A short summary
We first traveled to Malaysia in November 2000 but back then we only had a short stop in Kuala Lumpur. This time we also wanted to try out a couple of beach destinations. We decided to go to Langkawi as it was a well established beach destination and we figured that it would be what we needed after being "adventurous" by going to Perhentian Island.
Planning the trip
Langkawi is a pretty well established beach destination and we know several people who have been there. The island is located on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia towards the border to Thailand. It is pretty easy to get there as both AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines has a service from KL. We bought tickets from Malaysia Airlines online as that gave us the best connection when we came from Perhentian Island. We paid 484 RM for a round trip for both of us.
Our main problem was getting a hotel. We searched around quite a bit and I found it a bit hard to grasp where the best place is to be on the island. We would of course had stayed at The Datai or the Four seasons but due to the price that was out of the question :-(
In the end we decided that we wanted to stay at Pantai Chenang (Cenang beach) and that did at least narrow the search for a hotel a little. We considered Casa del Mar but it was full. In the end we went for Pelangi Beach Resort based on location and reviews . The room didn’t come very cheap, and even after researching prices with online travel agents, we ended up paying 530 RM (145 US dollars) per night for the room.
Trip from KL to Langkawi
We went to Langkawi straight from our stay at Perhentian Island. When we got back to KL we just waited at KLIA for a couple of hours before our flight took off. The flight from KL to Langkawi is only about 1 hour and we arrived at the small airport in the afternoon. But even if it is small it is busy :-) When we had landed we had to walk from the plane over to the terminal and another plane came in at the same time and parked next to us - very noisy indeed. Getting out of the airport was pretty fast and we just got a taxi and I think we paid 16 RM for it. The ride to Pelangi beach resort is not very long…I would guess less then 10 minutes.
Pelangi Beach resort
The Pelangi beach hotel complex is huge. When we got there the check in was fast and efficient and we were driven to our room in a little golf car as the hotel is spread out on a fairly big area. We got room 3601 which has a lake view. Our room was located in house 36 and it contained 4 rooms on 2 levels. When we got in we saw that we had taken a step up in quality of accommodation compared to Perhentian Island resort. First of all the room was huge, the floor was made out of dark teak wood and the walls were a combination of dark wood and light wall paper. At the center of the room was a huge bed. I don’t think that we have had such a huge bed in any room that we have ever stayed in :-) As usual there was a desk with a chair, we had a small sofa with a little table where you could watch a small TV. The TV had channels like BBC, ESPN, Discovery etc. A door we thought led into the bathroom, actually led into the walk-in wardrobe. It contained lots of drawers, places to hang clothes, more than enough space to store our suitcases, a minibar and a kettle, a small safe, robes etc. The room had a remote controlled air conditioner :-)
From this room there was a door leading into the bathroom which was fairly small. But it was nice with tiles on the floors and walls and it contained a bath tub where you also had the option of taking a shower. As usual there were amenities like shower gel, shampoo, lotion, sewing kit etc. But I think it is the first time I have seen a shaving kit :-)
There was also a door leading out from the room to a porch. Here we had a nice view of the pond and a couple of fountains and there was a table and a couple of chairs. With a pond like this you would think that there would be a mosquito problem. Well, it seemed like they solved this with "chemical warfare"…a little golf car drove around one evening and sprayed out a thick smoke…I can not imagine that it is very healthy for humans either. But it seemed to help as we didn't really experience a problem with mosquitoes.
As I mentioned to start off with the hotel covers a huge area. There are maps on the paths around the hotel area so you don’t have to worry about getting lost :-). There are two pools to choose from and we tried the cascade pool a couple of times. You get a complimentary towel near the pool and then you can just jump in. The cascade pool had a couple of water falls, a slide for kids etc. Both of the pool areas were very nice as you can see from the pictures.
There are several restaurants on the hotel grounds but I can only comment on the Horizon pool bar where we had a pizza on the first night. The pizza was OK and cost 16 RM and the half a bottle of red wine was 40 RM. We also had breakfast in the room one day. The breakfast itself was not great but the selection of fresh fruits that we ordered on the side was amazing.
Go to the hotel lobby to get more information about hotel activities. We rented a car through the hotel for a day for 160 RM. The receptionists in the hotel lobby can also arrange snorkel trips, mangrove trips, recommend restaurants etc. When it comes to activities it is probably cheaper to book elsewhere. We booked a snorkel trip from a local shop down the road and saved a bit of money. There is a fitness club at the hotel where you can play squash, rent a bike to get around etc. The only thing I was not very impressed with at the hotel was the minigolf course. It was in bad need of a facelift.
The location of the hotel is quite good. Located on the north end of the beach Pantai Cenang it is easy to get to all the restaurants that are located on the beach strip, access to places like Underwater world and tax-free shopping. There is a taxi stand right outside the hotel so if you don’t feel like walking it is easy to get a taxi.
I think that there is only one problem with Pelangi Beach Resort…the beach itself is not very good. Yes, it looks pretty nice but very few people were swimming when we first came there. In the end I decided that I had to try the water to check out what the problem was. First of all it was low tide so you can walk very far before the water gets to knee height. The second problem is that the sea bed is made up of lots of tiny broken shells in addition to sand so it can be a bit uncomfortable to walk on it. So most of the people at the hotel seemed to prefer to relax at the poolside instead.
The Pelangi beach resort is a nice enough hotel to relax in for a few days. The hotel has lots to offer when it comes to activities and it is located close to the rest of the shops and restaurants at the Pantai Cenang beach. The price level seems to be higher here - if you look at accommodation and alcohol and the beaches were unfortunately not that great.
Checking out Langkawi
We started our first morning by just checking out our local neighborhood: Cenang beach. There are lots of hotels along the beach and you can also find shops, restaurants, minimarts, internet cafes etc. I’m not sure how long the beach is but we didn’t have any problem walking back to the hotel at night after we had been to a restaurant on the far side of the beach.
On the first morning we walked towards the middle of the beach and we stumbled upon Underwater World which is one of the attractions on the beach. Since the weather was not all the great - a bit cloudy and rainy but still warm and humid - we decided to check it out. So we paid about 36RM per person for the entrance and went in. As the name indicates this is an aquarium but it also contains other animals, birds, snakes, tortoises, seals etc. There is also a separate penguin section that was pretty fun. There is also a 3D cinema in the place and it is included in the entrance fee. But the 3D show was not very impressive I’m afraid. We have seen far better 3D shows in South Africa and different amusement parks in the States. Be careful not to use the flash on some of the aquariums by the way. I found it a bit funny to find a note on the sea horse aquarium saying that you should avoid using flash or else the poor sea horse can die of shock! With 5000 types of aquatic life, 100 different tanks and with a 15 meter tunnel when you can watch sting rays, sharks etc this is a place that is fun to check out for a couple of hours. Try to time it so that you can check out when they are feeding the seals and penguins. I think it takes place between 10-11 and 3-4 pm.
There is also a taxfree shop in the Underwater world complex. From what I understand Langkawi has been made into a duty free zone. So it is possible to buy alcohol, cigarettes, perfume etc at relatively reasonable prices on the island. The shop had a pretty good selection of SE Asian and Pacific beer so it was possible to get everything from Australian VB to Japanese Asahi.I have a colleague who enjoyes VB so that it the reason for this shot of me from the store :-)
Getting around the island
The island of Langkawi is not very big so you can easily get around it on a scooter or in a car. There are lots of places on Cenang beach where you can rent either. We decided to just rent at the hotel to make sure that every insurance was in place and day price of 160RM (about 45 $) was not really that bad.
We started by driving towards the town of Kuah located on the south east tip of the island. This is the only town on the island and we stopped to check it out for a few minutes since it was raining. There is more duty free shopping at the island’s largest mall “Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall”….according to a young local girl this was the only place in town for shopping. We also walked through the park Taman Lagenda to get to Eagle square. According to local folklore the name Langkawi means reddish brown eagle and as a symbol of this a huge eagle statue has been constructed near the jetty in Kuah. Taman Lagenda park also has a number of statues and monuments that tell local myths and legends.
We continued our drive north on the island and stopped by a waterfall called Durian Perangin on the way. It was starting to get really hot so we decided to buy an ice cold soda. At this place they served it the way it is done in some places in Asia….in a plastic bag with lots of ice cubes to cool it down and you drink it with a straw J We started walking on the path towards the waterfall and this your fellow started walking with us explaining about the area. The poor guy looked a bit disappointed when I explained that we wanted to walk on our own. It was not a long walk and the waterfall was not much of a sight as I guess March is not really part of the rainy season…so it was pretty much dried up.
We continued our drive and we drove out towards the Tanjung Rhu beach. The beach here was quite deserted and our only company was a few cows! We also regularly crossed paths with the same tourists making a similar island discovery. We made a short stop at the Craft and Culture center located not far away but we didn’t stay long as the place needs to be explored at a leisurely pace and we were getting worn out from driving all day.
Cable car to Mount Mat Cincang
Before we went to Langkawi I had heard about the cable car located on the north west corner of the island. So when we were out driving we decided that we wanted to check it out and enjoy the view. We just followed the signs to get there and we paid about 15 RM per person for the tickets. The cable cars were quite tiny and the first stretch only has two towers so on the last leg you can see how the cable hangs down due to the weight and it felt a lot steeper than 42 degrees. We reached the first station at 650 meter above sea level and we went straight to the second leg which took us all the way to the top at 705 meters. At the top there are a couple of huge observation decks. When we were there one of the two decks was closed to the public thanks to a Bollywood production and the same goes for a bridge that is suspended over the jungle forest near the top. It was a bit cloudy the day we went there so some of the view was spoiled by that…I bet the view is amazing on clear days. The trip down was as exciting as the trip up. I normally don’t have a problem with heights but I was a bit freaked out by these small cable cars, the high inclination and the wind that was swaying the cars. But as they say…you always make it down somehow….we made it down the safe way. But right after we came down the whole thing stopped for a minute. I bet the people were stuck in a cable car at the highest point were getting a bit nervous. At the bottom there is a tiny zoo of sorts. Well, I guess calling it a zoo is stretching it - it was more of a petting zoo with a deer and rabbits….lots of rabbits :-)
That was the end of our drive around the island. Before we handed back the car we had to find a gas station at night to fill up the tank. We found one about 10 minutes from the beach (there are some places on the beach as well but those were the old type…a barrel and a hand pump). When we came to the station I was a bit surprised to see that the station was operated by 4 Malay women and there was a bit of communication confusion as I didn’t understand if I was going to fill up the tank myself or if they were doing it for me :-)
Swimming with sharks – snorkeling at Payar
Although we had just come from Perhentian Island we still wanted to do some more snorkeling. So we kept an eye on the weather forecast and decided to go on a trip to Pulau Payar marine park. We also looked into going to a place called Butang Islands but that seemed more out of the way, required passports (which Nikki had forgotten in KL with our hosts) and was more expensive. We decided to go with the company East Marine and we paid 160 RM per person for the trip. We booked at a small booking agent place as it was slightly cheaper than booking at the hotel (the hotel was 180 RM)
We were picked up at about 8 am in a small mini bus and we drove to towards Kuah town. On the way we picked up a few other people that were going on the snorkeling trip as well. In situations with lots of strangers in a car there can be a bit of an awkward silence where everybody just whispers in their own languages. The silence in our car was punctured when we picked up a young local girl. I think she was half Malaysian/half German and we had barely closed the door before she was like “OK, where are you guys from?” :-) She had quite a talent because she kept on talking all the way from Cenang to Kuah. When we arrived at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club we got some tea and coffee before we went onboard the big boat Saga Ekspres. The trip out to Payar took about 45 minutes to an hour. On the boat snorkeling equipment was handed out but we had brought our own stuff.
When we first arrived I was a bit disappointed…it did of course look a lot more commercialized compared to what we had experienced in Perhentian Island. But as soon we got into the water and swam out a bit, the snorkeling was not bad at all. As usual there were lots of colorful fish, corals and some sort of sea urchins with long spikes. The kids had great fun just staying in the shallow water and they fed the small fish with bread. I doubt that it is good for the poor fish to eat that much bread. An ok lunch was included in the price: sandwich, some chicken pieces, spring rolls and some potato salad. After lunch they used the chicken leftovers as bait to attract black tip reef sharks. I guess they were only 1-2 meter but big enough to be just a bit scary. It was also amazing to see the speed of the barracuda when chicken was thrown into the water. It came through the water like an arrow to catch the pieces! I eventually dared to get into the water while the sharks were there…and it is very exciting to swim and all of a sudden see several sharks swim a meter or two below you. They claim the reef sharks are quite harmless and we didn’t have any problems. The scariest moment came when we were snorkeling back to shore and all of a sudden we could see the barracuda looking straight at us in the water. It didn’t move at all and it just seemed to stop and stare - it was a bit freaky.
At bit before 3 pm we packed up and got on the boat again and we were transported back to Kuah and back to our hotel. The snorkeling trip was fun and it was exciting to snorkel with sharks and a barracuda.
A bug story
I have to tell a bug story from Langkawi. When you go to a tropical country you have to accept that there are more bugs than you’re used to - they also tend to be a lot larger - at least compared to where I come from :-). After a quiet Malay dinner accompanied by a few drinks, we decided to walk back to the Resort from Matahari Restaurant. At one point the narrow pavement forced us to walk one behind the other, instead of beside each other. Out of nowhere Nikki starts yelling, screaming, pointing and backing away from me. Out of concern I moved towards her and asked what was wrong. In a rather deranged state she kept backing away, pointing and insisting that I not come any closer. At this stage a local guy was watching us - must have been quite an alarming sight to start off with. After much wide eyed pointing, Nikki finally caught her breath, made eye contact with the local guy and got me to turn around. And there it was - a charcoal coloured beetle of sorts, about the size of a newborn’s clenched fist attached to the back of my white top. This is when it got amusing - for the helpful local guy and me, at least. He helped peel the beetle off - it was rather reluctant to leave its rest stop - and then I tried to keep up with Nikki as she hurried back to the Resort.
I guess you can understand Nikki’s reaction - big bug (gets bigger after each telling), white top, it’s late and she’s tired … hmmm.
Eating and drinking out
We don’t really like to eat at the hotels we stay at so we only had a pizza there the first night when we arrived as it was getting late and we were tired after a long day.
One of the best meals we had was at a restaurant called Matahari. This place serves Malay food and I think it was recommended in some brochures that we found at the hotel. We just went there without making a reservation and that was not a problem because it was very quiet. We got a table next to a little pond and we would see leaves move all the time and hear water splashes. It turned out that there were lots of colourful frogs that were crawling around. When we first saw the waitress she looked like quite a foxy lady. When she came over to take our order I got a bit of a shock as she had a voice like a man and Nikki pointed out the closely shaved beard under the pancake makeup… But the food was great and the bill was 100 RM after we had starters, the main meal, two beers, two cocktails and juice.
We also ate at the seafood restaurant called Orkid Ria located on Cenang not too far from the hotel. We decided that we wanted to check out to see if it was as good as in Thailand. I think the bill came to 200 RM for a lobster, 3 big tiger prawns and beer. The meal was pretty good but I still think that the Thai seafood is better J .We also ate at Palace of India near the hotel on Cenang which was pretty OK. It was surprisingly quiet along the Cenang beach. We did manage a night cap at Carey’s café - with live reggae music.
As you might get the impression of in this trip report most of our time was spent on Cenang beach. It is not that long so you can walk a lot to get around. But you can also get a taxi and we think we paid 5-8 RM to get from one end of the beach to the other.
If you need an internet café you should not have any problems finding one. The best one we tried was a place called TCY International Travel & Tours located across the street from Underwater world. We spent an hour using two PC’s and I think that we paid 8 RM. The guy than runs the place was really friendly. When we sat down he brought us a cup of water. We had to take of the shoes before we came into the café and it looked like he had half of the neighborhood over to watch TV J
On March 29th we just relaxed by the pool at the hotel before we checked out and went over to the airport to fly back to KL.
I’m first of all disappointed over Cenang beach outside the Pelangi beach resort. The sea bed is filled with shells and coral so it is bit painful to walk on and the water didn’t look as aqua or clear as the east coast or neighbouring Thailand. Langkawi also seemed more on the quiet side. Maybe we were there outside the main season because all the restaurants and bars seemed pretty empty.
I have seen the question on different travel forums “Should I go to Thailand or Malaysia”. Nikki and I disagree when it comes to this question. I think that if you are just looking for a beach where you can go swimming, lots of activities, party at night then your best bet is Thailand. The hotels on Langkawi also seem to be more expensive compared to hotels on e.g. Phuket and Samui. We had to pay 145 US dollars per night for our hotel and we could have gotten cheaper deal at Hilton and Sheraton in Phuket.
Visiting Langkawi was nice and the highlight for me was snorkeling with sharks at Payar. But if we are going back to south east Asia for a beach vacation I don’t think that Langkawi would be my first option.