Sitting roughly 30 kilometers off the mainland coast of northeastern Malaysia is a hidden gem of the region – Langkawi. This archipelago of more than 100 islands is an incredible corner of the planet that simply begs to be explored, and I had the absolute pleasure of traveling there last year. I have been fortunate to travel throughout the world in my life, but this is truly a jewel of the Pacific Ocean
However, don’t take my word for it… the official title of Langkawi is “The Jewel of Kedah”, which is the name of the state where Langkawi can be found. The largest island, and where I spent a great deal of my time, is aptly called Langkawi Island, and has a population of roughly 65,000 people.
I have always been drawn to beauty that is off the beaten track, and while it is the largest island tourist attraction in Malaysia, there were times during my travels where I felt like I had been let in on a secret. Fortunately, I have never been very good at keeping secrets, so I wanted to share my experience with you.
Despite being an island paradise, this is not a place to simply go and lie on a beach. This natural wonder is packed with exciting activities, tumbling waterfalls, stunning museums, friendly wildlife, unforgettable hikes, bustling markets and riveting outdoor adventures. I spent a little over a week in Langkawi, and did my best to enjoy all that these islands had to offer.
As a doctor who has dedicated his life to natural treatments and a holistic approach to health, I often immerse myself back in nature, tapping into local traditions, learning from different cultures, and expanding my understanding of the human body. However, on this particular trip, the majesty of Langkawi’s natural abundance was impossible to ignore.
Waterfalls and jungle
For anyone who has admitted their addiction to hiking the most beautiful spots in the world, you should definitely plan a trip to Langkawi at some point in the near future. The rainforests laying gently over the two tallest mountains on Langkawi offer endless opportunities for hiking through dense jungle paths and encountering untouched areas of nature. The Langkawi Jungle Trek was an exceptional three-hour hike that took me through the Mount Mat Cincang jungle, a UNESCO-protected area of the island. You could feel the ancient soul of that place, with exposed rock that is over 550 millions years old, as well as a symphony of cackling birds throughout the journey, and even the chance for a refreshing dip in a jungle stream. You can take the hike at night for a better chance at a close encounter with the island’s wildlife, but I chose a daytime trip instead.
However, three hours simply wasn’t enough for me, and I wanted to see the heart of that mountain – or at least the top of it – so I took the journey to the Mount Mat Cincang Peak. I’ll say right from the start that this is not for the faint of heart, and should only be attempted by serious hikers. It starts with a seemingly endless climb up more than 600 steps to the Seven Wells waterfalls, which cascade down jagged faces of rock with all the geometric logic of a Picasso painting. After dipping my toes in and peeking over the edge, I set off on an invigorating climb into the rainforest, passing through orchid groves and towering trees, with the summit always slightly out of reach. However, when I finally stood at the top of the peak, the entire island lay spread out before me. It is the second-highest peak in Langkawi, and the lush, sprawling landscape made me feel like I was on top of the world. It was worth every step.
By that point, I had experienced my first waterfall in Malaysia, but that didn’t quench my thirst. After speaking to a few of the locals – all of whom were wonderfully friendly – I was pointed in the direction of the “best” waterfall in Langkawi, the Durian Perangin Waterfall. When I finally reached the base, my jaw dropped as I watched it tumble down the side of the tallest mountain on the island, Mount Raya. Bouncing and rumbling through 14 tiers before collecting in a shallow, crystal-clear pool, this waterfall might require a healthy hike to reach it, but every step will be worth it. I visited the spot on a weekday, and there were only a handful of travelers gazing up at the impressive cascade, and there was a sense of calm and peace. We were sharing a moment of spiritual tranquility in what felt like a truly magical spot. The hike back was one of silence and meditation, taking in the vibrant greens, listening for every bird call or rustle in the distance, and allowing myself to connect with nature.
Back in the city, my appetite for natural wonders temporarily satisfied, I turned to more cultural attractions. I had already met a number of locals, and had been given various pieces of advice about the best spots for local food, and the must-see markets of the island. In an area known as Ayer Hangat, I was told about a night market that occurred every Friday, and I was very curious. As it turned out, it was more of a constant buffet of incredible food – from bamboo-steamed sticky rice to mouth-melting chilies and fresh fish no more than a few hours old. Being so close to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, there were some flavors and influences I recognized, but the overall Langkawi cuisine in that night market was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
The next day, I started my adventures with a slow crawl up Machinchang Mountain in the SkyCab, a cable car with a glass bottom, before heading over to the SkyBridge, the longest free span and curved bridge in the world, hanging above a vertigo-inspiring valley between two mountain peaks. It was a breathtaking stroll, and one that no traveler to Langkawi should skip. Once I got my feet back on solid ground, I wandered through Art in Paradise, a 3D museum that drew a major crowd of photo-seeking tourists, as well as a number of other small shops, theaters and open-stall markets.
Encountering the friendly macaques
By that point in my trip, I felt as though I had explored the far-flung natural beauty of Langkawi, but I hadn’t properly experienced it in my own backyard. That all changed when I had my first encounter with some of the island-dwelling macaques, small brown monkeys who are very bold and eager to interact with people, primarily to beg for a bite or even frighten tourists into dropping whatever street food they might be holding. Some people were shocked to see the monkeys so casually interacting and moving around the city, but I enjoyed it. It was wonderful to be in a place where an urban center could embrace the land in which it sits. Langkawi is a place where human culture and the natural world can overlap, interact and coexist; it was inspiring, to say the least.
I was coming to the end of my adventure in Langkawi, and after all that hiking, what I wanted to do most was lie down on an undisturbed beach, stroll the surf at sundown, and reflect on what a strange and spectacular place Malaysia had turned out to be. However, with more than a dozen “perfect” beaches scattered around the main island, I needed a bit of guidance on which to choose. After briefly explaining what I was looking for to another friendly guide, I was directed to Tanjung Rhu Beach, featuring a long strip of pure-white sand and a view of the ocean dotted with other islands of the archipelago.
Stepping into those warm tropical waters, I was struck by the sapphire-blue water, so clean and inviting, stretching out like a vast carpet of jewels, and I suddenly understood how Langkawi had earned its nickname. There wasn’t a tourist in site, just myself and a few families dotting the beach, as though I had once again been let in on one of the island’s secret haunts. While lying down in the shallow surf and letting the waves lap against me, I closed my eyes and imagined the last time I had felt so at peace. A place that can deliver that level of clarity and calm is rare in these fast-paced, modern times, and on my drive back along the coastal road to the city center, I couldn’t help but smile.
Leaving a place is always difficult, whether you’ve been visiting for a week or living there for decades. You leave a part of yourself, and those places imprint strongly on your idea of the broader world. I had no idea what to expect when I came to Langkawi, just a curious hunger for exploration and the desire to soak up some beauty. What I found was a welcoming, awe-inspiring haven where Man and Mother Nature meet. While it was certainly hard to leave such a paradise on Earth, I have a feeling that I’ll be back someday. In the meantime, you should go and experience it for yourself!