Best Islands to Live On: Langkawi

Why Langkawi? Langkawi has outstanding beaches -- pearlescent, powdery and gently washed by a lakelike sea. But the island's most exotic attractions lie inland. Here you'll find lush rainforest concealing stunning waterfalls, along with the labyrinthine caves and ancient rock formations that prompted UNESCO to name Langkawi a World Geopark in 2007. The Malaysia My Second Home Programme makes it easy for expats to retire here, and the island's proximity to population centers such as Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur means that the "rock fever" that can strike elsewhere need never be an issue here.Life of an "Expat" "My first island was Manhattan," says Greg Pirkle. "Then I moved to Java, then Maui, then the Bahamas, then back to Hawaii and then here." Langkawi is really a cluster of 99 Malaysian islands, most of which are uninhabited. Greg, 46, arrived two years ago to serve as general manager of the main island's Four Seasons Resort. View Larger Map
Throughout the 19 years that he has worked for the hotel company, Greg has been posted on islands big and small. However, Greg says none has been nicer than Langkawi, where he and his wife, Sherry, also 46, are part of a small but growing expatriate community. Sherry recently helped found a club for expat women. "They have a lot of fun," he says. "They do activities, like going out to an island for a picnic or putting together benefits for good causes." The locals are friendly too. "The people here have a genuine warmth in their heart; they really care about other people," he says. Greg and Sherry make a point of returning that warmth by supporting Langkawi's native merchants and craftspeople. "We don't go to the big stores," he says. "We try to go to the little mom-and-pop shops and buy things from them. Batik painting is probably the number-one craft. And there's a local glass blower who makes beautiful glass objects." English is a requirement in local schools, which makes Langkawi an easy island for Americans. "It's not hard to communicate." Nor is it hard to find something to do. "We love to ride our bikes around the island," says Greg. "We have mountains and some limestone features that are millions of years old. We've got some beautiful mangrove forests. And the water's very calm, so we can go out in kayaks and sailboats all the time." And of course there are the main island's sandy beaches, along with the abundance of smaller islands just a short boat ride away. "You can have your own private island for a couple of hours," he says. Greg knows he'll probably move along to a new work assignment eventually, but he's not counting the days. "I'm in no rush to leave here," he says. "I love the place; I love the people. And Asia is a wonderful part of the world." ** Your New Home** * $ Three-bedroom town house next to padi fields is close to a school. $55,000 * $$ Three-bedroom, two-story town house has a garden and access to a huge swimming pool. $110,350 * $$$ Brand-new luxury hillside villa on the coast has private balconies from each of four bedrooms. $677,000 * Find more real-estate listings at langkawi-property.com.Facts of Life * Climate: Tropical * Population of island: 60,000 * Percentage expats: 5% * Population of main town: Kuah, 34,000 * House starting price: $50s * Travel from U.S.: Nonstop flights from Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia. * Closest hospital: Kuah, Matsirat * Price of local beer: $1.50 for Tiger * Languages spoken: Bahasa Malaysia, English * Ease of immigration: Easy with My Second Home Programme * Ease of buying a home: Easy * Website: virtualmalaysia.comExplore More * Find more islands to live or retire on at islands.com/live.