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The Langkawi group is an archipelago of 99 islands around 30 km off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and Pulau Langkawi itself, by far the largest of the group, is a mountainous, palm-fringed island with scattered fishing kampongs, paddy fields and sandy coves. Some of the islands are nothing more than deserted limestone outcrops rearing out of the turquoise sea, cloaked in jungle, and ringed by coral.
The name Langkawi is the last surviving namesake of the ancient kingdom of Langkasuka, known as negari alang-kah suka, or ‘the land of all one’s wishes’. Langkasuka, whose capital is thought to have stood at the base of Kedah Peak, south of Alor Star, is mentioned in Chinese accounts as far back as AD 500. According to a Chinese Liang Dynasty record, the kingdom of ‘Langgasu’ was founded in the first century and its Hindu king, Bhagadatta, paid tribute to the Chinese Emperor. The names of its kings – known as daprenta-hyangs – resurface in Malay legends and fairytales.Read more
The main settlement of locals is in the dusty town of Kuah, while upmarket resorts are at Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Burau Bay, Datai Bay and Pantai Rhu. Pantai Cenang and Tengah also have a smattering of cheaper guesthouses.
In January 1987 the Malaysian government conferred duty-free status on Langkawi to promote tourism on the island. The promotion campaign and improved transport links to the mainland means the islands can no longer be touted as ‘Malaysia’s best-kept secret’. New hotels, shopping centres and restaurants have sprouted with typical Southeast Asian speed and, for some former visitors at least, the Langkawi of old is just a memory. But development has been concentrated in a handful of places, so much of the island remains relatively unspoilt.