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Langkawi (Photo:Nataliia Sokolovska/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Anita K. Henry
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Langkawi

Aptly named "The Jewel of Kedah," Langkawi is one of the most spectacular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. Located about 17 miles off the coast of Kuala Kedah, Malaysia (and less than five miles from Ko Tarutao, Thailand), this beautiful cluster of 99 islands (104 during low tide) boasts year-round tropical climates, pristine white- and black-sand beaches and an abundance of natural wonders just begging to be explored. And, if that's not enough, the islands also offer an array of opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with many species of wildlife. One worth noting is the sea eagle, since Langkawi derives its name from this majestic creature. In Malay, helang is the word for "eagle," and kawi translates to "reddish-brown." So, it's no surprise that a statue of a massive reddish-brown eagle stands tall and proud in the Kuah harbor and welcomes visitors to this fabulous locale year-round.

About Langkawi


Pro

Traditional Malay villages against a backdrop of limestone islands and alluring beaches

Con

A car is needed to see the more authentic side of the island

Bottom Line

This understated destination amazes with its spectacular beauty


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Langkawi's heritage is steeped in myths and legends, with the most famous story surrounding a young maiden who cursed the islands with seven generations of bad luck (see "Don't Miss"). Following her death, Langkawi spent many years in turmoil and passed through the hands of the Siamese, British and Thai before finally gaining permanent independence in 1957. Whether it's coincidence or truth, Langkawi began to flourish in the 1970's, right around the time that the curse is said to have lifted. With a population of more than 60,000 people, today Langkawi thrives on tourism as well as many other industries, including the exporting of rubber, rice, teak wood and palm oil.

Pulau Langkawi, where the cruise ships dock, is the largest of Langkawi's isles and houses the majority of tourist attractions. The island is only about 154 square miles, making it a manageable size for taking in many sights during the course of a day. A rental car will buy you the freedom to wander at your leisure, and the best place to start is along the coast. Regardless of the direction you take, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the ocean, endless beaches for a quick or lingering dip, and a window into the lives of the Malay people as you pass by countless quaint and inviting villages along the way.

Where You're Docked

The Star Cruises jetty, where many big cruise lines dock, is about eight miles west of Kuah. Aside from a few resorts, this port isn't close to any of the main tourist attractions, so when you dock you'll need to either rent a car or take a taxi to explore the island. If you've booked a tour, the buses meet you right at the dock to start the excursion.

Good to Know

Langkawi is an extremely safe place for tourists. Many locals depend on tourism for their livelihood, so you're almost certain to be met with friendly faces everywhere you go. Although the island is practically crime-free, you should still protect your valuables. Don't invite someone to take something from you by leaving it unattended, no matter how comfortable you might feel.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The Ringgit (RM) is the official currency of Malaysia. Some tourist shops will take U.S. dollars, but those places are few and far between. And, despite Langkawi's proximity to Thailand, store owners will not take Baht. The best places to exchange money are at the airport, banks and some of the larger resorts. And, if you find yourself running low, there are several ATM's in Kuah and at the Kuah jetty near Eagle Square. For current exchange rates, visit XE.com.

Language

Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't speak -- or at least understand -- English. And, since Langkawi is a popular tourist destination, a great deal of the signage is also translated into English.

Shopping

Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall (sandwiched between Eagle Square and downtown Kuah) houses many shops that specialize in beautifully handcrafted plates, made from the bark of Malaysian cinnamon trees. These elegant plates come in all shapes, sizes and designs and make the perfect accents for entertaining back home. You can also find a healthy selection of these dishes at the Oriental Village gift shop at Kereta Kabel (see below).