- Elevation: 881 m (2,890 ft)
- Prominence: 881 m
- Ribu category: Spesial
- Province: Peninsular Malaysia
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
Gunung Raya is the highest peak of Langkawi island and is one of the most north-westerly mountains of the lands where mountains are called ‘gunung’. Despite its name meaning ‘great’ or ‘big’, it is not be the most impressive peak nor the most interesting trek, but there are some decent views and it makes a very pleasant half-day out on what is a lovely island.
There are two main access routes to the mountain as follows:
The road to the summit.
As is all too common in northern Malaysia, there is a telecommunications tower at the top of Gunung Raya. Thus, a well-signposted paved road leads 13 kilometres up to the peak, starting in the west at an elevation of around 35m. From the main road junction it takes around 20 minutes to drive up, or you can hire a taxi from Cenang beach for the 45 minute journey for around RM70 (in 2019).
The cement steps.
A steep and occasionally overgrown cement staircase leads up from the southwest about 1 kilometre north of Mardi Agro Technology Park (an area sometimes known as Lubuk Semilang). Known as Tangga Helang Seribu Kenangan (‘thousand memories eagle steps’), this 3 kilometre trek that was constructed in 2000-2001 takes you directly up the hillside and allegedly consists of 4,287 steps!
It is a little tricky to find – heading north-west on Jalan Padang Gaong (away and inland from Kuah), continue just over half a kilometre past Mardi Fruit Farm and take a right turn near a large orange/yellow sign spelling out Kampung Buku Malaysia (Malaysia Book Village) and park at the small car park (50m above sea level) near a river and recreation area. The steps begin on the right (south) side of the river next to a red warning sign.
Watch out for a few fallen trees that have crushed the steps near the beginning of the trail. In order to get around these are a handful of minor detours off the path. This is a great spot for hornbills as you may catch a glimpse of one or two above you as they flap over. The steps have a few minor flat sections and even a couple of descending sections but for the most part it gets steeper and steeper. Leeches are possible during the rainy season.
Most folk should be up at the top of the steps in between 2 and 3 hours. This is where the trail meets the summit access road and there is a small lay-by, viewpoint and signboards (790m above sea level). The signboards feature information about hornbill species, the granite rock of Gunung Raya, and the interesting history of nearby Tepor island (‘Pulau Tepor’) whose shape was apparently affected by an ancient meteorite impact.
There are excellent views over to the jagged ridge-line of Gunung Mat Cincang (708m) which is Langkawi’s second highest mountain and probably its most beautiful but has sadly been disfigured with a cable car and sky bridge.
Further to the right (north or northwest) is the Andaman Sea and Ko Tarutao, which is over the border in Thailand. This is one of Thailand’s wildest and most rugged islands, with a history as a place of exile and imprisonment extending almost right up to the present day with a Bangkok Post news report from 2013 suggesting the south coast was still a place where Rohingya migrants are extorted and even sold into slavery by human traffickers. The island remains pretty undeveloped, and its name apparently comes from the Malay ‘tertua‘ meaning old and primitive.
From the top of the steps, you can continue along the access road towards the true summit. At the junction, going straight ahead simply leads to a gate with Malaysia’s standard trespassing signs (featuring an official shooting a trespasser – hiker? – as he tries to run away). Elevation at this point is around 857m. Taking a right at the junction leads up to an eight-story tower which used to be open to the public (entrance fee RM10 per person) and provided an excellent panorama. Since February 2018, however, this has been closed and replaced with yet another ‘no entry’ sign. Elevation here is around 863m and you are very close indeed to the highest point of the mountain (which is not currently accessible except to telecommunications staff).
Believe it or not, there even used to be accommodation and a restaurant up here but in early 2019 all this is closed down and there is not even a place to buy water. It is a sad state of affairs given that this is quite a popular spot with Western tourists who typically hire a motorbike to come up here for sunset. Perhaps in time the viewing tower will re-open but for now it is quite a weird experience. Talking of which, do watch out for guard dogs which may or may not be present at the junction!
Rather than hiking up the steps and back down the same way, or driving up and going back down by car, the best way of seeing the mountain is obviously to combine the two if possible. This means either taking a taxi up and then hiking back down the steps (only 1 hour or so down as opposed to over 2 hours up) or hiking up and trusting someone to meet you with transport at the top. The latter would be great for sunset if you started at the bottom around 4 or 5pm but heading down the steps after sunset is not ideal as finding transport at the bottom is not always straightforward.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (February 2019)
- Getting there: Langkawi is a popular holiday island with an airport with numerous flights from KL and Penang. From the airport to the mountain is less than one hour by car
- Accommodation: Lots available throughout the island.
- Permits: Not required, but access to the highest point is currently not possible.
- Water sources: Take sufficient supplies and assume the restaurants at the top will be closed.
- Travel insurance: We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
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