Langkawi is a Malaysian archipelago of beaches, chocolate and booze – perfect for a lazy weekend. However, if a more unique adventure is what you are after, you will find it a short 30-minute drive away from the banana boats and jet-ski tourist-traps of Pantai Cenang.
Just off the road, Jalan Datai, is a small but gorgeous beach named Pantai Pasir Tengkorak. It may look like a stretch of paradise, but it has a sordid past. ‘Tengkorak’ is the Malay word for ‘skull’ – Sandy Skull Beach, so-named due to the human skulls that used to wash up in the waves.
Legend has it that the tranquil waters are plagued with a great kraken-like beast that used to swallow mariners and spit out their bones. Some stories tell instead of a deadly whirlpool that sucked ships down, crushing all but the skulls of its victims. Other tales tell of a war between mythical birds where humans got caught in the crossfire.
An altogether different explanation links the beach’s deadly history to a Southern Thai island, Koh Tarutao, which can be seen from Tengkorak’s shore. Now a tourist destination, complete with visitor centre and entrance fee, throughout the late 1930s this island was a prison with more than 3000 inmates. Prisoners would flee to the sea only to fall victim to the shark and pirate-infested waters… a fate perhaps worse than a Thai prison, or perhaps not.
Today the only skull left at Pantai Pasir Tengkorak is in its name, and there have been no reports of Krakens or whirlpools, nor any renewed clashes between winged beings.
The beach is now ruled by monkeys, who generally pose no threat to humans. Although they will brazenly commit daylight robbery given half the chance, so it would be wise to put any belongings in the car before taking a dip.
Edited by Sarah Huntington