Langkawi Culture & History

Langkawi is an island of legends. Its name is believed to have originated from the abundance of eagles on the island: helang (eagle in Malay) and kawi (marble in Sanskrit), begets the moniker helang-kawi which was eventually toned down to Langkawi. The main settlement of locals is in Kuah, a dusty town noticeably beloved for its array of duty-free stores and Chinese seafood restaurants. Other popular areas include the Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah stretch, the quite strips of Pantai Kok and Padang Matsirat and the exclusive beaches of Datai Bay and Tanjung Rhu. No matter where you go on Langkawi you will find that myths and legends permeate its culture and history, so read up on them and familiarise yourself with the island’s most popular stories.

Thai Influence
Of course there are many accounts on Langkawi’s origin, including those from legends & folklore, but officially (and according to history books) we can surmise that the island was under the rule of the Sultanate of Kedah for a very long time. Eventually, it came under British rule during the colonial century and then, for a brief period during World War II, it was controlled by the Thai monarchy. This has resulted in some Thai influence on Langkawi’s culture, evident by the number of Thai restaurants and Siamese-inspired sights.

Pirate Ground
After the war, the island became known as a nesting ground for pirates. The many islands and dense, verdant jungle provided much-needed cover for their dubious activities while providing an excellent hide-out. Meanwhile, the island’s inhabitants continued to live a sleepy life in wooden villages, pushing bullock carts and harvesting paddy fields. Life was simple and easy; simply too peaceful for modern change.

Development
The catalyst that triggered the development of Langkawi was when a certain man stepped on the island to serve as a doctor; Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohammad, who would become the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. When he was elected, Dr Mahathir proceeded to work closely with Kedah authorities to modernise and develop Langkawi.

Tax-free Langkawi
The pinnacle of the transformation occurred when the island was granted duty-free status, attracting tourists and locals alike to cheap goods such as liquor and cigarettes. Soon, Langkawi hotels and restaurants started popping up as the tourism industry began to boom, and the island took a giant leap towards the 20th Century.

New Langkawi
Today, Langkawi is probably the busiest island of Malaysia second to Penang. The landscape has changed dramatically along with the number of visitors. Gone are the old designs and drab colours of Langkawi; new buildings painted in bright colours project a vibrant and dynamic image. Roads are constantly being tarred and maintained, while new construction projects occur at an astounding rate.

Langkawi’s Future
Almost the whole population earns an income from the tourism industry. Life has become fast-paced and, sadly, some old traditions were lost. But alas, change is progress. With its diverse offerings and attractions, coupled with the beautiful landscape and ideal climate, Langkawi’s future is secure as a prime tourist destination.

Langkawi Weather

The weather in Langkawi is consistently hot and humid all-year-round, with occasional rainfall and cloudy skies, but thankfully it’s never too drastic. Located on the north-western coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the Malaccan Straits, this enduringly popular island is shielded from major winds and storms by the mainland on one side and Sumatra on the other. As Langkawi is situated near the equator, the town enjoys a tropical nature with the Andaman Sea remaining relatively calm all year long, and due to its consistent climate, locals and travellers can visit this tropical island at anytime of the year.

Best Time to Go to Langkawi
Between the months of November and April, Langkawi weather is a good balance of sunshine and light rainfall, making it the best time to head there for holiday. Temperatures are fairly consistent during the day, ranging from 30°C to 35°C while at night, between 28°C and 29°C. That being said, visitors can expect sunshine lasting till the afternoon and overcast skies toward the evenings. The weather in Langkawi also has a rather high humidity level, so locals and tourists are often seen relaxing on the Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah during more sweltering afternoons. The island is also well-frequented at this time of the year for excellent diving opportunities and water-based adventures such as jet-skiing, parasailing, and banana boating.

Rainy Season in Langkawi
Due to its tropical landscape, Langkawi weather experiences of heavy rainfall due to monsoon winds between the months of September and October. While showers are sometimes accompanied by violent thunderstorms, the weather in Langkawi is not usually adversely affected. Therefore, the sea surrounding Langkawi is relatively calm compared to destinations on the east coast. During the rainy season, visitors still flock to the island to enjoy a wide range of activities such as shopping for duty-free goods or enjoying pampering massages at the island’s numerous spa centres.

Today’s Weather

Langkawi Travel Tips

Language
Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood.

Currency
Ringgit is the official currency, but some resorts and establishments do accept other notes or offer foreign exchange (check with them for the service). The current exchange rate is around RM3.70 to USD 1.00 – but, consult banks for the latest exchange rates prior to your trip. Kuah town and the airport is where you will find most of the banks and money-changers. Banks open daily from 09:30 to 15:30. On Thursdays, they are open from 09:30 to 12:00 and are closed on Saturdays.

Holidays
Langkawi follows the Kedah state holidays. Weekends fall on Thursdays and Fridays but most businesses will continue operating normal business hours on Thursdays too. The official start of the week is on Saturday.

Medical Services
There is a hospital and various private clinics in Kuah town.

Police
The police headquarters is in Kuah, but there are police stations in all the districts. Langkawi is relatively safe compared to the bigger cities, but do take precautions such as travelling in groups and avoiding quiet places.

Tipping
Tipping is not necessary unless you’ve had good service.

Electricity
Malaysia’s electricity follows the 240 volt 50-cycle system.

Immigration
Citizens of North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and China need visas to enter Malaysia. Other foreigners may enter Malaysia without a visa for a visit not exceeding one month. Please consult your nearest Malaysian Embassy or consular office to confirm this arrangement, as regulations may change over time.

Water
Tap water is safe for drinking in Malaysia, but some hotels install filtration systems or provide bottled water for guests as an added precaution.

Duty-free Goods
Foreign nationals visiting Malaysia for 48 hours or less receive a duty exemption for the purchase of souvenirs, gifts and items intended for personal use up to a limit of RM500. There is a duty-free limit for certain types of items: booze (up to one litre), tobacco (up to 225g, or 200 cigarettes), one pair of leather footwear, new clothing (up to three pieces), as well as cosmetics and personal hygiene items (not including powder or hair products).

Drugs
All drugs are prohibited in Malaysia and laws are strictly enforced. There is a death penalty for anyone caught carrying a certain amount for trafficking, and even possession of the smallest amount can land one in very serious trouble.