LANGKAWI - What To See And Do On A Budget

Updated: Sep 17

Langkawi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Western Malaysia. With so many options for cheap flights and boat trips to reach this wonderful (and duty-free!) island, it is entirely understandable why. If you're looking for inspiration on what to see and do in Langkawi, you've come to the right place!


While the main tourist area of Pantai Cenang is developing fairly fast and is entirely focused on tourism, the rest of the island remains laid back, rural and mostly inhabited by locals. The district of Langkawi actually consists of an archipelago of 99 islands and another 5 small islands which are only visible at low tide! The largest of these islands is Langkawi Island (Pulau Langkawi) and what most people refer to as simply Langkawi or also affectionately named “The Jewel of Kedah”. This island is less than 480 km2 and can easily be circumnavigated by vehicle in a day.

The ever increasing tourism means that there are a multitude of tourist activities and attractions in Langkawi and if you are looking to burn some money, you can easily keep yourself entertained for days.


As full-time budget travellers, this article serves to show you that you don’t need to break the bank to have a fantastic time relaxing and exploring Langkawi. We first visited Langkawi Island in 2014 and returned to spend a month here in August 2019.


GETTING AROUND LANGKAWI

It is really easy to get around Langkawi Island and nowhere on the island is very far from the airport. You can pre-arrange a quick and affordable private transfer to and from the airport with Viator. You can also buy a coupon at the taxi desk in the airport - a taxi to Pantai Cenang cost around MYR25.


Of course, Langkawi is perfectly convenient to self-drive and there are plenty of options for car rentals at the airport. With a wide variety of affordable vehicle rentals available the prices do not vary greatly.

Both times we have been in Langkawi, we have rented a scooter from T-Shoppe along Jalan Pantai Cenang. They offer a discounted rate for same-day rental (<12 hours) for only MYR 20, but just note that this does not include any form of insurance. (Before you rent a scooter you should have a look at this article first.) We rented the newer model “Spacey” scooter including insurance for MYR 30 per 24 hours and the scooter was great for getting us all around the island. The roads are easy to navigate using Google Maps and the traffic is not too bad. Just be aware of the many other scooters around you!

Grab Taxis are easily available and a good alternative way to get around if you do not want to rent a vehicle. Renting a bicycle would also be a great way to explore the Pantai Cenang area and more immediate surrounds, just keep in mind that it is usually pretty hot and humid with the occasional unpredictable downpour! Most hotels and organised tours will also include a pickup and drop-off service which is convenient. You can explore the entire Pantai Cenang beach strip on foot as the beach is wide and full of entertainment and the road sidewalk is well established and lined with shops to keep you occupied.


PANTAI CENANG BEACH

Pantai Cenang is by far the busiest and most touristy beach on Langkawi Island. That being said, it is a fantastic 2km long slightly curved stretch of uninterrupted white sand beach located on the western shoreline of Langkawi and just a 10-minute drive from Langkawi International Airport. The wide sandy beach is lined with palm, coconut and other large trees providing plenty of shady spots to hang out in the midday sun.

You can find all kinds of fun water sport activities ranging from gentle boat rides to racing jet skis or exciting parasailing. If you do consider parasailing, remember that this is a very risky activity and that it may be advisable to book with a reputable operator rather than making use of just anyone along the beach. You can find reviewed operators with Viator here.


You can even go for a jet ski tour of the nearby islands which is guaranteed to be great fun!

The water at Pantai Cenang is calm, shallow and warm, so it’s a great place to take a swim or splash about. If all the watersport activity is a little too much for you, you can walk north along the beach and easily find a more tranquil and relaxing spot as the activities are concentrated towards the southern end of the beach. One thing that makes this beach so appealing is, of course, the amazing view of the ocean and all the smaller islands close by. Although the water quality is fine for swimming, it is a little murky and unfortunately not crystal clear.


Most of the high-end hotels and resorts are concentrated in this area and it is a very convenient area to stay in. The beach is lined with a wide variety of accommodation including backpacker style rooms, chalets, bungalows and fancier hotels as well as beach bars, cafes and restaurants. This makes it easy to grab a snack, meal or drink along the beach. While water sports activities continue until sunset, it is after sunset that these places come to life with tables and candles being brought onto the beach for some romantic (and slightly cheesy) settings! Being a duty-free island, the alcohol is cheap and freely available at most beach-side cafes where you can enjoy some live music and fire performances until late into the night. Although there is an evening vibe, it’s not a crazy party scene.


One thing to note is that there are currently no public toilets or changing facilities at Pantai Cenang Beach. If you are really desperate, you can ask one of the hotels to use their facilities and they will most likely oblige. Although it is considered a family and child-friendly beach, be aware of both the racing jet skis in the shallow waters and also support vehicles racing along the beach as these could catch small children unaware.

If you are feeling adventurous, at low tide you can walk across to Pulau Rebak Kecil. Just be warned that the tide only remains low for a couple of hours so if you don’t get back in time you may just get stuck there! Be sure to take enough water and sunscreen as there’s nothing on the smaller island and you are exposed all the way.


Although the busiest and most touristy beach, we still like this area of Langkawi as it is easy to find budget accommodation within walking distance to the beach as well as within walking distance to convenience stores and many local eateries. If you want to stay somewhere (other than a resort) where you do not need your own transportation, we recommend this as the most suitable area of Langkawi.


How to enjoy Pantai Cenang on a Budget

If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend popping into one of the many convenience stores along Jalan Pantai Cenang to grab some beer (or other drinks), for less than half the price compared to from a bar on the beach, and then sit and relax either along the beach walk or on the beach to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the ocean.


Depending on the season, if the sun is aiming to set behind the island of Pulau Rebak Besar, just walk further north to see it setting over the sea instead! It will also be much quieter along this section of beach. If you’re going DIY sunset style like us, then grab a bargain takeaway pizza from “Pizza on Fire” to enjoy with those cheap beers and sunset!


Spoil Yourself with a Langkawi Sunset Cruise

Being budget travellers, we did not do this ourselves, however, a sunset cruise with ocean swimming in the clear warm waters and BBQ dinner with drinks sure does sound good and came well recommended.


JALAN PANTAI CENANG

This is the main road running parallel to Pantai Cenang Beach. This street is bustling both day and night and has distinctly developed towards tourists and local holidaymakers alike. The road is lined with wide pedestrian sidewalks along both sides which provide access to the many shops, stalls, restaurants and spas along this stretch of road. You can find almost everything here including clothing, gifts, souvenir items, accessories and even a few larger duty-free shopping “malls” selling mostly alcohol, chocolates, perfume and clothing.


There are a variety of cafes and restaurants both budget and upscale that offer all kinds of dishes including local Malay, western, seafood, Indian, Arabic and even fusion cuisine. We can recommend grabbing some delicious local Malaysian dessert snacks from the small stall roughly opposite “Indian Palace” restaurant and “T-Shoppe” bike rental.


You will also find many a tour operator and vehicle rental shops front along Jalan Pantai Cenang and this is a good place to shop around for the best deal if you are considering either of these. However, if you don’t want to waste your precious holiday time haggling for the best price with the locals, why not rather book your tour beforehand with GetYourGuide or Viator where you are guaranteed of value for money and a reviewed service.


ENJOY SUNSET WITH A CHEAP BEER AND TAKE AWAY PIZZA ON THE BEACH

If you’re on a tight budget, we recommend popping into one of the many convenience stores along Jalan Pantai Cenang to grab some beer (or other drinks), for about half the price compared to from a bar on the beach, and then sit and relax either along the beach walk or on the beach to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the ocean.

Depending on the season, if the sun is aiming to set behind the island of Pulau Rebak Besar, just walk further north to see it setting over the sea instead! It will also be much quieter along this section of beach. If you’re going DIY sunset style like us, then grab a bargain takeaway pizza from “Pizza on Fire” to enjoy with those cheap beers and sunset!


BUDGET FRIENDLY ISLAND HOPPING BOAT TOUR

This is probably one of the cheapest organised tours that you can do in Langkawi and in our opinion was a fun and worthwhile experience. We paid MYR 30 per person for the 4-hour long excursion which included visiting 3 tropical islands from Langkawi Island.


It's a fantastic way to see some of the nearby islands such as Pulau Dayang Bunting where you can swim in the freshwater Pregnant Maiden Lake, Pulau Singa to feed the famous Langkawi Eagles and Pulau Beras Basah to enjoy yet another beautiful white sandy beach.


You can find plenty of booking agents along the main street just off Pantai Cenang beach to arrange a trip or you can book a tour online.

We first stopped at Pulau Dayang Bunting to take a swim in the freshwater Pregnant Maiden Lake. From here we went to Pulau Singa where we just stopped close to the island to feed the Eagles. I’m not sure how I feel about this part of the tour as the tour operators are feeding the eagles in order to attract them as a spectacle for tourists. It was rather spectacular to see so many of these magnificent golden brown eagles swooping down from the sky. From here we moved on to our final island of Pulau Beras Basah where we had an hour to relax and enjoy the beautiful white sandy beach. Do not expect a quiet or secluded beach! There are water sport activities and also a few drinks and snack vendors along the beach. Book your tour ahead of time with either GetYourGuide or Viator here.


EAT TRADITIONAL LOCAL FOOD AT AYER HANGAT NIGHT MARKET

There is a roaming night food market on Langkawi Island which sets up in a different location every day of the week. Best would be to check with the locals - currently, the Thursday Night Market is closest to Pantai Cenang area at Ayer Hangat Night Market.

The market officially starts at 6 pm, but we would suggest getting there a little earlier so that you have the full selection available as some things do sell out! We can definitely recommend the peanut chicken satay sticks, the mango juice and the small coconut pancakes! Be sure to read our posts on Malaysian Cuisine and Malaysian Sweet Treats to know what else you should look out for and try!


VISIT THE BEAUTIFUL FREE PUBLIC BEACHES AROUND LANGKAWI ISLAND

In addition to the well known and popular Pantai Cenang Beach, there are more than 10 other named free public beaches around the main island of Langkawi and several other unnamed ones. Most of the beaches are located on the northern and western shoreline of Langkawi Island and it would be best to have your own transportation to reach all of these beaches, although using a Grab Taxi to get to a few would also be feasible put possibly a little more costly.


The word “Pantai” in Malay actually means beach, so look out for local signage or direction boards that indicate “Pantai …” and you’ll be sure to find a few other sandy white beaches you didn’t know about! Most beaches in Langkawi are public and thus free to access and you can read about all the different beaches that we visited in our Best Beaches of Langkawi blog post.


HIKE UP GUNUNG RAYA, LANGKAWI’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN PEAK

At 881 masl, Gunung Raya is Langkawi’s highest peak. Of course, you can take the lazy way and drive or ride up to the top of the mountain, but if you’re looking for a way to work off all the duty-free beer you’ve been drinking, then perhaps consider taking the stairs! Just be sure that you are fit and have good knees, as although this is not at all a technical hiking trail, it does entail climbing 4 287 stairs...UP! And then you still need to consider getting back down!

Only 4200 more stairs to go!

To find the start of the trail (stairs), follow your GPS to Lubok Semilung Recreational Park. From here, walk down the path until you reach a big blue sign saying “Tangga Helang Seribu Kenangana” where the staircase begins. Keep in mind that the end of the stairs is not the actual end of the trail, you will still need to make your way up a section of the paved road to reach the lookout point and summit of Gunung Raya. Here you will also find The Tower where you can take an elevator to the top for an even better view and a cup of tea! There is a small entry fee which includes a cup of delicious ginger tea (MYR 10 in 2019).


The sign states that the distance covered by climbing the stairs (one way) is 3.1km and the climbing time is estimated at 2 hours and 15 minutes. Obviously, this will greatly depend on your fitness level and how often you stop. The entire climb is through a rather dense forest making it wonderfully shady but also not offering any viewpoints.

You can keep an eye and ear out for the Great Hornbill in the treetops, wild monkeys in the trees and some very interesting looking insects. Bear in mind that the humidity in Langkawi is extremely high, so be prepared to sweat a lot more than you normally would. Make sure you take enough water for both the climb up and down as there are no shops at the top. Be sure to cover yourself with mosquito repellent if you do not want to be eaten alive!


HIKE UP GUNUNG MACHINCHANG

At 850 masl, Gunung Machinchang (also spelt Mat Cin Cang) is Langkawi’s second-highest mountain peak. This is actually a range of mountain peaks and not a single peak. Gunung Machinchang is known to tourists for the steepest cable car in the world that you can ride to reach the summit.


The hiking trail, however, does not lead to the same summit, but a different and isolated peak which is only reached by hiking. This means that if you make the hike up, you are very likely to be alone at the summit! The trailhead can be found at the Seven Wells pools just above the waterfall. The small stream feeding the pools runs parallel to the trail, and you should see a sign at the start of the trail. The majority of the trail is marked out by ropes that are needed to make the ascent and result in it being a full-body workout to get to the top!

We decided that this was probably going to be a little too strenuous for me (Lisa) but believe that the views from the top of Gunung Machinchang are well worth the climb if you are physically up for it. Those looking for a physical challenge and a scenic view away from most tourists should definitely choose this hike over climbing the stairs up Gunung Raya. You will also be rewarded with a swim in the Seven Wells pools once you have made it back down!


Total estimated distance (return): 8.5 km

Estimated duration: 3 to 5 hours, depending on fitness level and how long you spend at the top.


TRY SOME CHEAP LOCAL HANDMADE DESSERTS ALONG JALAN PANTAI CENANG

There is a small local vendor roughly opposite “Indian Palace” restaurant and “T-Shoppe” bike rental just a little further north along Jalan Pantai Cenang who sells local handmade Malaysian desserts. Be sure to grab a few of these local sweet delicacies to enjoy as you stroll along Jalan Pantai Cenang or along Pantai Cenang Beach. Read our blog post on the 25 Malaysian Sweet Treats You Should Try to see if you can find them all or watch our YouTube video where we taste all these and let you know what we thought of them!


RIDE THE LANGKAWI CABLE CAR FOR AMAZING VIEWS OF LANGKAWI

Also known as the Langkawi SkyCab, this is definitely one of the most visited tourist attractions on Langkawi Island and although it is not free or cheap, it is well worth doing.

The starting point is at the Oriental Village at Teluk Burau, where you can walk around, grab a bite to eat and even feed the frenzy of fish at the Oriental fishpond. From here, the SkyCab ascends all the way to the peak of Gunung Machinchang, Langkawi’s second-highest mountain peak. Claimed to be the steepest cable car ride on earth, the SkyCab and takes you up to 708m above sea level over a distance of 2.2 km in around 15 minutes.


The Middle Station serves not only as a directional turning point for the cable car ride but also allows you to hop off and enjoy the views. From here you will continue to the Top Station where the panoramic view over Langkawi is simply breathtaking. On a clear day, you may even be able to spot some of the Islands of Thailand!


For the avid hiker, you can also hike up a trail which roughly follows the SkyCab route, aptly called the SkyTrail. You can arrange this hike at the Oriental Village, as you may only do this with a guide. As an alternative independent hike, see the section on Hiking Up Gunung Machinchang.


WALK ACROSS THE LANGKAWI SKY BRIDGE, THE LONGEST CURVED FREE SPAN BRIDGE IN THE WORLD

This 125m long curved pedestrian bridge structure ranks among the world’s longest curve suspension bridges. Set atop Mt. Machinchang at about 700m above sea level, the Langkawi SkyBridge is suspended from an 82m high single pylon and is suspended at about 100m above the ground. It curves out over the landscape to give a stunning view of the surrounding area.


From the Langkawi SkyCab Top Station, you can either take a short 10 minutes walk through a jungle trail to reach the SkyBridge or you can pay a small fee to ride the SkyGlide “glass elevator”. Considering that there is another small fee to access the SkyBridge itself, we chose to make use of the trail.


SWIM AT THE TELAGA TUJUH WATERFALL (7 WELLS WATERFALL) FOR FREE

This is a wonderful free and fun activity enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. The waterfall gets its name from the series of seven connected natural pools fed by seven separate waterfalls in Mount Mat Cincang.

You can either just enjoy a dip in the lowest pool if you are feeling lazy, or you can brave the steep climb to the top of the waterfalls, past huge rocks and through all seven of the pools. To reach the top, you can either continue along the steep service road heading right from the car park or take the 638 stairs behind the stalls from the car park that go all the way up to the top which is about 480 meters high. The climb will probably take you approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Be sure to keep an eye out for macaques, horn-bills and squirrels along the way. The view from the top is well worth the climb, just be cautious when admiring the view that you do not slip and fall on the wet rocks!


CLIMB UP TO SWIM AT DURIAN PERANGIN WATERFALL

Named after the Durian trees that can be found all around, this waterfall is just north of Kilim Village. After climbing a short flight of rugged stone stairs from the parking lot entrance and crossing a small suspension bridge, you will find the clearly marked pathway that leads to the main waterfall and swimming pond. The short climb is pretty steep but not difficult and there are many rock pools along the way to swim in.

The view from the top is stunning and well worth the short climb! At least there are refreshments and ice-cream available back down at the bottom where you will also find many local families enjoying the lowest pool, especially over weekends. This is probably the most beautiful and easiest waterfall to access and also has a fair amount of water even in the dry season. It’s such fun to cool down in the fresh cool water and be able to get all the way to under the actual waterfall!


MAKE A DAY TRIP TO KUAH TO SEE LANGKAWI’S FAMOUS EAGLE SQUARE (DATARAN LANG)

Langkawi’s Eagle Square is a popular photo spot featuring a huge 12m high eagle statue poised to take flight over a scenic and star-shaped waterfront plaza. Folklore claims that Langkawi’s name came from two Malay words: ‘helang’ meaning eagle and ‘kawi' meaning reddish-brown. You can relax here and watch the ferries arriving and leaving the main port, as they are greeted by Langkawi’s famous reddish brown eagle. Although the square itself is not all that exciting, it is a good stop as part of a day trip to Kuah. You can of course also visit the many duty-free shops and nearby Jetty Point Mall.


SPOILT YOUR SELF WITH A MANGROVE TOUR FROM KILIM GEOPARK

Spoiler alert, this one is not the cheapest activity, but we decided it was one worth spoiling ourselves with during our month-long stay in Langkawi. This 100 km2 area is a nature reserve and a collection of geo-sites full of beautiful flora and fauna, and amazing geological formations like mammoth limestone rocks, fossils, caves, lagoons, beaches and seascapes. Administered and protected by the Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department, it is part of the larger Langkawi Geopark and is quickly becoming one of the biggest hot spots of eco-tourism in the region.

There are so many package tours available you may find it hard to choose. We went for one of the cheapest shared options and paid RM 80 per person including lunch. The tour lasts about 5-6 hours and we decided to go for the morning option. Book your tour beforehand from GetYourGuide or Viator here.

Most of the tours will include the following: Fish feeding, Eagle feeding, Floating Fish Farm, Geoforest & Park, River cruise, Monkey feeding, Bat cave, Crocodile cave, Fossil Island, Swimming at private beach and lunch at a floating restaurant, most likely Hole In The Wall.


We had a really fun experience and think that this is a great way to see a lot of the amazing nature that Langkawi has to offer from the water and thus a slightly different perspective of the island. If you have the time when visiting Langkawi, we would recommend doing this. If you don’t want to spend quite as much, for about half the price you can just do an island-hopping boat trip.


Or if you don’t mind spending quite a lot more, then we would suggest the kayak geopark tour as this brings you a lot closer to nature and further away from most of the tourists! If you want to do it DIY style, then you can also rent a boat (with driver) from the northern beaches, but be warned that he may not speak English and you will have to tell him where you want to go!

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