Touring Langkawi and Penang, Malaysia

Our guest blogger Julie writes about the exciting time she and her husband had touring Malaysia’s Langkawi and Penang islands:

The famous indigo-blue Chinese Courtyard House in Georgetown, Penang

The famous indigo-blue Chinese Courtyard House in Georgetown, Penang

The small plane we were on rumbled as we ascended away from mainland Malaysia. All I could see from my tiny window-seat were clouds, which soon parted to reveal the Andaman Sea below. Then, as we neared our destination, I saw a lush, green island, outlined by a white line surrounded by azure water. We had arrived at Langkawi, the first stop in our tropical paradise vacation.

Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of Langkawi until we booked our tickets to Malaysia. While doing some online research, I came across this legendary archipelago, listed as one of TripAdvisor’s “top 10 islands in Asia.” We hopped on a Firefly flight to Langkawi the moment we landed in Kuala Lumpur, practically shaking with anticipation. And, spoiler alert, Langkawi didn’t disappoint us one bit.

Another building we saw while strolling in Penang

Another building we saw while strolling in Penang

We stayed at a cute, budget-friendly motel called “Sunset Beach Resort” situated along the famous Pantai Cenang beach. The beach sand at Pantai Cenang was powder-fine; really, it felt like I was walking on feathers. The beach is more bluish-white than blindingly-white as advertised, and the water was warm and so soothingly aquamarine. Our exhaustion from travelling just melted away with a dip. Even though Pantai Cenang is a tourist hotspot, the beach never feels crowded due to its sheer size. After swimming until our limbs hurt, we lounged on sun chairs sipping on tropical fruit mocktails watching the stunning sunset.

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A partly-burned colonial-era building in Georgetown

The following day, we arrived at the bustling Oriental Village to go on a SkyCab cable car ride, possibly the single most popular tourist activity here. The base station is located at the foothills of the Machincang mountain. I’ve been on cable car rides in Europe and China but the SkyCab ride in Langkawi, for me, definitely stood out for its spectacular scenery of the mountain range, formed some 450 million years ago. SkyCab took us high up over the treetops of the dense rainforest below, and we enjoyed a stunning bird’s eye view over the island. From the topmost station we could see dramatic geological formations, tiny cities in the distance and parts of southern Thailand.

We spent most of our remaining time on the beach, the lazy tourists that we are. Pantai Cenang is just too alluring. But we managed to drag ourselves away to go on an excursion to the much talked-about Telega Tujuh waterfall. We rented a scooter and rode through the scenic streets of Langkawi to Oriental Village and from there went to Gunung Mat Cincang, where the waterfall is located. We hiked through the canopy forest to reach the mystic Telega Tujuh, which literally means “seven wells,” because of the system of natural pools that connect to the waterfall. Telega Tujuh is breathtaking, with falling water that looks like a sheet of white silk dropped from above. Locals say fairies bathe here. The pools had rock waterslides that we shamelessly slid down while little kids gawked at us.

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The spectacular view from our SkyCab cable car in Langkawi

After five days of pure bliss in Langkawi, we took a ferry ride to Penang, which only cost 17 dollars. While Langkawi was balmy and verdant, Penang was vibrant and very urban. We had one-of-a-kind city adventure here, discovering the many local dishes and cultural sites. We stayed at the City Hotel, in Georgetown, Penang’s capital city. I was amazed by the marvelous architecture here.  Of course, we saw the indigo-blue Chinese Courtyard House in Georgetown, the one in the Oscar-winning movie Indochine. The color of this sprawling mansion is even more astounding up close. We toured the Penang City Hall, which looks like a castle in a Disney movie, and Queen Victoria’s clock tower, which had a balcony, as if a monarch was going to address us all anytime. Then we browsed through the innumerable shop houses located along the narrow streets. You can buy anything here—electronics, Indian saris or ancient Chinese good luck charms.

Langkawi Port seen just before we ferried to Penang

Langkawi Port seen just before we ferried to Penang

After Georgetown, we drove to Air Itam to see the Kek Lok Si Temple (Temple of Supreme Bliss), Malaysia’s largest Buddhist shrine. The temple is interesting for its blend of Malaysian, Chinese and Thai architecture and the congested turtle pond. There were literally piles of turtles in the algae-laden pond. Once we’d had our fill of the lovely temple complex, we embarked on a stomach-bursting food tour of Penang, one of the main reasons most tourists venture here.

The captivating Pantai Cenang beach in Langkawi

The captivating Pantai Cenang beach in Langkawi

To say that there are many food stalls and restaurants in Penang is an understatement. Many of the eateries sell “hawker”-style food, mostly noodle and soup dishes. We tried the hugely popular Assam Laksa, rice noodles in a thick and spicy mackerel-based soup with shrimp paste added that was deliciously spicy. Another must-try is fish ball soup, where the “fish” balls are made from eel.  You simply cannot leave Malaysia without trying Penang’s Mee Goreng. The local edition of this popular Southeast Asian dish is best served by two Indian cooks at Bangkok Lane. It was also quite fascinating to watch them prepare it by tossing ingredients with one hand while rapidly turning the wok with the other. We tried Cendol, Malaysia’s favorite dessert, quite cooling in the heat. The dishes we tried strolling about Penang are too many to list. My husband even ate a pork-based noodle soup served with actual pig’s blood.

The sad part is, once you try the food in Penang, you never want to leave. But our vacation came to an end as it was time to catch our luxury tourist bus to Kuala Lumpur. We had a blast in Penang and Langkawi and we cannot wait to explore the other fascinating areas of Malaysia.