Situated on the west coast of Malaysia and just 1 hour flight away from the busy KL, Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands. The main island itself, according to locals, is the biggest island in Malaysia.
Photo Credit: Unsplash. My nature photography is really bad. But you get the idea. It is stunning here!
What’s my impression of Langkawi? For me, it is like a bowl of comforting stew. It has a blend of all the good ingredients to make a good traveling and nomading experience (the people, the scenery, the roads, the service, the price,…). Like a stew, Langkawi greets you with a warm welcome and it sure does make you full of joy and comfort after you get a taste of it.
This is a story of how I explored Langkawi in a day. It is by no means a representative article on what you should do. It is rather a checklist of essentials to start your journey exploring the island. Navigation for what you should expect in terms of experience and price.
Essential 1: Stay Hydrated
First thing you should remember before any trip – pack yourself with water so you can always stay hydrated. It is especially essential in Langkawi because you will find yourself wandering to places where there are no locals whatsoever and no shops around to buy water.
Thus, locals and authorities are also doing many initiatives to prevent the use of plastic bottles around the island. In my hotel room, they install a tap for water and do not provide bottles that you usually see in traditional hotels. Since that is the case, buying bottled water should be the last resolve and you should only do this when there is no other choice.
So how can you prevent yourself from this situation of having access to clean water and wanting to preserve nature from bottles at the same time? My solution (and a highly recommended one for fellow nomads) is Tapp Water – a simple filter that I would insert into any water faucet available and the outcome would be clean, drinkable, and delicious water. Tapp Water gives me a much lower lifetime cost than bottled water and most importantly, I don’t leave behind any bottled footprint on the places that I went to.
Essential 2: Money Exchange
The currency used in Malaysia is called Ringgit (MYR). According to Bloomberg, the currency is currently at its weakness at a 24-year low against the dollar. So good news for people out there, you might get a little more for each dollar you spend here in Malaysia.
The most actioned pack area on the island is Pantai Cenang Beach – a 2km long stretch of white sand located on the western part of Langkawi. Next to the beach is a Walking street where you can find many local currency exchange stores.
According to my hotel lobby, exchanging at Maybank’s Pantai Cenang Mall (located at the center of the Walking Street will give you better rates than local, small exchange stores). I got a rate of 4.6 Ringgit to 1 USD – which I later found out was very decent (at KL airport it was 4.3!).
The experience was straightforward and easy. All I need to do is to show my passport. They gave me bills of 10-20-50 Ringgit which is handy for daily spending. For bigger spending, you might want the 100 Ringgit bill (~20USD) for convenience. Malaysia kept coins to use as well – which is nice for change and tips.
Essential 3: Sim Card
If you are a solo traveler, a sim card with fast Internet is highly recommended. You need this so that your phone can smoothly run Google Maps or at least download a map of the Island on your phone.
Yes, using a traditional map would be a nice change once in a while. But if you are on a tight schedule and also to ensure safety whilst riding, Google Maps is the best way to go.
Finding a sim card was rather hard for me. Even though I stroll all around Pantai Cenang tourist road, a sim card with a tourist combo is nowhere to be seen. 7-11 does sell you sim cards but it is not a tourist package deal. So you would have to download the local carrier App, load in some money, and buy some Data.
I don’t know if I have been looking in the wrong place but in the end, I chose to purchase that way because I really need the Internet to get going. The Staff was very friendly and even supported me to load money in, helping me when the App could not match my Passport photo to my face now (That is a problem, face identification!).
In the end, a sim card and unlimited data for a week cost 40 ringgit (~8.5USD). I would say that this is a decent price, considering that the Internet Speed is decent and it really never drops a beat.
Essential 4: Transportation, Fuel, and Navigation
You can say whatever but a moped is an ideal way to get around South East Asian countries and Langkawi is no exception. I mean, why not? The wind blowing through your hair, the ocean breeze, the smell of fresh paddy rice fields. Plus you can control everything you do as well. Why would you want to go on a GrabCar for all those reasons?
In general, there are 3 main types of motorbikes that you can rent in Langkawi:
- The older 125cc: This goes for 30 ringgit (~6USD)
- The newer 125cc: This one is 45 ringgit (~9.5USD)
- The 155cc: This is the Big Daddy with a wide design and a big fat engine. This will make a good cruise but at a whopping 60 ringgit
A 155cc bike for 60 ringgit per 24 hours
Usually, the rent is for 24 hours but at certain shops, you can ask them for 8 hours, 12 hours rent which might save you 5-10 ringgit. Not much but still, you can use this for fuel later on.
Speaking of fuel, gas is really cheap in Malaysia. It sits comfortably in the top 10 countries with the cheapest fuel in the world at $1.64 per gallon. Filling up requires you to pay first then it is a DIY process (unlike Thailand or Vietnam). Thank God, the people here are very nice. They don’t hassle a newbie like me.
To explore the whole of Langkawi, you would only need to spend around 10 ringgit (2 USD) to comfortably cover all of its ~200km of road.
I paid only 2 Ringgit (0.50USD) to get a liter of fuel since I only cover 50km around Langkawi a day
Navigating around Langkawi is easy as the roads are wide and everything is updated on Google Maps. On my way, Google even suggested to me some very interesting back roads which really highlight the scenery here.
The traffic is very calm. I even have to ask some locals “Malaysians are really cool and calm on the road, are they?”. Their answer is that in Langkawi, yes, they are really that calm. But in KL, things might get a bit more rushy. Still, compared to Vietnam, it does take quite some time for me to get used to the no-honking habit.
Essential 5: Local Cuisine and other offerings
Being a country well known for its cultural diversity, it is very easy to find many different food offerings in Langkawi.
I was very excited to try some local food and to be honest, I did not have any plans or any pinned restaurant that I MUST VISIT. Throughout the day, I ate according to how busy a place is. If I am feeling hungry and I see a busy place with locals? That’s where I am heading.
A DIY local restaurant that I visited – you can have as much as you want then the owner would glance and give out the price
Usually, locals would have their meals in local restaurants. Dishes here would consist of a starch (Rice or noodles), paired together with a stew, curry, or broth soup. For me, Malaysian cooking is very spicy (as in they put a lot of different spices in) which makes their food really pack a punch in terms of flavors. Also, these foods are really, I mean really comforting. Some rice and a hot stew? That is a recipe for love and happiness right there.
Not the best photo because I cropped it from my video but FYI, this dish of flavors is around 12 ringgit (~2.5 USD)
For International Food, I did see a lot of Cafes and Bars which offer Halal Food, English/American Breakfast, Pasta, Pizza, and so on… I did not try them because I was diving into a world of stew and Laksa. But anyways, you get what I mean. Langkawi is a developed tourist attraction and Malaysia is very diverse in terms of culture so you can expect close-to-original Western food at a reasonable price (around 30-50% more expensive than local food but you also get better sitting as well).
A very chill Laksa and local desert experience by the shore of Langkawi at 2USD
My last meal in Langkawi – a surprisingly good yet cheap Airport Hainanese chicken rice (~2USD)
Essentials 6: Places to have fun
Of course, when coming to Langkawi, you cannot miss its beaches and water sports activities. But then again, these services are so well known and of course, you have to come there. Thus, I will guide you to some other experiences where you might find a change from the norm.
- A World-Class Kart Racing Facility:
Me feeling the Need for Speed
This caught me by surprise, big time. Who would have thought the number 1 international go-kart track in Malaysia is situated on an island offshore?
If you are a speed lover like me and you want to experience the adrenaline? This kart, though it seems like a toy car for kids, can really give you some kicks. Its 270cc engine combined with a racing-proven frame means that it goes really, really fast.
I was very skeptical at first, especially seeing the price of 75 ringgit (~16USD) for only 10 minutes of playtime. Can you imagine, 16USD for a service of 10 minutes in South East Asia? Luckily, in the end, the kart was so fast that my body hurt after 8 minutes. In that short time, the facilities, and the equipment were able to impress me so much that I totally forgot about the expensive price. It was all worth it, in the end!
- NIGHT MARKET AND LOCAL PERFORMANCES:
Getting to the end of the day and after hours of going around the island, I was back to Pantai Cenang’s main Walking Street. The streets here are much more crowded (good crowded, not hectic) at night and the vibes are much more fun. Here, you can go shopping for local souvenirs and treats as well as head to the beach to look at the fire performances.
The performances are really impressive, judging from how dangerous it looks. Combined with the catchy music and the roar of the crowd, it makes a really good scene to watch by the beach of Centai Penang.
This is also a good recommendation for dinner as well. Locals would go to the beach and sit at beach vendors for seafood dinners whilst watching the performances. Overall a lively place to be in the evening and sense the energy of Langkawi.
I think this is the best photo I took from the trip
- A RANGE OF GOOD BARS:
As I was walking back to my hotel to end a day of discovery, I remembered that Manchester United is playing and was desperately in need of a good Sports Bar. A good sports bar is what Hanoi, Vietnam does not have and certainly I did not expect Langkawi to have one. All I needed was a TV.
Turns out, I was so wrong. Along Jalan Teluk Baru road, there were a host of good bars with all sorts of styles. You have a more clubbing place that is Sunbar, a more chill and rustic bar that is BAMBOOBA, and then you got the place that I visited, the rock and sport-centric Rockefellers.
At Rockefellers, you got all the essentials nailed down. Massive screen with high resolution, good decorations, and atmosphere, lovely draught beer, knowledgeable staff who can have a nice conversation with you, and last but not least, a safe environment in and out of the bar. Everybody was just minding their own business, having a good time, and enjoying their drinks.
The food, as I heard from locals and other tourists, is also highly recommended here as well with their range of local foods together with Indian and Western offerings.
A truly great place to get a bit tipsy, watch some football and then head back to the hotel for some much-needed rest.
A pint of Guinness and a good seating place for 16 Ringgit (3.5USD)
And that’s it – that is a day of me exploring the beautiful island of Langkawi, Malaysia. Again, I have to address this is by no means a travel guide – but rather a day in the life of me experiencing Langkawi as much as I can without any plans and with limited time. Hope that I am able to give you many valuable info and I will see you in more content about Langkawi!