Beach at Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi Suspended Bridge in Langkawi, Malaysia. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Langkawi

Until the mid-1980s, Pulau Langkawi (usually referred to as just Langkawi) was a little-known slip of land in the 104-island Langkawi archipelago that dots the narrows where the Indian Ocean meets the fast-flowing waters of the Malacca Straits. In 1986, the Malaysian government gave the island, which is roughly the size of Singapore, duty-free status and invested heavily in its infrastructure and tourist facilities. The result is an island with sturdy roads, a new international airport, a range of visitor attractions, and a sprinkling of world-class resort hotels—making it perfect for families.

The natural beauty that attracted savvy travelers before the 1980s has, mercifully, been preserved. Two-thirds of Langkawi is covered in lush tropical rainforest, which rises and flows along the island's rolling terrain before dipping seaward, where the forests provide shade for the bleached white beaches that line the coast. With bath-temperature waters and plenty of places to find your own slice of beach paradise, it is easy to see why Langkawi is becoming increasingly popular with families.

Peppered throughout the island, endless stretches of beachfront and modern resorts lure families looking to relax by the sea. If you want to venture farther afield, there are small rustic villages, rice paddies, countryside where water buffalo roam, and traditional Muslim and Buddhist temples. Active children are also well catered to with myriad water sports, including snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking—either out at sea or among the dense coastal mangroves in the north of the island.

The main town is Kuah, which has come a long way since it was just a simple fishing village. It still offers a taste of those days in some of its older buildings, but also has a more modern phalanx of shops that showcase the island's duty-free wares. Kuah also offers some of the island's better non-hotel restaurants.

In recent years, a range of dedicated family attractions has sprung up around Langkawi. These include Book Village, Langkawi Cultural Centre, Langkawi Crocodile Farm, Langkawi Cable Car, Bird Paradise, Snake Sanctuary, and Underwater World. The latter is one of Asia's largest aquariums. Transport can be organized directly from most hotels, which is the best option because local driving standards can be patchy.

For those with more than a week on Langkawi Island, there is the temptation to check out some of the other islands of the archipelago. The Pulau Payar Marine Park, 18 miles south of the main island, is an ideal family day trip. Take a boat trip out to the islands, which are the base for spectacular snorkeling forays among the multicolored coral.

For adventurous parents and older children, the island is also an emerging golf destination. Golf serves as a microcosm for what is so attractive about Langkawi. You get to enjoy a first-rate experience, which comes complete with a backdrop of hulking limestone crags, a sweep of ocean, and perhaps one or two monitor lizards ambling across the fairways. Langkawi is that sort of island.

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