Langkawi is principally promoted as a beach destination, with duty free shopping thrown in as an added lure. But after a few days of lazing in the sun, you may wish to explore a bit more of the island. Bear in mind that due to the shocking lack of public transport, you will need to hire a car, take a taxi, or go on an organised tour, to see the best of what Langkawi has to offer.
Reach for the skies
The island’s number one tourist attraction - and deservedly so - is Langkawi Cable Car and Skybridge. The views are truly spectacular, especially from the bridge. Be prepared for long queues, especially during school holidays and public holidays. With obvious reasons, not recommended for vertigo-sufferers. See the website (www.panoramalangkawi.com) for more information.
Get on top of the Langkawi
On a clear day, the views from Gunung Raya, Langkawi’s tallest mountain, are superb, and unlike the cable car and skybridge, there’s no charge. For the energetic, there’s a trail (with more than 4,000 steps) from Lubok Semilang Recreational Park, up to just below the peak. Keep an eye out for hornbills and other resident wildlife.
Explore the mangroves
Boat tours around the mangrove waterways of north eastern Langkawi, are extremely popular. They all follow much the same itinerary, including a fish farm, a cave of bats, and “eagle watching”. Only go with operators who do not feed the birds of prey, as it is ecologically damaging. Kayaking is a great alternative to taking motorised boat tours.
A different sort of pool
Langkawi has several impressive waterfalls, most of which have natural pools to take a refreshing dip in. The most famous, Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells), is a lovely spot, with stunning views down to the coast. Others worth visiting include Air Terjun Temurun and Air Terjun Durian Perangu. For safety reasons, do not visit any of these falls during or shortly after heavy rain.
Ramble in the jungle
Langkawi is blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna, which was recognised by UNESCO in 2007, when the island was declared a Geopark. The best way to spot wildlife is by taking a nature trek with a knowledgeable guide. Experienced operators include JungleWalla (www.junglewalla.com) and Dev’s Adventure Tours (www.langkawi-nature.com).
The single most photographed spot in Langkawi must be Eagle Square, with its massive statue of a Brahminy Kite (which being picky, is not an eagle). Forget the official guff about Langkawi getting its name from the Malay for eagle (helang). A much more likely derivation is from the Sanskrit word langkha, which means “resplendent land”.
Go to town
The tourism authorities seem determined to promote Kuar, the island’s largest urban centre, as little more than a duty free shopping destination, with a convenient ferry terminal. This is a real shame, because the older parts of town are full of character. Kuar was a thriving settlement long before the tourist hordes descended, as you can see from the surviving built heritage.
Langkawi is surrounded by dozens of other islands, only a handful of which are inhabited. All tour companies can offer island hopping trips, most of which are reasonably priced. Chartering a yacht costs a lot more money, but also gives you far greater flexibility, and most likely, a more memorable experience.
Swim with the fishes
The best place to go snorkelling and diving off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia is at Pulau Payar Marine Park. For either of these activities, it is best to stick to experienced operators who take safety seriously, such as East Marine (http://eastmarine.com.my). Steer well clear of the Coral Platform, as it gets uncomfortably busy.
Ease down a gear
Move away from the coast, and you soon see a completely different Langkawi. Rice paddy fields, water buffaloes wallowing in mud, Malay kumpungs (villages) filled with wooden houses; all in all, a place which has held onto its traditions, despite the onslaught of mass tourism. Take a chill pill and experience the “real” Langkawi.