With its warm emerald seas, dense carpets of rainforest and stunning geological features dating back some 500 million years, Langkawi hides a treasure trove of holiday adventures. We explore the island by land, sea and air.
On an island that is teeming with wildlife and home to more than 200 species of birds and 14 species of snakes, expect to get up close to some of them when you’re on a boat tour through Langkawiʼs steamy mangrove wetlands.
It was like watching nature unfold before our eyes. A swimming monitor lizard, a sleeping collard scoops owl, a troupe of long-tailed macaques, preying eagles and four mangrove shore pit vipers coiled up and camouflaged up on the mangrove branches above our boats—these were just some of the wildlife we encountered during our three-hour river voyage as our boat navigated the bends of the Kilim river, flanked by a maze of aerial roots and thick fleshy leaves in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park.
Langkawi, which means island of the reddish-brown eagle in Bahasa Malaysia, has been given a World Geopark status by UNESCO, recognising its significance as a geologically important site.
It is an archipelago of 99 islands, (or 104 when the tide drops) separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca. Once a sanctuary for pirates and a sleepy backwater, this tropical gem is now a refuge for weary city dwellers and nature enthusiasts.
“Every day is a different day out here. With wildlife, don’t expect to see the same things,” said Jerome Canisius, a naturalist and guide at Dev’s Adventure Tours. “During December to March for instance, you may not get to see the snakes at all as they go into hiding. And on lucky days, you get to see otters swimming in the river.”
Unfortunately, we had no otters welcome us. But we made a brief stop at a limestone cave, where our attention turned to the large colonies of about 700 insect-eating bats hanging from the ceiling. We quivered as we heard, in darkness, the flapping of wings as some of them started gliding above our heads.
As tourism in Langkawi picks up, it is a fine balance of how to cope with the growing number of travelers while disturbing the island’s natural beauty as little as possible, said Canisius, who cautioned against flash photography in the cave and insisted visitors switch their mobile phones to flight mode as the frequencies emitted may disturb the bats.
We try to pass on the message on environmental protection. We have to save what we can in our own area,” he said. “Otherwise, what’s going to happen in 15 years? Is nature going to develop in a positive or negative manner?
Our journey continues as our boat ventured out of the backwater into the choppier Andaman Sea. Sitting tight and held together by a life jacket, we took in the splendour of the jungle-clad limestone rock formations and sea stacks that were protruding dramatically from the seabed.
To complete the experience, we had dinner at the Fish Farm Restaurant at Pantai Penarak, a sheltered bay with a nice view of the sea dotted with islets that bears a resemblance to Vietnam’s famous Halong Bay. Seafood is naturally a specialty here, although prices are on the steep side. From the variety of live seafood available, we chose to have the crab and grouper cooked Hong Kong style and the mantis prawn with spicy salt.
Another mode of island exploration is cycling, and those looking for a good workout will be pleased. The four-hour cycling tour took us to places not accessible by larger vehicles. We stopped by a small fishing village in Kuala Teriang before cycling along river banks, past local villages, paddy fields and grazing buffaloes.
In the evening, we headed to the night market in Kuah town, one of the largest and most bustling night markets that take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. When we arrived shortly after 6pm, the stalls were already lined neatly in two rows and the smell of charcoal-grilled meat skewers, or satay, wafted through the air. There were many stalls selling local food such as soto mee, nasi lemak ayam and snacks like peanut and corn pancake. Far from being a tourist spot, the market remains a favourite among locals, who come here after a busy day to buy packed food—many meals are prepared and packed in plastic bags or brown paper for convenient grab-and-go. Be warned that many of the stalls do not have seating provisions!
Dev’s Adventure Tours
Rumah Kedai No. 1, Tingkat 3 Lot 1556 Tanjung Mali
Pantai Cenang, Langkawi
Kuah Town Night Market
Jalan Pandak Mayah 6, Kuah, Langkawi
Wed and Sat: 4pm to 10pm
Book direct special at Casa del Mar LangkawiVisit Hotel Website