Approaching Langkawi by plane, you get a great view of the mountainous terrain that dominates many parts of the island. As the aircraft makes its final approach over Rebak Island, the beaches of Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah come into clear relief to the south while the long sandy stretch of beach inside the lagoon beckons from the north.
The island is known for its beaches and beach front resorts as well as the towering mountains of Gunung Machincang and Gunung Raya with their thick cover of rainforest. But hidden beneath the rainforest canopy are a number of rivers and waterfalls that have worn smooth the bedrock beneath and offer a different water experience to the intrepid traveller.
1. Seven Wells
The most renowned waterfall is Tujuh Telaga, or Seven Wells. Located on the western end of the island and just up the road from the Oriental Village that is home to the famous cable car to the top of Gunung Machincang, Seven Wells is aptly named for the seven pools that have been carved into the bedrock at the top of the falls.
Legend has it that the forest fairies come down here to bathe at night. The view from the base of the falls is spectacular, particularly during the wet season when the river is running. The base of the falls is a climb of 250 steps or about 140 meters by the steep roadway and offers a place to enjoy the falls and picnic.
Climbing further up the balance of the 509 steps, you arrive at the top of the falls where the eponymous seven wells are located. This is the most popular place to swim and relax. There are toilets and shaded pavilions that blend into the surroundings.
The seven clear pools were formed by large boulders slowly grinding an indentation into the bedrock then being slowing crushed and sent falling to the pool below and down into the sea. The surrounding rainforest brings shade and attracts plenty of wildlife, as well.
For those of you who are feeling more adventurous, there are a series of ‘camps’ on the trail that leads through the rainforest to the source of the falls. This is a pleasant hike under the rainforest canopy and gives a chance to observe flora and fauna in a relatively undisturbed habitat. It should be noted to explore the upper falls with caution, particularly during the rainy season when the swift-flowing water can make for a treacherous swim.
2. Temurun Falls
Further north on Jalan Datai, or the road to Datai Bay, is another waterfall that is well worth the visit. Temurun Falls is only a short hike off the road to the series of pools at the base of the 30-meter high cascade.
The rainforest canopy shades the series of pavilions and benches scattered about on both sides of the river on its final journey to the sea.
The pool at the base of the tall cascade is the best for swimming. A morning or afternoon at Temurun Falls can be augmented with a trip to the adjacent pebble beach, nearby Skull Sand Beach (Pantai Pasir Tengkorak) or the unnamed beach further up the road.
3. Durian Falls
Traveling on towards the east side of Langkawi off of Jalan Ayer Hangat is Durian Falls. The road is well-marked and ends in a small concession village at the base of the nearby lower pools. There is a small restaurant and drinks stand, as well as a few souvenir shops offering local crafts. The 20-meter drop of Upper Durian Falls is only about a 15-minute – but fairly steep – climb up the far side of the river.
The footpath here can be a bit uneven, so watch your step. This is the best pool for swimming here with the water being cool and clear. There is plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the sun on the surrounding rocks which have been worn smooth over the centuries.
In the center of the island, east along Jalan Padang Gaong and next to the Mardi Agro Technology Park, is Kampung Buku, or Book Village. The buildings that once housed the books of the first international book village in Southeast Asia are now shut, but still lend a bit of atmosphere to an area that also includes many pavilions and places to picnic and barbeque.
This is really more of a series of cascades than tall falls. It is also the location for the stairs that climb to the top of Gunung Raya and the jump-off point for the rainforest canopy zip line tours. The leisurely cascading water forms the series of pools that are a central feature of the village.
Buku Village is all but deserted during the week and is a peaceful place to hike, swim, or just take a bit of personal time. However, on weekends and holidays, you will find the pools full of locals with their families.
There is also a small road that veers off to the left right before the car park of the village proper. This takes you the upper cascades and pools. It can be very overgrown and narrow, but is well-paved tarmac all the way up to the small turnaround at the top.
So if you are staying in Langkawi for more than a few days, hire a car or motorbike and explore the hidden waterfalls. You will get a more complete sense of the majesty of this island, “The Jewel of Kedah.”