Langkawi

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Once a sanctuary for pirates, Pulau Langkawi carries a reputation that was largely known only to the locals until it was made a duty-free port in 1987. Add modern amenities and state-of-the-art business facilities to its natural appeal, accentuated by a multitude of intriguing folklore and legends, and you get a Malaysian getaway exclusive for holidaymakers and corporate figures from all over the world.

Lying off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Pulau Langkawi is the largest among an archipelago of 99 islands collectively known as Langkawi. With only a small population of 54,000 in a land of 32,000 hectares, its economy is driven mainly by the tourism industry. The most comfortable way to get to this exquisite tourist destination is by air from Kuala Lumpur or Penang. The Langkawi International Airport is only 20 km from its main town, Kuah .

Kuah

If you choose to travel by land, a ferry ride from either Kuala Kedah (51 km) or Kuala Perlis (30 km) will bring you to Kuah, which means gravy. It is the heart of the island with a population of 13,000. Here you can find hotels and restaurants of different classes, tour agencies, car and bike rentals and, most probably, the story behind its name.
There are also banks here for currency exchange. Though public transport is limited, touring around the island is not a problem. To best savour Langkawi, a bicycle or a motor cycle would be an ideal choice.
A stone's throw from the jetty lies Dataran Lang, or the Eagle Square, where the statue of a reddish-brown eagle symbolising Langkawi is prominent. Lang is 'helang", which means 'eagle', in short. 'Kawi' literally means reddish brown in old Malay. Adjacent to the square is Lagenda Langkawi Dalam Taman, or 'Langkawi Legends in the Park'. The garden, adorned with sculptures, is a good place for an insight into the tales of this legendary island.

Kuah is also the hub of shopping activities with numerous duty-free outlets. The good news is that the requirement of a minimum stay of 72 hours to make purchases at a duty-free shop has been reduced to 48 hours. The bad news, most visitors burn a big hole in their pockets when it comes to shopping on the island.
A good place to start your shopping spree would be the Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall that features over 100 outlets selling souvenirs, sports attire, beach wear, trinkets, audio-visual items and others.
Other shopping outlets that is worth stopping by are Langkawi Duty Free, Jetty Point Complex and Teow Soon Huat Supermarket & Departmental Store.
A range of value for money items from electrical goods, perfume, liquor and others are offered at these stores.

Fancy the fables

Due west about 12 km from Kuah, you will come to Kampong Mawat where Mahsuri's Masoleum is located. A folklore behind this site revolves around a local village maiden, Mahsuri, who made a curse some 300 years ago to impoverish Langkawi for seven generations. If you have not already known, it is not difficult to find out why Mahsuri is such a celebrated figure despite the curse.

Lying on the northeast of Makam Mahsuri is Padang Mat Silat, or Field of Burnt Rice. Once the island's granary, it was ordered by the village head to be burnt during the Siamese invasion in 1821. It is said that, until today, remnants of the burnt rice could still be found after a downpour and these are potent for certain diseases. On a serious note,Padang Mat Silat is where Langkawi International Airport and The Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, home to the biennial Langkawi Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA), are located.

Further northwest is yet another interesting attraction - Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls, which means Seven Wells. Found on the slopes of Gunung Mat Cincang, it is in effect water that streams down from the mountain through seven natural pools, forming a series of cascading waterfalls. Getting to the highest 'well', 91 m above sea level, requires some serious jungle trekking.

The lowest 'well', however, is easily accessible with concrete steps provided. Other than being an ideal site for a picnic, both the mountain and the wells also have their own fabled stories to share. Gunung Mat Cincang, with Gunung Raya being its counterpart, is believed to be a quarrelsome giant and the Seven Wells a favorite bathing place for the mountain fairies.
A sweet aroma fills the air when they are there. Sense it!
To the east of the Seven Wells is Datai, where the eight-hectare Langkawi Crocodile Farm featuring more than 1,000 alligators is located. A few kilometres away lies Air Hangat Village, or Hot Water Village. The village is said to be a result of an argument between one Mat Cinang (sounds familiar?) and one Mat Raya over the marriage between the son of the former and the daughter of the latter.
A fight followed and Air Hangat was where a cauldron of boiling water landed; while Kuah is the spot where a pot of gravy was spilt. Apart from the scene of hot springs, the village has grown into a cultural centre where you can witness batik painting, wood carving, and traditional games, among others.

Sweat it out

Amid an aura of mystery, lush greenery and pristine beaches abound on the island and beyond. Pantai Cenang on the west coastline is the liveliest, providing all sorts of water sports, and the modern Underwater World Langkawi, which showcases 5,000 fish and marine creatures. This is also where most international hotels are located, among various types of budget chalets.

Relatively subdued, Pantai Tengah is a short distance to the south of Pantai Cenang. The stretch to the north provides two idyllic beaches in Burau Bay and Pantai Kok where the movie 'Anna and The King' has left its mark. Further up at the northwestern end is The Datai Langkawi, where an 18-hole golf course beckons. On the north coast, the Beach of Black Sand and Beach of Skulls are worth visiting. Though they are not suitable for any water activities, each has its own unique characteristics and stories, as suggested by their names.

About 20 km from Kuah on the northeastern coastline is Pantai Rhu, another favourite spot for adventurers. Popularly known as Casuarina Beach, it is rich in coral and marine life though the casuarinas that once filled the area are missing.

Hop around

If the beaches on Pulau Langkawi are not up to your mark, go island hopping. Among the favourites are Pulau Payar, Pulau Dayang Bunting, Pulau Singa, and Pulau Rebak.

Pulau Payar - together with Pulau Kaca, Pulau Segantan, and Pulau Lembu - is known for its beautiful coral gardens and has been rightfully gazetted as a marine park. Whether you are an ardent scuba diver or not, a 45-minute boat ride trip to this gorgeous island is highly recommended. Package tours are available for your convenience.

Pulau Dayang Bunting, the second largest behind Pulau Langkawi, is ideal for snorkelling. It also offers two interesting spots, Lake of the Pregnant Maiden and Gua Langsiar, or Banshee Cave-with fabled legends for your eyes and ears.

Pulau Singa Besar is an animal sanctuary with deer, peacocks, horses, and macaques around. Pulau Rebak, on the other hand, is a privately developed island that offers a luxurious resort, Rebak Marina, equipped with modern facilities for comfort to go with adventures.

History of Langkawi

Langkawi which means Reddish Brown Eagle in the Malay language is nestled on the Thai-Malaysian sea border and is the main island from a cluster of 99 islands during high tide and more than 104 islands in low tide.
Legend has it that Langkawi used to be the habitat of spirits and classical Malay literature Hikayat Merong Maha Wangsa states that Garuda, the mythological giant eagle rested in these islands.

Lying off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, about 30 kilometres from Kuala Perlis and 51 kilometres from Kuala Kedah, Pulau Langkawi, as it is popularly known, covers an area of 32,848 hectares. The island is divided into six districts namely Mukim Kuah, Padang Matsirat, Ayer Hangat, Bohor, Ulu Melaka and Kedawang and has a population of approximately 45,000 inhabitants with most of them being the Malays.
Out of the many small islands surrounding Langkawi, only Pulau Tuba - a fishing village, is inhabited.

With a geological history dating back to 500 million odd years, the islands contain bizarre rock formations that stir one's imagination and perplex the mind. Numerous caves like the mystical Gua Cerita, the haunted Gua Langsiar and Gua Kelawar with their stunning stalactites and stalagmites, taunt the adventurous.
Fine beaches fringed with lush tropical vegetation offer sun-filled days of complete relaxation. The crystal clear emerald waters under azure skies provide a host of water sports and recreational activities, and a magical world of marine life. Unspoilt and rustic, it is a tropical paradise spectacularly endowed by nature.

But Langkawi is more than captivating beauty ' it is also a land steeped in legends and shrouded in mysteries. Its past is filled with legendary tales of wronged maidens and lovelorn princes, all of whom have left their mark for posterity.
The best-known legend is that of Mahsuri, a beautiful maiden who lived here some 200 years ago. She was wrongly accused of committing adultery and sentenced to death by those who were envious of her. White blood oozed out as soon as she was stabbed proclaiming her innocence.
With her dying breath, she laid a curse upon the island ' that it should remain barren for seven generations. The Mahsuri's Masoleum is a sombre reminder of the wronged maiden.

As it turned out, in 1821, Langkawi was savagely attacked by the Siamese. Upon knowing the inevitable fate of the island following the battle, Datuk Kerma Jaya, the headman of Kampung Raja, the ancient capital of Langkawi, ordered that Padang Matsirat, the village granary, be burned and all the wells poisoned in order to starve the enemy.
From then on, the island slipped into a slumber. This legend is perhaps the main allure of Langkawi.

Call it superstition or coincidence, the island's slumberous existence ended seven generations later. Modernisation crept-in swiftly and the lethargic landscape of the land was given a careful face-lift.
On 1 January 1987, the Federal Government declared Langkawi a duty-free port and in 1990, the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) which is housed in the LADA Complex was set up to develop the island as a tourist destination, as well as to improve the socio-economic conditions of the local people. Today, Langkawi has blossomed from a once sleepy hollow inhabited by farmers and fishermen into a prime holiday spot for domestic and international travelers. Its main town, Kuah once a sleepy hollow, is now a thriving and bustling commercial district.

On 13 January 1996, Malaysia saw the launching of MEASAT I into the earth's orbit. Langkawi was chosen to house the MEASAT Satellite Control Centre to monitor and control all MEASAT satellites in-orbit operation. The erection of the centre at Gunung Raya, the highest peak of the island, brought Langkawi's name up further in the world map.

More and more tourists from all over the world are beginning to stream into the island for various reasons ' the idyllic pristine beaches such as the Pantai Cenang, Pantai Kok and Pantai Datai as well as the many small islands namely the Pulau Dayang Bunting, Pulau Payar and Pulau Singa Besar surrounding Langkawi.
Another reason behind the arrival of many visitors are the numerous international events held on the island. Some of the international events include the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Show (LIMA), Tour de Langkawi, Langkawi International Motor Show and Langkawi International Dialogue. The venue for most of these events is the The Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre, which covers a land area of 7500 sq feet.

To cater for the growing number of travelers flying into the island, Langkawi International Airport, located at PadangMat Sirat, has expanded three times within the last decade and undergone major renovations costing RM90 million.
Luxurious international class hotels and resorts spring up like mushrooms all over the island. Langkawi has suddenly gained worldwide attention as a prime tourist spot, the nation's aerospace centre and as a host of top-notch events.

 

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