The Langkawi archipelago is made up of a cluster of 99 islands, sprinkled just off the shores of the Northern Kedah State in Peninsular Malaysia. During low tide, the number of islands expands to 104. It's understandable that only a few islands are inhabited. Many of the islands are little more than rocky outcrops separated by narrow canals where only sampans(little boats) can travel through. Langkawi island (478.5 sq.km) is the largest of them all and is not much smaller than Singapore (646 sq.km) but has a much smaller island population of only 62,000.
Pulau Langkawi's landscape is painted with marbled mountains, vast paddy fields and rural villages, miles and miles of white sandy beaches, secret caves, and pockets of virgin rainforests dating back millions of years .
Although tourism is the main industry for the people of Langkawi and has been for the past decade or so, the sea remains a healthy source of income for local fishermen. In pockets of local fishing communities one can still find the age-old cottage industry of harvesting, drying and processing of sea cucumbers into a balsamic oil for all sorts of minor ailment.
Langkawi's Legends and Hotspots
Centuries ago skilled storytellers on the mainland made a living from spinning wondrous, spectacular tales of folklore, history, myths and legends of celestial beings, demons, warriors and wars, giants, beautiful maidens and gallant heroes. Langkawi was inaccessible to local folks in those days. The Langkawi islands were infested with pirates living and feasting on boats and travellers who chose to sail in their waters. Not many locals ventured to the islands and soon stories abound of these mysterious islands. The myths are still woven strongly into the lifestyle of the local people.
The family feud - Gunung Raya, Guning Mat Cincang& Kuah Town
The various peaks on the island such as Gunung Raya,(the highest mount on the island), Gunung Mat Cincang, Bukit Sewar, Belaga Pecah and Telaga Air Hangat, were named according to the incidents which transpired as a result of a family feud. These first three mountains were purported to be humans while Belaga Pecah(meaning broken pot) was believed to be the spot where a large pot containing gravy was spilt after the pot, used as a missile in the feud, broke there. A cauldron of boiling water was also used as a missile in the fight. The spot where it landed became a series of Hot Springs gushing into the air, giving rise to the name Telaga Air Hangat (meaning hot well water).
Today, Gunung Raya is accessible by road - all the way to the top. Perched on top like the eagle's nest, is an impressive fortress-like building, which is strictly for government officials only and is out of bounds to public. However, the view from the peak is great for sunset photos. There is also a resort located at the peak for those seeking retreat.
Gunung Raya itself is home to the white-bellied sea eagle - circling high round the mountaintop. The hornbills also make their home in the forested area of Gunung Raya. When the road was built, much of the flora was disturbed thus reducing their feeding area. Perhaps due to this, it is far easier now to spot them as they have to fly a greater distance for food. (no good for the jungle inhabitants, although reported to be good for tourists!). If you're driving up the mountain, a charge of 50sen per car is collected at a makeshift toll located at the base of the mount.
Gunung Mat Cincang is open to the public and its peak can be reached via a Cable Car ride all the way up from its base at the Oriental Village. The rides are available from 10.00am till 8.00pm and the fare is RM15 for adults; RM5 for children. Any more information required, call: 04- 959 4225. From the cable car, visitors have a fine view of Langkawi island and beyond. The Telaga Tujuh Waterfall can be seen in full view on the way to the peak. A 7-tiered waterfall, the Telaga Tujuh is a favourite stop for tourists.
Oriental Village - Cable Car Station
The island has taken over Penang Island's duty free status providing shoppers with some pretty good deals on local and foreign products. Many visit Langkawi for its duty-free shopping : for local visitors; products worth purchasing are alcohol and cigarettes; for many foreign guests, electrical goods, handicraft and certain branded goods especially leathergoods and casual attire are well worth a look around. Oriental Village...a stone's throw from the Burau Bay Resort at Pantai Kok, is also where the cable car station is located. One word of advise on duty free though... if you wish to cash in on duty free alcohol and spirits, it's best to purchase this prior to departure at shops in town or at the beaches and places like Oriental Village . The airport duty free shops may price the same items higher.
Don't be misled by the name, Oriental Village is not really a living, breathing traditional local village. The place seems to have been established more specifically to house speciality shops and food outlets rather than an expression of the true local village flavour.
Kuah, Langkawi's main town and port where ferries from the mainland and Penang anchor. Numerous duty free shops have sprouted and many new hotels and chalets with prices to suit everyone's budget have been constructed. The main Tourist Information Centre is located a distance away from the ferry jetty, heading towards town. The centre closes at about 4.30pm. However, if you're looking for quieter beaches to park yourself, then grab a taxi and head off to Pantai Cenang, Pantai Kok and the other more secluded areas in the Northern end. A well maintained road runs around the island. Although bus routes are limited on the island, taxis are aplenty and not too expensive. The more adventurous could try bicycles, motorbikes or car available for hire .
The most famous of Langkawi legends is the Curse of Mahsuri. Mahsuri was a beautiful maiden of Muslim Siamese descent. As with admiration in some, there will always be jealousy in others. Mahsuri's mother-in-law was insanely jealous of her beauty and popularity. She took the opportunity one day to rid Mahsuri as she accused her of adultery during the absence of her husband who had gone off to war. Adultery by local law was a sin punishable by death. Mahsuri was executed in public. As she pleaded her innocence, the executioner plunged a 'keris' or dagger into her. To his surprise, Mahsuri's blood trickled white which signified that she was innocent.
Upon death, Mahsuri placed a curse on Langkawi and its people. For 7 generations, there was to be much tragedy and misfortune. Over years of warring with the Siamese and other natural disasters that befell the island, Langkawi was left to its own. It was said that at one time, buffaloes even outnumbered villagers . It was not until the 80's that the 7th generation passed and the curse was finally lifted.
Mahsuri's tomb is now encased in white marble, quarried from the hills of Langkawi - white symbolising her innocence. Nearby is a well, which Mahsuri used to wash and bathe. Photographs of her descendants are displayed on the board next to her grave.
The Field of Burnt Rice
Soon after Mahsuri's premature death, the formidable Siamese army made an attack on the island. In desperation, the chief ordered the granary to be burnt down to prevent the storage of rice from falling into Siamese hands. The remnants of burnt rice can still be seen at this spot known as the Field of Burnt Rice especially after a heavy downfall that washes out the odd blackened grain or so. The curse is believed to have been the cause of the island's lack of development which lasted until the birth in 1980 of Aishah Nawawi, a direct descendant of Mahsuri, the eighth generation.