I can unreservedly say that this may have been the best hotel experience ever in my life. But read on, and start mentally clearing your diary for your inevitable Datai visit. The Datai Langkawi has been reopened for over a year now after an extensive renovation and is the ideal location for a luxury getaway, a special occasion or celebration of a key life moment.
If you are travelling from Europe, aim for Singapore or Kuala Lumpur first. From there, the short flight across the Strait of Malacca takes roughly the same time as the journey from Langkawi airport to the Datai resort via limousine. Yet, the latter is far superior in its comfort and splendour.
The team at The Datai Langkawi are so precise in creating a holiday for all the senses that a specific playlist of local jazz, soothing classical and instrumental indie has been developed for the limo ride. Once you’re driven past the monkeys at play on the fairway of The Datai’s own golf course (designed by Ernie Els), a mellifluous soundtrack of jungle noises begins as you enter the lush, green, 10 million year old tropical rainforest.
Nature plays the starring role at The Datai Langkawi. We humans are guests in these surroundings and the resort’s dedication to conserving the ecosystem of paradise is exemplary. Little wonder this recently refurbished property is the most awarded luxury hotel in southeast Asia; as well as an entry on the Conde Nast Traveler’s 2020 Gold List, and one of Time magazine’s 100 World’s Greatest Places of 2019. The extensive refurbishment introduces an element of modern, stylish luxury while preserving the sense that The Datai has been an established part of this beautiful corner of Asia for many years.
After a cooling towel and a welcome drink at the grand central lobby with its beautiful flowering pond (a must-see at night), amble on foot towards your new jungle abode past the library and the adults-only swimming pool; or ask one of the ever-ready staff to motor up and down the hills in a golf buggy.
Many of the rooms are serendipitously positioned on an incline, providing remarkable views over the Andaman Sea towards the island of Ko Tarutao in Thailand. Smaller suites are next to the main building; larger villas are located in the forest; and the beachfront properties come with their own pool.
For anyone feeling flush, The Datai Villa Estate is the largest accommodation onsite. It has a vast swimming pool split into two parts, five bedrooms, a kitchen, a games room and its own butler. At roughly £20,000 per night, this is where the super-rich, celebrities and royalty stay.
We recommend settling amongst the dense foliage of the forest in a gorgeous wooden, sustainably-made rainforest villa (123 sqm). Upon arrival, use the fine espresso machine to make a coffee; grab a handful of chocolate covered mango pieces (replenished daily, along with a host of other drinks and snacks, at no charge); and sit quietly on the veranda to listen to the chattering insects, lapping ocean waves and the wind in the leaves. This is when you truly disconnect from normal life. It is not uncommon to spy butterflies, lizards and birds casually going about their business. Resist the urge to feed them, though, and keep your windows locked at night. Those monkeys can be audacious.
The four-poster centrepiece inside our villa is the kind of bed you get lost in and once pitch darkness falls, the jungle noises will lull gently you off to sleep.
On your first night, take a buggy to The Gulai House, a traditional Malaysian kampung house, for a local dinner. On the wooden decking, start with three giant oysters, perfect with a glass of Perrier-Jouet champagne, and then feast your eyes on the fresh fish counter and BBQ. Also recommended is a turmeric, coconut and fish curry and the biggest roti dosti you’ve ever seen.
Other dining options include sampling local seafood at the Pavilion Thai restaurant; a healthy lunch down at the Beach Bar; afternoon tea or nightcap drinks at The Lobby Lounge (where a live pianist plays modern tunes with a jazzy vibe at nightfall) and French fine dining at The Dining Room.
At The Dining Room, be prepared for extreme levels of detail. They cater to all tastes, including plant-based diets, in flamboyant, intricate ways. The bread man’s trolley arrives loaded with enticing carbs, plus three types of butter (normal, salted, and spicy), before you move onto an amuse bouche of quinoa, spinach panna cotta, sliced mango and carrot gel, and an starter made of 21 ingredients!
To create an exceptionally romantic moment (more on that later), book a private dinner with champagne on the beach or in the rainforest under the starlit skies.
Breakfast is a buffet and a la carte combination, served at The Dining Room, covering local Asian styles as well as western dishes and plenty of healthy options. Bypass the pan-seared foie gras on toasted brioche in favour of a luxury stir-fried lobster omelette. Accompany with a kir royale and congratulate yourself on being the luckiest person on planet Earth right now, as you gaze up at the canopy of trees; majestic and glistening in the morning sun.
The mile-long, horseshoe beach at The Datai Langkawi is in the Top 10 Beaches worldwide, as chosen by National Geographic. The sand is shared with only one other property – the Andaman hotel next door – so there is plenty of space for the empty-nesters to loaf around in flip flops, kaftans and straw hats, loving life.
There’s also a well-equipped fitness area, water sports, a nature centre and lab, a holistic yoga platform, and a family-friendly swimming pool where little ones are kept away from the occasional jellyfish in the sea.
A local atelier is stationed here daily, giving guests the opportunity to purchase local ceramics, furniture, clothing and jewellery to support the resort’s commitment to promoting Malaysian arts and crafts.
To stay at The Datai Langkawi without visiting the spa is almost criminal. It is a portal to another dimension in which your mind will disengage from your body. You start this cocoon of bliss blindfolded, using your sense of smell to choose the essential oils to be used on your journey.
Each private treatment villa has its own outdoor jacuzzi looking directly onto the rainforest floor. My 2.5-hour outer-body experience was known as the Ramuan Harmony treatment. First, a cleansing foot bath. Then, water infused with seven flowers and seven spices was poured over every limb and head, before I was taken through a full body massage and a Phyto 5 facial using organic, vegan skincare.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, I was riding on a wave of peculiar thoughts. I didn’t know where I was or even who I was. It was by far the most relaxed I’ve ever been. Immersion in the live natural sounds of the rainforest made this moment of zen even more perfect.
The team that has been crafted at The Datai Langkawi is at the top of their game. Without their individually nuanced personalities, the whole experience would be bereft of pure joy.
To name but a few: Victoria from Portugal greets you at reception and wins you over with her genuine warmth and knowledge. Daba, the casual, cheeky nonchalant beach bar manager will be your new best buddy. The theatrical delivery of wisdom from the resident naturalist, Dev, keeps you pondering the world around you for the entirety of your stay. Edo, the personal trainer, uses only a bit of rope and a few old tyres to take you through a punishing beach bootcamp at sunrise. Derek, the man who never seemingly sleeps, and The Dining Room’s manager, shares a joke every time he visits your table. Erina, a petite masseuse, beguiles you with her powers of strength and precision at the spa. Even the frogs entertain you with their evening chorus from the water lily pond next to the bar.
The overarching mood for your visit to The Datai Langkawi is exclusive, unpretentious, sustainable luxury and relaxation. You’ll need, ideally, a week to make the most of the remote wilderness, coastal beauty, tranquility and activities. Keep abreast of the resort’s features and pursuits – such as water sports, fitness classes, nature talks, cooking classes and spa treatments – by simply downloading The Datai guest app (or befriending one of the exceptional staff).
To book and discover more, visit www.thedatai.com
Top 5 things to do when staying at The Datai Langkawi:
- Pop the question – I mentioned the romantic powers of The Datai Langkawi and the sun setting on the beach is ideal for a special proposal. Take an early evening stroll along the sand, marvelling at the millions of tiny crabs scurrying about. Wade a little into the warm sea waters and go down on one knee. I did exactly this during our visit and, thankfully, she said yes.
- Forest Bathing/Shinrin-yoku – Immerse in the sights, sounds, and smells of the early morning rainforest as Dev introduces many species of birds, trees, insects, and monkeys in this unique practice, which originated in Japan and became popular around the world. Spot the largest woodpecker in the world and kites circling over the golf lake in search of breakfast. Learn how the trees use underground funghi to communicate, or how cicadas only appear in prime number intervals to flummox birds of prey! Wander through the dense forest to a wooden platform. Practice Senaman Melayu (gentle stretching). Eat trail mix. Drink lemongrass tea. Jump into the invigorating waters rushing down off the mountain.
- Get a pedicure and foot massage – You’re in safe hands with Parisian Guillaume, the softly spoken podiatrist at the Bastien Gonzalez Studio (also available in places such as Dubai’s Atlantis and London’s Mandarin Oriental). You will leave refreshed and impressed by your healthy, shiny nails – yes gentlemen, I’m talking to you.
- Charter a traditional Malaysian junk schooner – The 97-foot Naga Pelangi (Rainbow Dragon) masted boat in the bay is exclusively used for sunset cruises.
- Oriental Village – If you need to venture off the property (but why?!), book transport to Oriental Village for amusements and a cable car ride to the top of Gunung Mat Cincang mountain. At 850m above the sea, you can enjoy amazing views across the surrounding forest reserve and walk across the Langkawi Sky Bridge, if you dare.
Note: The Prime Minister of Malaysia announced the nationwide Movement Restriction Order from 18 to 31 March 2020. Initiated to curb the spread of COVID-19, specific businesses, religious activities and other gatherings in the country will be suspended for the two-week period. In light of this new ruling, The Datai will not accept any reservations from 18 March 2020 to 5 April 2020.
By Christian Rose-Day