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.