Many travellers, in search of a beach idyll on Malaysia’s western seaboard, choose to go to the high-profile island of Penang and never make it to Langkawi, which is just how the residents of this laid-back island like it – when it comes to tourists, the islanders have long preferred quality over quantity.
Langkawi, which hoards its ecological treasures like tinned food in a famine, may be a perfect model for how a resort island should be developed. Most of the shoreline is punctuated with classy resorts, many of which blend harmoniously into the tropical scenery. The efficient effluent treatment systems which these resorts can afford have had a minimal impact on the island’s gorgeous ecology and have left both inland and offshore eco-systems operating in near to their pristine condition. The island does have a single budget beach, the 2 km-long Pantai Cenang beach, but no booming party scene, so most backpackers soon head for Thailand’s nearby Koh Lipe, leaving Langkawi to slumber on.
Visit Langkawi soon, as things are changing. The Malaysian government used to attract visitors to Penang by allowing the island tax-free status, thus meaning that they could sell alcohol for just over a third the price available elsewhere in Malaysia. The policy worked too well and Penang was inundated with millions of tourists, and then the concrete that followed them. Since the Malaysian government revoked Penang’s cheap-alcohol privilege and transferred it instead to Langkawi, the island has experienced a huge increase in tourist numbers, as visitors flee Penang’s pollution, dreaming of being able to afford a couple of peaceful beers on a pristine beach, without having to re-mortgage the house in order to pay for them.
For most people, who like a few (or maybe more than a few) relaxing drinks on holiday, the price of drinks isn’t particularly significant when compared to the cost of their accommodation, meaning that the only people who are attracted to a destination by cheap alcohol are those who mean to drink copious quantities. Deliberately seeking to attract this sort of tourist seems a dangerous policy for laid-back Langkawi, so readers are advised to go there soon, as the place’s charms may not last.
Langkawi is surrounded by an extremely scenic archipelago whose narrow channels, islets and inlets, beaches and bays are fringed by picturesque paddy fields and shadowed by rearing rock-faces topped by improbably-clinging vegetation – it’s not hard to see why the pirates who preyed on vessels en route to Melaka kept their lairs here. You’re not likely to find any treasure here, but you may well enjoy looking for it, after arming yourself with a pair of fins and a snorkel.
Langkawi has lots of worthwhile tourist attractions, including tax-free shopping, a bird sanctuary, a marine park, a cable car ride, snorkeling with sharks, island-hopping, waterfall treks and slides, scuba diving, sailing day-trips, sunset dinner cruises and zip-wire riding. The crocodile wrestling and boxing at Crocodile Adventureland will not suit as many visitors’ tastes as will the huge Underwater World aquarium, which includes a 15m-long glass tunnel inside a shark tank. More affluent visitors will enjoy the island’s many fine spas, restaurants, and superb resorts, whilst golfers will gravitate towards the international-standard Datai Bay Golf Club (www.dataigolf.com). Pretty much everything about Langkawi is excellent, with the exception of the kitsch bowling and cinema complex at Teluk Baru.
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