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WHERE TO STAY:
Most backpacker / budget guesthouses are on the street that runs away from the beach, opposite Orkid Ria restaurant (near the north end of the main drag).
Budget rooms can be had for RM50 (NZ$20): for this you get one room with a double bed, a fan, bed sheets, clean towels, toilet paper, and attached ensuite bathroom.. you should also get free WiFi in public areas (and, maybe, your room). With hot water and aircon expect to pay RM80 (NZ$32) and up.
On my first day I toured the island to check the place out. Kuah Town is grey and drab and I wouldn’t recommend staying there unless you like town life and have transport.
There are ‘guesthouses’ and ‘homestays’ down the west coast but, again, it is all pretty basic – and you are far away from where the action is – so, again, only consider this option if you have transport.
I concluded that Cenang Beach or Tengah Beach were the places to be – to be fair, it wasn’t a very hard decision to make. It now boiled down to finding a nice place to stay…
I like to be ‘on the edge’ so that I am far enough away to get some peace when I want it but also close enough to walk home at night if I go out on the town.
RM120 (NZ$48) seemed pretty standard for an average room (sometimes with aircon and sometimes with TV).
If you want hot water showers, you invariably get aircon and, therefore, have to pay aircon room rates.
This price was discounted to about RM100 (NZ$40) or a 21 day stay – I reckon that I could have got more discount if I had pushed harder (but you only do that when you will take the room at the end of the negotiation).
Starting at about RM2,400 a month (RM80 or NZ$32 per day) you can get your own 1-bedroom chalet with separate kitchen, separate en suite bathroom, free WiFi, mini fridge, kettle, toaster, hot water, aircon and (Malaysian freeview) TV.
Rainbow Lodge even do a yearly rate. For people ‘in the know’ these units are very popular and they are generally booked out from November through to April. Talk to Eddy (the Manager) and see what he can do for you.
For us westerners, I would liken the long stay units to living in a slightly run down permanent caravan park. Rainbow Lodge have had some people living there for months… some of their guests have lived there for 2 years (they just do Visa runs to Thailand every 90 days). Some just come for 3-4 months each year as part of their ‘retirement locations cycle’.
100m or so further back from the beach I saw more such long term stay chalets. They are there and within walking distance of Cenang Beach and its surrounding lifestyle and facilities.
WHERE TO EAT:
I don’t tend to name places because restaurants (and their reputations) can come and go so quickly.
The main drag is riddled with international western food options from Mexican to Burgers to Seafood done in all styles. However, as these are tourist options, these are relatively quite expensive… I’m talking RM15-20 for eggs on toast for breakfast… RM20-30 for gourmet burgers… RM10-12 for a Shawarma / Kebab… RM50-60 or more for a steak / seafood meal.
As always, if you want the cheaper options… look for where the locals eat. There are a couple of places near Orkid Ria where you can get a Roti Chanai for RM1 (I LOVE freshly made Malaysian Roti!). If you head down to the junction where Cenang Beach meets Tengah Beach, you will find 2 or 3 local restaurants about 50 meters up the road worth a try.
If you have rented a scooter, why not get away from the touristy Cenang main street and discover some of your own favourite haunts. Good prices can be had in all sorts of places within 5km of Cenang Beach. I drove 5km up the coast where there were some street food vendors next to the airport with tables on the beach – for RM3 I got a tasty fish Laksa and for RM1.50 more a coconut and ginger shake.
Night Markets: Every night in Langkawi there is a large night market at a different spot on the island. Cenang Beach market is Thursday night. You can get all sorts of dishes for RM1… it is hard not to pig out.
WHERE TO DRINK:
But, as a guideline, the restaurant on site at Rainbow Lodge sells 320ml cans of Skol for RM3 and 320ml cans of Tiger for RM4. Not bad considering they are ice cold – a Skol costs RM1.90 and Tiger RM2.20 in the mini marts.
Langkawi is not a party island. Alcohol is cheap and there are some great little bars where you can chill out.
The main bar on Cenang is Ruang Bar, right in the middle of the main strip. It can get a bit loud (and the customers a bit pissed) as the night goes on. It is essentially a wooden bar built onto the outside of a small mini mart. The drinks are cheap. A can of Skol goes for RM5.
It’s also worth checking out the beach… Little Lylia’s Beach BBQ is a nice place right on the beach. They used to play live music each night and serve refreshing draught Tiger for RM5 a glass. There’s another beach bar next door that does draught for RM4.
And, of course, if you have rented a place with a mini-fridge you can always stock up with cheap beer from the local mini markets.
The public transport system on the island is poor. The taxis are comparatively expensive.
The best option is to rent a car or scooter(s).
The ‘published standard rate’ on the street for a small 50cc scooter is RM30. It is RM35 for the larger 100cc. Your accommodation may also rent out scooters – sometimes they will do so at a discounted rate for their guests.
Rainbow rent theirs out for RM25 (small) and RM30 (large). They did me a deal for 21 days for a large. Because I was resident at Rainbow, no deposit was required.
You will notice immediately that Langkawi has top quality roads with very few potholes.
In addition, drivers are considerate and obey the rules of the road.
This makes driving a scooter around very safe. However, you still have your own responsibilities and risks when driving a scooter. This is true when driving a scooter anywhere. My advice is to take extra care anyway and ALWAYS look in your rear view mirrors… you dangers are just as likely to come from behind you as they are ahead of you.
One of your most common risks will be that there is a car behind you waiting to overtake. The car will do so when able and will do so without any regard for any obstacle that you have in front of your scooter… if you have to swerve to miss a pot-hole, this is when you can get into trouble. KNOW WHO’S BEHIND YOU at all times and drive accordingly.
The locals around Cenang Beach are friendly but business like. They see so many budget tourists come and go that they come across as being a bit ‘numb’ to it all now.
As is normally the case, the further you get away from the main tourist areas (like Cenang Beach), the more genuinely friendly people get. If you pop into one of the local cafes on the side of the road, you will see them watching you, smiling at you, the ladies giggling like girls about something, and being attentive. You get the feeling that they really do want you to be OK whilst you’re in their cafe.
There is almost NO hawking in Cenang. You don’t get harassed by trinket sellers. You can relax on the beach without being asked if you want a massage every 5 minutes. The only time that you get approached is at night when they try and tempt you into their restaurant.
The consensus on the internet is that Maxis has the best network and their Hotlink simcard is the best.
I went to a Maxis shop and purchased a Hotlink package for RM68. This included the simcard, 30 days, 2GB of data, 1GB of bonus data, 3GB of ‘social chat’ data, RM10 of call credits, and the ability to top it up if and when needed. I’m not sure about what SMSs I get in the package (but I don’t use them overseas anyway).
You can also download their free app from the Play Store.
Update: As with Gili Air in Indonesia, the internet information was wrong. Once on Langkawi, the expats told me that I should have got the Celcom simCard as they have a better signal coverage across the island.
You might strike lucky in your own resort but, out on the street, Sports Bars are hard to find. I went to Debby’s Irish Bar (Tengah end of the Cenang main drag) to watch an EPL game but didn’t stay. For a start they had no irish beer, there was no-one there, and I baulked at paying RM7 for a can of beer.
Cenang Beach is fine white sand stretching as far as you can see.
Cenang Beach is better than Tengah Beach.
The beaches are inundated with water sports – especially jet skis. For safety, areas are cordoned off for swimmers.
These are swimming beaches… these are not snorkelling beaches.
Please note: The biggest health risk on Langkawi is from jellyfish and they have become an increasingly dangerous hazard for a large part of the year. In the high season uninformed visitors are stung every day and the lifeguards on Pantai Cenang and the hospital treat more or less severe cases of jellyfish stings most days.
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