Langkawi is one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan holiday destinations, attracting over a million international visitors every year. However, it’s also important to remember while Malaysia, as a whole, is a secular, multi-cultural country, the majority of Langkawi’s local residents are Malay Muslims, who tend to hold fairly conservative views regarding social conduct.
Most local Muslims dress with modesty in mind – even women who don’t wear the traditional hijab or niqab will cover their chests, shoulders, hips and midriffs when out in public. Exposing bare legs is generally frowned upon for both sexes.
Having said that, the majority of foreign travellers will be spending their time on the beach, in the resort, restaurant and shopping areas, and visiting the island’s tourist attractions. With tourism being so integral to life in Langkawi, the locals tend to have a more open-minded view regarding overseas guests coming to share their little piece of paradise.
So, as a general rule, provided you’re hanging out in Langkawi’s tourist zones, you can feel free to dress as you would on any tropical beach holiday.
Langkawi is almost universally hot and humid, and you’ll need to be prepared for monsoonal rain showers (usually mercifully brief but occasionally torrential) in the rainy periods between September and November and April to August.
The only big no-no for ladies is topless sunbathing. Any form of public nudity is an offence in Malaysia.
What to Wear in Malaysia – General Tips
If you’re coming to Langkawi, chances are you’ll also be paying a visit to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, or perhaps a few other cities and regions in this diverse South East Asian destination.
Kuala Lumpur is a big international city and you’ll see people of all ethnicities dressed in all manner of attire – from full traditional Muslim garb to fashion-conscious youngsters wearing the latest brand names. You can dress more or less as you please in the larger Malaysian cities, although skimpy outfits aren’t recommended anyplace outside of a nightclub.
In smaller towns and rural areas, a more modest approach is advisable. For women, T-shirts (not tank tops) are usually fine, paired with and pants or skirts that cover the knees. Light, loose-fitting fabrics like cotton or linen are the best choice for coping with the heat and humidity.
Most Malaysian men wear jeans or trousers rather than shorts, and being tidily dressed tends to give off a better impression with the locals, as opposed to the ‘scruffy western tourist’ look.
How to Dress in Mosques and Temples
On your trip to Langkawi, you may wish to visit one of the local mosques to learn a little bit more about Islamic culture on the island. Langkawi’s largest mosque, Masjid Al-Hana in Kuah regularly welcomes visitors, although it’s important to dress and act respectfully in this place of prayer and worship.
Women should be covered shoulder-to-ankle (a long sleeve top and long pants or skirt are fine), shoes should be removed before stepping inside, and visitors should remain quiet to avoid disturbing people in prayer.
Throughout Malaysia you will also find Hindu, Sikh and Chinese Buddhist temples, as well as Christian churches. Again, dressing modestly will ensure you don’t inadvertently offend the locals, and result in a much more positive and fulfilling cultural experience.