Langkawi, Malaysia travel guide and things to do: Nine highlights

wilderness trip

Long separated from mainland Malaysia, Langkawi is the custodian of unique flora and fauna, protected by its status as Southeast Asia’s first UNESCO Global Geopark. Kilim Geo-Forest Park has a history of more than 300 million years. Cruise through mangroves and spectacular limestone karsts, spot walking fish (mudskippers) and the occasional pod of dolphins and otters, then look up to spot Oriental spotted hornbills, macaques and francophone langurs. Sustainable, low-impact tourism company Junglewalla is run by leading Malaysian conservationist and naturalist Irshad Mobarak, who describes the cruise through Langkawi’s UNESCO Global Geopark as one of the best . “Huge limestone outcrops form the backdrop for the cruise ship, so every little corner is a photo opportunity,” he said. Departs daily from MYR140 ($45)

single island tour

Sitting in an archipelago of 99 islands (104 at low tide), Langkawi is just one island among friends, so island hopping is a must. Choose wisely before dipping into the freshwater Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of Pregnant Women). Made from the tears of princesses mourning their dead children, it is said that women who bathe here will soon become pregnant. To avoid 20 boats docking at the same beach, or to find that deserted beach, book your island cruise on a weekday afternoon.

one and only hotel

sunoct23covermalaysiaMalaysia cover story; text by Belinda Jackson (handout photo provided by reporter for travellers, no credit, no syndication) The Datai Langkawi xxLangkawi

One of the best hotels in Malaysia is tucked away in the rainforest on the north coast of Langkawi. The Datai was designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill, a leading figure in the Tropical Modernist style. Entering the lobby on the ridge, looking out, the resort stretches from the hill to the perfect curve of sand in Datai Bay: those are the Thai islands on the horizon. Its 54 covered rooms surround the main pool and restaurant, while villas face the beach or are tucked away in the rainforest, home to monkeys, exotic birds, flying squirrels and giant monitor lizards. As such, the hotel has a genuine, deep-rooted commitment to conservation. Take a guided rainforest canopy walk, or explore the fertile mangroves with knowledgeable nature center staff. Eight brand new tropical rainforest pool villas are lush, hidden and absolutely popular properties,

a view

View of Langkawi from the cable car xxLangkawi Langkawi Malaysia One&Olymp; Text by Belinda Jackson: iStock (reuse permitted, syndication prohibited)

Photo: iStock

Langkawi SkyCab glides through 550-million-year-old forests and takes you to the top of Guning Mat Cincang, the island’s second-highest mountain, for views across the island and the Andaman Sea. It takes 15 minutes to reach the highest station at 708 meters above sea level, where you must decide whether to continue on and complete the 125-meter-high Langkawi Sky Bridge (pictured above). To reach the bridge, follow the trail or take the SkyGlide Inclinator to the world’s longest free-span and curved bridge, which rises 100 meters above the forest canopy. Guides can share stories of the mountain’s creation and point out fossils and wildlife found here. Mountain baggers Note: There is also a trail to the summit,

a restaurant

Nam, an open-air restaurant within the BonTon resort overlooking the lagoon and tropical forest in the distance, is made up of eight antique Malay log cabins collected by its owner, Australian Narelle McMurtrie. Nam serves Asian and Western fusion food, with plenty of fresh fish and vegetarian options, and is a hit with the kids too. A wide variety of cakes are waiting for those who are willing. Time your visit to catch live music on Sundays. Afterwards, wander through the art galleries and first-class shops selling local crafts and discover Narelle’s vision for a cultural hub where singers and DJs, painters and musicians gather. The collection of buildings includes her animal rescue operations. See

One Beach

Pantai Cenang (Cenang Beach) is a two-kilometre stretch of white sand lined with coconut palms, cafes, hookah bars, market stalls selling brightly colored sarongs and huts that rent out water sports gear. Here, the waters of the Andaman Sea are always warm to hot, a magnet for ramblers and paddlers, beach bums and castaways. Bustling and full of life, pull up a chair at the beach bar, order a coconut or cocktail and watch the sun go down on the horizon. For the perfect deserted beach, naturalist Irshad Mobarak recommends the less visited Pulau Dayang Bunting Beach, or the tiny and lovely Pasir Tengkorak (Skeleton Beach) in the north of the main island near Temurum Waterfall.

single bar

The bar, restaurant and reception at Temple Tree Resort in Pantai Cenang are housed in a 100-year-old house shipped from the mainland town of Ipoh. Grab a spot on the balcony or in the garden under the tree of the same name, and order the signature Temple Tree Sling, a G&T flavored with cinnamon, kaffir leaf and star anise. Adjacent to BonTon Resort, this hotel brings together 21 traditional homes from all over the country, telling stories of architecture and people from Penang to Johor, For water features, beanbags and beer at Pantai Cenang is luxury Horizon Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, best time for sunset,

a store

Tiny Embun Embun is the epitome of sustainable tourism: local artisans craft exquisite rattan totes and clutches, hats and cushions from rattan, batik, coconut fiber and the pandanus mengkuang. Book in advance to visit the small showroom, where owner Rita Maria coordinates a group of weavers in the nearby area to preserve Langkawi’s craft skills and create jobs for women. See For a wider range of crafts, Kompleks Kraf Langkawi is buried in an isolated pocket in the north of the island and brings together all local crafts in one building. Recently renovated, it showcases classic Malaysian handicrafts such as glass blowing and batik printing. Stick around and you’ll find some stalls making hot fresh local sweets,

the only souvenir

Langkawi jewelry designer Ash Majid draws on Malaysian design traditions to create bold, stylish chokers, using curly batik or sonkret fabric as necklace “chains” for a distinctly Malaysian twist. Choose from her ready-to-wear collection, from MYR 200 ($60), or let the ultra-chic designer create a bespoke design. She is constantly developing new styles, including matching batik bangles, all hand-sewn in her Langkawi studio. Call ahead for a tour, Ash also does mail order,

And one more thing

Langkawi is a duty-free zone, and you’ll find duty-free shops in the main hubs of Kuah and Pantai Cenang, as well as on the streets around the airport, where a liter of mid-range gin costs around $30.

Belinda Jackson is a guest of Malaysia Airlines and The Datai (see

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