Sorry Bali, we’re going to Langkawi instead

Suffering from island holiday contempt? Langkawi might well be exactly what you need.

This is set to be one of the hottest new holiday spots in Asia.
This is set to be one of the hottest new holiday spots in Asia.

Look Bali, you’re wonderful, so it’s not you, it’s me. Same with you, Phuket – as lovely as you are. And Koh Samet, it’s just hasn’t been the same between us for a while.

Seems I’ve developed something known as ‘Asian island holiday contempt’ – I am sure it’s a thing – where all the crowds flocking in the direction of a few key holiday spots result in making you look elsewhere.

And my attention is now firmly on Langkawi, the stunning main island in archipelago of 99 islands located about 30 km off Malaysia’s north-western coastline in the Straits of Malacca.

Cenang Beach Langkawi Image John Burfitt

Langkawi is an island destination that just keeps delivering – so much so, after a few days of strolling the golden sands of its beaches, trekking the rainforests, swimming in crystal clear mountain waterfalls, and enjoying boating adventures, I wondered why I had not been here before. Here are eight reasons why I’m heading back soon.

Getting there

AirAsia has made it cheap for Aussies to visit this slice of paradise

From Australia, Langkawi is a two-stop journey. AirAsia flies the nine-hour leg into Kuala Lumpur from Sydney and Melbourne, and then it’s an hour connecting flight to the island, with January fares available from $319 one way. AirAsia is commencing flights from Perth to KL in March. There are also direct flights from Singapore into Langkawi, taking just over 90 minutes. 

Spending up

The conversion of the Malaysia ringgit to the Australian dollar is already in our favour –RM100 (ringgit) equals about $33AUD – but on Langkawi, the travel budget stretches further as this is a duty-free island. One barman joked Langkawi is where beer is almost cheaper than water. Save space in your suitcase, with the biggest range of duty-free shopping in the main town of Kuah.

Pantai Cenang 

Image John Burfitt

The main tourist strip of Pantai Cenang has beachfront restaurants, bars, and shops and while it gets busy, it’s never swarmed by hordes of visitors like some other holiday spots. The 2km coconut tree-lined beach is the main attraction, with water so clear, you can see your feet while wading out to swim. For something more active than lounging on a sunbed, head out on a boat ride or take a jet ski adventure.

Best beaches

Jump into a Grab taxi – Asia’s version of Uber – and spend a few dollars and about 30 minutes to explore some of the other beach gems of the coastline. To the west is Pantai Kok which is surrounded by national park, or head north to the gorgeous Pantai Pasir Tengkorak (Sandy Skulls Beach), while further along the northern coastline is Pantai Pasir Hitam (Black Sand Beach) with its dramatic colourings.

Heading sky high

Get a birds eye view of the beaches

It’s 20 minutes by the Langkawi Cable Car to the top of the Gunung Machinchang mountain, and worth every second for the amazing views across the island, the forest and the sea. It’s a 700 metre climb by the gondola and at the top is the 125-metre Skybridge which crosses a deep valley and offers even better views. An inclinator links the cable car to the bridge, but more exciting is the 10 minute walk along the top of the valley ridge. Entry fees start from $12. 

Wading in waterfalls

<a href=Image John Burfitt>John Burfitt<a>

A 15-minute walk from the base of the cable car is the Seven Wells Waterfall (Telaga Tujuh) in the Machinchang Cambrian Geoforest Park. The waterfalls are split into two sections – a climb of 630 steps to the upper pools, and the lower pool where the waterfall is. The upper rockpools are perfect to cool off in after the steep walk while the lower pool is easier to reach and offers the spectacle of the cascading water falling from the cliff above. 

The enchanted forest

Image: John Burfitt
Image: John Burfitt

Let the sea of lights lead the way through the Dream Forest, a multi-sensory night-time rainforest adventure, where three mythical tales taken from the history of Langkawi are recounted in visual storytelling involving animation, bold imagery, and a galaxy of lighting effects. This is so imaginative and can’t be dismissed as only for the kids. Rates start from $15, but this place demands a second visit. 

On the high seas

All aboard for a sunset cruise. Image: John Burfitt
All aboard for a sunset cruise. Image: John Burfitt

With islands dotting the waters around Langkawi, a sunset cruise offers the best view of the shape and scale of the rocky outcrops. Watching the sunset from the open sea, as the glowing red ball disappears beneath the horizon while tasting fresh prawns, was a good way to wind up a day. Rates for the Avanate Yacht Charter cruise start from $40 per person.

Where to stay

One of the newest hotels on the island is the four-star Mercure Langkawi Pantai Cenang, which is also one of the best located, only a few minutes stroll from the main beach. The 164 room hotel, situated around an attractive central pool, also has features the fine Rice Garden Restaurant. The Prawn Mee Rebus is highly recommended. Rates in February commence from $129 / night. 

The writer was a guest of AirAsia and the Mercure Langkawi Pantai Cenang

The article was originally published in The Escape on January 15, 2024

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