Is Langkawi too touristy for backpackers these days?
In recent years, the Langkawi tourism industry has definitely been targeting affluent travellers with more swanky resorts, restaurants and high-ticket tours, to the extent that some backpacker blogs are starting to encourage their readers to give this fabulous island a miss on their travels through Southeast Asia.
Rest assured that the two busiest tourist districts of Kuah and Cenang/Tengah still have that backpacker vibe aplenty. There are more than 60 hotels in those two areas offering rooms under $35 a night. One third of those offer rooms under $20 a night and there are at least six backpacker dormitories in Cenang going for $5-7 a night.
Here are more perks:
Langkawi has the cheapest booze and cigarette prices in the region (possibly in all of Southeast Asia).
Scooter rentals can go as low as $9 per day during off season
If you rent a car or bike, fuel is just under 65 cents a litre.
If you don’t mind living on local street food, you can eat for as low as $2 per meal (with a drink yet).
The town of Kuah has several new motels offering clean rooms and makes a splendid base camp for backpackers.
Langkawi has not one but three stunning multi-level waterfalls where you can swim and hike with no entrance fee to pay.
Most of the artificial tourist attractions are between $3-7 to get in. A couple of them are free.
If you love virgin jungles, scenic beaches, stunning geological formations, rustic villages and fascinating local culture, you’ll find these in abundance in Langkawi. Despite recent modernization, it’s still a land where buffalo, cows and goats still roam freely through the streets, often in front of a thoroughly modern hotel.
Take a drive around the island and you’ll see that Langkawi is still unapologetically and charmingly rural. The main town of Kuah looks like a Malaysian city from the 70s. There are big crowds of tourists during Malaysian long weekends, but they will be concentrated around the main artificial tourist attractions like the Cable Car or Underwater World, or perhaps at the Kuah Town shopping malls. The rest of the island will still be secluded and restful.
For backpackers to avoid Langkawi in favour of truly over-developed holiday destinations like Phuket and Bali is to be sadly misinformed. When you ask seasoned backpackers who have travelled through India and Southeast Asia what they thought about Langkawi at the end of their visit, they will invariably express some shock that they were never swarmed by aggressive tour agents, souvenir sellers and starving street urchins, nor were they ever accosted by prostitutes and drug dealers.
Langkawi may not be an exotic war-torn land on the rebound or have ancient monuments left by a vanished culture, but it is a safe, scenic place to hang out without having to worry constantly about getting scammed or mugged or hassled. You might want to think of leaving Langkawi till the end of your backpacking journey, so that you can smooth out those frazzled nerves with a can of 50-cent beer on the beach.
Don’t let the bloggers tell you otherwise.