We have just finished our SCUBA Diving Liveaboard and Island Hopping in the Andaman Sea, Thailand.
… our next stop is Cenang Beach, Langkawi, Malaysia …
The currency in Malaysia is the Ringit (or the ‘MYR’). At the time of writing, the exchange rates for the major currencies were:
|Published Wholesale Rate||4.50||4.77||5.38|
|Actual Exchange Rate (Wise Debit Card)||4.46||4.73||5.33|
|Actual Exchange Rate (Typical Credit Card)||4.36||4.62||5.21|
|Actual Exchange Rate (ATM)||4.40||4.66||5.25|
You will NOT get this Wholesale Rate … you will get the Actual Exchange Rate:
- Expect to lose about 0.92% if you use a Wise Debit Card.
- Expect to lose about 3.00% if you use a typical Credit Card.
- Expect to lose about 2.25% if you take (the maximum allowed) cash out of an ATM … and do it the right way (see, below).
For simplicity, think of a MYR100 note as being US$25.
PLEASE NOTE: Over time, these exchange rates will change. It is also early 2023 … so inflation will need to be taken into account. Please check the current rates.
MONEY / BANKS / ATMs
In general, you should not have a problem changing a MYR100 note.
ATMs in Malaysia tend to dispense MYR100 notes.
Be careful when you use an ATM in Malaysia. At the end of the withdrawal, some ATMs offer foreign cardholders 2 choices:
- Continue using their conversion rate;
- Continue without conversion.
Recommendation: Always choose to continue without conversion … and let your own bank handle the conversion rate and transaction fees. You get a better rate!
PLEASE NOTE: To keep costs down, use an ATM in a bank. ATMs in ‘convenient locations’ can charge higher fees.
WISE DEBIT CARD
I keep my costs down by using a Wise Debit Card.
RECOMMENDATION: I highly recommend the Wise Debit Card to all travelers.
I used Wise to pay for my travel and accommodation whenever possible … and, I pay much lower fees.
It is advised that you check out iVisa before you travel to get the latest entry requirements.
PLEASE NOTE: Requirements may change from time to time without prior notice. Please continue checking with iVisa for the complete current list of entry requirements.
At the time of writing Malaysia had no COVID-19, Travel Insurance, nor Exit Ticket requirements … and, their standard Tourist Visa On Arrival (VOA) was 90 days for major country passport holders.
Langkawi has an International Airport. Most flights to Langkawi connect in Kuala Lumpur but some of the smaller, ‘budget’ airlines (such as Air Asia) fly direct to Langkawi from other S. E. Asia countries.
Langkawi Ferry operates fast aircon boats from Kuala Perlis (RM18, 75 min), Kuala Kedah (RM23, 105 min), Penang (RM70, 165 min), and Satun Thailand (RM30 or THB300, 75 min). Bookings can be made online, but the ticket needs to be printed out. This can be done at the terminal for RM1 per ticket.
On landing in Kuah, I cleared Immigration within 15 minutes. I went to the adjacent Mall to get money out of a Maybank ATM. Then, I walked across the road to a 7-Eleven to buy a Mobile Sim Card and Package (see, below).
I had already downloaded the GRAB Mobile App so, with my new SIM card installed, I ordered a GRAB Car to take me the 18km drive from Kuah to my Cenang Beach hotel. The price was MYR28. The official taxi rate is MYR38.
Check out 12Go to have a look at your ‘getting there’ options:
Langkawi is a duty-free island (there are 3 designated ‘duty free’ islands in Malaysia: the other 2 are Tioman and Labuan) and an archipelago of 99 islands located in the Strait of Malacca about 30 km off the coast of north-western Malaysia adjacent to the Thai border … and south of Ko Tarutao Marine Park (and Ko Lipe), Thailand .
Two-thirds of the island is dominated by forest-covered mountains, hills, and natural vegetation.
WHEN TO GO
Sheltered by the mountainous backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, Langkawi is not affected by the north-eastern winter monsoon and enjoys sunny skies in winter when the eastern provinces are flooded.
We are here in ‘Shoulder Season’ (March) just as the weather transitions into Rainy Season. At this time of year hotels are starting to offer big discounts … but the weather is still very pleasant … and the rains haven’t really started yet.
Renting a car, motorbike, or scooter is highly recommended due to the lack of public transport. This can be done at the Airport, Kuah Jetty, or from shops on Pantai Cenang / around the island. At these outlets you pay a ‘premium’.
I recommend that you sign up to a Langkawi Facebook Group (such as Langkawi Love Tribe) before arrival. Put out your requirements and get better prices. Prices get increasingly negotiable as the tourists leave and Rainy Season approaches.
Check your fuel level regularly because petrol / gas stations are far from one another. Most rental agencies do not care how much fuel is in the tank when the vehicle is returned, although some may do so and mark it on the receipt. Fuel costs are cheap and are fixed by the government and you should return your vehicle with the same filling level as you picked it up.
The first time at a gas / petrol station may confuse you as you need to pay in advance. You will need to guess how much fuel you need. Most saloon cars, if empty, are MYR50-MYR75 to fill up and motorbikes / scooters are approximately MYR5-MYR8. If you are unsure how much you need, you leave a deposit at the counter first … they will give you your change once you are filled up and the exact price is known.
- Your drivers license needs to be with you at all times. An international driver’s licence is not necessary but licences must have text in English;
- You are also advised to carry your passport … but, I suggest that you just carry a digital or hard copy of your Photo Page;
- Seat belts are mandatory in all vehicles … Fines are given ranging from MYR50 if not wearing one;
- Helmets are mandatory … Fines are the same as, above, but more importantly the hospital does not have facilities to treat head injuries, so you will have to get a Medivac out to Penang, which takes 45 minutes or more … if the helicopter is available.
Road blocks are commonplace in Langkawi; they are mainly interested in locals with no licence. Make sure that you have the, above, items and your seat belt fastened … and you will have no problems.
TAXI / GRAB
Taxis and the GRAB mobile app operate on a fixed price system. GRAB is typically 25% cheaper than a standard taxi. A taxi from the Airport to Cenang Beach costs MYR20. You can buy a coupon at the taxi desk in the Airport.
A taxi from Kuah Jetty to Pantai Cenang is MYR38 (GRAB MYR28). From Kuah Jetty to Kuah Town the taxi price is MYR8.
MOTORBIKE / SCOOTER
Scooter rental is very popular. The prices are usually quoted per day, per week, and per month. Typical prices quoted by people on a Facebook Group for a 125cc in ‘Shoulder Season’ are:
- MYR40-MYR45 per day;
- MYR150-MYR200 per week;
- MYR400-MYR500 per month.
Some hotels offer bicycle rental. Expect to pay between MYR10-30 per day.
CENANG BEACH / PANTAI CENANG
Cenang Beach is the most popular beach in Langkawi. It has fine, powdery sand, and many beachfront restaurants and bars. It is 2 km long. This is also the busiest beach on the island with jet-skis, banaboats, watersports, etc.
… Unfortunately jellyfish are common here so watch out for warning signs on the beach.
Cenang Beach is much nicer than Tengah Beach.
Malaysia is 220-240V / 60Hz. Power plugs are the UK-type 3-pin.
Power on Langkawi is reliable.
WHERE TO STAY
Most people want to stay within easy walking distance of Cenang Beach.
WITHOUT A SCOOTER
If you do not rent a scooter, you need to choose wisely. Most GRANDPAcking quality accommodation is found in the back streets … the majority are found at the northern end between the beach front and the Thursday Night Market …
Budget accommodation can also be found in the back streets of Tengah Beach.
With a scooter, you can find GRANDPAcking accommodation in a nicer place and get better ‘value for money’ … and easily get to the best beaches.
For me, it makes sense to pay less for nicer accommodation within 2km of the beach and to use the money saved to rent a scooter … the price is the same (or less) but you get many advantages as well as ‘freedom of movement’.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are planning to stay for 1 month (or more), I advise you to book into something reasonable for 2-3 nights in advance. Then, once here, rent a scooter and look around to negotiate direct monthly deals. This can save you as much as 50% on the published rate.
BOOKING.COM / HOTELS.COM / AGODA
GRANDPAckers should easily be able to find somewhere for under US$25 per night … and, very likely, under US$20 per night. Here are example ‘last minute’ prices in ‘Shoulder Season’:
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS
I DO NOT advise you to book short-term accommodation using AirBnB. The reason is simple:
- To get a reasonable price out of AirBnB you need to book many nights;
- You DO NOT want to book so many nights in advance (you want to look around to get the best prices).
I find that AGODA is better than BOOKING and HOTELS in this part of the World.
If you are staying for less than 2 weeks, I suggest that you book in advance as soon as you find a good discount on something that you like in a good location.
RECOMMENDATION: You probably want aircon. If you are staying in a bungalow, bring a can of mosquito spray … even though you should have a mosquito net over the bed, you’ll need it.
My plan was to rent a hotel (anywhere near Cenang Beach) for 2-3 nights, to rent a scooter, and to look around to find a small apartment for 2 months.
I put some ‘feelers’ out on some Facebook Groups but got few replies.
I watched the online hotel booking sites daily for last minute deals … 2 days before my arrival, the Sandy Beach Resort were offering a 24-hour ‘special deal’. Their Superior Queen Room was being discounted down for US$85 per night to MYR79 / US$18 per night including Buffet Breakfast. I could get this rate for a whole month! US$545 for a month … on the beach! I was in like a robber’s dog 🙂
The Sandy Beach has live music every night.
I will look for an apartment next month … 🙂
The Buffet Breakfast varied every day but not by much … and, soon, became very monotonous.
For ‘Short Term’ accommodation, have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK
I will provide more details in my next post … after I have been here a while.
You have a wide selection to choose from … and a wide range of prices.
The cheapest area is the northern end of Cenang Beach where you will find several local, budget restaurants selling traditional cuisine. Here, you can get something like a Fish Curry (MYR6) with Steamed Rice (MYR2) and a drink (MYR2) for as little as MYR10.
These are simple, little ‘eateries’ with a few tables on the sidewalk.
Because of Langkawi’s tax-free status, alcohol is much cheaper than in the rest of Malaysia. Religious Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks, and while they do tolerate non-Muslims who do … please behave, keep ‘low key’, and be respectful.
The cheapest alcohol can be found in the duty free shops next to the Aquarium, however grocery stores are only a couple of ringgit more. The larger the outlets … the lower the prices. The cheapest you can find is MYR25 for a 1L Smirnoff and MYR2.00-2.30 for a 330 ml can of local beer (such as Skol).
Langkawi may be a ‘Duty Free Island’ but it is NOT a ‘Party Island’. There is little nightlife. Most bars remain empty, particularly in the low season, and the 1-2 nightclubs that do exist may only be worthwhile on Friday or Saturday nights.
MYR10 / US$2.25 is a typical restaurant / bar price for a 330ml can of local beer. You can find cheaper local bars at MYR6-8. In some Happy Hours you can get one for as little as MYR5 … but, most Happy Hours end at 6pm.
The Wundabar does 2-for-1 MYR6 draft Tigers between 2pm and 8pm.
It is assumed that you will eat in budget, local restaurants.
Without a scooter, you can get Breakfasts and Lunches for an average MYR15 / US$3.35 each. Breakfast with tea / coffee and Lunch with a fruit drink. Expect to pay an average MYR30 / US$6.70 each for Dinner with a small beer / fruit juice.
With a scooter, you can get away from the tourist area(s) and get to cheaper places … and, easily save 25% on these costs.
INTERNET / WIFI
I advise you to get a local Malaysian SIM Card and Prepaid Package. You can buy these at the airport when you first land … but, you may get better prices when you wait and go to a store.
The internet in my hotel was ‘temperamental’ … sometimes it would spend up to 30 minutes dropping in and out of a connection. Others have told me that they have the same problem in their hotel. Even my own Mobile connection would drop in and out now and again.
When I landed at the Kuah Jetty, I went into a 7-Eleven. I purchased a new SIM with an ‘unlimited’ 1 month data package for MYR35 / US$7.80. It was limited to 3mb/s. It included unlimited voice to all networks.
PLEASE NOTE: You need to register your new SIM. You will need your passport. The store will do the registration for you. It should take less than 10 minutes.
RECOMMENDATION: Do not get a ‘traveler SIM’ … they are over-priced. If you are staying in Malaysia for more than 1 month, download the U Mobile App.
I had no trouble getting a 4G signal … even in remote places on the island.
There are many Duty Free Shops to be found. The Cenang Beach waterfront road is riddled with them.
You also have many local shops … some selling discounted designer label clothes.
There is good shopping to be had.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
In summary, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL):
- COE: Is the basic costs of just being there;
- COL: Is the additional costs that make being there fun.
ORANGE COLUMNS / LEFT HAND SIDE
The left of the spreadsheet (orange columns) shows the costs for a GRANDPAcking Couple living to GRANDPAcking Standard using a Standard (Home) Bank Credit / Debit Card to pay for large purchases (e.g. accommodation) and withdrawing cash from ATMs for all other “EXISTENCE’ expenses.
For comparative purposes, it is assumed that you stay for 1 month.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE)
Your short-term budget is MYR87 / US$20 per night excluding Breakfast for 3 nights.
This gives you time to ask around and get a long-term rate of MYR87 / US$20 per night on a nicer property within walking distance of the beach. You should be able to get a room with a minibar and kettle at this price.
FOOD & BEVERAGES
Your budget is MYR120 / US$27 per day eating all meals in local, budget restaurants.
SIM CARD / MOBILE DATA
A 1 month U Mobile package.
VISA EXTENSION / NATIONAL PARK FEES
The Malaysian government levies a MYR1 per day Fee (each) on all foreigners staying in hotels.
A typical Backpacker Level Travel Insurance policy has been apportioned (calculated as 33 days of your annual rate).
Your budget includes a rental scooter once per week to go ‘adventuring’.
It is assumed that you are coming from and returning to the Airport using GRAB.
Your COE is about MYR232 / US$53 per day. This is 84% of your daily budget. You have very little left to LIVE on (MYR50 / US$11 per day).
A GRANDPAcking Couple can ‘EXIST’ here but they cannot afford to ‘LIVE’ to GRANDPAcking Standard.
RIGHT HAND SIDE / PURPLE COLUMNS
The right of the spreadsheet (purple columns) shows how a GRANDPAcking Couple can afford to ‘LIVE’ here by making some small compromises:
- Using a proper Traveler Credit / Debit Card (the Wise Debit Card is used in this example) to pay for all EXISTENCE expenses wherever possible;
- Finding cheaper accommodation (at MYR67 / US$15 per night) away from the beach (with at least a fridge and a kettle);
- Renting a scooter at the monthly rate;
- Eating all meals away from the beach / away from the ‘touristic’ areas.
If you can find accommodation with a kitchen / kitchenette and cook most of your meals at home, you can reduce your COE even further.
Your COE is about MYR191 / US$43 per day. This is 68% of your daily budget.
You have about MYR91 / US$21 per day to LIVE on … now, you can have more fun.
By choosing the ‘cheaper’ option, you save 16% on your COE and have an extra US$10 per day to LIVE on.
Renting a scooter gives you the necessary freedom of movement to LIVE more cheaply and to get the best out of being here.
You need to get ‘Wise‘ about how you spend your money.
To keep your accommodation costs down avoid Christmas, New Year, and Easter.
Many GRANDPAckers will love Cenang Beach.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES. Would you want to? MAYBE … your problem will be ‘Rainy Season’.