Literally translated as brown eagle, which is the symbol of Langkawi Island, this duty free destination is a good place to find cheap alcohol and some nice views. As a result it is a very popular backpacker destination and certainly worth a stop if you’re coming from Thailand or already in the Northwest or Malaysia. Langkawi is a large island, far bigger than most of the Thai resort destinations, and home to over 90,000 people. There are two main built up areas – Kuah (where the ferry arrives) and Pantai Cenang. I would advise staying slightly out of these areas as they get pretty busy at night and are built up with what I consider to be all the wrong things: shopping centres, Starbucks and McDonalds.
For us three nights on Langkawi Island was plenty. The heat was oppressive and quite debilitating and after you have seen the main attraction, the cable car, there isn’t a huge amount to do that isn’t aquariums and theme parks. After recovering from a nasty stomach bug we lacked the motivation to stay out in the heat, but we did enjoy some great food here!
As usual we hired a motorbike, which was a great way to get around the island. The roads are generally good and very wide, although the traffic build up around Pantai Cenang gets pretty busy.
Langkawi Island is a duty free zone in Malaysia so alcohol and many other usually expensive items are sold quite cheaply here. There loads of shops selling these duty free goods, so you won’t struggle to find somewhere to shop. We found Stolichnya vodka to be excellent value.
Read my post on catching a ferry from Satun, Thailand to Langkawi Island in which I cover the border crossing to Langkawi Island.
Accommodation on Langkawi Island
This accommodation is relatively cheap compared to other options on the island. It is about a 20 minute walk out of Pantai Cenang, but takes just five minutes on a scooter or in a taxi. In most parts of Malaysia taxis run at fixed fares and getting to T Star from Kuah port is 30myr.
The cheapest option here are tents, but we went one step up. Basic huts (11sqm) cost around 45myr a night. We booked through Agoda, which was cheaper and even though we asked the staff if they could match our price they told us to keep booking through Agoda. It is very hot on Langkawi so an air conditioner would have been a welcome addition to our room; however, we did manage with just a fan. Each room has a nice shaded balcony area, which is good to escape the heat of the day on. You will have a private bathroom.
GoIsland Tour and Travel is just down the road from T Star. We got an automatic for 50myr a day, which we thought was very good. The owner was friendly and easy to deal with and helmet hire was included. When we decided to keep the bike for an extra day we just handed him another 50myr and we on our way.
A world of food on Langkawi Island
One of the highlights of the island is eating your way around. Langkawi boasts a huge selection of cuisines to the point where it is slightly tricky to find Malaysian food. However, as many Malaysian dishes are quite rice heavy and salty, it was good to have the choice. We opted for some more expensive options to nurse ourselves back to proper health after our tummy bug.
Breakfast Bar: This was by far the best breakfast location that we visited on the island, so good that we went back a second day (I wish I had been all three times). On day two it was much busier so the service was a bit slow, but it just meant we had the chance to catch up on the news while we waited for our order. The omelettes are fantastic here and a great choice for a gluten free breakfast. Great coffee, friendly staff and all reasonably priced.
Red Tomato: The food here is great, but prices are more comparable to what you would pay at home for pizza. The best thing about Red Tomato is that they offer gluten free pizza, pasta and bread – a real luxury in Asia. The selection of salads is also great and they come exactly how you would hope! The French owner wasn’t particularly friendly when we tried to change our takeaway order to stay in, but the quality of the food made up for our dissatisfaction.
Scarbourgh Fish and Chips restaurant: Exactly what we needed to excite our appetites in the heat.The restaurant is in the north of the island and takes about 30 minutes from both the Skycab and Cenang (via different roads). It is set on the beach so you can enjoy your fish and chips while looking at the water. We opted for the unbuttered dory, which was just cooked in butter. It was so good we had two helpings of the fish chips and salad. If you cannot tolerate any gluten at all then you might need to avoid the chips, but for me this was a perfect gluten free meal.
Fat Cupid: This place is a bit tricky to find, but worth it for a treat meal if you do. They serve a selection of Western and Malaysian food in an outdoor setting with great ambience. We went for the beef rendang special, which was very nice. Fat Cupid also has a pretty flashy brunch menu, which we didn’t try because of price. Meals are marked as gluten free and vegetarian, which is useful.
Sun Café: This restaurant is again a bit on the pricier side, but the food is outstanding. We went for a selection of Malaysian food, which included beef rendang, chicken satay, flavoursome Malaysian chicken curry and a nasi lemak sauce. This single meal at 30myr was enough food for both of us, so I can’t complain too much. It slightly out of Cenang, just down the road from T-Star Cottages so a convenient choice if you’re staying there.
English tea room and coffee bar: We didn’t have a great experience here, but other reviews suggest most people are satisfied. The staff working when we went were all new and so many mistakes were made with our order. I ordered a breakfast and specifically requested NO toast so it was gluten free. However, when the meal arrived there was toast. After a huge effort to explain why I couldn’t eat this to three different staff members they eventually made me a whole new breakfast with two eggs to replace the bread, which was very kind. This place is on the expensive side and my experience wasn’t great, but it does seem that other people enjoyed it so give it a shot if you’re brave.
Along the beach at Pantai Cenang there are also a number of beach bars. We enjoyed a drink at one that had beanbags on the sand where you can watch the waves roll in and out as it gets dark. Cenang beach is one of the most crowded I have ever seen though. There are 4x wheel drives roaming around everywhere and a huge number of jetskis going in and out of shore.
Activities on Langkawi Island
Apart from exploring the island’s hidden beaches on a motorbike or scooter there are a load of aquariums and animal adventure type places on the island. If this isn’t your thing (and it definitely wasn’t ours) I would still recommend one more commercial activity, the Skycab.
You couldn’t visit Langkawi without getting on the world’s steepest cable car! For 30 myr it is reasonable value as you can get off at two points and enjoy the spectacular mountain and ocean views. We rode up to the Skycab on the motorbike, which provided a great opportunity to see some more of the island.
We had read about doing a sunset yacht cruise and there are a number of companies that run these activities. Trip advisor has some horror stories, so we went into ours slightly apprehensive. 280myr per person is a large expense when you are travelling on a budget, but we wanted to get out and see the islands and with an open bar we thought this was the best way to do so. We had a very pleasant evening on our cruise. The gin & tonics started flowing as soon as we were aboard, brought over by funny and attentive staff. They set up a ‘jacuzzi’, which is basically a net that floats in the water while the boat pulls you along. Great fun, but I was covered in bruises the next day. Dinner was served as a buffet style and wasn’t outstanding, but certainly did the trick in lining our alcohol-full bellies. There were plenty of salads and grilled meats, so a nice selection of gluten free options to keep me happy.
The thing that really made this cruise for us was the people aboard. We had a very diverse group with people from South Korea, China, Pakistan and Malaysia. It was loads of fun and everyone that drinks alcohol got very merry with us! If you want to do something fun then I recommend Crystal Yacht Cruises. If you’re not convinced take a trip up to their office and let them convince you to get on board!
If you are a fan of shopping and more organised activities then Langkawi might be more of an ideal destination for you. Personally I found the heat quite oppressive and it limited my motivation to do a huge amount, but we did go during the summer. From Langkawi we moved south to the island of Penang. You can do this directly by ferry, or a more convoluted and cheaper way if you’re not able to get a ticket on the direct crossing. I cover this in detail in my next article.