Langkawi is synonymous with ‘tropical paradise’. Since 2008 the archipelago’s official title has been Langkawi Permata Kedah (Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah), no doubt inspired by the island’s clear waters, relatively pristine beaches and intact jungle. The district has been duty free since 1987 and pulling in tourists well before that. Yet, despite their immense drawing power, these 99 islands, dominated by 478.5-sq-km Pulau Langkawi, have not been overdeveloped beyond recognition. Get just a little way off the main beaches and this is idyllic rural Malaysia, with traditional kampung(villages) and a laid-back vibe. It’s the kind of tropical island where there’s no lack of spas, seafood restaurants and beach bars, but where the locals continue to go about their ways just as they have for generations.
Malaysia is like two countries in one, cleaved in half by the South China Sea. While peninsula flaunts bustling cities, colonial architecture, misty tea plantations and chill-out islands, Malaysian Borneo hosts wild jungles of orangutans, granite peaks and remote tribes, along with some pretty spectacular diving. Throughout these two regions is an impressive variety of microcosms ranging from the space-age high-rises of Kuala Lumpur to the traditional longhouse villages of Sarawak.
If there was one thing that unites all its pockets of ethnicities, religions and landscapes, it’s food. Between the Chinese-Malay ‘Nonya’ fare, Indian curries, Chinese buﬀets, Malay food stalls and Dayak specialties, with some impressive Western-style food thrown in for good measure, travellers will never go hungry here.