Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Langkawi

Pantai Cenang, Langkawi's most popular beach (click all shots to expand - might depend on your browser).

Langkawi is a big island very close to the Thai border in north-west peninsula Malaysia. It is Malaysia's most popular holiday beach destination and has a natural advantage over rivals Tioman and the Perhentians in that its dry season (roughly late November into April) coincides with much of their wet season whereas its wet season is not usually as devastatingly wet, allowing all season visits.
Like Tioman, it is a duty free island - but this industry is much better developed than Tioman's makeshift effort with some spectacular deals on many products. The landscape is not as spectacular as Tioman's but pretty attractive, the beaches on average are as good as both east coast rivals - with the best considerably better IMHO. Snorkelling is not as good and the water is not as clear.
Langkawi has a much more accommodation, particularly in the midrange and top end areas. It has a good but not busy road system - the others have virtually no roads - and no taxes mean that hire cars and motorcycles are amazingly cheap. Competition means shopping and restaurant prices are very good - but accommodation seems considerably dearer than say KL for the same standard, but not appreciably dearer than its east coast rivals.
The taxi system is very inexpensive and runs on set prices - your accommodation can tell you exactly how much it will cost to your destination. A 4 hour tour of the island cost us rm100 - about $us30.
Naturally there is no shortage of places selling booze, which can be a problem on the Perhentians (although it is possible to find yourself in Muslim-owned Langkawi restaurants and general stores which don't serve/sell alcohol).
Like Tioman, you can fly onto Langkawi, but in big commercial jets, not short-take-off-and-land turboprops. The ferry service is much better than both rivals.
And from Langkawi it is dead easy to island-hop across into Thailand and continue island-hopping all the way north to Phuket.


(Click to expand)
The popular beaches of Cenang and Tengah are on the lower left coast. The tilted U shape above this is where the coastal road runs around the perimeter of part of the airport runway.
At top left, the southern and northern facing coasts have some fine small beaches with top-end resorts like Barau Bay, Berjaya Langkawi, Sheraton Langkawi and the Datai. Inland at top left the island is very mountainous and features the Cable Car and Seven Wells/Tanjung Waterfalls.
Spectacular Tanjung Rhu beach is at the head of the inlet towards the right side of the north coast. The top-right (north-east) of the island is very rugged, mountainous and least developed.
The small bustling capital, Kuah, where the mainland ferries arrive, is near the right end of the southern coast - image
www.travelfair.com

I have visited Langkawi twice before this latest late Nov/early Dec 09 visit, but too long ago to write a useful blog page. So when the World Financial Crisis threw up some super-cheap fares into the area I grabbed two for Lady Tezza and me. We actually made two visits this time, separated by a 12 day island-hop across to nearby Ko Lipe and Ko Bulon Lae in Thailand.

The main beach areas from the north. Attractive Cenang is in foreground and Tengah starts right of headland half way across shot. There are some nice midrange/higher end resorts at the camera end - Pelangi Beach Resort, casa Del Mar and the lower priced and oft-praised Beach Garden. More budget oriented resorts begin a few hundred meters down beach. This section of Cenang faces due west with some pretty nice sunsets, but behind camera the beach turns and runs roughly east for a several hundred meters to a small river mouth - the huge Pelangi Beach Resort backs most of this section too.
At the far end of the two beaches, Southern Tengah faces north-west and misses the magic sunsets - the sun sets behind the headland and/or offshore islands.

Cenang is big on water sports with jet skis, banana boats and para-gliding pretty popular. But several sections are partitioned off for safe swimming which is possible at all tides, although you may have to wade out a fair bit at lowest tide. Tengah is similar but much quieter.


Opposite end. The main beach areas from the south. Cenang is far background left and you can see that Tengah is actually split into two sections by the small headland half way across the shot. It is possible to walk around this on the sand at low tide and high tide requires some simple rock-hopping. Tengah South, closest at right, is a wider nicer beach than the twice as long and still attractive Tengah North to its left. But because of two small creek entrances, the water is maybe not as clear. Actually crystal-clear water is not a feature at Cenang either. Both sections of Tengah are quieter than Cenang - as is the beach road which is not a continuous strip of retail like Cenang. Nevertheless, all the services except ATM and duty free are available along the main road which parallels the beach.


Cenang Beach from the southern headland. Flash structure front right is a new restaurant under construction. Maybe it's part of the Aquarium-Duty Free complex which is on the main road out of frame further right. Peaks in background are part of the northwest highland range - the cable car leads up to the highest point.


Cenang features some pretty neat beach bars with good music, colourful staff and pretty reasonable prices for drinks and snacks. Excellent places to be at sunset and after.


Our digs at Cenang were at Boutique Resort, on the main street across the road from the beach about one third the way from the eastern end. Actually the huge reception area and upstairs ball room(!) is on the main street - the accommodation-pool area is about a 200m walk further inland, although you and your luggage get driven across on arrival and departure.
This seemed by far best value for a midranger on Cenang when we researched - prices were not too much more than some of the flashpacker joints without pools. The tropical grotto pool complete with waterfall was a ripper. The rooms must have been fine when new, being huge and nicely furnished, but were beginning to get a bit rough around the edges - our carpet should have been replaced 5 years ago. But everything* was clean and worked, the staff were great and the inclusive buffet breakfast pretty good. *Note that despite being promised it was on its way several times, our room fridge never arrived.

There is easy access to the beach across the road and the place is surrounded by good shops and restaurants. The airport is about 10 minutes and rm 18 (at time of writing) away.



Killer absolute beachfront treehouses at Malibest - 4 in all, central on Cenang. These were a bit more expensive than my Boutique Resort room and I couldn't remember them from previous trips so I chickened out booking. But having seen them, I'd go for them next trip. Malibest also has more normal rooms, below midrange in price - get mixed reviews.


The famed mid-beach AB Motel a hundred meters east of Malibest has replaced its seaside A-frame chalets with these neat rooms plus an adjacent small hotel block. There are now similar rooms to the above across the road too. Prices have headed north but still below midrange. The place is well known for rude service, as shown by the older lady in reception when I enquired re vacancies - she acts as if she is doing a favour letting us stay in her place. Got that back to front. Very cheap internet and car/bike hire here.
Not too many of the old A frame chalets left on Cenang - nearby Sandy Bay Resort had a few, as did Sunset Beach Resort at the far eastern end. The best place to find really inexpensive rooms is up the lanes leading inland from the main beach road in the western half of the area.


Main street Cenang parallels the beach and is a collection of clothing/trinket/trip booking/general stores, restaurants, resorts entrances and down the southern end the Aquarium complex with some very good value duty free stores. There are a couple of money changers and an ATM in that area. Other stores seemed to have super competitive prices for casual clothing, beer etc. Restaurants had fine food and good prices.


Despite school holidays, Cenang was never crowded during the day. However numbers seemed to triple around sunset as locals and more tourists came out to play.


I've never stayed at Tengah Beach, so on our return from nearby Ko Lipe in Thailand we headed for the Lanai, which seemed to be best value according to user reviews. A really nice midranger right at the far end of Tengah South against the headland. All the usual inclusions, great staff, maybe best buffet breakfast all trip, nice wide section of beach, killer beach bar/cafe with half price happy hour drinks ($us1 beers) - food maybe 20% dearer than outside budget restaurants, but the servings we got at least 20% bigger.
2 good budget restaurants and a fine general store with car/bike hire about 5 minutes along the main road. Maybe 25 minutes walk into the duty free stores at the eastern end of Cenang - rm6 in a taxi. Airport 15 minutes and rm22 in a taxi at time of writing.
A number of other good midranger places on both sections of Tengah beach.


A lower cost place gets rave reviews in users' forums is Tropical Resort on the main beach road, Tengah North. It's only about a 10 minute walk in to Cenang from here. Contact numbers have been scarce so I called in and got a card - ph 04-955 4075/955 3075. There are 2 small shopping complexes + restaurants adjacent. Popular low budget Zachry's which has even got dorm rooms is nearby on the opposite (inland) side of the road.


TRIPS AND EXCURSIONS.
Langkawi has many operators offering a good range of excursions and daytips. You can do jungle walks, mountain bike trips, sailing including dinner cruises, visit crocodile farms, do mangrove/cave trips, snorkelling/diving on Coral Island (Payar Island) half way to Penang, city tours, cultural village visits, rice museum/farm visits, island hopping yada yada. Google will find a whole bunch of operators - one site which gives some good info and pix is Langkawi Discovery.
The TripAdvisor Langkawi Forum has some very good info on what are the good-uns and the crocks. One which gets lots of praise is the mangrove trip - but there are about 4 outfits offering this.
I'm not an excursion type person, preferring to do my own thing. Particularly when some of these trips run to over rm200. Hell, 200 buys a lot of Tiger beer.


One good value excursion is the 4 island half-day trip put on by several operators for rm35-45 if you join a group. All of these take in large, mountainous Pulai Dayang Bunting with its spectacular fresh water lake. Most also offer some beach time, snorkelling, a mangrove swamp tour, maybe eagle feeding/fish feeding etc.
Most trips are done in fast small boats, but this group of Chinese-Australians organised to be taken from Cenang Beach by jet-ski - 3 up including local driver. That would be a fair bit more expensive.

LANGKAWI CABLE CAR
Situated in the north-west of the island, this is on many operators' around-island itineraries, but is a good one to do independently.
The cost is a very good value rm 30 per person return to the top, no extra for the skywalk.
A taxi from Tengah cost us rm 30 one-way - it would be slightly less from Cenang. Many people get their taxi to wait at rm25 per hour, but we were glad we didn't - arriving late morning during school holidays we found a one hour queue to get aboard one of the 6 person gondolas. Of course we could have faced a wait for a free cab on return to the bottom - we were lucky, of about 8 waiting cabs, one was not committed to people still on the ride.
To do justice to the ride and intermediate/top stations/skywalk you need at least an hour once on the cable. Plus more time if you want to explore the extensive tourist village at the bottom station.
Note that when we returned from the top station at about 2pm, the queue had shrunk to around 20 people - maybe 3 minutes wait. Going past the carpark on another trip a bit later in the day on the weekend suggested Saturday and Sunday afternoons may be a bit busier.

Going up. Great value ride at rm 30 per person return.


Top station and skywalk from intermediate station which is maybe 75% of the distance to the top.


View from top station (700m+ above sea level) limited a bit by typical Andaman haze. Beach close right is adjacent to Barueau Bay Resort. Telaga Harbour, exit point for Ko Lipe speedboats, is to the left of two small islands mid-shot. Note center-foreground the mini-township of restaurants, entertainment facilities and shopping at the bottom station.
360 degree views show the nearby Thai island of Tarutao to the north (on a clearer day Kos Lipe, Adang and Bulon Lae would also be visible), some precipitous coastal views to the west and hinterland mountain views to the east along with part of the eastern north coast.



The skywalk shot from the top station. Accessed by a set of killer stairs near the point of photography. Note there are bathrooms and good value snacks/drinks available at the top station. Drinks often needed because security at the bottom station will confiscate any (visible) bottles of water.


Pretty impressive engineering/construction job - the drop into the gorge must be over 300m here.

AROUND ISLAND TRIPS.
Plenty of outfits will load you into a bus and take you on a trip around the island which takes in things like the main beaches, some waterfalls, the cable car, a mangrove boat tip, crocodile farm, craft village, rice museum etc. Hell, a bunch of Thai ladies came over on our speedboat from Ko Lipe and were shovelled immediately onto a waiting coach.
But if you like doing your own thing, you can hire a car (from rm 35 to 200+ a day depending on season and model), motorcycle (rm 20 up) or bicycle (rm 15 up) and set your own itinerary.
Lady Tezza dislikes my driving enough in Australia and didn't care to drive herself, so we booked a taxi for a 4 hour minimum block at the set price of rm 100. We took in 2 beaches and waterfalls in the north and from Tengah more or less circumnavigated the western half of the island - without stopping to swim or eat we managed to fill the 4 hours exactly.
I also wanted to revisit Guning Rayah (mountain) in the island center which is as high as the cable car summit, but our driver said his elderly Proton's auto-transmission was prone to overheating on the Tour de France type swithchback climb - which I remember as a blast on my hire motorcycle back in the 90s. This of would have added an hour and rm25 to the trip.


First stop was at what I regard as the nicest beach on Langkawi and in peninsula Malaysia, Tanjung Rhu. A wide strip of blinding white sand maybe a kilometer long in a sheltered bay on the eastern section of the north coast. There is a small river estuary backed by spectacular cliffs is on the eastern side of the bay. A little way up the river is the popular Mangrove Tour area which also takes in some cave areas. When the tide falls it is possible to walk out to the island in background, but other areas are still fine for swimming. Beach umbrellas are for super swanky Tanjung Rhu Resort, the only accommodation on the bay. If these are a turn-off to you, there is a swathe of deserted beach elsewhere. The even swankier Four Seasons resort is on a separate beach maybe 2km west, maybe not quite as nice, but pretty sweet by normal beach standards. There is a small collection of budget restaurants, shops, tour booking places where the access road hits Tanjung Rhu Beach proper.


Black Sand Beach is about half way along the main northern road. Only section of black sand on the island - seemed to be rutile stained to me, pretty common in Australia and here a bit of a tourist trap with lots of (good value) clothing and souvenir shops, food stalls etc.


Temurun Waterfall is maybe half way along the 12 km north-west coast road. Well signposted from the road, the path goes thru a nicely shaded picnic area and reaches after 5 minutes the first falls which are only about 15 m high but have a nice little pool for cooling down. Another 5 minutes leads via a shortish section of moderately steep stairs to this second falls area, the top 10% of which are out of frame. Dry season sees a mere trickle of water compared to the wet season pix on the notice board in the picnic area. The pool is maybe 20 meters across here and reasonbly deep in parts judging by the locals jumping from a 10m high ledge. There was no formed track to the third falls, but I saw a rough path which maybe is used by experienced bush/basher-climbers. A fair few monkeys in this area. They seemed non cheeky/aggressive but it is always wise to not leave valuables unattended.


The north west coast road has several smallish beaches with nice views of nearby Ko Tarutao in Thailand. The nicest is Pantai Datai, but this is private to the swanky resort of the same name. Pix shows Pasir Tengorak Beach, the first past the Crocodile Farm.


The Seven Wells Waterfall area, quite close to the cable car. Shot shows some of the pools at the first "well". A pleasant spot and worth the climb. The path splits above here to lead to the higher wells and you can eventually reach the summit of the peak after about 2.5 km.
In the background of this shot, the river steepens and starts the higher section of Terjun Waterfall - the lower, steepest section can be seen in the last shot. There is good fencing to stop careless tourists dropping over the edge.


Note killer stairs to the first "well". Total distance is about 450m. Lady Tezza works out on the stairmaster at the gym but got pretty weary on this climb. About 5 sheltered rest stations on the way up.


A better spot for viewing and cooling in the pools plus easier to reach is adjacent Terjun Waterfall, about half way up the stairway to the first "well". Clearly signposted, the path is a 200 odd meter relatively level walk to the left.

GETTING THERE
FERRIES
From the mainland the main port for Langkawi is Kuala Perlis with frequent inexpensive services.
There are less frequent services from Kuala Kedah further south on the mainland and from Penang.

From the Thailand mainland the same company runs 4 ferries per day to Langkawi from the Thammalang pier about 10km south of Satun. Emigration/immigration are done at the piers each end.
All services arrive at Kuah pier.
See Langkawi Ferry Services. for all of the above routes.

You can also travel from the Thai island of Ko Lipe by speedboat. At the time of writing the service seems shared by Telaga Harbour Shuttle and SPB Speedboat at 2 services per day. It's a good idea to book ahead (our return service was booked out well ahead), to waterproof baggage (I have a big 50+ liter thin plastic bin liner bag I chuck everything into and then stuff into my travel bag) and not sit out the front if you are susceptible to back injury (a girl on our return journey hurt her back on a vicious bump in heavy chop and had to be wheelchaired off to hospital on arrival). Emigration/immigration is done at SPB's office on Pattaya beach at Lipe and in the Telaga Harbour Office.
Tigerline normally runs their bigger, drier boat out of Awana Port just over the hill from Tengah, but this had not resumed eary in the new o9/10 high season.

FLYING
Langkawi has a busy airport with a big modern terminal. You can fly in from KL on Malaysian Air, Firefly and AirAsia, from Penang on Firefly and from Singapore on Silk Air and AirAsia.

GETTING AROUND
Hire cars are so inexpensive that many travellers grab one at the airport. Plenty of places in Kuah and the main tourist spots hire cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

Buses are virtually non-existent but as said, taxis are very inexpensive and are on fixed prices. All the drivers we met were very courteous. There is a taxi counter at the airport to buy your ticket.

Some expats want to bring their own cars via a vehicle ferry out of Kuala Kedah, but I read the tax-free status of Langkawi requires lots of form filling and a surety bond and makes the exercise not worthwhile given the cheapness of hire cars.

MONEY
There are 2 bank money changers at the airport with rates only 2% down on KL when I visited.
Money changers of various types can be found at the beaches and in Kuah - the rates I saw were not as competitive.
ATMS - 2 at the aiport. The CimBank one is a bit hard to see, at the back of its money change roundel.
Others can be found at Underwater World in Pantai Cenang, Perdana Quay, Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall and many in Kuah Town.

WHEN TO GO
Dry season is the best bet - this normally kicks in around late November and runs into April. However wet season is not out of the question - like the Thai Andaman islands further north there is usually enough sunshine to make a beach holiday feasible and prolonged wet periods are not too common (but can happen). Accommodation prices normally drop during this period.

Many advise that Malaysian and Singaporean public and school holidays can make the island busy - I was there at the start of the extended late November into early Jan school break and things were not too busy except at the Cable Car. However things could be different around Christmas/New Year and in shorter breaks.

Arriving unbooked at the time of the LIMA DEFENCE SHOW which normally runs for a week in late November or early December can be a mistake. I did this on my first visit and found the island completely booked out by keen airplane/warship spotters. This year I planned our stay to hop over to Thailand while the show was on - but on return locals told me things were not as busy because greedy accommodation people had jacked up prices too much. It was pretty neat lounging on the beach watching F15s F16s and F18s practising their aerobatics in the week before the show.
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If you visit Langkawi you might also be interested in nearby:

KO LIPE

KO ADANG

KO TARUTAO

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If you see any mistakes, please post them below. If you have any questions, please ask them in the FORUM section accessed via the INDEX. I don't check these individual pages often but I try to check the forum most days when not travelling.

9 comments:

Alan said...

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Alan

http://holidaydestinationinindia.blogspot.com

Feryhendrawan said...

blog walking :)

Renee said...

Awesome post! This is really, really helpful for a trip I'm planning in Dec. Thanks a lot!

Renee said...

Awesome post! This is really, really helpful for a trip I'm planning in Dec. Thanks a lot!

anaklangkawi said...

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Jonas Unger said...

great beach blog! love it

Psi Faal said...

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