Penang or Langkawi, Which to Visit?

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Langkawi. Photo credit: Ravikiran Rao, Flickr

To visit Penang or to visit Langkawi? That is the question. Well, both islands are major tourist destinations in Malaysia and are definitely worth visiting. However, if you were to ask which island is better, I would say it all depends on the individual and their purpose for going there. For instance, if your aim is to spend your holiday on an island enjoying its beaches and staying in luxurious resorts, Langkawi would probably be the better choice. However, if you’re planning to try out some local food, experience the local culture and heritage, while shopping and enjoying some night life, Penang would definitely be the better option.

Getting To Langkawi and Penang

Both islands are accessible through several means.


If you were to travel from Kuala Lumpur by car, the North-South Highway would be the best way to reach Penang. The highway also connects other major cities on the West side of Peninsular Malaysia to the island. The journey along the highway would take approximately 4-5 hours with toll charges in between. Once you reach Butterworth, which is the mainland to the island, you can either cross over to the island via the Penang Bridge, or experience taking the ferry, which will also transport your vehicle along to the island at a minimal fee.  

You can also access the island via public transport. For a budget trip to Penang from Kuala Lumpur, take an express bus straight to the island from either Pudu Sentral ( Puduraya) or the Jalan Duta bus terminal. Alternatively, you can also take a train from either KL Sentral station or the Kuala Lumpur railway station to Butterworth, and then cross over to the island by ferry. For a speedier trip, take a direct flight via the MAS, AirAsia or Firefly airlines to the island. However, for Firefly, do take not that their main hub for flight departure is at Subang instead of the usual KLIA or LCCT for MAS and AirAsia.

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If you are driving a car from Kuala Lumpur, the journey by road would take around 6 hours to Kuala Kedah and around 7 hours to Kuala Perlis. At these two main lands, you can park your cars safely at a minimum charge of RM15.00 per day, and take a ferry which costs RM 12.00 per way, to the island.
If you’re opting for public transportation, take a bus or train at affordable prices. Buses can be taken from either the Puduraya or Jalan Duta bus terminals at a price of between RM45-RM60 depending on the bus operator. The buses will stop at Kuala Kedah, after which you would need to board a ferry to Langkawi. For those who want to take the train, you can either board it at the KL Sentral or Kuala Lumpur stations or choose to be dropped off at either Alor Setar, Kedah or Arau, Perlis. From Alor Setar or Arau, take a bus or taxi to Kuala Kedah and Kuala Perlis respectively, and then, board a ferry to Langkawi. Train tickets are priced at around RM71 to Alor Setar and  RM77 to Arau. Direct flights to Langkawi are also available if you are in a hurry to get there.

See Also: A Slow Boat Ride to Langkawi


The Beaches in Langkawi and Penang

Pantai Cenang in Langkawi. Photo Credit: Alexander Solovyov, Flickr

Both Langkawi and Penang are known for their many beaches surrounding the islands. However, if you were to choose between the beaches in Langkawi and the beaches in Penang, Langkawi would be the better choice. With its clean, white sandy beaches and crystal, clear waters, Langkawi is definitely the place to be for nature-lovers out there. These white sand beaches are some of the best in the country. Beach-bummers can enjoy the quiet, serene atmosphere while taking in the beautiful surroundings of the beaches here. One famous beach in Langkawi is the Pantai Cenang white sand beach, which is breathtaking indeed with its crystalline turquoise-blue waters and verdant palms. Besides that, there is also Pantai Kok which is surrounded by majestic limestone hills and lush greenery.
The beaches in Penang are less beautiful than the ones in Langkawi. Despite the heavy commercialization of the beaches there by tourism agencies, they are, on the contrary, not that great. In fact, many are said to be quite dirty with polluted sands and murky water.

Culture and Heritage in Langkawi and Penang

Kapitan Mosque in Penang

When it comes to experiencing local culture and heritage, on the other hand, Penang is the place to be. Housing the famous city of Georgetown, which was declared as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2008, this place is indeed worth a visit for history lovers out there. Walking along the streets of Georgetown, you will definitely feel a sense of nostalgia as you witness the many unique heritage buildings and sights from Penang’s colonial past.

Penang also has a diversified population of many races with their different religions. The multicultural setting of the island includes the Chinese, Indians, Nyonyas, Malays and so on. This diversity of culture is also showcased in the city of Georgetown with its grand churches, elaborate Buddhist and Indian temples and magnificent mosques, like the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple and Snake Temple.
Langkawi, though less popular than Penang as a culture and heritage site, is actually also rich in its own unique culture and heritage. The cultural and heritage sites here are different from Penang in a sense that they are more of a reflection of mysterious myths and legends and the Malay and Muslim culture. Being widely known as the island of myths and legends, it has various sites dedicated to these superstitious beliefs such as the Mahsuri Tomb, a tomb belonging to the legendary Princess Mahsuri, the island’s most famous legend.


Unlike Penang which boasts various cultures from its multicultural inhabitants, Langkawi portrays more of the Malay and Muslim culture due to its high population of the Malay ethnicity. This is reflected through its traditional Malay houses, its famous Al-Hana Mosque and so on.  

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Food in Langkawi and Penang

Penang Laksa. Photo Credit: Jonathan Lin, Flickr

When it comes to food, again, Penang is better. Penang is naturally a food haven with a variety of food from the different races. The island is especially known for its hawker food which is served at the many street stalls, coffee shops and food courts surrounding the island. One popular dish is the nasi kandar, which is rice served with different types of curries and side dishes, which may include fish, chicken, squid, prawns and beef. This Indian Muslim delicacy is rich in aromatic spices. One of the best places to try nasi kandar is at the Line Clear Nasi Kandar outlet. Located on an alley at the Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia) and Penang Road (Jalan Penang) junction, this outlet is one of the oldest nasi kandar outlets in Penang.

Another must try is the famous Penang char koay teow, which is a fried, flat white noodle dish. This noodle dish actually has many variations such as the Brunei, Indonesian and Singaporean versions. However, the Penang version is the most famous.

Langkawi, on the other hand, is not much of a food capital. When compared to Penang, it does not offer a variety of local cuisines. Dining is mostly done in the resorts. There some European-oriented restaurants at Telaga Harbour. For hawker food, you can go to Pantai Cenang where there are a number of small and affordable restaurants.

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Resorts and Hotels in Langkawi and Penang

Four Seasons in Langkawi

For resorts and hotels, Langkawi would be the better choice. Langkawi is renowned for its luxurious beach resorts and hotels. For instance, the Tanjung Rhu Resort and Four Seasons are well-known internationally.  Both are located on Tanjung Rhu, one of the most stunning beaches in Langkawi. These five-star facilities have state-of-the-art guestrooms with scenic views of the beaches and its natural surroundings. Besides that, they also offer top notch service and luxury facilities such as relaxing spas and fine dining. Therefore, Langkawi is definitely the place to be for luxury living and relaxation by the beach.
Penang, on the other hand, is not so popular for its beach resorts when compared to Langkawi. Although it does have numerous beach resorts and hotels at Batu Feringghi, most of them are not as notable when compared to the ones in Langkawi. Hard Rock Hotel Penang, which is good especially for families, is a popular choice especially among expats. It recently won the 2014 Traveller’s Choice Award as one of the top 10 hotels for families in Malaysia.

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Shopping in Langkawi and Penang

Little Penang Street Market. Photo Credit: Alcuin Lai, Flickr

When it comes to shopping, Penang is the better option. With a wide selection of nice, modern shopping malls to go to, and an abundance of street markets, the retail landscape in Penang is almost in par with the one in Kuala Lumpur. Some popular shopping malls in Penang include Gurney Plaza, Queensbay Mall, Prangin mall and so on. When shopping in the island, Gurney Plaza is definitely a must-go as it is one of the most happening malls in the island. Located strategically in the heart of Penang city, this mall caters to the posh residential areas and nearby hotels. Another popular shopping mall in Penang is Queensbay Mall, which is the largest and longest shopping mall in the island. Although it is one of the most prestigious malls in Penang, the services provided here are at affordable prices.

Penang is also famous for its night market at Batu Feringghi. Selling everything at cheap prices from fake designer bags to pirated DVDs, home deco items and souvenirs, this night market is definitely the place to be for bargain shopping.

The shopping scene in Langkawi, on the other hand, is not that great when compared to Penang. The island only has very few shopping malls, many of which are quite outdated. The island is good, however, for people who want to buy duty free goods from around the world. Items such as liquor, tobacco, chocolates, perfume and other duty-free goods are sold here at discounted prices. Duty-free shopping is best done at the town of Kuah where there are numerous stores and malls selling goods at bargain prices.

Night Life in Langkawi and Penang

Slippery Sinoritas in Penang. Photo Credit: Krista, Flickr

Again, Penang has a much livelier nightlife scene than Langkawi. The main nightlife hub in Penang is located on the Upper Penang Road, which is a party hotspot in Georgetown, as it is surrounded by many pubs, karaoke lounges and clubs with live bands for entertainment. Besides that, Batu Feringghi also has quite a number of restaurants and pubs for tourists and party-goers.
Langkawi, although it does have some trendy bars and restaurants especially along the more developed Pantai Cenang area, is not such a great spot for night life when compared to Penang. This is due to its more laid-back and peaceful atmosphere, which makes it more suitable as a holiday destination to relax and unwind.

Homepage highlight photo credit: Andrew Lawson, Flickr

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