Despite a surge of visitors after interstate travel restriction was lifted, Langkawi is still struggling to define itself as a top ecotourism destination.
Upon arrival at Langkawi airport, it was a breeze to rent a car as there were so many counters offering the same products. You only need to bargain for the best deal. Yes, unfortunately, just like other island destinations like Jeju and Phuket, a car is a necessity unless you have all the time in the world to wait for the bus. Speaking of buses, Langkawi has yet to have buses despite having bus stops installed. Which might be a good thing as buses cause a lot of noise and environmental pollution.
With a car, you can travel easily to all the places of interest – except it’s sometimes easy to get momentarily lost due to the confusing road signage. A road sign leading to Ayer Hangat Village (Hotspring) will somehow not show itself in the next road sign where there’s a roundabout or turning, causing you to wonder if you should continue straight or turn. Apart from that, the roads are relatively well-maintained.
Herein lies the paradox that is Langkawi – it holds aspirations to be a world class destination yet lacks the many infrastructures that qualify it as one. True enough, it has many local car rental operators but renting one is like an exercise in your bargaining prowess at the market. It has many interesting places but lacks the marketing muscle to drive tourists there.
The Ayer Hangat Village hotspring is a case in point – it is one of only four saltwater hotsprings in the world. The hotspring came about when seawater is heated up a few kilometres underwater from the heat of the volcanic lava of Gunung Raya.
Seawater hot springs are so rare in the world that this should have been one of Langkawi’s top draws yet hardly anyone outside of Langkawi knows about it. The place looked a bit neglected and there were few visitors, hardly the spa-like condition that you would expect from a hotspring facility at a top holiday destination.
The other overlooked attraction is Laman Padi Langkawi, a museum paying homage to the most common agricultural activity in Langkawi – rice cultivation. With real padi fields where you can sit to have a meal right next to, it’s a cultural immersion that any foreign tourist would be thrilled to experience. The scene of padi fields in various stages of growth stretching for a few hundred metres is a feast for the eyes. Yet again, the lack of visitors makes this almost a wasted resource.
Laman Padi is also lacking in activities that can draw repeat visitors, offers Rosly Selamat, a committee member of FLAG (Friends of Langkawi Geopark). “The museum is not interactive and remains unchanged for many years. Where is the padi pulut showcase? Shouldn’t Laman Padi be a one-stop centre for such showcase?” he asks.
Clearly, for Rosly, there is a lack or in some cases the non-existence of a maintenance budget to upkeep government-owned attractions.
Good and bad
Back at the popular Cenang Beach, Rosly laments the haphazard construction visible in Cenang Beach now – “There is a rule of thumb here where no high-rise building shall be taller than the tallest coconut tree,” he reveals.
Rosly also notes that the itinerary in Langkawi, for example, the Island Hopping tour has not changed in the last 20 years! “It’s always the same three – Tasik Dayang Bunting, Pulau Singa and Pula u Beras Basah!”