Beautiful beaches, tourist attractions to spare, and some of Malaysia’s finest accommodations make Langkawi an incredibly attractive holiday destination. Editor Chad Merchant discovers that, from the bars on Cenang Beach to the rich mangrove forests of this UNESCO wonderland, it’s all here on Malaysia’s Island of Legends.
Langkawi is something of an enigma. Flying largely under the radar compared to more popular Asian island destinations, Langkawi nevertheless has attracted its share of attention, and some of finest accommodations found anywhere in Malaysia are sited on this laid-back island. And why not? When compared with regional hotspots like Phuket and Bali, Langkawi has a lot to offer.
Though not nearly as developed for tourists as these islands (or some may say overdeveloped), Langkawi nevertheless has a fine infrastructure, a number of lovely beaches, plenty to see and do, and with a broad range of accommodations from modest to decadent, delivers as fine an island getaway as you could want.
It’s safe to say that Langkawi will never match Bali’s appeal for surfers, nor Phuket’s for unbridled hedonism and raucous nightlife, but each of those islands boasts another side, too – the quieter, more refined vacation – and it’s here that Langkawi competes most favourably.
Plus, as a UNESCO Geopark destination some 550 million years in the making, Langkawi offers a natural escape that, when taken in joint consideration with the island’s solid – but not rampant – development and its wealth of high-end accommodation, is a largely unrivalled vacation destination in Asia.
Luxury With Cost Benefits
The fact that Langkawi is a duty-free island certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Though revered throughout Malaysia as a place for cheap chocolates, alcoholic beverages, and other imported goods, that duty-free status in fact applies to everything from fast food meals to luxurious lodging.
Additionally, Malaysia is also visa-free for virtually all visitors and collects no outsized departure taxes, either, so for a family staying in a five-star resort, this can all result in significant savings. In Langkawi, nearly everything else will be less expensive, too – lodging, activities, meals, and definitely drinks.
Moreover, self-driving in Langkawi is a breeze compared with Bali or Phuket. Roads are well-developed and in good condition, and except during peak times, cars can be rented for as little as about RM60-80 per day. Langkawi’s international airport is incredibly easy to get in and out of, too, a big plus point when compared with the near-unrestrained chaos of airports in many popular destinations.
But once you’ve arrived, what about the hotels and resorts? Obviously, Langkawi doesn’t have nearly the number and sheer breadth of accommodations of either Phuket or Bali, but there’s something for every budget, and some truly world-class luxury resorts are present here, too. Perhaps one of the island’s crown jewels for the last decade – though that status is increasingly being shared – is the gorgeous Four Seasons Langkawi, located on what is arguably the island’s finest stretch of light golden-sand beaches, Tanjung Rhu.
The Four Seasons hospitality and service standards are globally recognized and revered, and the sprawling Langkawi property, which opened in 2005, certainly carries that reputation, too. Though there are over 90 stunningly appointed pavilion rooms and beach villas on the resort’s property, located on Langkawi’s northern coast, guests never feel crowded and indeed often feel a keen sense of privacy and, of course, exclusivity.
Another outstanding resort boasting a lengthy tenure on the island is The Westin Langkawi, not far from the main town of Kuah. With a terrific offering of rooms, suites, and newer private villas – including a stunning five-bedroom option should you want to bring the extended family along – The Westin ticks all the boxes for a luxury resort: beautiful accommodations, excellent service, a range of F&B options, activities, an indulgent spa, a great pool, a comprehensive bubbly breakfast spread, luxury car airport transfers, and more.
And with the hotel chain’s renowned Heavenly Beds in every room, suite, and villa – even their rollaway beds meet the standards – a good night’s sleep is assured, too. The Westin also rates highly for providing its guests with some of the island’s most remarkable sunsets on a fairly consistent basis!
Berjaya Langkawi Resort
Apart from the Four Seasons and Westin Langkawi, other five-star resorts on the island include the nearby Tanjung Rhu Resort, the popular Danna hotel, and The Andaman, a classic five-star property boasting a stunning free-form pool located on Datai Bay (along with the eponymously named Datai resort), perhaps the only other beach to really contend with the Tanjung Rhu stretch for the title of Langkawi’s best beach.
Both St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton are expected to be opening their beautiful new five-star resorts on the island in the coming months, too, with the former on the southeast coast, and the latter, the southwest. These two premium players will doubtlessly raise the already lofty bar for luxury lodging in Langkawi even higher.
Another popular property that offers some surprisingly high-end accommodations is the Berjaya Langkawi Resort. Though most accommodations on the island have a fairly limited number of rooms, Berjaya’s sprawling 70-acre resort is not one of them. With scores of individual chalets set amid the rainforest and on stilts over the sea, there’s an eclectic range of accommodation available here.
For a luxurious stay, opt for the newly refurbished Premier Suite on Water, a lovely 65 sq metre chalet with a signature semi-outdoor lounge and Jacuzzi for two. The resort’s posh Taaras Spa is one of the island’s best, and should not be overlooked.
Langkawi Cable Car
Just nearby Berjaya’s resort is the amazing Langkawi Cable Car, a true wonder that must feature on any visitor’s to-do list. Among the world’s steepest, the exhilarating 20-minute cable car ride takes guests over ancient tropical rainforest while ascending the side of Machinchang Mountain. The 1.7-km journey to the cable car Middle Station sets visitors at 650m above sea level and the views are remarkable. The journey concludes at the Top Station, and from there, a short walk to the engineering marvel Skybridge is both an adrenaline rush and a visual stunner.
The scenic bridge, recently reopened following a lengthy closure for maintenance and upgrading, is suspended from a single 82m-high pylon and hangs about 100m above the forested landscape, arcing gracefully outward to provide visitors with an absolutely breathtaking panoramic view of the 450 million-yearold Machinchang Range draped in dense rainforest and the Andaman Sea beyond.
Beach Resorts, Island Homestays
Casa del Mar
Of course, while generally not considered the island’s best, Cenang Beach is still a very fine beach, and is unquestionably Langkawi’s most popular. There, holidaymakers will find the entire range of accommodations on offer, with perhaps the Casa del Mar and Meritus Pelangi topping the luxe list, the former being called one of Malaysia’s most romantic getaways, the latter an excellent choice for friends and families looking to enjoy an island retreat in comfort and style.
For visitors who want an experience that’s refined, yet a bit more authentically Malaysian, there are some lovely homestay-type accommodations that will satisfy. For a near-the-beach experience, there’s the popular Bon Ton Resort, with just a handful of antique, individually designed private Malay villas, which have all been refurbished and modernised and set in a century-old coconut plantation about five minutes from Cenang Beach.
Berjaya Langkawi Resort
Another winning choice is the charming Sunset Valley Holiday Houses, a lovely and serene property in the centre of the island. Sunset Valley features six authentic Malay houses ranging in age from 70 to 180 years. Each traditional house has been purchased from its owners, removed from its original site, and rebuilt at Sunset Valley by skilled craftsmen. The houses, sited around a sparkling pool overlooking nearby rice paddy fields, have been updated with modern kitchens and bathrooms, and offer a most comfortable and relaxing place to call home whilst in Langkawi.
An all-too-often overlooked island destination, it’s clear that Langkawi offers a great deal to holidaymakers, and an easy getaway for expats in Malaysia . World-class accommodations, terrific beaches fronting warm tropical seas, a modern infrastructure that makes it an ease and a joy to self-drive, plenty to see and do, and duty-free status across the island ensure that a Langkawi vacation will leave its visitors wanting for nothing.
This article was originally published in The Expat magazine, which is available via a free subscription.
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