We made the decision to spend a week in Langkawi, an island north of Penang in Malaysia, when we were deprived of ocean beaches. After a week in beautiful seaside Koh Lanta, and several weeks in Chiang Mai where food is wonderful and cheap, Langkawi had a lot to live up to.
We stayed at Cenang Beach (or Pantai Chenang), which is a beautiful stretch of fine, flour-like sand on the west side of the island, and the largest beach on Langkawi. The view from the beach includes mountains and nearby islands.
The ocean waves were a little high in the first couple of days (a few people even tried to surf), due to the winds at the tail end of tropical storm Pabuk. We still swam, though, and the water was warm enough to walk straight in but cool enough to be refreshing (the water in Koh Lanta was often like taking a warm bath–not what I would normally choose to do in 30°C weather).
Unfortunately, on subsequent swims, I started feeling itchy in spots like I was being stung or bitten. I didn’t see anything in the water, and there were several others swimming along with us, but I couldn’t seem to swim without feeling attacked. There were no marks on me once I left the water, and no lasting effects after showering off, but it definitely made me less interested in ocean swimming, which was very disappointing.
Other than a few areas of sand with treed shade where you could toss out a towel, the only way to avoid direct sun was by renting chairs and an umbrella for 30 RM ($10 CAD) a day.
The beach was very active with boats heading out with parasailers, lots of Sea-Doos for rent, and inflatables being towed by speed boats. In the early morning, all of the equipment was driven out onto the beach by a steady parade of vehicles, while chair renters began setting up a few chairs and umbrellas ready for the onslaught of beach visitors. At sunset, the reverse happened, with cars and trucks towing one to three Sea-Doos on trailers along the beach and out a roadway at one end, and chair managers stacking their wares and covering them for overnight storage.
Along the beach, there are a few cafes and restaurants, and several smoking-allowed bars and shisha bars. The street just behind the beach is lined, for kilometres, with touristy shops filled with beach toys and clothes, restaurants, massage salons, and mini-marts.
Though Langkawi is a tourist town, the more than 60% Muslim population of Malaysia was evident in the frequency and variety of hijāb on the women, and also in the food. (For example, American breakfasts included beef strips and eggs, never bacon.) Many of the shops displayed no beer signs and some restaurants declared they were halal.
The restaurants range from Malay to Indian, Syrian, Mexican and Italian. In general, the food is relatively expensive (especially compared to the food in Thailand) and not always great. We enjoyed a few restaurants here for the reasons mentioned below.
- Yasmine Syrian Restaurant: Really good middle eastern fare including freshly baked flatbreads.
- Thirstday: A large and open area with high and low seating styles offering a pleasant on-the-water breezy spot for a sunset drink, snacks, or dinner.
- Yellow Cafe: The breakfast area upstairs, run by a French couple, is only open until noon. Another great on-the-water spot to enjoy a coffee and breakfast (pineapple pancakes with coconut milk were lovely). We didn’t enjoy the downstairs area as much when we tried it another time–it was busy, loud, and hot.
- Hugging Hippo: A great spot for breakfast or lunch. Well-shaded with tables on the sand or up under a shelter. Good coffee, breakfasts, and snacks.
- Orchid Ria Seafood Restaurant: We tried this on our last night and wish we had found it sooner. It’s large and busy, but the food we tried was delicious and not overly expensive. Offerings include fresh, pick-your-own fish dishes, Chinese stir-fries, dim sum, satay, and Malay dishes.
Besides parasailing and Sea-Doo rentals, the standard two tours–the same ones seemed to be offered by every second hotel and shop along the strip and beach–were island hopping and a mangrove visit. We had already done our island hopping in Koh Lanta, and had skipped the mangroves there, so checked out the mangrove offering here. The descriptions of the stops, which included tossing food to eagles, a manta ray, and monkeys, along with the masses of boats that seemed to be headed that way, completely turned us off. We also looked at the possibility of kayaking in the mangroves, but the price was much higher than we were interested in paying.
We did take a Grab ride to Mt. Machinchang to ride the cable car (the world’s steepest, they say) up to the top. At the bottom of the ride is a village of restaurants and shops, which were all but empty when we arrived at about 9:30 a.m., as well as several other attractions. Entry to some of these is included with a basic SkyCab (cable car) ticket, and there are other combination tickets on offer that include the rest.
The views from the ride and at the top are quite stunning, with the rich jungle, islands, and beaches on display.
The SkyBridge, which costs just a little more (you buy this ticket separately at the top of the cable car), provides a slightly different perspective.
Langkawi is a beautiful island, to be sure. But with the touristy streets and the expensive and often so-so food, we were ready to move on to our next stop–a month in Penang, Malaysia.
- SkyCab: Basic ticket, which includes access to SkyDome, SkyRex, and 3D Art exhibits – 55 RM ($18.50 CAD)
- SkyBridge: Purchase ticket at the top for 5 RM ($1.70 CAD) to take the stairs, or 15 RM ($5 CAD) to take the SkyGlide, a funicular, down to the bridge.