You would need weeks — and a lot of motivation — to cover all the things to do in Langkawi, a popular tourist island and top destination in Malaysia.
Langkawi is host to a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities, assuming you can tear yourself away from pristine beaches for long enough.
Some of the things to do are embarrassingly touristy. Others are adventures you’ll proudly use to taunt loved ones at home who are stuck in offices. Regardless, there are fun options for escaping those really hot afternoons; your skin will thank you.
Malaysia’s big duty-free island on the west coast attracts a steady stream of locals, weekenders, families, and long-term backpackers. Activities in Langkawi range from lounging in soft sand for free to $400 helicopter rides and everything between.
No need to worry about booking online before arriving. Tours and things to do in Langkawi are easily arranged at one of the many agencies or activity kiosks dotted along every sidewalk. The hardest part about it... all is deciding what to do first!
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Ride the Cable Car and Brave the Sky Bridge
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 Chinchang stops at a midpoint then continues onward; both stops have cafes and platforms for stunning views of the island.
Looking down on Pantai Cenang far below is interesting, but the real excitement comes from the ride itself!
Once at the top, the Langkawi Sky Bridge waits. The curved, 410-foot-long viewing platform is suspended high enough (2,300 feet) to really test your trust of modern engineering! Although comfortably wide, some people can’t bring themselves to cross it. On clear days, the views reach all the way to Thailand. The Sky Bridge is open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.
The Langkawi Cable Car is located in the Oriental Village — an outdoor “lifestyle” mall with plenty of souvenir shops and a handful of other smaller attractions.
Tip: Don’t be surprised (or offended) by the Malay /... foreigner pricing for entrance fees. This dual system is popular throughout Asia.
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Visit a Famous 3D 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 3D 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.
Shoes must be removed at the door. Although the place seems impeccably clean, wear socks if you’re squeamish. Entrance for Art in Paradise is included in the combo ticket for the Cable Car. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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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 undeveloped; they host mangroves, caves, and enough rainforest 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, but you’ll definitely find gigantic fruit bats. Don’t wake them.
There are a number of ways to skirt the less developed islands. The cheapest tours pile tourists into clunky boats. Many companies throw chicken in the air to feed the eagles just to add a little excitement. This obviously encourages unnatural behavior.
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!
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Eat in the Night Markets
The night markets on Langkawi are 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 sampled. Although there aren’t many places to sit and enjoy your meal, the people watching is fantastic.
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. Arrive a little before sunset to beat the crowds during busy season.
- Monday: Ulu Melaka
- Tuesday: Kedawang
- Wednesday: Kuah (the main town)
- Thursday: Pantai Cenang
- Friday: Air Hangat
- Saturday: Kuah
- Sunday: Padang Matsirat
Sustainable travel tip: 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 actually loan you reusable containers on Thursdays.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
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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. 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 or participate in a planting workshop.
Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Entrance is free.
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Snorkeling 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 sank 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, try to go on a weekday.
Prices vary based on the mode of transport. Getting to the marine park takes around 45 minutes from Kuah. Snorkel gear is included, but the park fee usually isn’t.
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Visit the Waterfalls
The Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls (Seven Wells) is in the northwest corner of the island. 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. Probably not very suitable for small children. A slippery rock serves as a natural water slide for locals.
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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 clog 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 scooter just exploring, running between the things to do listed here. Renting a bicycle is an option, too, although some interior roads will be rough to cycle.
Note: 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.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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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 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.
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Visit Underwater World
Probably the largest of indoor tourist attractions on the island, Underwater World is located at the southern end of Pantai Cenang. The giant aquarium could serve as a good indoor option for families on days with too much sun or too little.
Check the aquarium website for feeding times. Hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Open until 8:30 p.m. on weekends.
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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 it allow a peek at the rainforest canopy, it’s 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.
Tickets must be purchased online in advance. The last departure of the day leaves at 3 p.m.
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Hop to Penang
Maybe not suitable for a day trip, but Langkawi is tantalizingly close (three hours by ferry) to Penang — another large island in Malaysia.
You could split your trip between or allow for a couple of days on Penang after enjoying Langkawi. Seeing two islands widens your sample of Malaysia’s unique vibe.
Penang’s beaches are just so-so, but the island is world famous for its eating scene. Although the street food is the main attraction, an up-and-coming cafe culture punctuates the former grunge. The rich colonial history and some interesting temples make Penang even more tempting.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Take a Boat to Thailand
Koh Lipe, one of Thailand’s farthest islands, can be reached by taking a 90-minute ferry. There is actually an immigration point on the tiny island.
Koh Lipe’s cuteness has cost it dearly. The tiny island, traversable by foot, gets busy. The primary reason to visit is for diving and beach-accessible snorkeling.
Consider adding Koh Lipe to your trip if you plan to split your time between there and Langkawi, or if you just really want to boast about visiting an island in Thailand — a good enough reason on its own.
Tip: Don’t believe outdated reports that there are no ATMs on Koh Lipe or that it is a “quiet” island. Although there are no cars and very few motorbikes, Koh Lipe has developed rapidly in recent years. You’ll find at least three ATMs that dispense Thai baht.