Malaysia - Langkawi
Known as the Legendary Islands, the archipelago of Langkawi lives up to its reputation, thanks to a smart mix of ecological preservation and luxury development.
With pockets of luxury chic planted amid lush jungle topography, Langkawi has become an island retreat like few others in the world. Untouched nature, beautiful sailing waters and fine hospitality have set these island gems apart from their Andaman neighbours. Thanks to a combination of restrictive regulations, high-end investment and the locals’ love for the natural beauty of their home, Langkawi has become the island paradise that filled sailors’ dreams for centuries.
Surprisingly, few people know where Langkawi is. This archipelago of 99 islands, just 30 kilometres off the north coast of Peninsular Malaysia, is set in the glittering waters between the northern tip of Malaysia’s Kedah Province and Thailand’s southern islands. The islands of Langkawi are rich with marble deposits, resulting in a thriving trade for local marble craftsmen. Visiting yachtsmen can enjoy a breathtaking combination of primeval rainforest, verdant mangroves and soft beaches.
And during January, the Royal Langkawi International Regatta offers the unforgettable sight of sailboats dotting a truly magnificent seascape. Whether boating on your own, or enjoying chartered luxury, you’ll quickly fall under the spell of Langkawi’s legendary magic.
While most people wouldn’t regard regulation as a way forward for development, in Langkawi’s case, it has worked wonders. In 2007, Langkawi was given Geopark classification by UNESCO, in recognition of its geological heritage and aesthetic appeal. The result was a number of conditions whose aim was to minimise the ecological impact of new development. Geopark regulations state that only ecologically sound projects will be acceptable in Langkawi.
Perhaps more important are the laws on land tenure, which denote 70 percent of Langkawi’s land area as Malay reserve land. According to one local source, this law has prevented Langkawi’s beautiful spaces from being sold to less scrupulous real estate developers. It seems that the kind-hearted people of Langkawi are keen on preserving their customs and traditions, and wish to hold on to their land.
The result of these regulations and rules has been an example of how luxury tourist facilities can be built in harmony with their surroundings. One finds resorts with resident monkeys and flying squirrels living at ease with temporary human guests. Wooden rainforest chalets let visitors savour the delights of untouched jungle in total comfort and tranquillity. Golf courses are designed to take advantage of forests, offering golfers the chance to play around the buttress roots of ancient trees. If you could imagine enlightened tourist development, this is it.
Preserving the natural beauty of the islands and making it a core part of development plans seems to have been a wise move by the Malaysian government. After all, it is the amazing environment that draws cultured visitors to the islands, while providing a sustainable living for Langkawi’s clearly contented inhabitants.
None of this is to suggest that luxurious facilities are lacking – quite the contrary. Investments in new infrastructure have made numerous improvements that benefit the whole of the archipelago. There are hotels that delight wealthy, luxury-seeking guests, several new, well-equipped marinas, and easy access to all the essentials readily available in the main town of Kuah. No wonder the islands are drawing yachtsmen from across Asia, and now the world.
Bask on the sundeck of a yacht, blue sky above and crystal waters all around, and you’ll be glad you’re a boater. The archipelago is full of small, forested islands just to the south west of the main island. There, you’ll find plenty of places to drop anchor for a swim or a private sunning session on a beach. The only tough part will be choosing which private paradise will be yours for the day.
The Cincin Straits connect Langkawi to the Andaman Sea and provide Langkawi’s clearest waters. Pulau Payar’s 3 islands 18 miles to the south east of Langkawi main island, has been designated a marine park and is a popular dive site. According to local enthusiasts, its waters are inhabited by a wealth of ocean life protected by anchoring being prohibited within 2 miles.
To the northwest of Langkawi main island, the deep waters off the Datai Bay make it suitable for anchoring offshore and taking a tender into the Andaman or Datai hotels for a bite to eat. Smart casual dress is recommended. The ten to 12-foot draft pontoon at the Berjaya lets hungry seafarers enjoy fine cuisine while taking in the island scenery in a Thai restaurant on stilts.
Pulau Dayang Bunting in the waters to the southwest is best known for its beautiful beaches. You can take full advantage of those beaches by staying at the Casa del Mar boutique hotel at Pantai Cenang. There, you can enjoy your own castaway adventure by spending an afternoon on the secluded beaches of an uninhabited island. Just to make sure that your castaway afternoon remains civilised, a picnic, gazebo and a mobile phone for ordering more champagne, will be delivered to your personal beach haven.
On Pulao Singa Besar, virgin jungle shelters wild boar that roam the island. My request to try hunting a boar was met with looks of consternation. Why on earth would anyone want to hunt these beautiful creatures, the locals wondered. It’s this kind of sentiment that typifies the reverence Langkawi residents have for their precious island home.
If you are looking for more of an active exploration adventure, set sail for the north-eastern shores of the main island. There, you can anchor just offshore and explore the many inlets and hideaways by tender including the locally known “hole in the wall”. Small rivers lead into passageways through lush mangroves where eagles soar overhead. We heard tales of visitors feeding wild eagles by hand, though decided that as bikini clad sailors we might be a little too tasty.
Just 15 nautical miles to the northwest of Langkawi lies the Thai island of Ko Adang, which offers another beautiful dive location. Local sailors can entertain you with stories of the pirates that used to occupy the island some years ago. The swashbucklers are long gone, but you can still go ashore in search of the ghostly hints of a pirate past. Along with Ko Tarutao National Park, which features wildlife ranging from whales to deer, these islands promise a fascinating visit.
Back in Langkawi, secluded Rebak Island makes a great starting point for cruising as it is positioned closer to the most interesting cruising grounds than the other marinas. Mooring for lunch at Telaga harbour is a good option and the European style boardwalk of cafes and restaurants make this a great midway point for many day charters.
Look out for the small green lights in the Bass Harbour when approaching Royal Langkawi Yacht Club after dark. These mark the edges of the large nets of local fishermen who will likely be on hand to help you avoid getting your boat caught up.
Cruising the waters around Langkawi is essential. But docking at one of the many marinas and spending some time ashore yields its own rewards.
After weeks at sea or even after a few hours on a plane, a massage is just the touch of magic to help you relax. Spending time in close quarters with your nearest and dearest can be a good experience, but so can four hours of heavenly isolation at the Four Seasons Spa.
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a wine connoisseur, or just enjoy indulging in the your favourite tipple, the Andaman has a well
stocked wine room which can be booked for the evening for six to eight people. Wine and cheese cruises can also be arranged for sunset.
By night, the sparkle in the sea moves to the night sky as the stars come out in brilliant glory. Langkawi has very little light pollution, making a midnight beach stroll an awe-inspiring wonder. If constellations confuse you, then stay at the Tanjung Rhu Resort and let an expert enlighten you with a complimentary stargazing session on Saffron beach.
Of course, there’s more to Langkawi to explore than the beaches and coastline. The islands have over 500 square kilometres of tropical paradise to wander through. Ask your hotel to arrange car hire and suggest an itinerary. With the freedom of the empty Langkawi roads, renting a car is a great way to go exploring. Wind your way up to Mount Raya, which rises nearly 900 metres above sea level and offers stunning views. Or try the cable car ride, which floats high above Mount Mat Cincang. As you look over the forest canopy’s array of wildlife and birds, Thailand lies to the north and Indonesia to the southeast.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Langkawi’s rich biodiversity and natural wildlife many hotels have a resident naturalist who can provide guided walks highlighting the flora and fauna. Mangrove tours, bike tours, horse riding and visits to the local craft markets and museums can also be arranged by most hotels. Be sure to check out the work of Langkawi’s marble craftsmen and Malaysian cuisine at the street market in Kuah town.
So while this archipelago could still be considered ‘sleepy’, it is no longer a backwater, particularly for yachtsmen looking for a private but well-supplied paradise. Langkawi has managed to combine the worldliness of a luxury yachting destination with the otherworldliness of place still in harmony with its surroundings. It’s a rare combination and one worth exploring.
The island has something to suit everyone, from the cosy chic at the Casa del Mar in Pantai Cenang to the honeymoon hideaway at Tanjung Rhu. Five-star accommodation with the Langkawi touch is easy to find.
The beautiful beaches at the Andaman and Datai have been kept umbrella free than
ks to the generous shade of beachside trees. Enjoy a sunset serenade by musicians at the Andaman’s beachside bar or a private candlelit beach barbeque at the Datai. Watch traditional dancing whilst you try Langkawi Laksa at the Andaman’s Gulai House. As overnight guests in Datai Bay you should be forewarned to keep your balcony shut, to prevent attracting curious monkeys who are likely to come in.
If enjoying the serenity of a secluded forest chalet seems like an interesting counterpoint to time aboard a luxury yacht, then the Datai hotel is for you. You can also try out their forest golf course or an amazing outdoor spa.
The Casa del Mar offers 34 rooms of boutique chic – four-star, but full of unique personal touches that can only be discovered by staying the night. Besides its convenient location in Kuah, the Casa Del Mar’s beachside bar’s new cocktail menu certainly deserves a mention – sensational sundowners on the west facing beach with the island’s most spectacular sunsets.
If the idea of staying at a secluded, tranquil hotel is magical to you, consider the Tanjung Rhu. It is the sole occupant of a long, fine sand beach. At low tide, you can take a romantic stroll across the waters of the Andaman Sea to a small, uninhabited island. An impressive selection of activities here include batik canting, archery, fishing, wood carving and cooking classes.
The Four Seasons’ Royal villa residences offer the seclusion of your own luxurious chalet with private pool and spa room in a resort inspired by traditional Malay architecture. Yoga studios and a well equipped gym overlook the jungle.
The island’s duty free status provides many opportunities for retail therapy. Many shop windows and markets are filled with distinctive and colourful Langkawi glass works, a local specialty. For true local handicrafts, the Batik village Atma Alam is open from 9am through 8pm daily, where you can design or purchase beautiful handmade designs from scarves and sarongs to paintings. De Zone Handicrafts also has a wonderful selection of batik, antiques, pewter, silver and gold.
Food and beverage:
The variety of excellent quality produce ordered by Langkawi’s five-star hotels makes provisioning here easy and duty-free ordering makes special treats more affordable.
Simpson Marine will liaise with local suppliers to find anything from kosher meats and herbs from the Cameron Highlands, to caviar (hand carried from Singapore for a client on one occasion) and Cristal champagne. Delivery can be arranged to Telaga or Rebak. If you can’t think what you might need to order a month in advance, there’s plenty of stores in Kuah where you can stock up. Duty-free Langkawi is a great place for replenishing your stocks.
Berthing fees in Langkawi are significantly cheaper than Thailand. The Petronas station at Telaga Harbour will allow you to jerry-can fuel from the forecourt to your boat. At Rebak Marina the cost of parts, rigging, sail repair, chandelry, and minor mechanical repairs courtesy of MSB chandlery are very competitive. Located on the road to Pantai Cenang, Boustead Yachts Sdn, Bhd specialise in repairs and refits for superyachts, new builds and yacht design.
Marinas, moorings and anchorages:
Telaga Harbour’s relaxed European style boardwalk has a laid back evening scene with a range of international dining options from seafood to tapas, and even a Russian bar/restaurant. The Petronas Quay has fuel a convenience store, cafes and a bank to fund your next retail therapy excursion. Besides the 45 moorings here, an additional 13 stern-to-bow moorings in front of the Perdana Quay can accommodate craft up to 50 metres and are currently home to several exquisite yachts, including the Raja Laut and Sabrina, which are available for charter through Simpson Marine. On the approach to Telaga Harbour are some less sheltered anchorages just outside the marina enclosure. These are available for a nominal char
Privately-owned Rebak is a 389-acre island off the southwestern tip of Langkawi’s main island, and is popular with many visiting sailboats. Besides yacht facilities, Rebak Marina offers the creature comforts of the Rebak Island Resort’s pool, restaurant and entertainment facilities. A 15-minute boat ride from Rebak to the main island of Langkawi affords yachts moored at Rebak slightly more privacy than Telaga Harbour. For 10 RM (return) a boat transfer to runs throughout the day to Langkawi island. Just make sure you don’t miss the last boat home at 10.30pm.
Pontoons that allow convenient mooring at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club have made the club popular with sailors on the Asian regatta circuit. With 201 berths, RLYC has grown in tandem with the island’s development and emerged as the heart of sailing competitions on Peninsular Malaysia’s northwest coast. The RLYC hosts the Royal Langkawi International Regatta. Plans for future expansion involving turning the RLYC into a full-fledged marina resort with the construction of 72-room, four-star resort with sea and marina-facing rooms. Existing eateries Charlie’s Place waterfront restaurant, and the Captain’s Deck bar and grill are popular dining spots among the sailing fraternity.