Paradise has many names and Langkawi is one of them.
All the qualities of island paradise are here powder white beaches,
clear turquoise waters, lush ancient rainforest and a relaxed, almost surreal
pace of life. Blessed with such natural beauty, it is easy to attribute
them as her main attractions, yet the jewel in Langkawi's crown is something
less obvious: the heritage of oral storytelling passed down by the first
settlers centuries ago. The result is hundreds of legends attached to almost
every cave, island, rock and lake within the archipelago. It is because of
this enchanting folktales and legends that Langkawi is often dubbed "Isles
Tucked against Thailand off Peninsular Malaysia's northern coast, the Langkawi
archipelago contains not only one but a hundred or so idyllic islands. Scattered
where the Andaman Sea merges into the Malacca Straits, there are between
99 to 104 of them the figures vary as some of the islets are submerged
during high tide.
The main island and the largest of the lot is popularly known as Pulau Langkawi,
about the size of Singapore. Most of the development and population are on
this island, as are the places of attractions and accommodation. Pulau Langkawi
is easily accessed by air or sea, through its airport at Padang Matsirat
and jetty at Kuah town. The island itself is connected by an excellent road
Kuah, the capital town, is the island's most developed and populated place.
It is here that most of the island's shopping complexes, offices and restaurants
Beyond Kuah town, much of Pulau Langkawi remain (surprisingly) unspoilt.
The island's centre is a picturesque composition of Malaysian countryside
where brooding, rainforested mountains tower over vast expanses of paddy
fields and traditional villages, while sandy white beaches hug the
Much of the island's character is that of a rustic
malay countryside, much reflected by the relaxed lifestyle of local villagers
as they saunter to work or hang out with their buddies at the
nearby warong1. Another prevalent sight in this pastoral
scene is that of water buffaloes nonchalantly basking in the paddy fields,
their dark hides contrasting with the fertile green fields. One wonders if
modern harvesting machinery have rendered them redundant, but this benevolent
creature remains a charming sight to behold.
From her early days as a place of refuge for pirates and buccaneers who preyed
upon trading ships in the Straits of Malacca, the Langkawi islands have seen
many changes, but the most profound impact on the islands' fortunes was when
it was bestowed duty-free status by the Malaysian Government in 1987.
Since then, life has never been the same for any Langkawian, as concerted
efforts to turn Langkawi into a major tourist destination resulted in more
development and economic growth. No doubt it was the govenment's hand which
turned the tide of fortunes for Langkawi, but many local folk still believed
that it was due to something less tangible, that the seven-generation curse
cast on the island by Mahsuri had finally ended.
to legend, the beautiful Mahsuri was sentenced to be speared to death for
adultery, a crime she was falsely accused of. With her dying breath, she
cursed the island, predicting that it would not prosper until seven generations
had passed. Strangely enough, Langkawi suffered a series of woes after that
crops failed, it was invaded by the Siamese and Achenese, and bypassed
in mainstream development.
Whatever the reason for its prosperity, today's visitors to Langkawi are
spoiled for choice with over 7,000 hotel rooms to choose from.
Yet despite these changes, Langkawi has still managed to retain her identity
through the ages. It is still very much a land of kampungs, beaches,
rice fields, legends and easy going people. Langkawi's magical charm is one
which you have to experience for yourself, a spellbinding adventure for all
who set foot here.
1. Local coffee shop/eatery.