Malaysia’s most popular tourist island draws in the travelers, both from near and afar. It’s loved by locals as a weekend getaway spot. But since Malaysia is a peninsula with a lot of coastline—including a chunk of Borneo—some international visitors to Langkawi aren’t even sure where their plane is taking them!
Langkawi is technically the term for an archipelago made up of 104 islands, but the name most commonly refers to the largest island. Langkawi Island is situated in the Strait of Malacca roughly 18.6 miles off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
Langkawi, which was declared a Global Geopark by UNESCO in 2007, is part of the Malaysian state of Kedah. It is 30 kilometers away from the mainland and adjacent to the land border between Malaysia and Thailand, where the Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca meet. The island is north of Penang, Malaysia’s island famous food island.
Langkawi is very easy to reach—a factor that has likely influenced how developed the island has become. The two primary options for getting to Langkawi are boat or flight. Unlike Penang, the island isn’t connected to the mainland via bridge.
Flights to Langkawi are cheap—ridiculously, what’s-the-catch, too-good-to-be-true cheap. Unless you’re coming from Koh Lipe in Thailand or Penang (those are options), there really isn’t any good reason to take a bus-boat combo to get to Langkawi. Airfare from Kuala Lumpur is often as inexpensive as US $15-30! Flying the 267 miles from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi takes around one hour plus airport time.
Flying to Langkawi
Langkawi International Airport (LGK) stays busy with well over 2 million passengers passing through annually. Although the airport isn’t even large enough for air bridges that connect to the terminal (you’ll get the excitement of walking on the runway), traffic moves smoothly enough.
The obvious choice for flying to Langkawi is to pass through Kuala Lumpur. Over 200 flights a week fly from Malaysia’s capital to Langkawi. If you prefer Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport for a stopover, AirAsia, SilkAir, and TigerAir fly directly from Singapore to Langkawi.
Due to the nature of last-minute domestic travel in Malaysia, sometimes really cheap flights don’t show up on the major booking sites. Before committing to a final purchase click, check the airline sites directly (Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, AirAsia, SilkAir, TigerAir, and Firefly all fly to Lagkawi).
As a tip, AirAsia and other budget carriers may operate out of the KLIA2 Terminal around two kilometers from the main Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Check your ticket carefully if you don’t have much time to spare. Also take note that, when flying out of Langkawi, take care of all your eating and last-minute shopping before passing through security. There are many more options around the main departures hall than on the other side of security.
After landing in Langkawi, you’ll find an official taxi counter just outside of baggage claim. This coupon-based system is smooth, scam free, and discourages rogue drivers from harassing new arrivals. Prices are fixed. If traveling on your own, you can save a bit and cut down on the island’s traffic by doing what budget travelers do: Ask others in the queue if they want to share a ride.
Depending on traffic, a taxi from the airport to Pantai Cenang (the most popular tourist beach) takes around 15 minutes.
Taking the Boat From the Mainland
If coming overland from Thailand, especially Satun or Hat Yai, taking a ferry to Langkawi may be the best option. Boats depart from Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah. The frequency of ferries is seasonal and weather dependent.
Traveling From Penang
Langkawi has a lot of activities to offer, but stunning cuisine isn’t really one of the highlights. The food on Penang, especially the street food scene, is world famous.
Again, flying is the most hassle-free option for getting between the two islands. Flights operated by AirAsia and Firefly can be as cheap as US $20 and the flight time is so short you’ll barely have time to open the magazine before beginning to descend.
If you’ve had enough flying on the trip and prefer to tempt the sea, going by boat is an option. The daily ferries from Penang to Langkawi take close to three hours, depending on conditions. They aren’t much cheaper than flights.
Ferries operate out of Kuah, the main town in Langkawi. You can book through any of the many travel agencies on the island. Be at the port 30 minutes before departure.
Departing From Koh Lipe
Interestingly, tiny Koh Lipe in Thailand hosts an immigration point. After enjoying Phuket, Koh Lanta, Railay, or Krabi, you could island hop your way south across the border.
Ferries from Koh Lipe to Langkawi take around 90 minutes. Sea conditions can be rough enough to delay or cancel ferries in the low season (June to October). Boats depart Koh Lipe from Pattaya Beach. Warning: Langkawi is going to feel really busy after enjoying no motorized vehicles on Koh Lipe.
When to Go Once You're There
The peak months on Langkawi are December, January, and February. A combination of drier weather and the holidays really brings visitors to the island. Chinese New Year, which always in January or February, is a particularly busy time.
Although there are some enjoyable indoor things to do around Langkawi, many businesses and some boat options will shut down or be in limited operation as tourism turns into a trickle during low season.
September and October are often the rainiest months on the island. For a good compromise, opt to visit Langkawi during the “shoulder” season either before or after the peak months. You should still have plenty of sunny days but less competition on the beaches. Regardless, the monsoon begins and ends when it wishes from year to year.
Island Hopping Via Langkawi
With adequate time and some strategic flight booking, you can piece together a dreamy island-hopping circuit between Thailand and Malaysia that samples the best of both countries. Call it the “Andaman Loop.”
Begin in Bangkok; international flights are often the cheapest to there anyway. When ready, begin your island hopping by flying into Krabi (airport code: KBV), a small town that served as gateway to the Andaman Sea. Check Thailand’s cute local carrier NokAir before assuming AirAsia is the best option.
Next, hop off the mainland by taking the minivan-boat combo (three hours) to Koh Lanta. After a few days, assuming you can drag yourself away from what is many travelers’ favorite island, pop over to Koh Phi Phi via the one-hour ferry for some serious backpacker nightlife. Phuket is also an option if a lack of familiar coffee chains is becoming too idyllic.
If you want to avoid the thumping-music, bucket-drinking scene, proceed directly by boat from Lanta to Koh Lipe. After enjoy a few days of snorkeling and unmotorized island life, grab the ferry to Langkawi.
Take advantage of the many things to do around Langkawi. From there, you can reluctantly trade sand for concrete by flying back to Kuala Lumpur (Malindo Air is a good choice). But if there’s time, here’s a better idea: add one more island to the list by flying the 35 minutes to Penang.
Although the beach in Penang will pale after having enjoyed pristine sand on Lanta, Lipe, and Langkawi, the cultural fusion makes up for it. Spend a few days wandering colonial streets and enjoying Indian food before grabbing a cheap flight back to Kuala Lumpur.
Fortunately, the short-haul flights for such an excursion don’t have to be booked very far in advance to score good fares. A few days or less will usually suffice outside of holiday times. When enjoyed in its glorious entirety, this loop allows you to see the capitals of Thailand and Malaysia and a mix of lightly developed and properly developed islands in both countries.