On Malaysia's west coast, Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands. The only real settlement is on the main island, Pulau Langkawi. This popular beach destination attracts divers from around the world to explore the sea life, and after being declared a duty-free zone back in the '80s, it has become a favorite shopping spot for visitors seeking cheap booze. You'll find sightseeing attractions—such as national parks, a cable car ride, and a large aquarium—throughout this island of lush rainforests. However, it's the long stretches of sandy beach that attract most visitors to this tropical paradise.
Chef Katsuji Takabayashi, who has cooked in the kitchens of five-star hotels around the world, serves up top-notch sushi at this hillside, sea-front venue. Diners can choose to be seated at Western tables on the first floor, Japanese-floor cushions on level two, or at tables kissed by the sea breeze in the garden terrace. The wine cellar is stocked with a wide selection of wine and sake, and you can pick out fish for Chef Takabayashi to prepare from on-site aquarium. It's a great spot to watch the sunset while dining on an assortment of fresh sashimi.
Mangoes Bar and Grill
Set up under a thatched roof, surrounded by a tropical garden and views of the Andaman Sea, Mangoes offers a laidback vibe. Run by an Australian and German couple, the bar and grill appeals to those who have been away from home long enough to need some Western comfort food. Classic dishes—such as shepherd's pie, rib-eye steak, and lasagna—fill that craving. Mangoes also serves a Sunday brunch, where you can feast on classic eggs Benedict.
An open-sided restaurant in an old coconut grove beside a freshwater lagoon filled with water lilies, Nam specializes in Nonya cuisine. The traditional laksa—a prawn, chicken and noodle spicy coconut soup—is well regarded. For a little taste of everything, go with the Nonya Tasting Platter: presented on a tray of banana leaves with nine small dishes to sample, components include tamarind fish, beef with peanuts, and ladies' fingers in sambal filled with the herbs and spices. Part of Bon Ton Resort, Nam serves cocktails, main courses, and desserts throughout the day, allowing guests to satisfy their holiday-mode cravings.
Privilege Dining & Bar
A welcome escape from the resort-style dining that monopolizes the island, Privilege Dining & Bar is set up on the second floor with large windows that face the marina and a glass wall that allows a peek into the kitchen. There you'll see chef Anuar Hassan combining the traditional flavors of Malay cuisine with modern techniques to inventive effect. Try the Malay-style red snapper fish curry served with lady finger, sweet beans, and water spinach, or the roasted five-spice duck breast with fried white-radish cake. Make sure to leave room for dessert; the homemade ice cream trio—including smoked banana, gula melaka (palm sugar), and Indian chai—is a must.
The husband-and-wife team behind this restaurant combine their German and Malaysian backgrounds to create a distinctive dining experience. Past the gate, clearly marked Sheela's, a winding path leads you down to the candlelit dining space. The menu is a mixture of Western dishes (try the homemade pizza with fried sausages) and traditional Malaysian fare. The landscaped garden provides a romantic vibe, and walls decorated with the art of a Malaysian-German artist give the restaurant a colorful feel.
Hike up 638 steps to reach the top of Telaga Tujuh (seven wells) waterfall. This natural wonder offers a lookout tower with views of Buray Bay and Pantai Kok from the top, as well as seven fresh pools to cool off in after the trek. Stone channels between pools provide smooth slides to get from one to the next. There is a legend that fairies used to bathe in these waters, and infused them with supposed healing powers.
Pulau Payar Marine Park
Avid divers and snorkeling enthusiasts can jump on a catamaran or speed boat to travel 19 nautical miles off the southern tip of Langkawi to Pulau Payar Marine Park. Made up of four islands, the park was established in 1985 as the first marine park in Malaysia. A floating platform off of Pulau Payar houses an underwater observation chamber to view the marine life surrounding the reef—perfect even for nonswimmers. Everyone else can dive under and get a first-hand look at various types of coral and brightly colored fish.
Malaysia's largest aquarium sits at the southern end of Pantai Cenang. It's a popular attraction for those traveling with tots in tow, as well as anyone needing an air-conditioned break after too much time under the sun. The 6-acre compound is divided into three sections: Tropical Rainforest, Temperate, and Sub-Antarctic. Highlights include a marine tunnel with giant grouper, sharks, and green turtles; penguin, otter, and fur-seal feeding sessions; and a 3-D theater screening videos related to the sea.
Rides on this cable car take you all the way to the top of Mt. Machincan, Langkawi's second highest peak. From over 700 meters (2,300 feet) above sea level, visitors enjoy a 360-degree view of all of Langkawi, along with parts of southern Thailand. Gaping chasms, cliff walls, and caves are all part of the stunning panorama. At the top you can also traverse the 125-meter-long (410-foot-long) SkyBridge, a new suspension bridge hanging some 100 meters (330 feet) above ground.
Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park
Located on an island with the same name, Dayung Bunting comprises caves and karstic landscapes, but the biggest draw is the Lake of Pregnant Maiden. Local legend has it that the waters in this lake have magical powers. Women who decide to take a dip have been known to soon fall pregnant. Possibly contributing to this tale is that, from afar, the outline of the lake appears to be shaped like a heavily pregnant woman lying on her back. You can rent paddle boats for a quiet ride on the turquoise waters.