Langkawi, Malaysia is a lush, tropical island fringed with white sand beaches. The interior is rugged and mountainous, filled with jungle landscapes, ribbon-like waterfalls, ancient rock formations, and hot springs.
Life in Langkawi is slow and languorous, revolving around beach time, exploring mountains and rainforest, and enjoying spicy Malaysian food. There’s a noticeable harmony here between people and nature, and large tracts of the island are preserved as protected areas with UNESCO Geopark status.
Whether you’re here for the wildlife, the beaches, the trekking, or the shopping, or all of these, here are 14 things to do in Langkawi.
Visit Eagle Square
Dataran Lang, or Eagle Square, in Kuah, Langkawi’s main town, is the focal point of the island thanks to its 40-foot statue of a red-backed eagle, the symbol of Langkawi.
The island’s name is believed to have derived from the Malay word for eagle, “helang”, and “kawi”, which means marble, taken from the eagles that wheel in the sky and the marble quarries on the island.
The statue is right by the Kuah Jetty and is a popular spot for photographs, with a backdrop of the cerulean Andaman Sea and Langkawi’s forested mountains. It’s said to be a guide to sailors, leading them into the shelter of the harbor.
Around the square, you’ll find restaurants and souvenir shops. Nearby is the Cenang Night Market, which gets going in the late afternoon.
Bathe in Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls
The culture of Langkawi is rich in myths and legends, one of which is that the fairies who live by this series of seven interconnected pools and tumbling waterfalls have magical powers. As such, there’s a belief that a visit to Seven Wells, or Telaga Tujuh, can cure many ills.
Find out for yourself on a trip to Mount Mat Cincang. The way to see the falls is to climb to the top, a 45-minute trek (which can be quite punishing in the heat), keeping an eye out for hornbills and macaques in the trees and listening to the soundtrack of chirping cicadas.
Your reward is a cooling dip in the pools, the rocks smoothed by millennia of tumbling water. If you’re feeling daring, whizz down the natural rock slides that connect them.
Snorkel at Pulau Payar
Take a trip from one island to another on a snorkel expedition to Pulau Payar, a 45-minute boat ride from Kuah jetty.
Four islands make up this marine park, of which Pulau Payar is the largest, and they’re all uninhabited. The snorkeling here is magnificent; close to the surface, you’ll be able to spot dazzling coral reefs inhabited by orange-and-white striped clownfish, grouper, and barracuda. You may even encounter harmless baby reef sharks.
Dare to Walk the Sky Bridge
You’ll need a head for heights to visit Langkawi’s spectacular Sky Bridge, but the views are stupendous.
The 410-foot-long bridge is one of the world’s longest curved suspension bridges, crossing high above a rocky chasm and the dense canopy of the rainforest. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Langkawi, and one of the most popular.
Get there by SkyCab, a cable car that ferries visitors from the Oriental Village to the peak of Gunung Machinchang, more than 2,000 feet above sea level.
Oriental Village is crammed with shops, restaurants, and attractions, including a 6D movie simulator and a 3D art museum. It’s an entertaining day out if you’re traveling with teens, who will most likely want to try the Flying Fox zipline as well as the Sky Bridge.
Play on Pantai Cenang Beach
Many visitors to Langkawi make a beeline for the beaches, and for good reason. Pantai Cenang on the west of Langkawi is one of the loveliest. It’s a classic scene of white sand fringed by arching palms rippling in the breeze.
This is also one of the liveliest beaches, with anything from jet skiing to banana boat rides and paragliding on offer. There are plenty of culinary distractions, too, from beach shacks serving fresh fruit smoothies to classy seafood restaurants and simpler establishments where you can try spicy chicken satay with an ice-cold beer.
You’ll also see locals offering beach massages under the shade of a palm tree, a supremely relaxing experience, as well as yoga and meditation sessions.
The beach is also the location of Underwater World Langkawi, a vast aquarium that offers a good break from the sun in the heat of the day. The exhibit includes various habitats, including tropical rainforest, rivers, and a sub-Antarctic space housing a colony of rockhopper penguins.
Buy Batik—Or Design Your Own
Shop for traditional island-made batik at the Atma Alam Batik Art Village, a factory that doubles up as a batik showroom, craft display, and sales outlet.
You’ll find beautiful hand-painted batiks, all by local artists. Anything you can imagine has been created with batik adornment: clothing, purses, ties, baseball caps, sarongs, and paintings in vibrant, swirling colors to take home and frame. There’s also a craft section showcasing other Langkawi handicrafts.
Budding artists can book in advance to join a batik painting class and bring their own designs away.
Hike on Gunung Raya
Perhaps it’s because so much of Langkawi’s landscape is so ancient, some of the rock formations 500 million years old, that there’s such a prolific culture of legends and myths.
Indeed, some believe the entire island was cursed for seven generations, emerging triumphant in its present blissful state after the Malay government made a commitment to develop Langkawi as a tourist destination.
Like many places in Langkawi, Gunung Raya is steeped in legend. The story surrounding the island’s tallest mountain, at 2,890 feet high, is that it was once a giant called Mat Raya. The giant was turned into granite following a dispute with a neighbor whose daughter was going to marry the giant’s son.
Drive or hike to the peak; the road route takes about 30 minutes with plenty of lookout points along the way and opportunities to look for leaf monkeys, macaques, flying foxes, brightly colored tropical birds in the trees, and eagles circling on the thermals above.
If you’re interested in wildlife, join a hike with a local guide who will point out the different species. Of particular interest are the unlikely creatures that fly: draco volan (lizards that can glide through the air), squirrel, lemur, flying fox, and even a snake that has the ability to get airborne.
At the top, you’ll find a small park, a museum, and a watch tower with breathtaking views across the whole island. Head up to the top of the watchtower and you can see even further, all the way to the Thai coast on a clear day.
Explore Pasir Tengkorak Recreational Forest
Stretching along the northern coastline, Pasir Tengkorak is regarded as one of the island’s finest beaches, thanks to its shallow aquamarine water, powdery sand, and backdrop of dense forest.
This forest, called Hutan Lipur Pasir Tengkorak, is a popular picnic spot, the shade of the trees providing respite from the tropical sunshine. You’ll see plenty of locals here enjoying a day out.
A short walk into the woodland takes you to the Temurun Waterfall, a three-tier cascade tumbling over the rocks. Be warned, though, that if you take your own picnic and leave it lying around while you go to look at the waterfall, it’s likely to be consumed by troops of monkeys living by the beach.
Pasir Tengkorak also has a slightly more sinister name: Sandy Skulls Beach. Some believe the skulls in question belonged to pirates whose bodies washed up on the beach after storms in the Strait of Malacca.
Others think they are the skulls of prisoners who had tried unsuccessfully to escape from Ko Tarutao, a Thai prison island to the north of Langkawi.
Search for Wildlife in Kilim Geoforest Park
Naturalists will love Kilim Geoforest Park on the eastern side of the island some 20 minutes’ drive from Kuah Town. You’ll discover an extensive mangrove forest, as well as dramatic limestone rock formations, some dating back 500 million years. This is one of the only coastal karst landscapes on the island.
Take a boat trip through the cool green tunnels of the mangroves, looking out for dragon-like monitor lizards basking on the rocks, kingfishers, mudskippers, and white-bellied fish eagles in the trees, watching out for prey. You’ll see floating fish markets at the edges of the mangroves with fresh fish for sale from pontoons.
Take a stroll through some of the ancient caves when you’re here and look upward; you’ll see colonies of hundreds of bats suspended from the stone roof.
If you prefer not to take a boat trip, it’s possible to join a kayak tour along the Kilim River to get even closer to nature.
Learn About Langkawi’s Legends
Learn more about Langkawi’s folklore in Taman Lagenda Langkawi, or Legenda Park, an open-air museum next to the Kuah Jetty, close to Eagle Square.
A series of 17 sculptures and statues, each accompanied by a signboard, tells the stories of the myths surrounding each subject in the 50-acre park.
You’ll discover mythical birds, princes and princesses, evil giants, and an albino crocodile that features in the tale of the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, all in a setting of fruit trees and brilliant floral displays. There are handicraft stalls, too, selling items made by local craftspeople.
To be fair, Legenda Park is far from a high-tech attraction, but it’s a peaceful spot for a stroll combined with a visit to Eagle Square.
Cool Off at Temurun Waterfall
Plunging 656 feet over three sandstone and shale tiers, Temurun is the tallest of Langkawi’s many waterfalls. It’s located on the northern slopes of Gunung Machinchang, one of the island’s tallest mountains.
You can paddle in the lower pool, overlooked by a popular picnic site, and even scramble up to the next level, although there’s no handrail and you need to be nimble.
If you take a picnic, watch out for macaque monkeys; they’re cheeky and opportunist and won’t hesitate to invite themselves to your table.
Sample Local Dishes
Langkawi’s rich cuisine reflects the abundance of nature around the island, with plenty of dishes based on rice, coconut, seafood, and tropical fruit.
Try the local specialty, nasi tomato, a dish of rice and coconut milk with a spicy tomato sauce, combined with a fiery beef rendang or chicken.
Acar nanas is a crunchy, tangy pineapple and peanut curry, while fish, straight out of the water, is barbecued and served with coconut sambal. The fish is wrapped in banana leaf before being cooked over a charcoal stove; you’ll see it everywhere, labeled as ikan bakar.
If you’re after Malaysia’s answer to comfort food, look out for nasi goreng kampung, a filling combination of fried rice, eggs, long beans, onions, and water spinach. Anchovies or chicken may be added to the dish, as well as bird’s eye chili, so ask for a milder version if you want something less fiery.
Spot Tropical Birds
Langkawi is home to more than 230 species of bird and is an ornithologist’s dream. Pied hornbills are a common sight in the trees. The great hornbill, a relative, is an enormous bird, sometimes three feet from beak to tail, distinguished by its curved yellow beak with a yellow “horn” on top.
You’ll see (and hear) woodpeckers, sunbirds, including the gorgeous crimson sunbird, and eight different species of kingfisher.
Langkawi is home to more than 20 birds of prey, from the white-bellied sea eagle to the Brahminy kite and crested goshawk. You’ll see these predators in the trees or wheeling on the thermals above the mountains.
A fairly common Langkawi bird is the ashy drongo, distinguished by its forked tail and its ability to mimic the calls of dozens of other birds and animals, including the chatter and shrieking of monkeys.
Unearth Duty-Free Bargains
The whole island of Langkawi has duty-free status, which means you can pick up anything from chocolate (if you can prevent it melting in the heat) to liquor, jewelry, designer sunglasses, cosmetics, and leather goods.
There are shopping malls everywhere. Try the Jetty Point Complex near Kuah Jetty, Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall in Kuah, or Cenang Mall, near Pantai Cenang, as a spot of air-conditioned respite from a hot day on the beach.
Ready to discover more of Langkawi’s rich culture and intriguing wildlife? Browse Celebrity’s cruises to Langkawi and plan your tropical adventure.