Imagine a lush green tropical island, shrouded in mysterious low-lying clouds, surrounded by a warm turquoise sea. Untouched virgin jungle as far as the eye can see. The thick, salty air gently brushing your cheeks. If it weren’t for the occasional long boat bouncing across the waves, you could be mistaken for thinking that you’ve stepped into a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.
But this particular island paradise is on the other side of the world. And while there’s no buried treasure (that I know of), the island teems with an unmatched natural bounty.
I’m talking about Langkawi, Malaysia.
Travel tip: Get from Penang to Langkawi via ferry - check the latest prices.
Back in 2009 Josh and I visited Langkawi without kids and thoroughly enjoyed our 2 nights. This time Naturally Langkawi asked us to come for a week with the kids and discover how much fun this island can be for all ages.
So without further ado here are our top 15 things to do in Langkawi with kids.
1. Langkawi Cable Car (SkyCab)
If you are afraid of heights then this is going to cure you permanently or terrify you senseless. Both in a good way. Also known as the Langkawi SkyCab this cable car is the steepest in the world and also as the longest free span for a mono-cable car.
We started in the Oriental Village at Teluk Burau and skipped middle station, opting to head straight to the peak of Gunung Machinchang. The total length is 2.2km (1.4 miles) and took around 15-20 minutes.
At the base the wait for a cable car is eased by a quick 360-degree movie in the SkyDome. These things usually make Josh nauseous, but the kids thought it was “awesome” (in their words). We sat in the air-conditioned dome, focused on the all-encompassing 360-degree screen which sent us on on a Martian roller coaster ride.
On the day we visited the queue for the gondola was very short. You can choose a regular gondola, or for something a bit different try the glass-bottom gondola. You couldn’t catch me looking down, but the kids’ faces were plastered to the transparent floor, watching birds in the treetops and the untouched jungle below.
Once we reached the top station there were 2 circular viewing platforms that revealed stunning beach and forest views as far as the eyes could see. You are about 708m above sea level and it’s 5°C cooler, so bring a jacket.
From the top station you can stop in the café for a bite to eat or try your nerves on the SkyBridge.
The Langkawi SkyBridge is a curved pedestrian cable bridge 125 metre (410 feet) in length. In fact it’s the world’s longest curved bridge. Located 660 metres above sea level, it offers unmatched panoramic views, and is accessible from the top station of the cable car (SkyCab).
Currently an inclinator is being built for easier access, but at the moment the only way to reach it is a 15–20 minute trek through a temporary mountain track. Josh opted to head out on it alone and was gone a long time. He came back sweaty and breathless (but with a smile on his face). So be prepared.
This is a themed outdoor shopping complex that offers souvenirs, clothes, galleries, food and entertainment. Whether you roll around in a Zorb (inflatable ball) on water, let the kids zip-line across a pond, or head here just for the cable car (SkyCab), you could spend the entire day here.
Located within the Oriental Village is Malaysia’s largest 3D art museum featuring more than 100 3D paintings across 21,000 square feet. While I must admit I am not normally an art lover, this place was simply wonderful. The kids had a field day and posed for photos at every painting. There were no electronics, no “I’m hungry” complaints, just running around looking at art and having fun. In fact I’ve featured my favourite images in a separate blog post - go take a look.
5. Duck Tour
After you’ve seen Langkawi from high up in the mountains, it’s time to see it from the land. Located at the entrance to Oriental Village the brightly coloured amphibious duck tour is impossible to miss.
We’ve done several of these in various cities around the world and the kids still get a kick out of the splash down.
A fairly new concept here in Langkawi that hasn’t quite been executed as well as it could be. The “tour” is simply a quick drive to the marina, where it enters the water, navigates around the harbour and then back to the village. There is no guide or commentary on what you are seeing.
So while it’s a fun and enjoyable drive with some pretty views, it’s not very educational or helpful on finding out more about Langkawi. Not like our time with Captain Chaos in Seattle.
There are a number of different operators providing ATV tours in Langkawi, however make sure you ask questions before you arrive. When we arrived at one such operator we were informed our kids were too young and couldn’t take part in the tour. Something that would have been helpful to know before we drove 45 minutes to get there.
Fortunately for us our GC Butler got on the phone and found an operator fairly close by that were more than happy to welcome our kids on the adventure with us.
We drove past expansive rice fields to a buffalo farm, down long shady pathways and through a delectable scented rainforest arriving at a secluded waterfall. Local boys were grilling chicken on an open fire and this little corner of paradise was shielded from the rest of the world.
Our kids stripped down to their underwear and splashed in the cool water for a few moments. There was no pressure to hurry or move along before we finally rounded the kids up for the return trip back.
At the end the tour operator provided water and cake, plus we added our name to the many satisfied guests already on the wall.
Josh and I had been in Langkawi many years ago for a wedding anniversary and thoroughly enjoyed our jet ski island hopping tour. Well, our 2 kids weren’t up for 4 hours on a jet ski, however it didn’t stop us from taking out a boat for a morning island hopping adventure.
Our tour departed from Awana Jetty near Resorts World.
We got to visit the Beras Basah (Wet Rice Island), see White-Bellied Sea Eagles and swim in the Pregnant Maiden Lake. Despite the drenching downpour we received on the return ride it was a gorgeous day with beautiful views.
You can read more on our island hopping adventure here.
A trip to Langkawi is not complete without a Mangrove tour, and these can be taken from either the Tanjung Rhu jetty or the Kilim jetty. We went with the quieter Tanjung Rhu jetty.
The boat tour took us past lush mangroves, curious wild monkeys and inside the Crocodile Cave.
We then disembarked for a walk through the impressive Bat Cave (Gua Kelawar) filled with hundreds of bats, and enjoyed lunch at a floating fish farm.
For more details read about our Mangrove Tour here.
Of course Langkawi offers an abundance in watersports: banana boat rides, jet skis, parasailing… you name it. We tried to do parasailing, but they wouldn’t let our 6 and 5-year-old do it. So check the age limits with the operator before you book anything in.
It’s not a real tropical holiday unless the kids build a sandcastle while you relax with a book. There’s endless options on beaches, but our favourite by far was one of the top 13 beaches in the world, located on the island’s north coast in front of the Four Seasons - Tanjung Rhu Beach. Cerulean waters, powdery white sand beaches and no one around for miles.
Or if you want a beach with buzz, check out Cenang Beach on the southwest coast along the central hotel strip.
11. Rice Paddy Tour
I’ll admit I had low expectations for a rice paddy tour, but we thought it might be educational for the kids and we took them along to the tour located at Laman padi, near Gemalai Village.
Roughly 2000 people walk through this museum each month. The friendly, knowledgeable guide showed us around describing the well-presented exhibits. While very educational, it was also fairly unexciting.
At the end our guide showed the kids how to play a traditional game of Congkak with marbles and a large wooden tray. Local kids usually learn this game around 5. And while I didn’t fully grasp the rules, the kids absolutely loved it.
After that we were provided with traditional straw hats and followed our guide into the rice paddies to get down and dirty and plant rice. Now that was fun! My 5-year-old stated with complete certainty it was the best fun he ever had.
Wading through the squishy wet mud, pulling out small rice plants and re-planting them in a larger paddy – a perfect recipe for kids who learn with their hands.
In another paddy grew fresh water mussels, which Caius found exceptionally entertaining. Leaning down into the squelchy, chocolate-coloured mud, searching for mussels was his cup of tea. My 6-year-old daughter was not so keen, but she enjoyed watching her brother from the sideline, cheering him on.
He found nearly a dozen mussels, which we gently threw back in when he was done.
One of the unexpected highlights during our stay in Langkawi.
If you haven’t had a chance to relax on Langkawi because of all the things to do, then head here.
Located about 14km north of Kuah Town, this complex is centred around an extremely rare natural hot saltwater spring – found in only 3 other countries.
Ponds, pools, landscaped gardens, a spa and on top of all that, a private Jacuzzi. We spent the majority of our time in one of these private facilities. While our kids had an okay time, you will get more out of this if you visit without the kids – perhaps a romantic afternoon with someone special.
Want to see an enormous eagle? Then head to Eagle Square and snap oodles of selfies with Langkawi’s iconic statue.
14. Underwater World
If Langkawi’s afternoon tropical showers are hampering your plans then escape indoors to the aquarium. It’s perfect for an afternoon of entertaining the kids. Our favourites were the penguins and the 15-meter walkthrough aquarium tunnel.
This park contains an eclectic mix of animals, more than just birds - monkeys, rabbits, ostriches and more. Our kids’ favourite exhibit involved feeding the Arapaima – the largest freshwater fish in the world, native to the Amazon Basin – with a long pole.
The walkthrough tropical rainforest aviary proved the most amusement for me as I watched a budgie riding on the back of a quail and fed birds out of my hand. The kids stood on an ostrich egg to test its strength, amazed that it never cracked or crumbled.
We enjoyed it much more than we expected so allow at least 2 hours to see all the animals at a reasonable pace.
The Secret Sauce
While it’s not an attraction or location, probably my favourite aspect of our time in Langkawi was our GC Butler. This service is like hiring a tour guide, driver and butler all in one. They can plan your itinerary, pay your entry fees, organise your meals – anything to make your holiday easier, more enjoyable and more relaxing.
They offer different packages from budget, to medium to ultra luxury. Considering the cost you’d probably pay for car hire, the relatively modest addition of enlisting their help is well worth it.
Our butler, Jesse, was a goldmine of knowledge and experience and even in stressful circumstances like the ATV mix-up he managed to sort it out so the kids weren’t disappointed.
We’ve dealt with countless tour guides and drivers in dozens of countries and I must admit, there are few that stand in the same category as Jesse. I don’t rave on about many individuals, and it takes a lot to really impress me, but all his praise is 100% warranted.
Jesse used to work for Four Seasons and has looked after a number of VIPs over the years. So he truly understands how to take care of the details, remember his guests preferences and make intelligent, proactive recommendations. He also regaled us with his outrageous stories about demanding Hollywood A-list celebrities and ostentatious mega-rich tycoons.
Langkawi wouldn’t have been the same without him. So if you’re serious about finding the perfect island holiday for your family then I would highly recommend getting in touch with Jesse. You’ll thank me for it.
Where To Stay
Whether you are looking for traditionally-inspired accommodation or a luxury beach resort, Langkawi has you covered.
Our first 4 nights were spent at Gemalai Village. Picturesque huts situated on a rice paddy make for a pretty romantic and traditional setting. The huts are quite small so this is one place you might like to stay on a romantic getaway (without kids). Tip: Eat the local Malay food at Seashells Restaurant, because the Western breakfast left much to be desired.
For the perfect family vacation check in at the Berjaya Resort. From elevated huts on the beach to rainforest chalets, there's something for everyone here. We stayed in an interconnecting rainforest chalet. A large pool with mountain and beach views, nearby beach, and a bountiful buffet breakfast means you are taken well care of. Just leave plenty of time to get where you're going, because the place is huge and the free shuttle can take a little while to get you around.
And that’s a wrap. There is so much more to do in Langkawi, but with only 6 days up our sleeves we ran out of time. I hope our experience has inspired you, weather you’re dreaming about sipping cocktails on the world’s best beaches, skimming through tropical mangroves, or getting knee-deep in a muddy rice paddy!... Langkawi’s got it.
And if you’d like someone else to do all the hard work for you (and be honest, who doesn’t?), just ask Jesse for the top 15 things to do in Langkawi with kids.