Langkawi Island is obviously one of Malaysia’s most beautiful locations, an archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, with another 5 temporary islands revealed only at low tide. It’s considered the Jewel of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai border, and was once under Siam rule in the early 1800s.
As a result, Kedah retains some cultural and culinary influences from Thailand, and this includes Langkawi too. The island is rich with local folklore that is tied to its history and natural landscape, and feels like quite a magical place even for the locals who flock there throughout the year.
One of the most prominent legends that Malaysians all know is the curse of Mahsuri, a young maiden who was unfairly sentenced to death on charges of adultery. Mahsuri’s curse on the island before her sentence was carried out was said to have lasted 7 generations, ending in the late 1980s which is when the island began to prosper. Whether it was a mere coincidence or truth, it is definitely one of the legends that continue to enchant and attract visitors from around the world to the island.
It’s quite hard to find a Malaysian who has never been there, I myself first set foot on the island as part of a school trip, and have returned many times since. The pull of Langkawi cannot be denied; Eka and myself also chose a quiet week on the island instead of a trip abroad for our honeymoon ten years ago, and we’ve never regretted the decision. So when the Cycling Plus Malaysia team was hunting for our next destination after our Terengganu cycling road trip, we thought that Langkawi was the perfect destination.
Getting To & Getting Around Langkawi
With two bike cases to test for reviews, Eka and myself set about flying to the island, while Maya was also convinced to fly in from Singapore, so that we could hand over her newly assembled Ritchey Breakaway Ti bike. We all opted to fly in the same day and met up at the Langkawi International Airport, renting a Nissan Serena upon arrival to drive to our accommodation nearby Pantai Cenang.
The rest of the Cycling Plus Malaysia gang drove up from Kuala Lumpur, a long journey that took them approximately six hours. What time they saved in packing their bikes and waiting at the airport they more than made up on the drive. Remember to also factor in the ferry ride that you can take from either Kuala Perlis or Kuala Kedah, if you’re driving in. Obviously more options are available for those traveling via public transport.
And while we made the trip to Langkawi to do a round the island ride, this doesn’t mean that we’d want to spend all of our time on the bikes. There are quite a few dragon backs in many parts of the island, which is not small by any means either. Since you can clock more than 100km on the roads, we don’t recommend anyone depend on non-motorised forms of transport in Langkawi, particularly since there is virtually no public transport there.
Eka, Maya and myself don’t actually have a single motorcycle licence between us, so every time we are there a rental car will be needed. You could opt for a scooter to zip around with, but the Langkawi heat is not to be trifled with, and an air-conditioned car is not a bad thing to explore the island with. After a hot and sweaty ride, it is a nice luxury to have, and they’re definitely better than constantly having to depend on a taxi.
Langkawi Points of Interest
It didn’t happen if it wasn’t on Instagram or Strava, right? We got you. With the amazing all around scenic views you get on the island, there are a number of postcard perfect spots. We tend to plan our rides around these stops because when you’re stopping for a bite or taking a break to catch your breath, something nice to look at reminds us why we ride in the first place. Here are some checkpoints on the Cycling Plus Malaysia ride, though not all areas will have a safe spot to stop for photos.
Padang Matsirat - Where a lot of the Langkawi historical attractions are located, ride out along the Langkawi International Airport runway to get an amazing view of the sunrise or sunset.
Jalan Pantai Kok - The winding road is a good stretch to get your blood pumping, with scenic climbs and dragon backs amid lush tree cover.
Telaga Harbour Marina - Petrol station for snacks, lovely scenes of docked sailboats and colourful fishing boats by the lighthouse.
Pantai Pasir Hitam - A different beach view with black sands due to mineral oxides, nearby a souvenir market of small stalls and shops.
Pantai Tengkorak - This beach of soft white sands is a local favourite away from the crowds, but is plagued by a population of very aggressive macaques.
Tanjung Rhu - One of the most beautiful and tranquil beaches of Langkawi due to its remote location up north, with a good fish and chips stall.
Ayer Hangat hot springs - Three-tiered hot spring water wells of salt water, supposedly found only in three other countries in the world.
Kilim Geoforest Park - Find a secure spot to leave your bikes to enjoy the mangrove swamps, pristine beaches, and vertical karstic hills with a boat cruise or kayak.
Wat Koh Wanararm Langkawi - Founded by a Thai monk and part of the island’s Siamese heritage, best known for its beautiful giant statue of Kuan Yin.
Bukit Malut - Better known for an illegal refugee settlement, the road going through this area actually has great views of the sea on a clear day, and gives cyclists a nice dragon back challenge, especially since the toughest climbs are mostly exposed to the sun.
These are obviously only some of the interesting places in Langkawi, there are many, many more that you can find by tailoring your ride to what you want to see or do there. Since our ride was an 88km round island route in a single day, we opted not to linger long at our checkpoints. Just be sure to bring enough water and energy supplies to keep you going!
Where to Stay in Langkawi
Langkawi has a crazy variety of accommodation to suit all manner of travelers, from the budget conscious backpacker to the environmentally friendly nature lovers to big groups or families to luxurious honeymooners. In truth, we’ve also not stayed at the same place twice ourselves! If you want a bit of privacy with your significant other opt for a resort or boutique hotel in the more quiet areas, while bigger groups can look for B&B, Airbnbs or hostels; many local residents have also set up some really nice homestays on the island.
Home to the ever popular Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah, this area of the island is arguably the most developed, and is the most popular with tourists. The most happening area for sure, this is where you will find the highest concentration of hotels, restaurants, shops and nightlife, while the airport itself is fairly nearby. It can get fairly busy here, but you can still find pockets of quiet areas that are within a bike ride’s distance of amenities.
A fairly remote and undeveloped area of the island, this corner of Langkawi is surrounded by virgin rainforest, and provide some of the best areas for wildlife watching and excursions into nature. I will forever remember this area as the spot where I almost ran over a slow loris while driving to our hotel, as the animal made its leisurely trudge across the road to a tree on the other side, with us waiting patiently in our car.
Also a more green and quiet area, this part of the island is home to the beautiful and tranquil white sands of Tanjung Rhu beach, as well as the UNESCO certified Kilim Geoforest and its mangrove swamps. The Langkawi Wildlife Park is also here, nearby the base of Gunung Raya, making this corner of the island another good location for nature lovers.
Here lies the modern heart of Langkawi - Kuah, which is the biggest town on the island, and where the ferries from the mainland will dock. There is a lot of duty free shopping to be done at the malls here, while there are plenty of seafood and other dining options that open late.
Some of our favourite hotels
Do keep in mind that on many occasions we chose to treat ourselves a bit, since it was a holiday break for us. For the most recent trip, we opted for La Pari-pari (pictures above). In truth, you’re really spoilt for choice in terms of accommodation. There are many other places with more affordable room rates, so you’re not likely to be forced to sleep in your car or camp wild even if you arrive without a booking.
The Langkawi Cycling Experience
Most roads on the island are in fairly good condition, making it quite a nice ride for road cyclists, though some parts of the roads have not been repaved in a while. There are many places to stop for energy supplies or water, but remember that that a bit of planning is always required to ensure you don’t get caught out - we ran out of water on our last dragonback when the midday sun reached its zenith and we were nearing exhaustion, with a local sundry shop appearing only after that last painful climb. Most villages or towns will have affordable places to eat, so bring whatever cash you may need.
On the road there is not much traffic (with the exception of the town areas), but do remember that it is an island where strict road rules aren’t really enforced in the more rural areas. There are times when you do need to be on the lookout for oncoming cars, especially holidaymakers from the mainland who tend to let their hair down while on vacation. Roadblocks are supposedly routine there, but we have never encountered any.
Since we’ve been to the island to cycle more than once before the Cycling Plus official trip, there have been many different routes that we’ve tried. We’ve also broken up our rides over several different days to explore different parts in a more leisurely manner. In terms of terrain there are a number of challenges you can expect to face beyond the heat from the harsh Langkawi sun. In different areas of the island there are some flat stretches but also a number of tough climbs, sweeping dragon backs and a mountain within the central area where Gunung Raya is located.
Le Tour de Langkawi is one of the premiere cycling events in the Asean region while Ironman Langkawi is also a recognised event within the global triathlete community, so the local drivers are quite used to seeing cyclists on the island. Most recently, RHB Langkawi Ride 2019 also did a good job of establishing cycling as a sport there. Here is a look at the major 2019 cycling events in Langkawi, though do take note that the routes for these events may change from year to year:
The sufferfest option for those who are keen to see how they fare on a route that the pros have cycled. On this site you will also find technical information of the route. For 2019, the tour was designed to end in Langkawi, meaning the riders rode Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor again, Putrajaya, Selangor, Pahang, Perak, Penang, and Kedah. Stage 7 and Stage 8 were the only stages that were held on the island, giving participants a splendid ending to a gruelling race. Langkawi just so happens to be a nice location for the cyclists to unwind after the event too.
Definitely one of the toughest events, Ironman Langkawi is a well known triathlon event that runs in the regular sequence of swim-bike-run. Triathletes from around the world flock to the island for this event, particularly if they are eyeing qualifying slots for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. If you’re not able to or are not interested to join the event itself, you can still follow the bike segment route on your own.
A fairly new addition to the island’s event calendar, this was not a race due to RHB Group CEO and MD Datuk Khairussaleh Ramli’s preference for rides of a non competitive nature. This was RHB’s alternative to an overseas event, after their initial plans to organise a ride in Siem Reap, Cambodia fell through. Three categories give you three route options, namely 100km, 72km or 25km.
Overall, Langkawi definitely captivates the senses with its quaint villages, picturesque paddy fields, verdant hills, lush rainforests, mangrove forests and powdery beaches. The island’s beautiful scenery combined with a rich cultural heritage, great food and wonderful people, make for quite a nice experience for the visiting cyclist, and we highly recommend putting it on your cycling bucket list. We certainly will be back there again and again!