You would need weeks—and a lot of motivation—to cover all the top things to do in Langkawi, a popular tourist island and top destination in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s big duty-free island on the west coast attracts a steady stream of locals, weekenders from Kuala Lumpur, families, and budget backpackers. Activities in Langkawi range from lounging in soft sand for free to pricey attractions like the mountain cable car and everything between. The hardest part about it all is deciding what to do first!
Ride the Cable Car
Langkawi’s cable car is the most popular thing to do on the island. The many turnstiles for the queues indicate that people must be willing to wait a very long time. The steep ride up Mount Mat Cincang stops at a midpoint then continues onward; both stops have cafes and platforms for enjoying the stunning views of the island.
Looking down on Pantai Cenang far below is interesting, but the real excitement comes from the ride itself!
Visit a Famous 3-D Gallery
The three-dimensional art and optical illusions inside the Art in Paradise museum are fascinating and creative. With over 100 interactive art pieces, the gallery claims to be the second-largest 3-D museum in the world. Even still, you can see it all in an hour unless you really linger to enjoy the air conditioning.
Although the main purpose of visiting the museum seems to be just to get fun, quirky photos of yourself in impossible situations, there are some very visually impressive works of art. You’ll exit with enough creative material to make you an InstaCelebrity.
Go Island Hopping
Langkawi is the largest island of 104 in the archipelago. Very few of the islands are inhabited.
Understandably, island-hopping excursions are the most popular thing to do on Langkawi. Neighboring islands in the marine park are mostly undeveloped; they host mangroves, caves, and enough rainforest canopy to keep birdwatchers very busy.
Half-day or full-day excursions are available for all levels of comfort. The best trips include an unforgettable visit to the Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar). You won’t find a vigilante billionaire’s crime-fighting gadgets and a rocket car, but you’ll definitely find gigantic fruit bats. Don’t wake them!
Eat in the Night Markets
The night markets on Langkawi attract a busy mix of locals and tourists; all arrive around sunset to enjoy cheap, delicious food. Tasty local treats can be sampled for as little as 25 cents.
Some of Penang's famous offerings can be tried without the commitment of ordering it in a restaurant for dinner. Although there aren’t many places to sit and enjoy your meal, you'll get to enjoy fantastic people watching.
The night market is held in a different place each night. The markets in Kuah and Pantai Cenang are potentially the largest and most popular for tourists because of the convenient location. Arrive a little before sunset to beat the crowds during the busy season.
Although some treats such as nasi lemak are served in paper, other choices are served in plastic or Styrofoam containers. Both are a problem on the island. Consider bringing your own cup or bowl, and try to decline the plastic bag given with every small purchase. The Kasbah traveler’s cafe located not far from the Pantai Cenang night market will loan you reusable containers for night markets.
Learn About Rice Cultivation
The Laman Padi Rice Garden can be reached on foot by walking north from Pantai Cenang. The small gallery (in English) is surrounded by pleasant rice terraces and places to sit. The landscaping is spacious and serene. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about this labor-intensive staple that feeds a majority of the world’s population, this is your chance. Stroll around unguided or participate in a planting workshop.
Snorkel at Payar Island
The area around nearby Payar Island has been a marine park since 1985, so the coral is in fairly good condition. Don’t worry: Those shipwrecks on the bottom weren’t full of customers. Old boats were sunk along with tires and other objects to form an artificial reef that is thriving.
Snorkeling day trips are a popular way to get closer to marine life. Sailing to the island by catamaran is a nice option. For members of the family not comfortable with snorkeling, there is an underwater observation chamber and covered deck. The park hosts some simple picnic facilities, including a restroom. The four uninhabited islands attract a lot of visitors on weekends, so try to go on a weekday.
Visit the Waterfalls
The Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls (Seven Wells) is in the northwest corner of the island.
The falls are Inconvenient if you’re staying at Pantai Cenang or Kuah, but other attractions in the area make the trip worth the effort. If not too tired and wet after the falls, you can walk to the cable car or the Oriental Village in 15 minutes or less.
The waterfalls have two viewing areas. The steep trail to the lower area only takes 10 minutes from the parking lot. Stick your head under the falls to cool off. The falls are often just a trickle during the dry season.
Visitors who are reasonably fit can climb the many steep stairs to the seven pools and have a dip. Swimming at the top is safer than it sounds, as long as you stay away from the edges, although it isn't very suitable for small children. A slippery rock serves as a natural water slide for locals.
Motorbike Around the Island
As with most Southeast Asian islands large enough for paved roads, renting a scooter and driving around can be an incredibly enjoyable experience. Once away from the traffic of Kuah (the main town) and Pantai Cenang (the most popular beach), the island’s interior has (mostly) well-maintained roads with plenty of nice scenery.
Langkawi is a very sizable island. You could easily spend a couple of days on a scooter just exploring, just running between the top things to do in Langkawi. Renting a bicycle is an option, too, although some interior roads will be tough to cycle.
The police on Langkawi are adamant about enforcing helmet laws. They may also ask for an international driving permit if you end up passing through one of the sporadic roadblocks.
Go Duty-Free Shopping
Like Tioman Island farther to the south, Langkawi enjoys duty-free status. The tax exemption applies to shopping purchases, too, not just sunset cocktails.
Although you may or may not be interested in carrying heavy kitchenware (a popular item for sale) back home, lots of foreign visitors do leave with new luggage sets. New suitcases are then filled with duty-free chocolate, clothing, cosmetics, and other items.
You’ll find lots of duty-free shops (ZON is the most popular) ranging in size from convenience stores to shopping malls. Shops in the airport are predictably the most expensive, while department stores in Kuah are the cheapest.
Visit Underwater World
Probably the largest of indoor tourist attractions on the island, Underwater World is located at the southern end of Pantai Cenang. If you can't get under the surface yourself, this is the best way to see marine life. The giant aquarium could serve as a good indoor option for families on days with too much sun or too little.
Get Into the Canopy
The SkyTrex adventure is an obstacle course of bridges, ropes, swings, and zip lines at dizzying tree-top heights. Not only does an afternoon at SkyTrex allow a peek at the rainforest canopy from above the ground, but it’s also a good workout! All is safe, as long as you’ve got the guts. There is even a scaled-down course for younger members of the family and "chicken exits" if you want to bail halfway through. Tickets must be purchased online in advance.
Explore the Mangroves
Mangroves are an extremely important part of Langkawi's ecosystem; they serve as a habitat and refuge for many kinds of creatures. For nature enthusiasts, the mangroves are a veritable playground stocked with eagles, an assortment of other birds, fish, snakes, monkeys, and more. Water allows visitors to sneak up on wildlife easier than on foot, that is, assuming you aren't on the jet ski safari—also an option.
Exploring the mangroves by kayak is certainly the most rewarding, but it is also the most strenuous. Jet ski safaris are as loud, rambunctious, and expensive as they sound. You won’t sneak up on much wildlife, but you may feel as though you’re on the set of a James Bond film!
Go Visit Thailand for a Day
Koh Lipe, one of Thailand’s fringe islands, can be reached by taking a 90-minute ferry from Langkawi. There is actually an immigration point on the tiny island.
Thailand offers most nationalities a visa-free exemption for 30 days. In theory, you could pop over, do some snorkeling, spend a night, then return to Malaysia when you like.
Koh Lipe’s cuteness and walkability have cost it in recent years. The tiny island, traversable by foot, gets busy. The primary reasons to visit are the diving and beach-accessible snorkeling.
Consider adding Koh Lipe to your trip if you've got bonus time and want to add a second country. Or if you just really want to boast about visiting an island in Thailand during your trip to Malaysia, a good enough reason on its own!
See Eagle Square
One of the most iconic spots in Langkawi, Eagle Square is found in Kuah, the largest town on the island. The centerpiece is a huge 12-meter high statue of an eagle, wings outstretched. You can walk the beautiful star-shaped promenade along the water and stop for a bite to eat at the restaurants and cafes in the area.
Visit the Prime Minister's Museum
One of the most intriguing museums in Langkawi is the Galeria Perdana where you'll find the gifts and awards that Dr. Mahatir Mohamad, a former prime minister of Malaysia, received during his tenure.
You'll be surprised to see what is included in the collection. Formula One racing cars, musical instruments, and vases embellished with the prime minister's image are among the treasures in this beautiful museum with hand-painted ceilings.
Soak in the Hot Springs
At Air Hangat (hot water) Village, 14 kilometers north of Kuah Town, you'll find a modern facility with three tiers of natural saltwater hot springs said to have healing properties. You can soak in the very hot springs in the various public areas or opt for a private open-air Jacuzzi. The village has an on-site restaurant serving Malaysian, Thai, and Indonesian food. Massages and spa treatments will complete your relaxing visit.
See the Birds
The 5.5-acre Langkawi Wildlife Park and Bird Paradise houses over 150 species of colorful birds including toucans and flamingos in a natural setting. There are trees, gardens, and waterfalls to explore. Visitors will also encounter raccoons and crocodiles and even have a chance to feed some of the birds and animals.
Learn About Agro-Tech
The MARDI Langkawi Agro Technology Park showcases the use of innovation and technology in sustainably farming fruits and vegetables. Exotic tropical fruits like mangosteen, durian, and dragon fruit are grown at the park and visitors can sample some of the varieties as they learn about growing local produce.
The beautiful, tropical park includes a technology information center, fruit farms, sheltered hi-tech vegetable farms, and areas for recreation.
Be Entertained at the Oriental Village
Located at the base of the Sky Cab cable car and Sky Bridge, Oriental Village is an Asian-themed park and village with traditional entertainment, performances, and reproductions of typical Asian buildings. There are shops and souvenir stands throughout the complex.
While you visit you will be entertained by jugglers, martial artists, and musicians. performers. Interactive activities include learning how to fly a traditional kite or having your palm read.
Brave the Langkawi Sky Bridge
Not for those with a fear of heights, the famous 125-meter long Langkawi Sky Bridge is one of the most popular attractions in Langkawi. It's the longest free-span curved bridge in the world. You can walk the pedestrian bridge and see marvelous views of the countryside, the surrounding islands, Mat Cincang Mountain, and the Seven Pools Waterfalls. To reach the bridge, which is open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily, take the Langkawi Cable Car to the summit.