap (RM 11 for the cheapest beer) so best get some cheap beers from the shop next door to the 7/11 and sit on the beach.
There’s a really good live band playing every night until around midnight and then its your standard chart club music from then until closing around 4ish.
I’d say 11pm is a good time to head down to the Sunba, any earlier and there’s more atmosphere in a convent….
Visiting Langkawi during Ramadan
All always, whenever your sat in a hostel or bar, talking to fellow travellers, the conversations always turns to where you’ve been and where you’re going to next. If you say you’re going Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand etc. Everyone knows cool places to stay and an abundance of things to do. Soon as you say you’re going to Malaysia…. It’s a different story.
One reason for this is, Malaysia isn’t really as well established on the backpacker route as the above mentioned countries and I’d guess to say that as little a 5% of all people I’ve met have been to Malaysia. Compared to the 60-70% of people that have been to Thailand.
The other reason people were weary of Malaysia, especially at the end of May was Ramadan. In all honesty I didn’t even think about it, well, until fellow travellers started to mention it.
Would shops be open? Would there be anywhere to eat? Will the whole of Langkawi be shut down during daylight hours? Have I screwed up by booking my tickets south to Malaysia!? All questions that ran through my head.
The truth of the matter is, no, no I hadn’t! Yeah, fair enough it’s quiet season and some of the food establishments are closed during the day. With that said, there’s still ALWAYS plenty of place to find food during the day. Especially around touristy areas. Where there’s tourists, there’s demand. Demand for shops, demand for services and without a doubt demand for food! And where there’s demand there’s always someone servicing that demand.
One the plus side of Ramadan, it’s a lot less touristy, less busy and much more relaxed. Life is just a little bit less hectic. Being stood in the night market of Malaka at the end of Ramadan and you can’t move… Travelling during Ramadan doesn’t seem so bad…
To sum Langkawi up…
Absolutely beautiful island and the one place so far that I’ll definitely visit again. It’s clean, it’s safe, it’s really cheap and the beaches are amazing. Such a chilled-out vibe. I initially planned to stay just 3 nights on the island of Langkawi but ended up staying for 10! I think that says it all!