WEST COAST ISLANDS OF MALAYSIA
West Coast Islands of Malaysia include Penang and Langkawi. The islands visited by tourist tend to be developed, and the only difference between them is some of the development is old and some is relatively new. The islands here are situated on the east side of the Strait of Malacca — one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. The entire west coast, with good transport links and five-star resorts, is regarded as more tourist-orientated than than the more austere and Islamic eastern side of the peninsula. Unlike the east coast, the west side is unaffected by the monsoon season and hotels are open year-round.
Pulau Pangkor Laut is regarded as ideal for families. Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: “: A few hours' drive up the coast from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and three miles offshore are the twin islands of Pangkor and Pangkor Laut. The former, and larger, island is where the treaty with the British was signed in 1874, marking the beginning of colonialism. Today it is home to fishing villages, traditional Malay houses and a host of hotels. Lovelier yet, the smaller, more secluded sister island of Pangkor Laut is the site of one of the country's first beach developments. [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
Penang island is “best for food and culture: With a population of nearly a million and an eight-mile bridge connecting the island with the mainland, Penang is no longer a remote beach idyll. The main city, George Town, feels like a brash young Hong Kong with its colonial architecture, waterfront skyscrapers and antiquated streets. The downtown area, named a few years ago a Unesco World Heritage Site, reflects its mercantile history with the striking Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, a former residence of a Chinese shipping magnate, and the 19th-century clan house Khoo Kongsi, as well as Buddhist temples, mosques and churches. This cultural heritage is the island's greatest draw, combined with Malaysia's best street hawker food, such as roti canai (spicy lentils wrapped in hot, flaky bread), Assam laksa (a sour fish soup made with tamarind stock) and char kuey teow (stir-fried seafood noodles).”
Langkawi is “best for hotels: Long the destination for well-heeled tourists coming to Malaysia, the island has an array of well-established top-notch hotels, including the Four Seasons Resort, the Andaman and the newly opened Danna. Sitting on the marine border with Thailand, this is the largest island on Malaysia's west coast, with limestone cliffs, fjords and sea stacks, as well as mangroves that are home to kingfishers, eagles and dolphins. Many visitors rent a car for the day and drive a circuit taking in the island's beaches, hot springs, rubber plantations, boatbuilding yards and co-operative craft centres.”
Pangkor Pulau (off the west of Peninsular Malaysia, 40-minute ferry ride from Lumut) means "Beautiful island". And indeed it is. With its charming mix of fishing settlements and resorts, it is an interesting and convenient holiday destination, offering visitors a rare chance to live near fishermen and observe their lifestyle while also enjoying the fine beaches and resort amenities.
The fishermen live in scattered settlements on the eastern side of the island, which faces the towns of Lumut and Teluk Batik. Visitors get a chance to see some of them on the ferry ride from Lumut as the ferry stops at the main settlements of Sungai Pinang Kecil and Sungai Pinang Besar before landing at Pangkor Town.
Pangkor's two popular beach areas of Pasir Bogak and Teluk Nipah offer sun and sea enthusiasts activities like scuba-diving, snorkelling, wind-surfing and fishing. While Pasir Bogak is quite developed, Teluk Nipah still retains its kampung or village atmosphere. Teluk Ketapang or Turtle Bay still receives turtles on their egg-laying sojourns. Some of the resorts on the island have golf courses on their property.
Getting There: By Sea: Pangkor is a 40-minute ferry ride from Lumut. There are departures every half hour. By Air: The private carrier Berjaya Air flies 5 times a week from the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport just outside Kuala Lumpur to Pangkor. Take the North-South Expressway heading north towards Perak. Exit at the Bidor toll plaza. The rest of the journey will be on trunk roads. Follow signboards stating Pelabuhan Lumut or Lumut Naval Base. You will then need to follow signboards to Teluk Intan, Sitiawan and Pulau Pangkor. By Road: Take the North-South Expressway heading north towards Perak. Exit at the Bidor toll plaza. The rest of the journey will be on trunk roads. Follow signboards stating Pelabuhan Lumut or Lumut Naval Base. You will then need to follow signboards to Teluk Intan, Sitiawan and Pulau Pangkor.
According to ASIRT: “1) Traffic is seldom congested. Motorcyclists tend to speed. 2) Bridges may be lacking on some roads. 3) There is one main road, which circles the island. The road is in good condition. Some sections of the road are steep and winding. 4) Roads may be steep and winding, especially in the northern part of the island. 5) Secondary roads may be in poor condition. Some sections of road lack pedestrian paths. 6) Taxis (pink minibuses) provide public transport. Fares are expensive; drivers do not use meters. Agree on fare before boarding. Ferries provide transport to the mainland and other islands. Visitors may bring bicycles or motorcycles onto the island. 7) However, bringing a car is not permitted. 8) Rental cars, bikes and motorcycles are available on the island. Packs of feral dogs may be a problem for cyclists or pedestrians, especially near Pangkor Village. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2007]
Pangkor Laut Island
Pangkor Laut Island (near Pulau Pangkor, accessible by boat from Pulua Pangkor and the Malaysian mainland) is a delightful resort. Located in the Straits of Malacca near the island of Pulau Pangkor, this 300-acre island resort consists of 186 bungalow-style "villas" set among white sand beaches and rain forest on a pleasant body of water known called Emerald Bay. The villas go for between $100 and $300 a night.
Pulau Pangkor Laut is a good place for families. Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: “: A few hours' drive up the coast from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and three miles offshore are the twin islands of Pangkor and Pangkor Laut. The former, and larger, island is where the treaty with the British was signed in 1874, marking the beginning of colonialism. Today it is home to fishing villages, traditional Malay houses and a host of hotels. Lovelier yet, the smaller, more secluded sister island of Pangkor Laut is the site of one of the country's first beach developments. [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
Hornbills, other tropical birds, 4-foot-long monitor lizards, pit vipers and macaque monkeys live in the rain forests on the island, which can explored on numerous hiking trails. The water of the island can explored via snorkeling, hobie cat sailing, boating to uninhabited islands, kayaking around the bay, and fishing for snapper, barracuda and stingrays. Other facilities include three swimming pools, four restaurants, five bars, volleyball courts, tennis courts, a health club and a television room.
“Pangkor Laut Resort is the only hotel on this privately owned island. It has bungalows built over water, a sensational spa and a half-dozen restaurants, including Uncle Lim's Kitchen, cooking up traditional Chinese and Malay dishes....It is very child-friendly, with forest trails, watersports and tennis courts.”
Pangkor Luta is located about halfway between to Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The island is reached by ferry from the Malaysian town of Lumet (50 miles from south Ipoh). There are also flights to Pulau Pangkor, where boats can be caught to Pangkor Laut. Tourism Malaysia State Office, Tel: 605-255 2772/9962, Email: email@example.com
Langkawi (off the northwest coast of Malaysia, north of Penang, not far from Thailand) is the largest island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia and centerpiece of a group of 104 islands. The home of the legendary Mahsuri, a beautiful maiden who was wrongfully accused of adultery and sentenced to death, and numerous other legendary beings, it is known for its sandy white beaches, emerald waters, rain forests, waterfalls, caves, limestone formations and beach resorts. Langkawi Geo Park website: langkawigeopark.com.my
Langkawi has become developed in recent years and is popular with Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese tourists, many of whom are attracted by the duty-free shopping. It also, surprisingly enough, the home of the Tour de Langkawi, that at least for a while was the third richest bicycle race in terms of prize money after the Tour de France and Giro de Italia. The most well-known beaches are at Pantain Tanjung Rhu, Pantao Tengah and Pantao Cenang. According to The Telegraph there are also “limestone cliffs, fjords and sea stacks, as well as mangroves that are home to kingfishers, eagles and dolphins. Many visitors rent a car for the day and drive a circuit taking in the island's beaches, hot springs, rubber plantations, boatbuilding yards and co-operative craft centres.”
Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times: “The British are familiar with Langkawi from the colonial era, when it was little more than a string of languid fishing villages. Malaysia has designated Langkawi a duty-free destination, and built a modern international airport, a 25-mile drive on a paved road from the Datai. The island's principal town, Kuah, has shopping centers with well-priced electronics. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, April 30, 2004]
Tourist Information Centres: 1) Bukit Kayu Hitam, Changlun, 06050 Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah, Malaysia, Tel: 604-922-2078/1249, Fax: 604-922-1472; 2) Local Tourism Office: Kompleks Pelancongan Negeri Kedah, Seksyen 20, Jalan Raja, Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia, Tel: 604-731 2322/ 730 1322, Fax: 604-734 0322; 3) Langkawi Tourist Information Centre, Jalan Persiaran Putra, Kuah, Kedah, Malaysia, Tel: 604-966-7789/9416, Fax: 604-966-7889 ; 4) Langkawi Tourist Information Centre Pusat Penerangan Pelancongan Jetty Point Langkawi, Lot SB-2S, Setellite Building, Jetty Point Complex, Jeti Kuah, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia, Tel: 604-966-0494, Fax: 604-966-0034; 5) Langkawi Tourist Information Centre Langkawi International Airport, Airport Langkawi, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia, Tel: 604-955-7155
Getting There: By Ferry: Ferries usually leave the port of Kuala Kedah on the mainland on the hour from 7:00am to 6:00pm. The ride lasts 1.5 hours. There are also ferry services from the mainland port of Kuala Perlis and the Thai port of Satun, both 45 minutes from Langkawi. By Air: Both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia have twice daily flights to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur which land at Langkawi International Airport. There are also direct flights from Penang and Singapore. Malaysia Airlines used to fly directly twice a week from London to Langkawi but those flights I’m pretty sure ended long ago.
Chilling at Langkawi’s Resorts
Langkawi is best known for it hotels and resorts. Michelle Jana Chan wrote in The Telegraph: “Long the destination for well-heeled tourists coming to Malaysia, the island has an array of well-established top-notch hotels, including the Four Seasons Resort, the Andaman and the newly opened Danna...The classic resort is The Datai, nestled within the rainforest, fronting a beautiful beach and backing on to a golf course. I had one of the best meals of my trip — Malay-Indian curries and fresh fish dishes — at the hotel's Gulai House. But The Datai's trump card is Irshad Mobarak, its resident naturalist and a Malaysian Attenborough, who offers unmissable nature walks at dawn and dusk. A more quirky option is Bon Ton Resort, made up of restored traditional wooden homes among wetlands. It may seem odd to stay in a marshy inland area 10 minutes' walk from the beach, but Bon Ton has an unusual tranquillity, an excellent Asian-fusion restaurant, Nam, and a shop stocked with stylish, original souvenirs — with proceeds going to the on-site animal shelter. [Source: Michelle Jana Chan, The Telegraph, November 17, 2011]
Jane Perlez wrote in the New York Times: The Datai “sits above a protected cove on the Andaman Sea, near the border between Malaysia and Thailand. Listening to the accents on the beach at the Datai, one could imagine that some of the guests are descendants of the colonial bureaucrats who left at independence nearly 50 years ago. But many patrons come from elsewhere in Asia, and the design of the Datai -- plenty of wood, cool verandas off the 112 rooms, suites and villas -- is the work of the architect Kerry Hill, who pioneered luxury hotels in Bali. [Source: Jane Perlez, New York Times, April 30, 2004]
“Swimming and relaxing around the two swimming pools -- one a grand affair set into the large terrace above the sea, and the other a splash pool for children adjacent to the beach -- is one of the favorite pastimes. The calm beach is family friendly; during school vacations children abound. Tall trees give plenty of shade under the scorching sun. Snorkeling is not great, partly because the water tends to be murky. But a day trip on a cruiser that can be individually hired, complete with picnic and crew, offers a delightful way to see the inlets of the 18-mile-long island. For the more active, the Datai offers rain-forest walks with guides. Mountain bikes are available for exploring the north coast.
“The cuisine at the Datai caters to most tastes: Malaysian and Western dishes are served in the main dining room (white tablecloths, fine service). A smaller pavilion provides Thai cuisine, and at the beachside pool there is an informal dining area.” The Datai, Jalan Teluk Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia; (212) 732-4747 in the United States; on the Web at ; website: ghmhotels.com/thedatai. Rates May through October are $356 for a deluxe room, $408 for a villa and $517 for a villa with plunge pool, at 3.88 ringgit to the dollar.
Sightseeing and Activities on Langkawi
Despite what looks like a slant towards tourism, many of the islanders are actually farmers, fishermen and entrepreneurs. Experience the beautiful countryside and peaceful landscape of paddy fields by renting a car and taking a leisurely drive around the island. Some of Langkawi's most rustic and memorable views are along the road that circles the island.
You'll pass small villages with wooden houses framed by palm trees, and children pedalling their old bicycles on errands. Aside from experiencing the local lifestyle, there is no shortage of things to do in Langkawi. Head up the thrilling new cable car to the summit of Mount Mat Cincang — Langkawi's second highest mountain — for an unrivalled view of the entire main island and beyond. Other popular destinations are the Field of Burnt Rice, Hot Springs, Telaga Tujuh (The Seven Wells) and the Beach of Black Sand. Boat tours are organized to Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Maiden), Gua Cerita (Cave of Stories) and Gua Langsir (Curtain Cave).
Dayang Bunting (20 kilometers from Kuah town) is an island modestly populated on one side and virtually uninhabited on the other where its lake, Tasik Dayang Bunting, is located. The lake has a legend that goes like this: The favourite bathing pool of a celestial princess named Mambang Sari was said to be Tasik Dayang Bunting (Lake of the Pregnant Maiden). A prince, Mat Teja, fell madly in love with her and tricked her into marrying him. Sadly, their child died from a mysterious illness at the age of seven days. Distraught, the grieving Mambang Sari left the child's body in the lake and returned to her heavenly abode. Today, some believe that barren women who bathe in this lake will be endowed with a child. Getting There: By Boat: From Kuah Jetty or at Pantai Cenang, you can hire a boat from the many boat operators there to Pulau Dayang Bunting. The journey takes about 15 minutes.
Datai Bay, situated at the north-west corner of Langkawi island, is the home of the Datai Bay Golf Resort and Datai Langkawi Resort: luxurious. There are several jungle trails that take you down to the peaceful Datai Bay beach. There is also a crocodile farm on the way to Datai Bay where you can watch the crocodiles as part of entertaining shows in the morning and afternoon. Getting There: By Road: Teluk Datai is about 30 kilometers, or a 30 minute drive, north of the Langkawi International Airport.
Langkawi Cable Car
Langkawi Cable Car climbs Langkawi's second highest peak, which is 709 meters above sea level. During the 20-minute ride, you will pass over jungle waterfalls and a thick carpet of virgin rainforest. On a clear day, you can see parts of Thailand towards the north and Indonesia towards the south-west. The cable car operates from 10:00am to 7:00pm, subject to weather conditions. The service may be halted during strong winds. The cost is MYR 55 for adults with a MyKad and MYR 40 for children (prices subject to change).
Travelling at a steep incline of 42 degrees, over a distance of 2.2 kilometers from the base station to the two mountain-top stations, even the gentlest breeze is enough to send one’s stomach churning. But once you get used to the sensation of being airborne, the ride quickly turns into an amazing, exhilarating experience. At the top, a sky bridge offers a breathtaking view of Langkawi. Remember to wear comfortable shoes as it is quite a walk up to the hanging bridge.
Getting There: By Car or Taxi: Langkawi Cable Car is located on the southwest coast of the main island, just a 30-minute drive from Kuah Town and only 15 minutes from Langkawi International Airport. Your best bet is to either hire a car or a taxi for the day and explore the island at your own pace. Contact: Cable Car Office: Address: Oriental Village, Jalan Telaga Tujuh, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia, Tel: 604-959 4225, Fax: 604-959 4121, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Islands, Mangroves and Marine Parks Accessible from Langkawi
Pulau Beras Basah (western tip of Langkawi) offers a relaxing getaway with its pristine beaches and lush green forest. Visitors to this island usually come as part of a 4- hour island hopping tour, which includes Pulau Singa Besar and Pulau Dayang Bunting. Almost every travel agency in Langkawi would be able to assist you in arranging the island hopping tour. As the island isn’t very commercialised, don’t expect the place to be abuzz with activity. Rather, take some time out for yourself and relax with a book, sunbathe, or go for a refreshing swim in the clear blue waters. Getting There: By Car and Boat: Just make your own way to Pantai Cenang and there are boats ready to take you there. Boats also operate from other locations, including the Awana Porto Malai Resort. Contact: Langkawi Tourist Information Centre, Tel: 604-966 7789, Padang Mat Sirat Airport Tourist Information Centre, Tel: 604-955 7155
Langkawi’s Mangroves are set in a craggy setting of limestone outcroppings rising sharply out of the calm Andaman Sea. Among the thick mangrove vegetation is an intricate network of streams and hidden coves that are home to hundreds of endemic jungle species of wildlife. Among the most exciting of these are the brahminy kites and huge sea eagles that nest in the crags overhead. One of the best ways to discover this usually inaccessible mangrove world is to join the regular small boat tours available. The highlight of any tour to the mangroves is the feeding of the eagles. Your boatman will throw food into the water near your boat and wait for these huge birds to circle overhead and swoop in for their 'lunch'. Mangrove tours can include jungle trekking, cave exploration, village visits, high tide swims and guided explorations of mangrove flora and fauna. Decide on what itinerary best suits you before you book. Getting There: By Taxi and Boat: The jetty for this tour lies just 15 minutes north of Kuah Town. But chances are you won't need directions as you will be part of a tour that does pick-ups and drop-offs at your hotel. Contact: Langkawi Tourist Information Centre, Tel: 604-966 7789/955 7155
Pulau Payar (30 kilometers southeast of Langkawi) is an island with best marine park on Malaysia's West Coast that is a one hour boat ride from Langkawi, , making it an ideal choice for a day outing. The marine park extends over a number of uninhabited islands, with Pulau Payar being the largest. Your base out here is the floating platform moored off Pulau Payar. But the real attraction of this platform lies below sea level. Step into the underwater observation chamber to view the marine life surrounding a reef. If you want a closer look you can go snorkeling. If you’re into scuba diving, the best diving is along the reef system that skirts the south, east and west of Pulau Payar. Please check with your dive operator what the visibility is while you’re there, as conditions vary. There is no accommodation in Pulau Payar as it is a marine park. Getting There: By Boat or Catamaran: Pulau Payar is just 30 kilometers south-east of Langkawi Island. You can get there from Kuah Jetty in Langkawi by speed boat or catamaran. The journey takes about an hour. Contact: Langkawi Tourist Information Centre, Tel: 604-966 7789/5271, Fax: 604-966 7889
Kilim River Cruise, Langkawi
Spread over an area of 100sq. kilometers, Kilim Nature Park features a beautiful mix of well protected green mangrove forests, isolated white beaches and blue lagoons. Along the trail, passing through calm winding rivers, you will be exposed to the wonders of the park's marine ecosystem, flora and fauna and its natural habitats.
Some tour operators will stop at a special spot along the river where they feed the eagles, found in great numbers here. These include the white- bellied fish eagle, brahminy kite and gigantic sea eagles. Kilim River is also a great place for some birdwatching during the migratory seasons in September and March.
After feeding the eagles, the boats will move downstream and soon, the Andaman Sea, located in the northern coast, comes into view as they exit the Kilim River through The Hole in the Wall. This is a famous passage so named after a narrow opening between formidable walls of limestone cliffs that connect the river to the open sea.
This narrow gap provides a sheltered area for a thriving fish farm and mooring for yachts. The farm adopts a very hands-on approach, encouraging visitors to hand-feed the multitude of marine life such as groupers, bat fish, blue spotted stingrays, lobsters, mantis prawns and snappers. Visitors can choose their own lunch or dinner directly from the 50-odd cages and have it cooked to order at the floating restaurant. Getting There: By Road: Kilim Nature Park is located on the northeastern side of Langkawi about 13 kilometers from Kuah town and is accessible via Jalan Kisap. Contact: Langkawi Tourist Information Centre, Tel: 604-966 7789/955 715
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,
Text Sources: Malaysia Tourism websites, Malaysia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020