Malaysia has heavily promoted Langkawi as a resort which in itself would be indication that a lonely island paradise won't be found except at a price. Well, that was okay, we weren't looking for that exotic beach getaway because such places so hardly exist anyway. No sooner does someone discover a fantastic stretch of beach that they build a hotel and development sets in. But then again, that's okay. We only had three days. We didn't care. We were escaping Songkran. An island, a beach, some seafood, maybe some snorkeling. Our demands were not great. So that said, how was Langkawi? A bit of a disappointment, I'm afraid.
We arrived at the boat jetty from Penang, met by the usual scrum of aggressive taxi drivers which we ignored choosing instead one from outside. 16 ringgit fixed fare from the main town of Kuah to the southwest corner of the island with the well-developed beaches of Pantai Tengah and Pantai Cenang. We had reservations at the sprawling Aseania Resort, which boasts a 156-meter long swimming pool complete with fountains and waterslides. I had read fairly good things about this pink palace and figured why not splurge a little. Room rate for their cheapest rooms was 129 ringgit (about $35 US). Fair enough. The pool was nice, the rooms okay. If I could voice two complaints with the room it was the TV having only five channels and an A/C unit not powerful enough to adequately keep the room cool. We complained about the A/C and that was the excuse they gave us. Overall, the resort could really do for a coat of paint and a few more hallway lights.
Once checked in we made the usual beeline to the beach. Now, I was really disappointed. The stretches of beach not fronted by a resort were absolutely filthy. Really now, they are promoting this island as a world-class beach resort and they can't find a little money to pay someone to clean the beaches each day?!?!?
We've moved down to a reasonably clean stretch of sand in front of a resort and while the beach was better there, the water wasn't the most inviting of colors and the occasional plastic bag or other bit of debris from time to time rubbed against my leg eliciting a reaction from me not dissimilar to, I don't know, had it been a Bull Shark? Time to go back and check out that big swimming pool at the Aseania.
The whole area along the two beaches of Pantai Tengah and Pantai Cenang was a general disappointment. As I said, I wasn't expecting anything exotic but not only were the beaches filthy in certain areas, if you walk along the road fronting the beaches looking for a place to eat you might as well stop at the first restaurant you come to because the dozens of restaurants - with the exception of a couple of Indian places, were all offering virtually identical Asian menus in identical Chinese-round-table settings. This is an area just begging for someone to come in and offer a little culinary variety. And the prices were on the expensive side. A dinner for the two of us including a bit of seafood but no alcohol ran around 55 to 75 ringgit.
Next day we did the motorbike rental thing, again a 100cc step-through, and set out to see some of the island. Didn't see too much as it was very hot and we decided a car would have been a better option. The following day we did just that and opted for renting a car and saw a bit more of the island, most of it really. Car rental is fairly cheap, we got a compact for 60 ringgit and ate up another 20 ringgit in gas.
Gunung Raya is the highest point on the island, an 881-meter mountain with a winding road to the top. I'd show you pictures of the view from up there but it was pouring rain and the only view was of the windshield wipers. Later that day, the clouds lifted and spectacular views I'm sure could have been had but we were now on the other side of the island.
Supposedly, the best beaches are on the northwest at Teluk Datai and we did drive up the way and found the area to be quite nice. Not surprisingly, the island's most expensive resorts are here. We did find an open stretch of public beach and not surprisingly either, it was covered in garbage.
The Temurun Waterfall is nearby and it takes no effort to see as it's right along the road and parking areas are provided.
We dropped in at Pantai Kok which I thought might be nice, and there is the Summer Palace here constructed for the filming of the banned in Thailand movie, Anna & the King. For whatever reason, the place was a zoo, looked like some school sporting and games event was going on and we fled the scene in terror.
Underwater World is the island aquarium complex, within easy walking distance of our hotel. Plenty of local fresh and seawater marine life on display. Worth a visit.
Langkawi also boasts duty-free shopping which like most duty-free shopping means stocks of perfume, liquor, and cigarettes at inflated (but tax free!) prices.
Most advice on Malaysian islands and beaches is that it's better on the east coast or even in Thailand. I suppose that's true.
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.