Fresh From a yearlong renovation to mark its 25th anniversary, a legendary Langkawi resort has been updated and upgraded, embracing its rain Forest setting as never before.
By Christopher p. Hill
“The entire paleo-geological history of Malaysia—More than half a billion years’ worth—happened to this tiny island,” declares Irshad Mobarak over dinner on the terrace of The Datai’s Beach Club restaurant. “All kinds of rock substrate were laid down over the eons: sandstone, limestone, shale, mudstone, chert. So there’s an in- credible diversity of soil types too. This means lots of different flora, which in turn means lots of different butterflies—535 species in all, almost nine times what they have in the United Kingdom, and more than twice the number found in Sri Lanka. It’s incredible.”
And there’s plenty more than butterflies lurking in the dense rain forests and mangrove fringes of Langkawi, a 370-square-kilometer island off peninsular Malaysia’s Kedah coast. Just ask Mobarak. The self-taught naturalist has called Langkawi home for the last three decades, during which time he has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of the local wildlife. His statistics include 260 species of birds, among them three types of hornbills, Asian fairy bluebirds, racket- tailed drongos, and brahminy kites, from which the island derives its name; dozens of different turtles and frogs and snakes; and 51 mammal species. The latter include the enigmatic colugo, a nocturnal oddity that looks like a cross between a lemur and a bat. As if on cue, three of the creatures glide into a sea hibiscus tree next to the terrace, their glowing red eyes flickering momentarily in the shadows…”
“…A quarter of a century ago, The Datai put sleepy Langkawi on the map for luxury travelers. The concept was groundbreaking: a tropical island resort set not on its beachfront, but crouched on a forested ridge 300 meters back from the sea. (Today’s 13 beach villas are a much later addition.) Originally inaccessible by road, the site was selected by Aman resorts founder Adrian Zecha—an early partner in the project—as he surveyed Datai Bay’s jungly backdrop from a boat. With Singapore-based Australian architect Kerry Hill hired to design the hotel, the decision was made to place the main structures in the forest. “We felt that the biggest experience here was the jungle, not the sea, even though there’s a wonderful beach,” recalls Didier Lefort, the French architect and designer responsible for the original interiors. “The sea you can get anywhere, but to be surrounded by tropical forest is very rare. That’s what makes The Datai…”
“…At the spa, where treatments revolve around Malay healing traditions and ramuan “potions” made by infusing oils with medicinal foliage plucked from the herb garden and surrounding forest, an air-conditioned treatment room has been added to the existing four open-air spa villas. Also new is a mani-pedi studio by Bastien Gonzalez, the celebrated French nail guru…”
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