Duty-free Langkawi, Malaysia, is one of the busiest and most popular tourist islands in Southeast Asia. Despite the rampant development on some beaches, Langkawi remains green, beautiful, and was declared a World Geopark by UNESCO in 2007—attracting plenty of ecotourism. The island lures in plenty of Malays and international visitors with its incredible natural beauty and easy accessibility from the mainland.
With an area of around 184 square miles, Pulau Langkawi is the largest of the 99 Langkawi islands situated in the Andaman Sea just off the northwest coast of Malaysia.
Know Before You Go
Money: There are a few ATMs available on Langkawi; however, like ATMs on any popular island, they can run out of cash. The most reliable ATMs are found in the airport and Pantai Cenang. Stock up on Malaysian ringgit before leaving the mainland or use the ATM at the airport upon arrival. If the ATM network isn't working, you can exchange currency in many shops. You should also know how to exchange money and learn the current exchange rates for Malaysia.
Shopping: The cheapest duty-free shopping can be found in Kuah rather than at tourist beaches. Even with no tax, Langkawi is still a tourist island—many items for purchase can be found cheaper in Kuala Lumpur. Visitors must stay a minimum of 48 hours on Langkawi to legally avoid paying tax on purchased goods.
Drinking: Because Langkawi enjoys a duty-free status, alcohol is significantly cheaper on the island. Airport prices are the worst, so it's best to wait to purchase spirits from smaller shops. Even with discounted drinks, Langkawi isn't really rowdy—consider going to the Perhentian Islands if you want to party. If flying from Langkawi to Singapore, remember that you'll have to pay a steep duty on any alcohol or tobacco taken into Singapore.
Water: As with the rest of Malaysia, you should stick to drinking bottled water while visiting Langkawi.
Electricity: 240 volts / 50 Hz with the square-pronged, British-standard power outlets (BS-1363). The electricity on Langkawi is mostly stable; however, power sags and surges do sometimes occur when work is being done.
Mosquitoes: Lots of green space and mangrove forests cause mosquitoes to be a real nuisance on Langkawi. Dengue fever is also a risk from daytime bites. Try to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Avoid Damaging the Ecosystem
Despite being a UNESCO World Geopark, many resorts and tourist activities aren't as eco-friendly as they should be.
- Avoid encouraging damaging practices and don't support agencies that feed the eagles as part of their boat tours.
- Other companies encourage unnatural behavior to delight tourists and hopefully collect their money. Stay away from any activity that insists on feeding birds, monkeys, or marine life.
- You can avoid further damage to the reef and delicate ecosystem by not feeding fish or turtles.
- Avoid purchasing souvenirs made from insects, wildlife, shells, or marine life.
Beaches on Langkawi
Pantai Cenang, or Central Beach, on the southwest side of the island, is by far the most popular and where many visitors end up. Resorts, restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions line the short beach. You'll find the most options for water sports and other activities along Pantai Cenang.
Just to the south, resort-lined Pantai Tengah is an expensive-yet-quieter alternative to the busy Central Beach.
Pleasant and less developed beaches can be found around Langkawi and you can enjoy many on day trips. Pantai Pasir Hitam is a mixed black-sand beach, and Tanjung Rhu is a picturesque stretch that includes mangroves and rocky beaches.
Getting Around Langkawi
Public transport isn't much of an option on Langkawi. When you're ready to leave your beach to explore other parts of the island, you'll have to take a taxi or hire a driver. Alternatively, you can rent a car or motorbike to see the island.
Renting a motorbike is a popular and cost-effective way to see other parts of Langkawi. Make sure you stay safe and avoid scams. As with the rest of Malaysia, drive on the left.
Tip: Tickets for fixed-rate taxis can be purchased inside the airport upon arrival. Avoid driver scams by sticking to the official taxis waiting at the stand in front of the airport.
Getting to Langkawi
Langkawi is situated extremely close to Thailand and you can get there by slow ferry, fast boat, or flight. Because the island is such a popular destination, you'll have no trouble booking a combination ticket (bus and boat) to Langkawi from all points in Peninsular Malaysia.
- By Boat: Many slow ferries head out to Langkawi daily from Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah, Penang, as well as Koh Lipe and Satun in Thailand (ferries from Koh Lipe are seasonal). Ferries from the mainland—the cheapest option for getting to Langkawi—take around an hour and a half to reach the island. Kuah—located in the southeast corner of the island—is the busiest town and usual arrival point.
- By Fast Boat: If you choose to hire one of the small private speedboats to Langkawi, waterproof your valuables and be prepared to possibly get wet on a bumpy, chaotic ride.
- By Plane: The small-but-busy Langkawi International Airport (airport code: LGK) is located on the northwest side of the island in Padang Matsirat. AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, Tiger Air, Silk Air, and Firefly all operate budget flights to Langkawi. International routes include flights from Singapore as well as Hat Yai and Phuket in Thailand.
Tip: When you're ready to fly out of Langkawi, wait until the last moment to cross through security since choices are sparse on the other side. Most shops and food options are located at the entrance to the airport.
When to Go
The peak season and driest months on Langkawi are December, January, and February. The summer months bring a steep increase in rainfall during the monsoon season.
Jellyfish—some dangerous—can be a serious threat to swimmers between the months of May and October.
Chinese New Year (in January or February) draws large crowds to Langkawi, and prices for accommodation tend to triple during the holiday.