Situated 30km off the coast, just south of the Thai border, Pulau Langkawi is at 500 square kilometres the largest of an archipelago of mostly uninhabited islands. Its white-sand beaches are easily the best along the entire west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and Langkawi’s charms consist largely of lazing around on the sand, perhaps taking time off for a mangrove cruise after sea eagles, to snorkel or scuba dive south at Pulau Payar Marine Park, or to ride the Langkawi Cable Car over the interior forests to the top of Gunung Mat Cincang.
Once a haven for pirates, Langkawi has in recent years been converted into an upmarket resort destination aimed at Saudis and Europeans, complete with its own airport and some of the country’s priciest hotels. That said, there’s relatively little high-density development, and a growing sprinkle of budget-end accommodation means that the island is fairly affordable for a couple of days, even if your funds are limited. It’s also popular with Western yachties, as a cheaper place to hang out than Phuket in Thailand – and Langkawi’s special duty-free status means a case of beer costs only RM25.
There’s no reason to stay longer in Langkawi’s main port, Kuah, than it takes to arrange transport west to the beaches and mid-range developments at Pantai Tengah and Pantai Cenang, or the exclusive, self-contained resorts scattered around the island’s northwest. Well-formed roads circuit Langkawi, though with no bus service, exploring further than walking distance from your hotel can be costly. If you are on a budget, don’t come anywhere near Langkawi during national or school holidays, when room rates can double.