Where to spend 10 days in Malaysia?

We had 10 days to play with before our visit to Singapore and flight on to Australia. We opted to explore a small part of Malaysia and settled on the islands of Langkawi and Penang. Although very different destinations – one essentially a beach and not much else…and one a historic British colonial town with beaches nearby – we have compared and contrasted the two using the below criteria. Which one would we recommend? Read on…

Batu Ferringhi beach, Penang. Pretty.

Batu Ferringhi beach, Penang. Pretty.

Islands of Malaysia: Langkawi vs Penang

Langkawi: We first stayed at the Malibest Resort, at Pantay Centai, which had lovely bungalows on the beach, although we were right next door to one being renovated, so we were awoken to the sound of building works. We were also without water for a few hours in the evening due to the works, so overall it wasn’t a successful stay. At equivalent of £28 a night, it was a bit more than we had been spending, so for the next 3 nights we chose the AB Motel, which was a decent sized, clean and modern room (and a lot cheaper at £16 a night).

Penang: The PP Island Hotel, Georgetown, is a modern hotel which seems to have walls and windows made of paper. At night you can hear the warbling of a near-by karaoke club, which goes on into the wee hours; in the morning, you can hear prayers from the near-by mosque; and at any time of day or night you can clearly hear your neighbour doing whatever in their rooms! So sleep quality was fairly poor.

Accommodation winner = A tough one to objectively compare…for us it was Langkawi

Food & Drink
Langakwi: There are several Malay and Western varieties to choose from and we enjoyed good pizza, mee mar (flat noodles) and Mexican. The alcohol is tax free but it’s still fairly expensive and there are very few bars and pubs around. All a bit sleepy.

Penang: Good Thai, Chinese, Malaysian and Western food here, which is indicative of Penang’s cultural heritage. The food in Malaysia is meant to be particularly good and it really lived up to expectations. Wonderful. The alcohol is extremely expensive so we had a good dry spell and gave our livers a chance to recover!

Food winner = It really was very good. Penang

The buildings of Georgetown, Penang are a delight

The buildings of Georgetown, Penang are a delight

Langkawi: We’re glad we got to explore some of the natural beauty that is an offer on the island, as the town area of Pantay Cenai isn’t the most charming location. We grabbed a scooter and headed off to:

  • The main attraction is a multi-stage Cable Car (not recommended for those with vertigo) – soaring impressively upwards, sweeping over dense jungle towards the Langkawi Sky Bridge. It’s a C-shaped suspension bridge at the top, 700 metres above the sparkling sea below, which afford you stunning, if slightly hazy, vistas of the entire island. Stunning.

  • The Telaga Tujuh waterfall is pretty but not as spectacular as some that we have previously visited. There is a gruelling 200-odd stepped climb up to the top, where you are rewarded with a dip in one of the natural pools, which are best appreciated in the wet season, when they are fairly deep (mind you’re footing, as the rocks can get very slippery!)

Telaga Tujuh waterfall

Telaga Tujuh waterfall


  • Georgetown has a plethora of beautiful buildings from the colonial era, dating back to the late 18th century, which have a distinctive Meditteranean feel – lots of brightly coloured paint and quaint shutters. The most impressive buildings are the Town Hall, the Museum and the Government buildings. In amongst these grand British designs are several ornate mosques, most impressive of which is the Kapitan Keling Mosque; as well as Chinese (Khoo Kongsi temple), Buddhist and Hindu temples; and the distinct shopping and food districts, such as Little India. Walking through the streets, you can see the several strands of society and the wonderful cultural mix that has been present in Penang for centuries.

  • Fort Cornwallis, originally built in 1786 after the British bought Penang, is a little lacklustre in appearance although it conjures up a historic air and the remaining, original buildings house some historical information. The cannons are fairly impressive.

  • Batu Ferringhi is a built-up resort with several hotels, restaurants and bars lining the main road. On the beach, however, if you pick the right spot, it isn’t too crowded. There is the constant stream of jet-skis, paragliders and banana boats whizzing by, but that didn’t bother us. Also, compared to other SE Asia beaches, there were no hawkers – hurrah! So you feel pleasantly relaxed.

The Sights Winner = A close one, but the town of Georgetown wins it for Penang

Langkawi Sky Bridge - the highlight of a visit to Langkawi

Langkawi Sky Bridge - the highlight of a visit to Langkawi

So Penang wins overall – better food, better sights and a cleaner beach. If you have a spare few days in the region then Penang is well worth a visit. The history of Georgetown is fascinating, an intoxicating mix of Western colonialism, Asian heritage and Chinese immigration.

On the whole we were less impressed by these two islands of Malaysia than we have been by other places in SE Asia, mainly the islands of Thailand. The cultural mix and the food were big plus points, with plenty of natural beauty too but on the whole it is a more expensive country with greater tourist infrastructure. Would we do it again if in the same situation? Yes, if you haven’t been then head to Penang and give Langkawi a miss.

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