Last updated on October 29, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re planning an indulgent island getaway, Malaysia is a fantastic option to consider. While most visitors to this part of the world spend their time on the mainland, exploring the modern capital of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia also has a plethora of picturesque islands dotted off the shores of its east and west coastlines.
Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands are two of the finest examples. Both offer some of the prettiest beaches in Malaysia, with spectacular snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing. However, the two island groups also have some notable differences, beginning with their locations – Langkawi is off Malaysia’s west coast, while the Perhentian Islands are to the east.
The two islands also have big differences when it comes to vibe and size, with Langkawi being much larger and more developed from a touristic point of view. In contrast, the Perhentian Islands are much quieter and calmer, with more pristine wilderness, as well as being quite a bit harder to reach.
So, despite both being charming and beautiful Malaysian islands, these two destinations provide quite different experiences to those who visit them. And, if you’re hesitating between the two, it’s crucial to make the right choice – otherwise, you might not have the magical island getaway you were hoping for.
This guide is here to help with that. Below, we’ll break down all the big differences between Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands, exploring their beaches, hotels, average costs, and most popular activities. By the end of the list, you should have a much clearer idea of which island group is best for you.
- A Quick Overview Of Langkawi vs Perhentian Islands
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Has The Best Accommodation?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Langkawi vs Perhentian Islands: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Langkawi vs Perhentian Islands
Langkawi: A Quick Overview
Langkawi, or “The Jewel of Kedah”, is an island group, consisting of one main island, as well as a surrounding archipelago, with around 99 islands in total, four of which are inhabited. It’s situated around 18 miles off the northwest coast of Malaysia, quite near to the border with Thailand, and it extends across 184 square miles, with a population close to 100,000.
Langa and Langka are just some of the other names that Langkawi has been known by over the years. It’s believed that the name Langkawi came from the Malay words “helang”, meaning eagle, and “kawi”, which is the name of a red stone. Fittingly, one of the main island’s most famous landmarks is Eagle Square, where a large eagle statue perches proudly atop a rock.
Various people passed through and controlled the islands over the years. They were even a popular haunt among pirates back in the early 20th century. But, in 1986, great change came to the area. It received heavy investment, developing into one of Malaysia’s leading touristic destinations – around three million people visit each year.
Having developed greatly over recent decades, Langkawi is now a busy, lively, and charming place to be, with great shopping, dining, and nightlife scenes to go along with its breathtaking beaches. It also has quite a broad range of accommodation options, and some terrific tourist attractions, like the Sky Bridge and Underwater World aquarium.
Perhentian Islands: A Quick Overview
The Perhentian Islands are a group of islands off the northeast coast of Malaysia. The two main islands are Perhentian Besar (Greater Perhentian) and Perhentian Kecil (Lesser Perhentian), and there are a few smaller, uninhabited islands in the surrounding waters. At just under six square miles in size, these islands are far smaller and less populated than Langkawi.
Historically, the Perhentian Islands were used as a stopping-off point for traders traveling between Thailand and Malaysia – indeed, the word “Perhentian” actually means “stopping point” in the Malay language. As such, the Perhentian Islands have never been densely populated, all the way up to the modern day.
They may not have much of a local population, but these islands have gradually emerged as a leading nature tourism hotspot. With white sand beaches, clear seas, and a wonderful array of wildlife, the Perhentians often prove popular with people who are looking to leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind, offering a quintessential paradise island escape.
Compared to Langkawi, the Perhentian Islands are much calmer, with fewer hotels, shops, restaurants, and major touristic activities. Instead, they’re favored for their pristine nature, offering a relaxing, off-the-beaten-path experience for those who like to be a little different and avoid the big tourist traps.
Which Is Best For Activities?
When it comes to activities, Langkawi and the Perhentians have a few things in common. They’re both world-class destinations to sunbathe, swim, snorkel, and relax. However, there are also a few key differences between the two, with certain things you can only do on Langkawi, and vice versa for the Perhentian Islands. Here’s a rundown of the best activities at each location.
Langkawi: The Activities
As the bigger island group and the more touristic destination, Langkawi has the longest list of attractions and activities. Most visitors will begin their exploration of the island in its biggest city, Kuah. There may not be a beach in Kuah, but it’s a great dining and shopping destination, with several big attractions to see.
There’s the Eagle Square, for example, which boasts a huge sea eagle sculpture, looking just ready to take flight – it’s one of the most photographed spots on the island. Kuah is also home to the Legend Park recreation area, filled with fascinating fairy tale-style sculptures and scenic gardens, along with the MAHA Tower – the second-tallest tower in all of Malaysia.
The beautiful Al-Hana Mosque is also worth checking out, along with CHOGM Park and the various malls and outlets across the city. But, once you’re ready to venture beyond Kuah, Langkawi has much more to offer, like its cable car to the top of Mat Cincang Mountain, its jaw-dropping Sky Bridge, and its Underwater World aquarium.
There are also plenty of beautiful beaches to be found along Langkawi’s extensive coastline, along with many other beautiful natural landmarks, like Gunung Raya – the island’s biggest mountain – or the Talaga Tujuh Waterfalls. Hiking, swimming, wildlife watching, and general exploration are just a few other ways to pass the time on your visit.
Perhentian Islands: The Activities
The Perhentian Islands are far less touristic and much more pristine compared to Langkawi. They’re still popular with travelers, but they haven’t had anywhere near as much funding or development over the years. They’re also a fraction of the size of Langkawi, so you won’t find quite as many things to do on these islands.
Instead, the focus in the Perhentians is more on classic R&R. These quiet islands are the perfect place to escape the chaos of big city life and slip into a state of pure and simple relaxation. There are lots of lovely beaches where you can simply sit and admire the amazing views that surround you.
For the more adventurous travelers, the Perhentians are among the best Malaysian islands for snorkeling and scuba diving. They have much better underwater opportunities than Langkawi, with super clear water and spacious coral reefs to swim around. Sea turtles and colorful fish are just a dive away!
If you prefer a little urban entertainment, the Perhentian Islands don’t exactly have any big cities to rival Kuah on Langkawi, but there is a small fisherman’s village on Kecil Island, perfect for providing visitors with a taste of the local lifestyle. Visitors are also advised to take a water taxi around to the D’Lagoon Windmill, which provides power for the island’s natives.
Overall, Langkawi is by far the better place if you’re looking for lots of activities and attractions. It has much more to do, making it potentially a more desirable destination for families or backpackers. In contrast, the Perhentian Islands are a lot simpler.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
One of the main reasons to visit either Langkawi or the Perhentian Islands is for the beaches. Indeed, soft sands and warm waters are typically at the forefront of most travelers’ minds when picking between these two destinations. But which one is the best if you’re planning to spend lots of time by the sea?
Well, As Langkawi is so much bigger, with many more miles of coastline compared to the Perhentian Islands, it’s got lots more beaches to pick from. They’re generally quite easy to access, too, as well as being bigger, longer, and busier, with sunbathing hotspots like Pantai Cenang and Black Sand Beach regularly drawing in some pretty big crowds.
Over on the Perhentian Islands, you’ll have to work a little harder to get to some of the beaches, such as hiking or taking a water taxi. However, some of them are absolutely worth the effort, like Long Beach, with its sugar-like, powdery sands and Coral Bay, which is a sublime snorkeling spot.
Overall, both islands are super for beach fun, but very different. The Perhentians offer the quiet, romantic, secluded spots that many people crave when they want to relax. Langkawi, meanwhile, has much larger and livelier beaches.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
If you’re looking for lively nightlife, neither Langkawi nor the Perhentian Islands are really the best places to go. They’re certainly not as wild and energetic as Malaysia’s big cities, like Kuala Lumpur, but you’ll definitely find a lot more to do in the evenings on Langkawi than in the Perhentian Islands.
In Langkawi, especially around Kuah, there are several good beach bars and nighttime hangout spots. The Pantai Cenang area on the southwest coast also boasts a fun strip of restaurants, bars, and shops, many of which stay open quite late, helping the area feel pretty dynamic, even after dark.
Over on the Perhentian Islands, there’s a much slower pace of life and a much more silent atmosphere to match. Not many people live on these islands, and they don’t attract the same big crowds as Langkawi, so there’s far less to do once the sun has set.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
For shopping, it’s more or less the same story again between Langkawi and the Perhantian Islands. Langkawi, as the bigger, busier, and more developed destination, has a far superior shopping scene compared to the Perhentians. There are plenty of interesting locally-owned stores to check out, selling fun souvenirs and handmade crafts.
Langkawi also has multiple malls to check out with dozens of big brand stores and outlets, like Langkawi Fair Shopping Mall, the Cenang Mall, and Langkawi Saga. Shopaholics can easily spend a few hours or a full day exploring these vast shopping complexes and stocking up on local fashion, accessories, and gifts for people back home.
In contrast, the shopping scene on the Perhentian Islands is more or less nonexistent. There are a couple of small souvenir stores, but most shops across the Perhentians are convenience or grocery stores, selling essential foods and supplies for locals.
Which Is Best For Food?
Food-wise, both Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands have some pleasant places to eat. Naturally, due to their island status, these destinations tend to offer a lot of seafood, and visitors can sample an array of traditional Malaysian delights in both locations, like nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) and nasi kandar (steamed rice often served with curried seafood).
Once again, since Langkawi is the bigger island with a much larger population, it’s definitely got a broader and deeper dining scene. There are some terrific restaurants to enjoy across the main island, especially along the coastal areas. With multiple options to choose from, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding food to suit your tastes.
Over on the Perhentian Islands, the range of options is slimmer. Some restaurants are even quite hard to access, requiring use of water taxis to reach. However, there are still some fine places to eat here, particularly for those who want classic island cooking and traditional Malaysian fare.
Which Has The Best Accommodation?
Before your arrival in either Langkawi or the Perhentian Islands, you’ll also need to consider the range of hotels and other places to stay. So, which island is best in terms of the comfort and luxury of its accommodation?
Well, unsurprisingly, Langkawi has the larger selection of places to stay. Hotels, hostels, and fancy resorts are all available here, with options to suit any budget. Many of the best hotels are right by the beach, with lovely sea views and easy access to the island’s trendiest and liveliest spots.
The hotel options on the Perhentian Islands are much more limited. In fact, there aren’t many places to choose from, with smaller and lower quality properties all round. Prices tend to be a little cheaper, but you won’t be able to enjoy quite the same high standards of accommodation as you would on Langkawi.
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re looking for a magical getaway that the whole family can enjoy, both Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands are certainly appealing choices. They’ve got the soft sands, warm waters, and scenic views that many families dream of. But which one is best if you’re traveling with kids?
Well, for the majority of families, Langkawi is definitely the superior choice. Not only is it easier to access, with more family-friendly hotels and eateries, but it’s also got lots more to do. There are even specific family attractions, like the aquarium, and kids can have so much fun walking across the Sky Bridge or exploring the fantastic landscape of Legend Park.
Over on the Perhentian Islands, children – especially young children – might get a little bored. There’s simply not a lot to do apart from lounging on the beaches or swimming in the sea. If your kids are older and looking for a relaxing getaway, the Perhentians should be fine. But, for more action-packed adventures, Langkawi is the place to be.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Couples can also have a terrific time jetting off to the paradise islands of Langkawi or the Perhentians. Both of them are appealing for spouses and partners of all ages, and the right choice for you and your partner will ultimately depend on the kind of experience you’re hoping to have.
In terms of scenic beauty and charming romance, the Perhentians are a fine choice. They’re way less crowded than Langkawi, with cozier, more secluded beaches where you and your partner can truly feel a million miles away from it all. There may not be much to do, but if you just want to sunbathe, swim, and chill out, this is the location for you.
Not to be outdone, Langkawi also has lots to offer for couples. It’s much larger than the Perhentian Islands, giving you more space to explore and enjoy. There are also some thrilling activities, like the Sky Bridge, along with romantic hotspots, like the mountains, towers, and golden sand beaches. Accommodation is also more high-end, with better restaurants all-round.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers might also like to pack their bags and set off for a tour of either Langkawi or the Perhentian Islands. Both of these destinations can appeal to those who adore adventure, but you might find one of them to be a little more accessible and exciting than the other.
In general, Langkawi is the better choice for the average backpacker. It’s much easier to access, which can help you save some cash and time. It’s also got lots more to see and do, and despite the large size of the main island, getting around isn’t too much hassle. You can explore at your leisure, mingle with the locals, meet other travelers, and see some thrilling sights.
However, those looking for more of an off-the-beaten-path experience may favor the Perhentian Islands. They’re trickier to get to, but they’re much smaller, so you can freely make your way around and see almost every square foot before heading home. You’ll find more of a traditional, authentic vibe here, though you may quickly run out of things to do.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is another big factor to take into consideration when planning a trip and choosing between two or more potential destinations. So, if you’re on a budget or just want to get the best value for money, which is the better location: Langkawi or the Perhentian Islands? Or is there not really much of a difference between the two?
Well, in truth, it all depends on what you do. Food and accommodation tend to be cheaper on the Perhentian Islands, and there’s way less to do, so you’re less likely to spend lots of money in shops or on activities. However, you’ll have to spend a bit of extra cash to get to these islands, as they’re less accessible than Langkawi.
Langkawi tends to be a bit pricier for food and hotels, but if you book in advance, you won’t have to worry much about budget. And, since there are more hotels and restaurants to pick from, you can plan out your trip and save cash quite easily.
Where to Stay According to your Budget
Budget: Bayview Hotel Langkawi, centrally located in Kuah, is a haven of elegance and relaxation. The hotel boasts panoramic sea and hill views that can be enjoyed from the comfort of its elegant guest rooms. Guests can indulge in a range of dining options, including casual dining and buffet breakfast at Flamingo Coffee House, authentic Chinese cuisine at Phenix Restaurant, and drinks and small bites at Woodpecker Lounge. The outdoor pool and extensive wellness facilities, including a sauna, spa, and massage services, provide the perfect escape.
Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, nestled in the serene Pantai Kok, is a luxurious sanctuary with a private beach area and tennis court. Guests can indulge in exquisite Asian cuisine at Langkawi Kitchen or savor drinks and Thai dishes at Horizon Bar. With a children’s playground and a range of activities like cycling, the hotel ensures a memorable stay for all. The Langkawi Cable Car and Seven Wells are also nearby, offering ample exploration opportunities.
Budget: Perhentian Suria, a 3-star hotel nestled in the stunning Perhentian Islands, offers a tranquil escape with its air-conditioned rooms, each boasting a private bathroom and complimentary WiFi. The property is entirely non-smoking, ensuring a clean and fresh environment. Situated just a 12-minute walk from the pristine Tuna Bay and close to Petani Beach and PIR Beach, guests are never far from the island’s natural beauty. The 24-hour front desk, with staff fluent in English and Malay, is always ready to assist, making Perhentian Suria a comfortable and convenient choice for travelers.
Luxury: Perhentian Mama’s, nestled in the idyllic Perhentian Islands, is a charming 3-star hotel that promises a tranquil retreat. Guests can enjoy the convenience of room service and a 24-hour front desk, with the added luxury of a shuttle service arranged by the attentive staff. The air-conditioned guest rooms, complete with a seating area and desk, provide a cozy sanctuary after a day of exploring the nearby popular points of interest, including the pristine Tuna Bay, Petani Beach, and PIR Beach.
Langkawi vs Perhentian Islands: Which Is Better?
In the end, both Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands are very beautiful places. On the face of it, they might seem quite similar, with their gorgeous beaches and scenic surroundings, but in reality, there are plenty of ways in which the two locations differ. So, which one wins in our comparison?
Well, if we look back over this guide, one destination continuously emerges as the best option. Langkawi is bigger and more exciting, with better food, fun, nightlife, and shopping. It’ll keep you much busier than the Perhentian Islands, with lots of activities to appeal to all sorts of visitors, from families to couples and even backpackers.
Even though Langkawi is the best destination for most people, the Perhentian Islands are still worth considering. They’ve got that uniquely pristine and peaceful quality that makes them particularly appealing for those in search of a relaxing, rejuvenating island escape. And if Langkawi seems a little too busy and crowded for you, the Perhentians could be a better choice.