Kuah is the largest town in Langkawi and the hub of the island’s commerce and politics. It’s in transition, as is most of the island, away from an island-based economy towards one focused heavily on tourism, meaning you’ll see plenty of old and new juxtapositions. Kuah is a town with a vision for the future; a vision that includes ferryloads of mainlanders popping over for a holiday or just for duty-free shopping.
Travellers arriving in Langkawi by ferry from Penang, Perlis, Alor Setar or Satun will have Kuah as their point of entry. You’ll know you’re here when you see the giant eagle statue at nearby… Eagle Square.
Restaurants, entertainment, cultural events, parks and playgrounds — Kuah has them all. It’s the location of choice for many expats for just that reason. There’s bowling, cinemas, water adventures via charter cruises as well as a state-of-the-art sports complex with tennis, soccer, lawn bowling and now zumba classes.
Kuah is home to two malls, Langkawi Fair and Teow Soon Huat, with a third on the way. Because the island itself is duty free, many people come from the mainland simply to shop for items as varied as Persian rugs, local crafts, batik, household goods, imported chocolates, tobacco, beer, wine and spirits. The town centre and a part of town referred to as Langkawi Mall — even though it’s just a concentration of shops — is also a magnet for shoppers.
Places to stay in Kuah range from budget to luxurious. On Persiaran Putera, the main road from the ferry building, noteworthy options include the Eagle Bay Hotel overlooking Legenda Park, which is walking distance from the ferry terminal and nearby East Marine Divers. Rooms start at 125 ringgit — and there’s a pool — making this a good inexpensive place to lay your head, especially if you’re taking an early ferry or a dive trip to Pulau Payar the next day.
Just down the road is the Putra Hotel with a standard double for 60 ringgit a night with WiFi, TV and air-con. Almost next door, Hotel Langkawi is a true Kuah budget choice, with rooms starting at 36 ringgit. It’s very affordable, but you do get what you pay for. In the Langkawi Mall, the Trillion has air-con rooms with WiFi starting at 50 ringgit. Parallel to Persiaran Putera and back from the waterfront is Jalan Penarak, with three budget hotels: Dsa Motel starts at 60 ringgit, Motel Sri Manis starts at 55 ringgit and the Amara starts at 85 ringgit.
Heading a bit upmarket is the Bella Vista, which overlooks the sea and has a pool, starting at 128 ringgit for a standard double. The Grand Continental is another seaside option, with rooms starting at 140 ringgit. Also noteworthy is the modern Bay View Hotel, which has rooms starting at 190 ringgit for a double. But with five stars, the Westin has the most to offer in Kuah, with its restaurants, healthy cuisine and spa. All rooms overlook the ocean and start at 400 ringgit for a standard double.
There are so many eateries in Kuah that it’s hard to know where to start. The best place for Hainanese chicken and rice is Chicken Joe’s in the Langkawi Mall. With chicken and rice starting at six ringgit this is definitely a place to check out and the owner is a memorable character too. Across the main road and by the canal are a number of open-air restaurants open only in the evenings. Wonderland is by far the most popular, serving Chinese seafood from 12 ringgit. In the town centre you’ll find open-air hawker style restaurants, all of which are inexpensive and have their own claim on particular cuisines. You’ll find them busy at all hours of the day and night with locals and foreigners alike.
If you need a Western food fix, Domino in the town centre is one of the best, offering pizzas, burgers and braised lamb shanks among other dishes. In Langkawi Fair Mall, the Art Cafe is a little bistro as well as a small art gallery. Serving excellent coffee-based drinks and a menu with both Western and Asian fusion cuisine, it’s a comfortable place to linger. The Pier is a favourite among cruising sailors and if you’re looking for a local expat scene this will do it. They offer Western and Thai food starting at 12 ringgit for a cheese toasty and fries. For a more upmarket dining experience, Charlie’s Place at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club offers Western and Malay dishes while you dine overlooking the harbour.
Night markets in Kuah on Wednesday and Saturday are held in the town centre, with overwhelming selections of excellent — and budget — local cuisine. For dining at the market or purchasing take-away, it’s great if you can bring your own containers or re-usable bags, due to local waste management issues with plastic and styrofoam overuse that’s especially prevalent at night markets.
As far as sightseeing goes, Taman Legenda (Legends Park) is an open-air museum dedicated to the myths and legends of Langkawi. Walking distance from the Kuah jetty, this beautiful park has a variety of sculptures depicting various local legends. It’s well worth a walk through and it’s free. One of the main Hindu temples, Sri Subramaniar, is located in the Langkawi Mall area, with a very colourful presence so you can’t possibly miss it. Near Kilim you’ll find an unusual Buddhist cave temple built into a limestone wall. The grounds are decorated with an assortment of mythical images intermixed with latest remodelling supplies.
The Galleria Perdana, with a 10 ringgit entry fee, houses thousands of gifts given to Mahathir Mohamad from other world leaders during his tenure as prime minister; the beautiful grounds are a sight in themselves. The Killim River boat quay is located near the Galleria Perdana, and is the centre of mangrove and geopark tours. There’s also Durian Falls if you need a jungle fix.
Kuah Jetty has ferries running daily to Satun, Perlis, Alor Setar and Penang. Kuah can be a bit intimidating to the new visitor with its taxis, shuttles and tour purveyors all hustling for your attention; there is however no public transport in Langkawi, so don’t waste your time looking for any.
By Vanessa Workman
Last updated on 27th August, 2014.