Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 km off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia. It is located in the northwestern corner of peninsular Malaysia within the State of Kedah. The islands are a part of Malaysia’s Kedah state, but are adjacent to the Thai border. By far the largest of the islands is the eponymous Pulau Langkawi with a population of some 45,000, the only other inhabited island being nearby Pulau Tuba. Langkawi is a duty-free island.
Origin of the name
The name Langkawi is a combination of ‘Lang’ and ‘Kawi’. ‘Lang’ means ‘Helang’ eagle in Malay. In the past days the land was a home to innumerable eagles. ‘Kawi’ is the Sanskrit word for marble, which is found in excess in this part of Malaysia. Both these words together joined to form the word ‘Helangkawi’ which ultimately became as Langkawi.
Another reference found in the book of Tun Mohamed Zahir’s named ‘The Legends of Langkawi’ which says its a mix of two sanskrit words ‘Langka’ (beauty) and ‘Wi’ (innumerable).
Langkawi lies north of the Straits of Malacca in the southern Andaman Sea near the border between Malaysia and Thailand. Only a few kilometres to the north lies the neighbouring Thai island of Ko Tarutao. The island group’s main town, on the main island, is Kuah.
Langkawi’s highest point is Gunung Raya, rising to 890 m above sea level in the main island’s central-eastern area. The Isles of Langkawi consists of 104 islands with a total land area of about 528 sq km (204 sq m).
The name “Langkawi” is believed to be related to the kingdom of Langkasuka, centred in modern-day Kedah. The historical record is sparse, but a Chinese Liang Dynasty record (c. 500 AD) refers to the kingdom of “Langgasu” as being founded in the 1st century AD. ‘Langkawi’ means Eagle Island, it may be noted, and indeed there is a great abundance of eagles in the area. In Kuah, the capital, there is a huge eagle monument in Eagle Square which commemorates the origin of Langkawi’s name.
Langkawi eventually came under the influence of the Sultanate of Kedah, but Kedah was conquered in 1821 by Siam and Langkawi along with it. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 transferred power to the British, who held the state until independence, except for a brief period of Thai rule under the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. Thai influences remain visible in the culture and food of Langkawi, while Thai language is still understood by many on the island.
Langkawi was the site of the Langkawi Declaration, issued by the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations and making environmental sustainability one of the priorities of the Commonwealth.
Langkawi Island has recently been re-branded to LANGKAWI GEOPARK to better reflect the island’s recognition by UNESCO as a World Geopark (on June 1, 2007).
Three of its main Geopark components are Mt. Machincang Cambrian Geoforest Park, Kilim Geoforest Park and Pulau Tasik Dayang Bunting (Island of the Pregnant Maiden Lake).
Sheltered by the mountainous backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, Langkawi escapes the northeastern winter monsoon entirely and enjoys sunny skies when the eastern provinces are flooded. Coupled with natural white sand beaches, lush jungle foliage and craggy mountain peaks – but hampered by inaccessibility – the island was at one time touted as “Malaysia’s best-kept secret”.
Langkawi remained a sleepy backwater until 1987, when the island was granted tax-free status with the intention of promoting tourism and improve the lives of the islanders. Subsequently the island’s airport was upgraded and ferry links were increased. The following boom was spectacular and now Langkawi figures on most every European travel agency’s radar.
Today, Langkawi competes with nearby Penang for the title of Malaysia’s largest tourist draw. Resorts and 5-star hotels line the beaches and, in the winter high season, direct flights land from as far as Europe and Japan.
Besides being tax-free, the beach and eagle, another attraction in Langkawi is the Cable Car to the tops of Gunung Mat Cincang at 705m above sea level.
Galeria Perdana a collection of over 2500 gift to the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad.
Langkawi is affected by the milder western monsoon (May-September), and while diving is possible at Pulau Payar, water clarity tends to be poor.
The Langkawi Geopark is Malaysia’s first geopark. The total land area of Langkawi Geopark is about 478 square kilometres.
The main island is accessible by sea from Kuala Perlis , Kuala Kedah and Penang or by air from Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore.
Identified as the ‘birthplace’ or fetus land of the region, the terrain and natural landscape reflect the geo-diversity of the islands that is deeply entrenched within the complex geological history of the area. Langkawi Geopark has the best-exposed and most complete Palaeozoic sedimentary sequence in Malaysia originating from the beginning of the Cambrian to the Permian period. Later, during the Mesozoic era, the islands underwent a major tectonic even that resulted in the emplacement of its numerous granitic igneous bodies. This incredible power generated by nature from deep beneath the earth’s mantle had pushed up huge blocks of older rocks and placed them above a very much younger terrain.
In Langkawi geological history, much of the development is linked to events that occurred during the time of the prehistoric supercontinent of Pangaea and the southern hemispheric Gondwanaland more than 550 million years ago. It probably began with the deposition of the Machinchang sandstone in a lacustrine environment during much of the Cambrian time. This was followed by the submergence of the land during the late Cambrian period (~500m.y.), which saw the invasion of shallow marine fauna into the seas around Langkawi. The continuous subsidence of the sea floor resulted in the formation of thick limestone of what is known as the Setul Formation during the Ordovician period ( `440m.y.), at the end of which the sea became too deep, causing the limestone deposition to cease.
The Setul limestone continued to develop from the Silurian until the Middle Devonian ( ~370 m.y.) period, followed by the deposition of sandstone and mudstone – an occurrence that is related to the rafted ice during the melting of the Gondwana ice cap.
The Chuping limestone is believed to have stopped depositing before the end of the Permian era (~245 m.y.) by this tectonic event that among others had brought up a large block of earth crust in the eastern part of Langkawi and overlapping the much younger block in the west. The tectonic event ended with the emplacement of granite beneath the Langkawi crust at the end of the Triassic (`220 m.y.) era. The black sandstone and mudstone of the Singa Formation evolved during the early Permian era (~280 m.y), before the sea level was slowly brought up by a complicated tectonic process.
What is in Langkawi today are the combined results of these processes. The prolonged weathering that took place ever since the land mass of Langkawi was brought to the surfacearound 220 million years ago has produced a beautiful mountainous range of Machinchang sandstone at the northwestern corner, the conical Gunung Raya granite at the center and a rugged terrain of Setul limestone in the east. In the southwest, the Singa Formation dominates, while the Chuping limestone found itself in the western part of Pulau Dayang Bunting. Some of the landscapes are truly outstanding, particularly those of the Machinchang and the karstic limestone in the eastern part of Langkawi.
Based on its outstanding geological landscape and other associated features such as the sedimentary structures, fossils and erosional effects, Langkawi certainly is geological heritage of high value.The Langkawi islands are mainly protected under the jurisdiction of the Permanent Forest Reserves, Recreational Forest or Geoforest Park that are overseered by the Forestry Department.
How to get there
From the Kuah jetty, there are high-speed ferry connections to Satun in southern Thailand, Pulau Payar, Penang, Kuala Kedah and to Kuala Perlis in the mainland of Peninsular Malaysia. Star Cruises ships dock at the Awana Porto Malai harbour on the west coast of the island. The Langkawi island has a well developed road network. Taxis and car rentals are available at the Langkawi International Airport.
Langkawi International Airport has direct connections to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, plus some long-haul international flights in the high season. The modern terminal building provides basic facilities including ATMs, money exchange, and a range of transport services.
Most flights are with one of three airlines:
- AirAsia operates 5 flights daily from/to Kuala Lumpur. (Services to Bangkok have been terminated.) Cheap and efficient.
- Malaysia Airlines fly several times a day from/to Penang and Kuala Lumpur. They are not the cheapest, but prices are still normally reasonable. Direct flights to London have been terminated.
- Silk Air fly from/to Singapore twice daily. This is a short-haul, lower service version of Singapore Airlines. The prices are reasonable.
- Firefly newly launched airline which flies from/to Penang twice daily. This is a short-haul, lower service version of Malaysia Airlines. Prices start from RM9 excluding tax.
But many still prefer the more adventurous crossing by fast air-conditioned boats from Kuala Perlis or Kuala Kedah on the mainland. Some even take the special ferry services from Penang Island. The usual jump-off points are from Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah. The one-way fare from Kuala Kedah is RM18.
From Penang to Langkawi – Ferry trips average 3 hours each way. From Penang, 8.15 am and 8.30 am ferry trips but ask if the ferry stops at Pulau Payar to pick/drop passengers. Avoid the Pulau Payar one as it saves about 15-20 mins. From Langkawi, the ferry trips to Penang are at 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Price for return trip (you can have an open booking for the trip back – confirm while you are on Langkawi island later) is RM85 per person. You can park your car at the parking space in front of the Penang Clock Tower for RM10 for the 1st day and RM5 for subsequent days. It is safe to do so – guarded at night by the Chinese who take the parking fee from you.
From Southern Thailand
Four ferries daily between Satun and Kuah. Operated by Langkawi Ferry Services, Tel: +60-4-9661125/9661126 in Langkawi; +6674-730513 in Satun.
Taxi service is probably the only public transport available on the island. The most popular way of getting around is by renting a car or a motorbike.
For tourists coming to Langkawi by ferry, there is something you need to watch out for. Once you get off from the ferry at Kuah Jetty, you will be approached by a lot of ‘agents’ asking you to rent a car or book for accommodation. Don’t fall for it. They are from illegal car renting companies who also act as middlemen for some accommodations. You are guaranteed an expensive price for a poorly maintained vehicle. Why get involved with these illegal syndicates and risk your own safety? Just observe yourself, once they see the police coming, they flee. You can rent a nicely maintained car from the legitimate car renting booth in the ferry terminal building at a cheaper price.
You can still rent a car or motorbike at Pantai Cenang, if you decide not to rent one at the jetty. Remember to have sufficient fuel in the tank as gas stations are far from one another. Lastly, remember to drive safe and slowly on the island. There are tourists, children and often live stocks like chicken, cow and even buffalo crossing.
What can you do there
You can enjoy the following activities in Langkawi:
- Birdwatching – there are over 200 species of birds to spot.
- Cable Car – the view from the top is amazing, walking across the suspension bridge is scary but great fun.
- Countryside Biking.
- Day cruise on a yacht.
- Jungle trekking.
- Mangrove Cruise.
- Mangrove River Safari & Dinner.
- Mangrove Kayaking.
- Nature Walk.
- Scuba diving and snorkeling around Pulau Payar Marine Park
- Feed the sharks.
- See the island from a bird’s eye.
- Walk above the clouds.
- Underwater World, 604-955 6100. Every day 10AM-6PM.
Langkawi is a tax-free zone, so normally cheap Malaysian shopping is even cheaper.Hotel tariffs and retail goods are exempt from government duty. Visitors with more than 72 hours stay in Langkawi are exempt on items like wines and liquor (1 liter), tobacco (200 cigarettes), apparel, cosmetics, souvenirs and gifts, food and food preparations and portable electronic items (one item). Video cassettes require clearance from customs.
Shop around before buying: the airport is probably the most expensive place to buy anything. Shop in Kuah town for batik, tobacco products and chocolate confectioneries.
Kuah Town night market. The local market is held once per week. Walk through the market to enjoy the sights, smells and tastes. Well worth a visit.
Coin/card based public phones are available in many places.
Mini Post Offices can be found in Padang Mat Sirat and in the Padi Complex in Pantai Cenang. Main Post Office in Kuah Town.
Police Station and two shopping mall 1)Langkawi Mall and 2) Samudera are also located in Kuah Town. You can also find one cineplex in Langkawi Mall.
Broadband is available and many Internet cafés can be found along Pantai Tengah, Pantai Cenang and Kuah.
Beach Garden Resort on Pantai Cenang offers free WIFI at the restaurant area.