Top 10 Things To Do In Langkawi

You'll never be short of things to do on Langkawi Island--a tropical paradise teeming with wildlife and rich in culture.

The tropical island of Langkawi, which lies off the northwest coast of Malaysia, is a popular destination for international travelers lured by its unspoiled natural beauty. The island is covered with dense rainforests and mangroves millions of years old, while its waters teem with marine life. Langkawi's charm also lies in its people. The fishermen and farmers maintain a traditional way of life, keeping alive centuries-old folklore, legends and mystical tales about the island and its surroundings. Every cave, waterfall and rocky hillside has a story to it that won't fail to fascinate even the most cynical tourist. From immersing yourself in local culture to jungle trekking and scuba diving, there are plenty of things to do in Langkawi. Here are the top 10 activities you must include in your itinerary.

1. Tour the island

A great way to get around the island is by hiring a car. You can get maps of the island from the tourist information center at Kuah town, Langkawi's commercial hub. While in Kuah, you can check out the local market and walk around the "Lagenda" park, a 20-hectare park featuring sculptures of all the island's many legendary figures. A short drive from Kuah is Cenang Beach. Cenang Beach has lots of budget chalets, restaurants and cafes and is very popular with backpackers. Here, you can visit the Underwater World aquarium, the place to go for those who want to take in some marine life without donning a dive mask. Not far away is the shrine of Mahsuri, dedicated to Langkawi's most famous historical figure. A young lady who lived 200 years ago, Mahsuri was wrongly accused of adultery and sentenced to death. It is said that as she lay dying, her blood ran white as proof of her innocence and she laid a curse on the island folk for seven generations. The curse ended, coincidentally, with the development of the island in the 1980s. Near the shrine is a traditional Malay village and a botanical garden, both worth a visit.

2. Swim with (baby) sharks

The Payar Island Marine Park is one of over 90 smaller islands that lie off the coast of Langkawi. The marine park is extremely popular with tourists who come to snorkel in the calm, shallow waters. Because it gets so busy, Payar Island isn't the place to go for a serene diving experience - there are too many swimmers! It is the place to go, however, to check out the abundance of tropical reef fish that call the island their home, including colorful angelfish, sergeant majors, butterflyfish, moray eels and stingrays. Baby blacktip sharks skirt around swimmers in the shallow water and it's not unusual for the odd barracuda to make an appearance. Another great way to experience the marine life is to hire a glass-bottomed boat and circle the island.

3. Go on a dive trip

While Langkawi doesn't have as beautiful dive sites as other parts of Malaysia, it has the advantage of being accessible year round. (Dive resorts on the east coast of Malaysia are closed during the monsoon season from November to February.) You can organize a dive trip with one of the many dive operators in Langkawi. Some of the larger resorts have their own dive shops. It takes about an hour to reach the dive sites located not far from Payar Island and the many smaller islands that comprise the protected marine park area. While visibility is sometimes limited, the abundance of marine life more than makes up for it.

4. Take a boat to a nearby island

The mystical Island of the Pregnant Maiden is a 15-minute boat ride from Langkawi. It's a spectacular setting, with a huge limestone hill in the middle of the island rising high above a dense rainforest. A strenuous hike and an equally tough uphill climb takes visitors to the Cave of the Banshee, which locals believe is haunted by a spirit who lures people to the cave and, like a tropical version of Dracula, sucks their blood. There are no stalactites and stalagmites in the cave but there are thousands of bats. There is also a large freshwater lake on the island which is a good place to swim. Also, if you happen to be trying for a baby, take a swig of lake water, which is reputed to possess magical qualities and endow fertility to those in need!

5. Swim at the Seven Wells waterfall

The Seven Wells waterfall is group of seven pools connected by a series of waterfalls flowing down the side of Mat Cincang Mountain on Langkawi Island. Drive to the foot of the mountain and walk up the steps to the lowest pool. You'll need to trek uphill to reach the other pools, but it is well worth it. The locals believe the area is a favorite haunt of mountain fairies who bathe in the cool water of the wells. Fairies or not, the pools are ideal for swimming and the perfect spot for a picnic.

6. Go on a cable car ride

A recent addition to Langkawi is the Swiss-made cable car system. Visitors can take the cable car ride up the mountain and get a magnificent view of Langkawi and the surrounding islands. Southern Thailand and mainland Malaysia are visible from the lookout point at the summit. Another cable car ride takes you to the next mountain top. There's also a drop-off point for a jungle trek.

7. Try canopy trekking

Langkawi is one of the very few places in the world that offers this obscure sport. To canopy trek you need to abseil, climb, rappel and glide over treetops on a cable system 100 feet above the ground. The canopy trail in Langkawi was developed by a German expatriate with the help of the local forestry department. The sport is physically and psychologically demanding but the feeling of gliding from tree to tree and rappelling down is too exhilarating to miss.

8. Tour mangrove swamps

In the north of the island at the beautiful beach of Tanjung Rhu, you can go on a mangrove tour by boat. This boat trip takes you through several limestone caves, mangrove swamps and further inland, to dense forest.

9. Go birdwatching

Langkawi is a great destination for birdwatching both for the indigenous bird species and the migratory birds who flock to the island from September to March. Gunung Raya, the forest reserve at the center of the island and the mangrove swamps on the coast are good places to look for birds. Some birds to spot include the Sooty Tern and other tern species, the Purple Heron, the Brahminy Kite and the Sea Eagle.

10. Buy traditional crafts

Spend a few hours shopping for souvenirs in Langkawi. The Langkawi Craft and Cultural Center is a good place to buy traditional batik fabrics, wood and marble ornaments, paintings and other crafts. The center also displays the work of local artisans.

(Note: Langkawi Island was spared the worst effects of the 2004 tsunami that ripped through Phuket Island which lies to its north. Experts believe that the many smaller islands surrounding Langkawi proved to be an effective buffer against the hardest impact of the waves.)

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