Part of a group of islands numbering nearly 100, Langkawi is the Malaysian archipelago’s largest and is often referred to as the Jewel of Kedah.
It sits in the Andaman Sea off the coast of northwest Malaysia near its border with Thailand. Though it’s relatively large and a popular tourist destination, large portions of the island have so far remained relatively undeveloped; this is particularly true in the northern part of the island that is the furthest from the airport and the more popular tourist areas in the south.
Langkawi is full of amazingly scenic beaches, nearly all of which feature clean white sand, jungle-covered mountains in the background, and shimmering blue seas stretching for miles in almost every direction.
There’s also a famous beach in Langkawi that’s comprised of black sand, and there’s no shortage of recreational activities for those who tire of the beach after an hour or two.
The island’s iconic cable car ride is the perfect way to see things from a bird’s eye view, and there is also a variety of natural, historical, and cultural attractions, many of which are centrally located and easy to get to.
In addition to its physical beauty, the island is also popular for its full-spectrum variety of dining and lodging options. Whether you’re a backpacker on a budget or a well-to-do retiree looking to be pampered, dazzled, and secluded, you’ll likely find an option or two that are perfect.
The island’s must-see attractions include the Oriental Village, Underwater World Langkawi, and the Rice Garden Museum. During peak season, accommodations can fill up quickly, so book well in advance if possible.
For those with flexibility in their lives, it’s worth considering a visit during the off-season, because there are great deals to be had and it’s more likely that you’ll have a pristine stretch of paradise all to yourself.
Though it’s mostly the exclusive domain of wealthy jet-setters, the private beach at Teluk Datai – or Datai Bay – isn’t necessarily off limits to everyone, but you’ll need to play your cards wisely if you want to get a good look.
Teluk Datai is located in the remote and undeveloped northwest corner of the island and is one of its most beautiful and undisturbed stretches of beach.
It sits in a concave depression and is framed by majestic, jungle-covered mountains and forests that obscure most of the manmade structures in the area.
It’s a region of the island that’s the realm of all-inclusive 5-star resorts like The Andaman, and since it’s quite a drive into town, most guests rarely leave the complex.
For those who’d like a taste of this lifestyle, even if only for a short while, it’s possible to enjoy this private paradise, but you’ll need to spend a few bucks at the restaurant or spa first.
Langkawi’s Black Sand Beach lies on the island’s north-central coast and is one of those rare places that seems to defy the laws of nature. After all, how often do you see a beach made of black sand?
The beach is usually an interesting and aesthetic striation of white and black sands. Due to its distance from the island’s more touristy southern and southeastern areas, it gets less traffic than many others, making it an excellent escape for those looking to unwind and enjoy nature.
Rumors abound as to the origins of the black sand; they’re as diverse as a curse by a scorned mermaid, solidified lava from the sea floor, and a mass burning and deforestation that took place in the region nearly 200 years ago. Whatever the case, Black Sand Beach is one of those places that’s a little out of the way but well worth the effort to visit.
Though today Langkawi is often overrun with tourists, in years past, that wasn’t the case. Back then it was the realm of adventure-seeking backpackers and European high-rollers, and not surprisingly, it’s not as easy as it once was to find your own stretch of heaven without sharing it with hundreds of other like-minded travelers.
Located just west of the large inlet that divides the island’s north shore, Pantai Pasir Tengkorak is one beach where it’s still possible to avoid the crowds.
It’s found along the road that leads to The Andaman, but unlike their private beach, Pantai Pasir Tengkorak is public.
There is ample parking but almost no facilities, and to reach the beach from the parking area requires a moderately strenuous descent among the rocks.
Don’t expect to hear blaring music and Wave-Runners, but seabirds, swooshing palms and gently lapping surf instead.
Located on the island’s north-central shore, Tanjung Rhu is characterized by the towering rock formations jutting from the water a few hundred yards offshore, which are reminiscent of scenes from The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Unlike the movie, however, Tanjung Rhu is home to a few of the island’s oldest resorts, of which Tanjung Rhu Resort is probably the most well-known.
If you head directly from the airport to Tanjung Rhu, you’ll immediately notice that you’re heading into an undeveloped area full of expansive tracts of thick forest and mountains.
Many visitors are a bit miffed to discover that the resort’s staff are pretty adamant about keeping non-guests off their beach, so if this is a scene you’d like to avoid, give them a call and ask whether or not it’s okay to visit.
Though Tanjung Rhu is beautiful and unique, it’s not the only game in town, so ask around for nearby alternatives.
Pantai Kok beach is located northwest of the airport, which is in the opposite direction to the most touristy areas. It’s relatively undeveloped and comprised mostly of upscale resorts like The Verandah, Terrace, and The Sheraton.
The beach is noted for its clear water and white sand that’s often scoured by resort employees, whose job it is to keep it looking pristine. In addition to its natural beauty, Pantai Kok is also known for its beautiful and architecturally unique lighthouse and yacht club, which sports impressive boats and Moorish inspired domed buildings.
Compared to other more popular beaches, Pantai Kok is quiet, up-market, and uncluttered, even along it’s swanky and trendy strip of shops, restaurants, and bars near the yacht club.
For those staying at the hotels, there are a variety of activities nearby, including the Langkawi Sky Cab and Telaga Tujuh Waterfall, making it the perfect choice for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Located on the southwestern edge of Langkawi’s tourist district, Pantai Tengah Beach is in many ways the perfect happy medium, making it a popular destination for the bulk of the island’s beach-loving visitors.
Connected to Pantai Cenang, it is the quintessential Malaysian beach in nearly every respect; it’s also known for its unobstructed mountain views that are particularly amazing at sunset.
With lodging, dining, and recreation options in abundance, making Pantai Tengah your base of operations while exploring the island would be a wise choice, especially for those visitors looking to make the most efficient use of their time and funds.
Despite its proximity to town, it’s still possible to find open stretches of beach that aren’t overcrowded, that are dotted with colorful local eateries reminiscent of the Caribbean.
Parasailing, kayaking, and jet-skiing are popular activities for those looking for a shot of adrenaline.
For the most compelling combination of sheer beauty, convenience, and plentiful options, Langkawi’s Pantai Cenang is hard to beat, and it’s no surprise that it’s the island’s most popular destination.
From guided scuba and mangrove tours to some of the island’s best seafood restaurants and bars, Pantai Cenang attracts convenience and value-minded visitors in droves.
Pantai Cenang is only about 10 minutes from the airport and is particularly popular with those traveling with kids, as it’s close to Underwater World Langkawi and the Rice Garden Museum – part museum and part open-air plantation that’s a big hit with families.
Unlike some of the island’s more private, remote, and exclusive areas, in Pantai Cenang, you’ll run into a wide variety of visitors from all over the world and all walks of life. In the past couple of years, Pantai Cenang has seen an increase in the number of traditional musical and cultural drama performances that are big hits too.