A place in the sun
With year-round heat and spectacular scenary, head to unspoiled Langkawi in Malaysia for a tropical treat on a budget suggests Sarah Wilson
The archipelago of Langkawi off the west coast of Malaysia consists of 99 islands in the balmy Andaman Sea, many of which are uninhabited. Deserted beaches with pure white sand are fringed by coconut trees, and majestic mountains rise up behind to create a dramatic backdrop.
1. Head to Cenang Beach: whether you fancy jet skiing, snorkelling or scuba diving, make this lively beach your starting point. Jet skiing is a great way to explore the craggy coastline as well as speed along in the open sea. Try a jet-ski safari accompanied by a guide who will take you to all the best spots (from £110 for a four-hour trip with megawatersports.com). You’ll stop off at Pulau Dayang Bunting , which is one of the larger islands and part of the geoforest park, here you will have chance to swim and follow a trail up through lush rainforest to the vast freshwater lake ringed with tree-covered limestone cliffs. Watch out for the cheeky long-tailed macaque monkeys who will try to snatch your phone. When you get back to Cenang Beach, be sure to watch the sunset at one of the beach bars with a jug of frosty Tiger beer or a tropical-themed cocktail. At The Yellow Café, you can relax while you lounge in a bright yellow hammock or beanbag. Then wander along the main thoroughfare to sample spicy noodles, chicken or prawns from one of the many street food stalls or seafood restaurants, where you can expect to eat well for around £20 for four.
2. Go island hopping: Cenang Beach is also a good place to book on to a boat trip if you fancy exploring in a more leisurely fashion. Alternatively hire your own boat – it’s possible to drop anchor in a secluded cove and you won’t see another person all day. Be sure to take your own food and drinks though. The white sand is pristine and the sheer limestone crags form the most spectacular backdrop, perfect for an unforgettable beach picnic. If you like the idea of a sunset cruise while enjoying a traditional Malaysian buffet, you won’t be disappointed with one of the trips out of the Yacht Club. Relax on deck with a glass of wine while you watch dolphins and flying fish, then as the sun starts to dip you will be able to snap the most amazing sunset as the vivid sky flames pink, orange and lilac (from £12 for a 3½ hour island-hopping tour with yourcruiseservices.com).
3. Take a mangrove tour:endorsed by UNESCO, the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, with its hidden canyons and ancient limestone caves, is renowned for its steamy mangrove swamps. The best way to explore the hidden waterways is on a small personalised tour with a guide. You’ll see white-bellied sea eagles soaring overhead, and get up close to monitor lizards basking on branches on the river banks. You may even spot a pit viper camouflaged in the foliage, if your guide knows where to look. There’s also a visit to a dark and eerie bat cave, while a lunch of local dishes is at one of the floating pontoon restaurants on the river. Try Dev’s Adventure Tours – £32 for a 5-hour trip, langkawi-nature.com
4. Visit a night market: held every day of the week in different locations, these markets consist of vendors setting up makeshift stalls and selling locally made trinkets as well as fabulous street food. The idea is to try small portions of local Malaysian delicacies including nasi lemak (coconut milk rice served with spicy sambal sauce, toasted peanuts and cucumber), chicken satay on a stick cooked over charcoal, and pisang goreng (banana fritters), with freshly squeezed mango, pomegranate and coconut juices ladled out of vats. The food is great value, priced at about I ringgit (20p) for a portion so take plenty of small change. Find out more info about the night market schedule at theislanddrum.com or ask at your hotel reception.
5. Ride the cable car: the mountainous scenery of Langkawi is breathtaking. For the most awesome views ride the SkyCab up to the top of Machincang mountain. You will glide above the rainforest trees and can gaze out to the islands of the archipelago and beyond to Thailand, which is half an hour away by boat. Enjoy one of the steepest cable car rides in the world – there are sections of glass panels in the floor so you can look down to the jungle – once at the summit, you can walk the curved Sky Bridge, which is supported by suspension cables from a single pylon in the gorge below. It looks spectacular and the panoramic views are really something special. (SkyCab with glass bottom gondola, from £20 per person, panoramalangkawi.com).
6. Fly through the jungle: try a zipline eco-adventure, where you will soar through the rainforest canopy and over stunning Seven Wells waterfall, with clear views all the way to the Andaman Sea beyond. With 12 ziplines and four skybridges the scenery will take your breath away. So, although you might feel a little nervous at first, you’ll soon be enjoying the experience far too much to turn back once the descents get really thrilling. Your guides will accompany you all the way and point out the wildlife as you go – if you’re lucky you might even see flying lemurs (Big Waterfall Adventure, £95 each for 2½ hours, ziplinelangkawi.com).
Duty free shopping
Langkawi is a duty-free destination so head to Kuah Town and Pantai Cenang to stock up on your favourites items from designer labels, jewellery, bags and perfume to alcohol, chocolates and kitchenware. You can buy as much as you want but remember you will need to stick to duty-free limits coming back into the UK.
Food & Drink
The food in Langkawi is a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian – think hot, fiery and fresh. Local specialities include kadai chicken with piquant spices, seafood masala and mysore rogan josh flavoured with yogurt, garlic and ginger. Seafood is fresh and plentiful, and crab, lobster, king prawns and squid are all widely available. Fish is marinated in spices before it is wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over charcoal then served with steamed rice. The best introduction is via a traditional buffet-style lunch at a roadside restaurant, where you can choose a combination of great fish, meat and vegetable dishes, as well as an array of curries and salads. The best of these are Restoran Siti Fatimah and Restoran Selera Kampung, which both have a huge selection of traditional dishes served buffet-style for lunch. Simply pile up your plate then get it weighed. Ask at your hotel reception how to find the best roadside restaurants. Or try a traditional Malay tiffin of soto ayam (spicy chicken soup with crispy vermicelli rice, bean sprouts, lime and chilli), king prawns in turmeric and beef rendang at Planter’s at The Danna (thedanna.com).
Where to stay
The Danna: an elegant hotel that features a mix of colonial influences with a cool white exterior, potted palms and overhead fans, and is set in pretty gardens with lush greenery and tropical blooms. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, with huge baths and every last comfort is seen to. Wake up and slide open the door to step out onto your private balcony and you will feel like you have arrived in paradise as you take in the view of the beach, the coconut trees and the tranquil sea beyond. With the sounds of the rainforest all around and the balmy tropical heat warming your skin, there’s no better way to start the day. Head to the breakfast buffet featuring Malaysian, Chinese and Indian specialities cooked to order, along with the usual eggs, pastries and yoghurt plus platters of fresh mango and pomelo. And there’s complimentary champagne at breakfast too. The vast infinity pool is a highlight, and the waiters will bring you drinks and snacks as you lounge on one of the comfy daybeds.Or head down to the quiet beach for a dip in the sea or a swing in a hammock (from £250 per night, thedanna.com).
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (£1 = 5MYR). Take sterling or dollars and change them at the cash counters. Credit cards are also widely accepted.
Time difference: +8 GMT
Medical: there are no essential vaccinations needed for travel to Malaysia. Take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes though. For more information, see nhs.uk/conditions/travel-vaccinations
Getting there: fly with Singapore Airlines via Kuala Lumpur with prices from £755, singaporeair.com. Or holidays are available from Virgin Holidays (virgin holidays.co.uk) with a package including flights from Heathrow, transfers to the hotel and accommodation for 13 nights from £1300 per person. Prices can vary throughout the year depending on the season.
Weather and climate: The temperature is hot all year enjoying an average high of around 31oC, with the hottest months being January to March. Mid-season is from April to August where it’s neither too hot or too wet. The rainy season is from September to mid-November, where you can expect around two hours of rain a day – often at night – so you still see plenty of sunshine and you can get some bargains at this time of year in terms of flights and hotel rooms.
Getting around: Langkawi is small, around 30km from the northern tip to the southern tip of the island. It’s easy to get a taxi and Uber operates really well. Expect to pay around £3 for a 15 minute ride. You can also book a taxi for an island tour. Alternatively, hiring a car is easy and a big plus is that they drive on the left-hand side of the road. For more information, go to langkawi-insight.com.