2 Days in Langkawi on a Budget
Langkawi holds the distinction of being the first piece of Asia to emerge from the primordial sea. More than 500 million years ago, the Machinchang Cambrian poked out of the sea. The lush island, with its limestone karsts, dense mangroves, prehistoric rock formations, and rich diversity of flora and fauna, was awarded a UNESCO Geoforest Park tag in 2007. There’s plenty to do on Langkawi. Read our 2 days in Langkawi on a budget post to find out more!
Langkawi: The Jewel of Kedah is a popular destination for tourists for two reasons: first, it has gorgeous beaches and second, it is duty-free but beyond Langkawi’s popular tourist activities and its sandy beaches are swaying paddy fields and markets that sell some of Malaysia’s best food. Geographically, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea off the northwestern coast of peninsular Malaysia. Its natural uniqueness has been drawing researchers and wildlife enthusiast from around the world: in Langkawi’s rainforests, some of which are millions of years old, live more than 200 species of birds! Also, lemurs, flying snakes, and monitor lizards. Not only that, but there are also three geosites on the island: the first is a forested mountain range called the Machinchang, the second is a freshwater lake called the Dayara Bunting, and the third, the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. Tours are not cheap, especially if you are on a budget like us, but if you can, hire a naturalist to show you around the island.
Most of Langkawi is inhabited by ethnic Malays but the island shares an old history with neighbouring Thailand whose cuisine has come to influence the local food. Similar to Thai food, Coconut milk— coconut and rubber are two of Langkawi’s largest produce— and lemongrass are used generously here and best place to taste some of it is in the night markets that pop up at different settlements around the island. The island’s meandering roads, isolated hamlets, and quiet beaches are best explored on scooters. We hired a cab and our driver Muhammed, a cheerful man in his forties, showed us around the island’s northern half one afternoon. We drove down empty roads, the humid rainforest breathing placidly around us, with our windows down and listened to the island, its stories.
If you are travelling on a tight budget, here’s a 2 day Langkawi itinerary for you!
Day 1: Pantai Cenang, Waterfalls, Night Market
Morning: Sunrise from the Beach
Of course! No matter where on the island you are, the golden hour is magical. The limpid light adds a mystic aura to everything it touches. We watched the sunrise from Pantai Cenang, the beach near which we were lodging. The quiet beach, the briny breeze, the soft waves lapping on the shores, the sky brightening slowly and then all at once made for a scenic moment. Pantai Cenang is Langkawi’s busiest and most touristy beach but we stayed here because the accommodations around most of the other beaches are expensive. If you are planning to bike around the island, you can look for places inland; there are lodgings and cottages in the midst of paddy fields!
Most hotels have breakfast included; we were served a filling spread of toast, baked beans, eggs, and sausage at Shell Out, Cenang but you can drop into the Yellow Beach café or Amani café.
Afternoon: Chasing Waterfalls
Post breakfast, hire a Grab or a local taxi and head to Seven Wells or Telaga Tujuh Waterfall. The trek to the top requires you to climb 638 steps through the Machinchang rainforest. The waterfall, named seven wells after the seven wells or potholes that you can see, marks the contact boundary between the Machinchang Formation and Gunung Raya granite and as with almost everything in Langkawi, there’s a legend associated with this waterfall too! The seventh pool isn’t always visible and legend says that it is the bathing place of fairies of the forest. Some say spotting the fairies brings good luck provided you don’t share with anyone what you saw, while others say the opposite. If you can’t spot it, don’t go looking for it for the edges of the pools are slippery with moss and can cause accidents.
We were totally out of shape, thus totally out of breath by the time we reached the top but it was totally worth it! Pack a change of clothes and a towel if you plan to swim. If you don’t want to trek to the very top, a side walkaway will take you to the lower section of the falls but it can get crowded in here.
Next stop: Temurun Falls. The three-tier waterfall is Langkawi’s tallest. Located in the Datai Bay area, the waterfall is a short walk from the road. The wooded surroundings are quiet except for some macaque monkeys that live near the top. There’s another waterfall, the Durian Perangin Waterfall, further west that we did not visit. If you have time, check it out too!
Evening: Night Market
We ate at night markets in George Town, in Ipoh, and in Kuala Lumpur and we still can’t get enough of them! Fresh seafood— grilled, fried, and steamed in banana leaves—, halal meat sizzling on open grills, greasy noodles topped with meat and eggs and vegetables, rice and fried chicken with a side of sauce, fresh tropical fruit, are the highlights at Langkawi’s night markets. In these markets, the food is stripped of all pretensions and presented to you just as they are eaten in households around the island. We visited the Temonyong night market: a world of smoke fragrant with the aroma of sizzling meat, sweet tropical fruits including the notorious durian when in season, and various other ingredients. Women in colourful hijabs and young men, sweating over searing hot woks, mind the stalls. There aren’t many places to seat; most visitors order take-aways. We walk around and there are stalls selling otak-otak, a Malay fish custard steamed in banana leaves, various cuts of meat (both lean and fatty so check the skewers before ordering) skewered and grilled, fried anchovy balls, apom balik, fried mee dripping with grease and sauce, nasi ayam, and pisang goreng. Stalls selling fresh produce, clothes, accessories, trinkets, tchotchkes, and souvenirs are also there.
Later, we walked between paddy fields on the way to the beach. In the sky, stars have begun to make their daily appearance; a low moon hangs quietly above the horizon. We walk through past a closed butcher’s shop, past seafood restaurants (we heard good things about Telaga Seafood but didn’t eat there) brimming with tourists and plop ourselves on the beach and hear the waves sing in the moonlit dark.
The night markets are held at different places around the week. On Monday, there’s the Ulu Melaka Market. Tuesday is time for the Kedawang Market. The Kuah Night Market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Temonyong market is on Thursday and the Air Hangat market on Friday. On Sunday, there’s the Padang Matsirat market.
Day 2: Island Tours
Morning: Cable car (optional)
The cable car was a little too over our budget but if you are interested in the Machinchang, opt for this. The cable car and skybridge and offer rewarding views of the island, the seven wells waterfall, and the Andaman Sea. A 2.5 km trail, the SkyTrail, can take you all the way from the top station to the middle station and to the seven wells waterfall but it is not well-marked and getting a guide is recommended.
We spent our second morning sleeping in, legs aching from climbing the 638 stairs to the top of the Seven Wells waterfall. After a lazy breakfast, we walked all the down to Pantai Tengah. The beach was empty except for a lone guy and we sat on rocks, in the shade of gigantic trees we do not know the names of, and talked and talked. In the bright, sunlit sea towards Pantai Cenang, people rode banana boats and went parasailing. A ferry disappeared behind Pulau Tepor (known for its granitic dropstone), then reappeared again, only to sail out of sight again as it made its way towards the harbour. We watched the clouds make dark patterns on the turquoise water and on the jade islands. We watched the birds, the wind shaking leaves off the trees in the thicket behind us. We watched a man amble into the water, sit down awhile the waves wrapped his lower body is a watery cocoon, before ambling back. Another long walk and we emerged from the beach near Dash Resort, past adventure tour companies whose counters were crowded with tourists, past upturned boats smelling of the sea and of fish, past excited children, past resorts, and onto the road and we kept walking till we reached the jetty, where tourists were lining up for their island hopping tour. In the bay in front of us, the bobbing tourist boats seemed unreal, like origami boats, and I wondered about the eagles whose natural eating habits we were altering by feeding them. In this pandemic, when there are no boats to chuck meat at them, will these creatures be led by their instincts to hunt for prey?
TIP: If you arrived by ferry to Kuah, you’ve probably visited the Eagle Square, Dataran Lang, with its 12 m tall status of a reddish-brown eagle. If not, hire a taxi and head over. According to folklore, Langkawi’s name came from two Malay words, helang (eagle) and kawi (reddish-brown).
Afternoon: Beach Exploration / Island Hopping / Limestone Karsts Tour
After a quick lunch at a stall outside the Pantai Cenang mall for some delicious char kuey teow and mee goreng, Muhammed takes us around the island and shows us the island’s best-known beaches. First stop, Pantai Koh: pale blue water shimmering in the tropical breeze. Deserted with only a wooden picnic table, and the luxurious Danna nearby, the beach is a lovely spot for a picnic. We didn’t see anybody swimming here.
There were some boats moored near the black sand beach, our next stop. We didn’t see any boatmen and I wonder if they are local fishing boats or if they take tourists around. The Langkawi geopark website says that the erosion of granite tors, free-standing boulders that are part of the Raya granite and exposed by wave erosion, causes black minerals to accumulate by the beach, creating patches of dark sand. It’s quiet and deserted out there but the water doesn’t seem very clean. We sat on some mossy formations for awhile and watched a group of school children run around and pose for photos.
Tanjung Ryu, possibly the prettiest beach in these parts, with its white sandy beach and thickets of trees and the looming limestone karsts on one side. You can rent a fishing boat to explore the mogotes, sandbars, and secluded lagoons.
ISLAND HOPPING: If you are interested in the island-hopping tours, we recommend picking a tour that does not include feeding the eagles. Check with Dev’s Adventure Tours; they do not feed the eagles. You can visit Dayara Bunting, which is also known as ‘the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden’ due to the hills’ profile resembling a pregnant lady lying on her back.
LIMESTONE KARST TOUR: You can also opt for a mangrove tour, such as the one offered by Junglewalla and Dev’s Adventure Tours, through the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. You can read about Emma’s adventures on her blog: small footprints, big adventures.
Evening: Sunset and Fire Show
If duty-free shopping excites you, hit the stores. Else, for RM 10, rent a chair on the beach, buy some beers (cheaper if you carry your own beer from the duty-free stores across the street) and food and settle down for a slow night. Local boys perform fire shows on the Pantai Cenang stretch and sometimes they can get too close for comfort, but ask politely and they’ll leave you in peace. Some of the hotels by the beach also arrange romantic candle-light dinners on the beach; enquire in advance and let them know if you have any special requests. We spent hours just sitting on the beach, watching the stars, the waves breaking gracefully on the sand, watching the lights sparkle at The Cliff Bar and Restaurant (gorgeous views and great food, if you are looking for restaurants to dine at), and eating the lip-smacking shawarmas from Damascus Café. We were almost at the end of our 2 weeks Malaysia trip and it was just beautiful to sit with each other, in silence.
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