Okay, beach bum. You’ve been all over Thailand, checking out gorgeous stretches of sand. Some were in popular beach towns, others the middle of nowhere. Phuket to Ko Phi Phi. Ko Samui to Hua Hin. And though you’ll be back–how could you not–it’s time to see if the rest of Southeast Asia can stack up. Langkawi, Malaysia is the first stop.
Known as the Jewel of Kedah, Langkawi is an easy transition for Thai beach fanatics, since it’s just south of the Thai border in the Andaman Sea. It’s an archipelago of 99–mostly uninhabited–islands. They’re full of dense rainforests lined with fine, powdery sand beaches. Lively Pantai Cenang is the most popular spot. The beach is wide, long, and lined by coconut trees and casuarinas. Laid-back hotels and sandy floored restaurants are steps away from the water. And its southwest-coast location means beach goers don’t flee when the sun starts to set.
It may be hard to divert your attention, but there’s more to Langkawi than just great beaches. Ride the SkyCab up the Machincang mountains, which include Langkawi’s second highest peak. Here you’ll find a 360-degree view of the island and dots of other green islands in the distance. Plus the SkyBridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge in the clouds that overlooks the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls and the rainforest. Take a kayak tour through the Sungai Kilim Nature Park to see monkeys, sea eagles, and even monitor lizards–they’re related to Komodo dragons–among the mangroves. Or find your zen. Yoga and duty-free shopping are both popular Langkawi pastimes. For very different people, of course.
There are plenty of high-end resorts where you can rest your head on Langkawi. But if you’re craving something traditional, try the Bon Ton Resort. Located on an old coconut plantation, the small resort has mountain, coconut grove, and lotus lagoon views. Water buffalo may be spotted in the lagoon. The eight villas are old–as old as 120 years old–Malay houses that were dismantled, brought to Pantai Cenang, and rebuilt. They have names like White Frangipani and Blue Ginger, as well as open-air, wooden tubs and jewel-toned decor.
If you aren’t at the beach, have mango daiquiris with beef and peanut rendang on the sunset deck during cocktail hour. Move to Nam, one of the best restaurants on the island, for Nyonya–a platter of Malay and Chinese dishes–and prawn and pineapple curry for dinner. And check out the owner’s wine shop for a Zinfandel–off the deep, international wine list–to pair with the spicy dishes.
You’ll find sarongs, slippers, and the next morning’s breakfast (in your fridge) when you return to your villa. The Bon Ton knows you have no time to waste in the morning. There are more Langkawi beaches to explore. Tanjung Rhu and Pantai Kok, here you come.