Cycling around Langkawi Island

*Words & Photos: Ekaputra Jabar

* Pictures shot with Canon EOS M50 - read our review

Langkawi is nestled within the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea and is situated about 30 kilometres off the shores of Kedah on Malaysia’s west coast. The island is a favourite holiday destination for visitors both near and far, captivating the senses with its picturesque paddy fields, verdant hills, lush rainforests, and the lure of duty-free shopping along the commercial stretches from Kuah to Pantai Cenang.

From the scenic cable car views to the skybridge on the western side of the island, to the geological parks, mangrove forests and powdery beaches to the north, there is much to be seen and appreciated by those seeking a bit of adventure. For cyclists, Langkawi has a splendid around-the-island circuit of about 80 kilometres that brings you to many of the island’s key destinations.

Compared to most other holiday locations in Malaysia, Langkawi has taken the longest time to develop despite the many activities that visitors can enjoy on the island. The local economy has only started to thrive in the last decade, some say because the legend of an old curse has just started to wear off.

This is the best known legend there; the tragic tale of a beautiful woman by the name of Mahsuri in the 1800s, who was accused of adultery with a travelling minstrel after her husband left to fight the invading Siamese army.

Those accusations led to her unfortunate trial, when she was tied to a tree in the scorching sun for days and was sentenced to death despite her pleas of innocence. When her time of execution came, no daggers or swords were able to stab her. Resigned to her fate, she told the executioner to use her father’s ceremonial keris, and as this blade pierced into her, white blood flowed from her wound, signifying her innocence.

Whether or not her father’s keris was the only sharp blade amongst a heap of dull blades, we will never know. Upon her dying breath, Mahsuri cursed Langkawi with seven generations of bad luck.

Shortly after Mahsuri’s death, the Siamese army invaded Langkawi again in 1821 and to stave their occupation, the village elders ordered their rice stores to be burned. This area is known as Beras Terbakar, or the Field of Burnt Rice, and it is located in Padang Mat Sirat.

Burning the rice had the intended effect of starving the invaders, but unfortunately it also meant that the locals suffered from starvation. After the Siamese occupation ended, Langkawi continued to suffer a series of mishaps, with constant crop failures, droughts and floods which led the local populace to believe in the curse. It would seem timely that development is finally starting to pick up.

Getting there

You have the option of a short one-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, or Subang, or a relaxing three-hour ferry ride from Penang, or less than two hours from either Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis.

The Cycling Plus team opted to travel in two groups, one by air and the other by car. So while we enjoyed a lie in before our flight to Langkawi, a few of our colleagues drove up north instead. This method of getting to Langkawi required a wake up call time of 2 a.m. as they needed to leave Kuala Lumpur by least 3 a.m. to catch a 10 a.m. ferry to the Island.

Their journey included a tolling 494km drive up to Kuala Perlis where they would catch a 'roll on roll off' (RO-RO) ferry for cars at Bukit Malut. The drive team arrived at our rendezvous point in Langkawi not too long after us, but we had the privilege of being a bit more rested.

However, they had the advantage of not having to pack their bikes and gear, because everything fit in a nice Volvo XC60 within 10 minutes. With bikes went on the roof, bags chucked inside, off they went.

When they arrived, their bikes came off with no assembly or unpacking required, and they were ready to cycle. We on the other hand, spent hours before our trip packing our bikes into travel cases and spent some time unpacking them when we reached Langkawi.

Paradise on two wheels

For visitors and travellers, Langkawi is home to a number of beautiful resorts and inns, showcasing everything from international five-star experiences to independent local boutiques and quaint homestays.

We chose to stay at La Pari Pari, a boutique hotel located in a quiet spot south of the main stretch of Pantai Cenang. It also just so happens to have a fantastic restaurant attached to it lovingly named Fat Cupid, that specialises in nyonya and western fusion cuisines. Most importantly, the location itself is a great base for cyclists, with easy accessibility to the main Langkawi circuit.

We started our cycling tour slightly before sunrise and chose to do the circuit clockwise. From the steps of our chalets, we wheeled our bikes out to the quiet roads and began our course for the day. As we enjoyed the crisp morning air cycling past Pantai Cenang and travelled north towards the airport, we had the early glow of the rising sun to our right and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea to our left.

Going past the airport, we followed the coastal road westward. For those who want to visit the historical landmark of Beras Terbakar at Padang Mat Sirat, it is just a 3-kilometre detour from the main circuit. From Kuala Periang, we turned left into Jalan Pantai Kok; this short 5-kilometre stretch is known for its scenic climbs and dragon backs with lush tree cover.

At the end of this stretch is the Telaga Harbour Marina, where you can find snacks and enjoy the scenery of docked sailboats and colourful fishing boats by the lighthouse. For a bit of hiking, the entrance to the Langkawi Cable Car and Telaga Tujuh waterfalls are just two kilometres away from the Telaga Harbour Park.

From there, our route took us northeast through Jalan Teluk Yu. For those with extra energy, turning left at an intersection in Kampung Hijrah leads to an optional route with plenty of climbs towards the beach of Pasir Tengkorak.

This route also brings you all the way to the famous Andaman and Datai five-star resorts should you choose to go further, though it is not part of the loop and you’ve have to double back to continue cycling around the island.

We pressed on along Jalan Teluk Yu to our next destination: the stretch of sandy beaches between Pasir Hitam and Tanjung Rhu. For those looking for a bite to eat, there are plenty of stalls along the way to Pasir Hitam with many local food choices available.

As we were on a tropical island after all, fresh coconut is in abundance here, which you can enjoy while taking in the views along the beautiful sandy stretch by Tanjung Rhu. If you’ve a hankering for lunch overlooking the sea, there is a small joint at Tanjung Rhu called Scarborough Fish & Chips, which comes with beachside tables.

From there we cycled past Ayer Hangat hot springs, through a beautiful 8-kilometre stretch of idyllic kampung areas dotted with traditional wooden homes and the occasional herd of water buffalo grazing in the paddy fields, before reaching the Kilim Geoforest Park.

A proper visit to the Kilim Geoforest Park is highly recommended, where you would take a boat cruise and travel through the ancient geological heritage to experience its natural wonders and beautiful karst landscapes with plenty of unique local flora and fauna.

Langkawi was actually endorsed as the 52nd Global Geopark by UNESCO on 1st June 2007, making it the first geopark in Malaysia and the South East Asia region.

After a bit of rest at the Kilim Geoforest Park, we continued south along Jalan Ayer Hangat, riding past stretches of forest and quarries. Nearby the marble and limestone quarries of the eastern part of Langkawi, the island’s Siamese heritage can be experienced.

We made a stop at Wat Koh Wanararm, best known for its beautiful giant statue of Kuan Yin, the goddess of Mercy, carved into the side of the mountain. Founded by the Thai monk Luang Por Khun, the temple grounds were built roughly 20 years ago and continues to be expanded by the local Buddhist community.

This temple is a hidden jewel off the beaten track and not listed in any guided tours, so it remains a quiet place of contemplation. The small kampung roads leading into the temple are equally quaint and pleasant.

By then it was already pretty hot and toasty, and we still had another 20km plus to go back to our starting point. An unscheduled climb through the road that skirts around the base of Gunung Raya took a bit of the wind out of our sails, leaving two thirds of our group trailing behind on the remaining stretch that bypassed the busy Kuah area.

Taking a left turn at Hospital Langkawi, we struggled on through the dragonback sections of Jalan Bukit Malut, since the road going past the Maritime Enforcement Agency base of operations and the Boustead Langkawi Shipyard is quite exposed to the boiling sun.

Our perseverance soon paid off, and we eventually found ourselves turning into Jalan Kedawang and in the Pantai Cenang area once again. With every single member of the group already starving, we spent a good two hours stuffing our faces at one of our favourite restaurants on the island - Putumayo, washed down with the restaurant’s fragrant chilled coconut juice of the kelapa pandan variety. With our bellies fully appeased, it was a mere 2km ride back to La Pari-pari for a well deserved rest and relaxation for the rest of our time in Langkawi.

La Pari-pari

This gem of a boutique hotel was set up by sister duo Karen and Karina Bahrin six years ago, who both gave up their lives in the city for a change of pace in Langkawi. It is a great option for travelling cyclists for many reasons, and we highly recommend choosing this place. It is surrounded by lush greenery in line with the owners’ mission to create a hotel that is eco-friendly and sustainable.

There are only 12 rooms spread over one-and-a-half acres, meaning it is a fairly quiet establishment with no raucous parties to worry about, not even with a decent sized salt-chlorinated pool. If you’ve rented a car, there is plenty of parking space available out front, which is great for traveling cyclists or families with kids.

Excellent location - near Pantai Cenang, though far enough to be quiet at night. 

Spacious and private rooms - 3 pax with attached open air patio.

Scrumptious food - delicious and generous servings of nyonya and western cuisine.

Great staff - friendly and efficient crew, even in helping out an injured cyclist in our group.

You may also find Karen or Karina grabbing a bite at the bar on some days. They are both warm and welcoming people like the rest of their staff, and everyone will give you good advice on what to do and see in Langkawi, should you need it.