A BUSTLING STRETCH ALONG PANTAI CENANG IN LANGKAWI MAY NOT HAVE A STREET NAME, BUT DAVID BOWDEN DISCOVERED SOME INTERESTING NOOKS THAT MORE THAN MAKE UP FOR THE ANONYMITY.
I’ve strolled along this street in Langkawi many times, but it wasn’t until my most recent visit that I realised it’s a street with no name, or at least that’s the way it appears.
No one seems to call the main street along the Pantai Cenang strip by any other name than simply Pantai Cenang (although there are references on some maps to it being Jalan Pantai Cenang). No doubt the street has a name that satisfies officialdom, but that name is inconsequential for anyone visiting Langkawi, as everyone will know exactly what you mean and where you want to go.
For anyone who hasn’t travelled to Langkawi, it must be emphasised that this archipelago of 99 islands isn’t Bali, Phuket, or Koh Samui. Things here move at a much more leisurely pace, and there’s little evidence of the lively action of other regional island resorts. This is, however, one of Langkawi’s great attributes, especially for those seeking a more tranquil holiday.
Similar to many of the other regional travel destinations, Pantai Cenang has evolved from virtually nothing twenty years ago to a hotchpotch of seemingly unplanned budget hotels, roadside food stalls, cafés, souvenir shops, and travel agents. It stretches for about two kilometres from the Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa and down to the intersection that delineates the beginning of Pantai Tengah.
While many people proudly state that, in Langkawi, no building exceeds the height of a coconut tree, it would appear that a new bionic super species of coconut palm must have been discovered along Pantai Cenang, as some new developments now exceed the height of coconut trees that most of us know. No doubt the local authorities have a handle on this, as it would be a shame if leisurely and laid back Langkawi were to follow the development trends of some other tourist islands.
There are very few streets in Malaysia where visitors can see rice being planted, watch Rockhopper Penguins frolic, and buy a local cure-all called gamat made from deceased sea cucumbers. So slip into your shorts and flip flops, put on your loudest Hawaiian shirt, rub on the suntan lotion, and head off to Langkawi and the “street with no name” (humming the U2 song of the same name) along Pantai Cenang for some holiday action.
Pantai Cenang does muted mornings. Most tourists hit the buffet lines of their respective hotels for their morning pickme-up and few make it to Pantai Cenang before noon. In fact, the strip doesn’t see much action until dusk, but there are several options for those who want to enjoy a local breakfast.
The Langkawi institution Breakfast Bar is where things are laid back and casual, and the decent crowd of locals and foreigners comes for some excellent local dishes as well as Western comfort food. It’s a great place to get the low down on island activities via the notice board and by asking a few questions. As the name suggests, it’s a breakfast bar, so don’t plan to go late in the day or evening as you’ll be disappointed.
Red Tomato Restaurant and Lounge has relocated and is now a little off the main street (Casa-Fina Avenue – amazingly, this small street has a name) immediately opposite Underwater World. Look out for the red Mini or bright pink VW out front. The joint is open from 9am until late and they serve delicious cups of wake-me-up Lavazza coffee and excellent Eggs Benedict. Creative cuisine continues throughout the day and night, while striking pieces of art created by co-owner Oli line the walls.
EDUCATION AND ENTERTAINMENT
Two places to visit here are Laman Padi and Underwater World. Laman Padi is a working Rice Museum with indoor and outdoor displays, and islocated immediately opposite the front entrance to the Pelangi Resort. Depending on the time of the year, the fields of rice are verdant green, golden yellow prior to harvesting, or barren after harvesting has been completed. Kedah is Malaysia’s rice bowl and while the paddy fields on Langkawi aren’t as extensive as they are on the Kedah mainland, many islanders are still rice farmers. The staff at the museum are helpful, and any really enthusiastic visitors can get into a boggy rice field to place young plants in the quagmire. A detailed history and description of rice is housed in the museum’s interior.
Underwater World is a spacious aquarium housing many marine organisms and amphibious species, and a few terrestrial ones, and offers a nice half-day educational excursion, especially for children. One of the highlights of Underwater World is the Rockhopper Penguin display in their simulated Sub-Antarctic environment. These crested penguins are among the world’s smallest, with an average height of half a metre and weight of 3kg. They look like they’re having a bad day with their spiked crest but are fascinating to watch. The display is meant to be educational as well as entertaining, and visitors will discover that one of the main habitats for these penguins is the remote Falkland Islands (or should that be Islas Malvinas) off the South American continent. Overzealous commercial fishing in that region threatens their habitat, and the penguins are now on the globally threatened list of the IUCN.
While you shouldn’t expect to pick up the latest fashions while in Langkawi, beachwear including Hawaiian shirts and matching shorts can be found in many shops along Pantai Cenang. Most shops appear to sell the same items so choose one of the bigger stores such as those at Underwater World for a comprehensive selection of alcohol, chocolates, and fashion.
Seafood is, naturally, a specialty on the island, and restaurants such as Palm View Live Seafood and Oriental Seafood and BBQ Cuisine are highly recommended. Enjoy the stylish surroundings and breezy ambiance of The Cliff, where local and international cuisine features and stand-out dishes include stone-grilled steaks, seafood, and competitively priced pasta. The sunset views along Pantai Cenang and across the Andaman Sea are free and glorious. Some other restaurants to seek out are Turkish Delight, Beach Garden Bistro & Beergarden, Putumayo, and The Brasserie.
COOL COCKTAILS ON CHILLED CENANG
There’s a decent young party scene along Pantai Cenang. Head to Warung Café where designer cocktails are served. Try the grapefruit or strawberry mojitos; they are astonishingly cheap and amazingly delicious. The Café also does a fabulous Chocolate Monkey cocktail with banana liqueur, vanilla ice cream, chocolate, and cream. Babylon Mat Bar, located on the sand immediately behind Warung Café, is the place to be as the evening progresses.
D’Reef at The Cliff (behind Underwater World) is a little more sedate but has a great ambiance and view, as it is suspended over the headland of Pantai Cenang. Expect cheap beer and beverage prices compared to Kuala Lumpur prices, as it benefits from Langkawi’s duty-free status.
Pantai Cenang is lined with budget accommodation on both sides of the road, although the beachside is obviously the preferred location. Choose basic but comfortable places such as De Baron Resort and A B Motel. There are two 5-star resorts at the northern end of the beach, with Casa Del Mar Langkawi offering boutique facilities while Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa is a large, sprawling resort with a comprehensive range of accommodation, facilities, and resort activities.
Malaysia Airlines flies from KLIA and Penang to Langkawi, while Firefly departs from Subang and Penang. SilkAir has four weekly direct flights from Singapore to Langkawi. Another alternative is to drive to Kedah and depart by ferry from either Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis. Ferries make the crossing regularly during daylight hours.
Source: Senses of Malaysia Nov-Dec 2012
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