When you live on Penang Island, Malaysia, as my wife Kirsten and I do, you can’t help but be blown away by its colourful festivals, great architecture and diverse food options but sometimes you still need a change of scenery. One of the many things we love about the island is its proximity to so many exciting places to visit.
Our location makes international travel simple and we have taken many trips to other countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, and when we want a change of scene a little closer to home, we take a trip to Langkawi.
Langkawi is an island and an archipelago that consists of 104 islands that are located about 140 kilometres northwest of Penang. Compared to Penang, Langkawi is about 60% bigger at 478 square kilometres with less than 10% of Penang’s population, so getting away from it all won’t be a problem here.
From Penang, you can take a ferry to Langkawi. It takes about three hours and costs $35 but we elected not to take this option when friends referred to it as “the vomit comet”. Instead, we flew with Air Asia for about $51 round trip, which is just 17 minutes from wheels up to touch down, allowing you more time to explore this enchanting spot.
On our first visit here, we explored the range of activities on offer and added them to our list of things to do when we return for a more extended trip. Langkawi has lots of exciting things to do, but it is best known for the following:
• SkyCab Cable Car that takes you to the top of Mount Machinchang (708 metres above sea level) and Sky Bridge which is a walkway suspended above the canopy offering fantastic views of the Andaman Sea, Thailand and the verdant jungle, waterfalls and cliffs.
• Pulau Payar Marine Park which has very calm waters and offers great snorkelling and plentiful diving spots.
• Duty-free shopping which attracts many people including yachties because dockage is cheap and they can resupply with various international foods at reasonable prices, load up on duty-free electronics, chocolate and alcohol and, as a bonus, they can find quality and skilled marine repairmen.
There are many areas to stay on the island, but we opted for the bustling neighbourhood of Cenang Beach. It’s located 15 minutes from the airport and has a wide array of accommodations from backpacker to 5-star luxury. We found our stay at Casa Fina Homes the perfect place for its convenience and reasonable cost for $48 a night. Our stand-alone cabin was clean, had good WiFi and powerful air-conditioning.
Of course, we are still in Malaysia so we expected the food to be good and it was. There is also a great variety of Western foods. Oddly, it seems like pairing Mexican and Italian is the norm here for some reason. One Mexican restaurant proudly offered “gogoamuly” (I think they meant guacamole) with its tacos. We passed. A western meal without drinks can set you back from $19 for two.
Enjoying local noodles or rice dishes with meat or seafood will cost around $11 for two. At the local shops, you can order a beer for as little as $1.50 and a mixed drink from $3. If you go to a Western-style restaurant, expect to pay at least twice as much for drinks.
Cenang has quite a few beachfront bars and restaurants. Many offer entertainment, like fire dancers or live music. There are no loud thumping nightclubs or beach discos here. This is a place to explore the beach, the wildlife and the food but not necessarily the nightlife.
The island has vast biodiversity from its peaks to the powder white-sand beaches and rice paddies. Whether you are an extreme sports fan who needs their fix of zip-lining and scuba diving or an avid cyclist or mountain trekker, Langkawi has you covered.
If you are a shopper and want bargain booze, tobacco and chocolate – you’ll find that here. If a relaxing few days on powdery white-sand beaches and enjoying some tasty meals is what you need, then Langkawi once again delivers.