10 days on Malaysia's west coast. Part 2: Langkawi with kids.
Despite there being a relatively short 3-hour ferry ride connecting Langkawi and Penang, we’d heard too many rumours of rough seas and super speedy ferries which equated to copious amounts of sea sickness. Apparently, when sufficiently organised, they hand out sick bags to all passenger’s pre-departure. After a late-night Air Asia hunt, we jumped on probably the shortest flight we’ve ever taken...around 20 minutes from take-off to landing!
We decided to split Langkawi in two and stay in a traditional Malay style wooden house on stilts in a tiny kampung, and then head to one of the larger resorts with private beach and plenty of on-site facilities. We also hired a car, which was straight forward and very cheap (less than £20 per day), and is the best way to explore the island.
Our first two nights were spent at a heritage villa, which is close to the airport at the southern end of the island. There are 15 stilted villas all set around a lagoon, with a floating swimming pool in its centre. The setting is stunning with lily pads and bright pink water lilies bobbing on the lagoon either side of the pool and in front of a decked seating area. The villas themselves are thoughtfully designed with simple but elegant furnishings and plenty of windows and doorways that bring the beautiful outdoor spaces inside. A free-standing wooden bathtub and beautifully tiled bathroom add a touch of luxury that we loved. Although only a 5-minute drive into Cenang, and the many restaurants available there, we ended up eating at the hotels restaurant both nights as we really didn’t want to leave. The food was excellent – the beef rendang in particular – and the staff were attentive and friendly. Each villa has its own bikes, parked up underneath your villa, and this is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside and local kampungs, giving you a real taste of rural Langkawi. We absolutely loved our stay here, but all good things must come to an end as they say, and we headed north to Pantai Kok and the Berjaya Hotel.
On the other end of the scale, the Berjaya is a big resort with individual chalets, built on stilts scattered throughout the rainforest and over the ocean. There’s a decent sized pool, with stepping stones and a waterfall that the kids loved and direct access onto a private section of Pantai Kok beach. Being a large resort, it has great facilities on-site, from tennis courts, archery and Batik painting workshops, to a selection of restaurants and a Starbucks cart. The pool and beach are lovely and the chalet concept distinguishes it from other resorts, but they did feel a little tired. A massive plus for us was the location, right next door to the Skycab (cable car) and a 25-minute drive to the stunning Tanjung Rhu beach.
Langkawi is a beautiful island, with some amazing beaches and a stunning landscape of forested mountains and jungle clad valleys. It should be included as your beach destination in any Malaysian itinerary, but there are also some great attractions, away from the beaches, that suit all ages. Here are our top picks when travelling to Langkawi with kids.
- Beaches – We were expecting great things from Langkawi’s beaches having read various websites and travel blogs all describing white sands and turquoise seas backed by palm trees and coconuts. Some certainly delivered whilst others were a bit disappointing. Getting your beach right is absolutely imperative here so we thought we’d detail each of the beaches we visited:
Pantai Kok – the Berjaya resort pretty much has Pantai Kok all to itself, so unless you are staying here it’s a tricky one to enjoy. There is a public car-park accessing another part of the beach, but this was more of a harbour, with lots of boats in the sea, and only a thin strip of sand to work with. The private beach accessed through the resort is relatively small, but lovely, with amazing views behind of the towering Machinchang Peak and the Skycab’s cable-cars slowly disappearing into the surrounding cloud forest. We used the Berjaya as a base, with its location towards the north-west coast of the island, to explore the northern beaches without paying the higher cost that comes with staying on the north coast.
Pantai Cenang – undoubtedly the busiest beach in Langkawi, with a long tourist strip and plenty of shops, restaurants and water-based activities on offer. The beach itself is lovely with a wide strip of golden sand and calm shallow waters to paddle and swim in. It’s backed by resorts, cafes and bars pretty much from end to end but there are a smattering of palm trees and as the bay curves to the south, beyond the large Langkawi signage, it’s all green forests. We strolled along towards the beaches northern end and camped up outside the Meritus Pelangi hotel. This felt like the quietest and prettiest spot.
Pantai Tengah – a southern extension of Cenang but separated by a rocky outcrop, this beach is currently under-going some pretty extensive development. Either because of this, or potentially just bad timing, the beach was full of rubbish along the tide line which put us off to the point of leaving. It is far quieter than Cenang beach, and there are some nice hotels and beach bars that you can use either as a guest or not, but from our brief experience it’s currently one to avoid.
Pasir Tengkorak – on the road towards Datai bay, Tengkorak is one of the smaller beaches and can therefore feel quite crowded. The setting is beautiful, with golden sands surrounded by green jungle, and no resorts to be seen, so it’s worth a visit but probably wouldn’t be your primary beach.
Datai Bay – we didn’t make it onto Datai beach as the access seemed quite tricky from the Andaman, and the Datai was closed for refurbishment. It’s clearly a stunning beach having mentions in various travel mags and guide books as being one of the worlds top beaches, but it is primarily for guests of the two swanky resorts. Whilst no beach in Malaysia is apparently ‘private’, it doesn’t offer too much encouragement when you see security guards manning the main access points, so we opted to hop back in the car and drive back to Tanjung Ruh!
Pantai Tanjung Rhu – this beach is in the north-east of Langkawi and was our favourite by some distance. It’s a stunning stretch of golden sands backed by emerald green forests of casuarina trees. Striking karst islands and secluded beaches edge the bay and dot the horizon, while the odd long tail boat bounces along the waves. The beach is easily accessed by following the main road until it culminates in a short dusty track that leads to a makeshift car-park and a few shops and stalls selling cold drinks, snacks and hats. There is one bar as you enter the beach, and just the one resort - the Tanjung Rhu Resort - that has its own private sector of beach to the left of the car-park. After arriving we grabbed a fresh coconut and a couple of cold drinks and made our way to the dappled shade at the rear of the beach. The kids had a great time in the sea, jumping over the small waves and then wading out around 20 metres to a sandbar, where the water was only knee deep. They then dried off with some shell collecting and sand castle building, before repeating (about four times).
- SkyBridge and Skycab – suspended from a 80m high single pylon, the longest curved suspension bridge in the world perches on top of Machinchang mountain, swinging out over virgin jungle and offering breathtaking views of the island and surrounding waters. There are clear glass panels interspersed across the bridge for the brave and our children enjoyed jumping on these to my horror! Accessing the SkyBridge is half the fun.You have to take the Skycab, a 2km or 15 minute cable car ride up Machincang mountain, reaching over 700m above sea level. It claims to be the steepest cable car on Earth and it felt it! Ignoring the children’s screams of cable cars crashing towards us, I managed to bury my newly acquired vertigo and marvel at the stunning canopy below, with the Seven Wells Waterfall and Pantai Kok in clear view. You can alight at the middle station on the eastern ridge to get a few snaps, but the SkyBridge is accessed via a 10 minute walk from the top station (or at a small additional cost, via what can only be described as a glass elevator). We all had a wonderful morning here, but would strongly recommend getting to the base station for 9am to beat the queues and enjoy the experience in relative peace. We spent around 2 hours here, which felt like long enough before the children tired of the heat.
- Nightmarkets – On any given night of the week, scattered across the island, you should be able to find a ‘pasar malam’ (night market). Lively vendors line the streets, showcasing a huge variety of local produce and freshly prepared Thai and Malaysian street food. We stumbled upon Air Hangat market on a Friday evening, on our return journey from Tanjun Rhu beach. The children were captivated by all the weird and wonderful delicacies and brightly coloured juices on offer. They settled on Thai pancakes for tea and we stocked up on some fresh fruit.
- Batik painting - This wax-resist textile art, predominantly depicting leaves and flowers, is a popular textile design in Malaysia. Our children loved taking part in the Berjaya workshop, where they were instructed in how to apply brightly coloured dyes and water to a pre-prepared wax design. Entranced by the colours travelling across the fabric, the activity kept them busy for a good hour and they were delighted with their finished butterfly paintings. It’s a lovely traditional activity for any craft-loving children to try and a fantastic hand-crafted souvenir for them to take home.
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