Katrina and The Waves might have musically exhorted the joys of walking on sunshine but, honestly, letting one’s body soak it up sounds a whole lot better. I have never been one to subscribe to the “avoid the sun” school of thought. After all, science extols the need for Vitamin D and I would much rather battle freckles than forgo the feel-good factor that a day lolling on the beach or bathing in warm, tropical seawater can offer. Which is why the recent opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi is balm for the pampered beach bum’s soul.
A convenient hop and skip away from the Klang Valley, world-weary city slickers can shed their corporate uniforms for flip-flops and swimmers without missing a beat. The property occupies a stretch of beach along Pantai Kok in Teluk Nibong and is almost hidden amid dense foliage. Although very new, great care has been taken to maintain the existing greenery, which provides shade and succour from the oftentimes searing sun.
Once your limousine drops you off at the entrance, you are welcomed with a post-flight pick-me-up of chilled coconut water and hibiscus syrup with a twist of calamansi before being ferried to your room by buggy. The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi offers a medly of accommodation choices, from expansive rooms to splendid suites, and if you are travelling with an entourage or simply want the luxury of space and privacy, a number of beautifully appointed villas. Although the Ritz name is in itself a byword for ostentatious glamour and poshness, you will find the Langkawi outpost to be a study in subtle luxury and soul-soothing oneness with its surroundings — all dense rainforest and magical hillscapes.
And as luxury aficionados know, attention to detail is key. Here, the staff are friendly and welcoming yet unobtrusive. They are well informed and quick to help you make tough decisions like, say, deciding between the Langkawi Masam, a cocktail starring kaffir leaf and galangal-infused vodka with lime, or the equally intriguing Milky Way, which combines kangkung (yes, kangkung) infused vodka with buffalo milk syrup, lemon juice and orange bitters.
Fancy a dip in the pool? An attendant will immediately glide over to set up your beach chair, complete with a little wicker basket of necessary amenities — a cold towel, sun cream, essential oil spritz and tumblers of iced water. While the resort is ideal for families, it must be said that the grown-ups were considered with equal care. Honeymooning couples or stylish singletons know to pack their Loeffler Randall raffia totes to the hilt with books (or Kindle), designer sunglasses and spare Vilebrequins and simply spend the entire day at the adults-only Horizon, an al fresco space that stylishly incorporates bar, restaurant and infinity pool set atop a craggy bit of ocean rock.
Eating well, in my book, is a necessary component of any good vacation and The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi ensures you won’t even be tempted to venture out to town in search of a nibble. The Beach Grill Pool & Bar offers sophisticated snacks and light meals (think wagyu burgers and Andaman crab cakes), which you can enjoy with salty hair and in dripping swimmers, while the Langkawi Kitchen is the go-to place to sample Malaysian cuisine in a romantic, rainforest setting. Each dining experience here begins with kendi, a traditional ritual of washing one’s hands with ice-cold water poured from a jug, allowing you, if you so wish, to eat the traditional way using your hands. Locals believe it makes the food taste so much better. The wine list is also tempting enough to allow you to experiment pairing strong flavours like beef rendang and spicy tempeh, anchovies and peanuts with, perhaps, a robust New World red or a chilled white wine from an innovative winery.
My gustatory highlight, though, was dinner at The Ritz-Carlton’s oriental dining room, Hai Yan, which I have to say, is the most stunning Chinese restaurant in Malaysia right now. Set by the water’s edge, the approach itself is dramatic and striking, taking you past water features before arriving at a dazzling chandelier made entirely out of lanterns. Live guzheng music can be heard gently playing and the restaurant itself offers 180° views of the Andaman Sea. It would be wise to time your dinner reservation just around sunset so you can enjoy a meal with a view. There are two degustation menus, ideal if dining à deux, but a medley of dishes works best if you are eating en famille. Everything we sampled was delicious, from the wok-fried black Angus beef in black pepper to sanbei chicken served in a clay pot with dried chilli and basil, supreme duck soup with lobster and dried longans and braised Eefu noodles with abalone and black truffles. I ordered a pink Sauvignon Blanc from 3 Stones Wines in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, which I thought would work with most of the items — and it did — but if you don’t drink, do know that there’s a comprehensive Chinese tea menu as well.
Another must-do while at The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi would be to spend a few hours ensconced in its spa. The architecture of its treatment rooms alone warrants a visit. Designed to resemble local fishing traps called bubu, the path to the spa is set above the water, along wooden walkways, allowing you to spot herons stalking unsuspecting fish or playful fiddler crabs scuttling about on the wave-lapped rocks. The spa menu is inspired by a blend of ancient Malaysian healing and beautification rituals and world-class Espa products while the facilities include a spacious deck (perfect for post-treatment luxuriating), a relaxation area and hammam. If you are on honeymoon, then the Bubu Suite Spa experience is ideal and indulgent; however, if you had to pick just one treatment, then make it a massage. Select from a menu that includes deep muscle, stress relief, relaxation, hot stone or Asian influence massages. Those on a babymoon are also included in the sybaritic roll-call, with a naturally nurtured massage offered for expectant mothers after the first trimester.
I find it somewhat cliched whenever I read lines like “checking out and leaving with a heavy heart” but I found that to be terribly true in this instance. The only silver lining in this blip on my sunshine is that Langkawi is just a short flight away. Don’t it feel good?
10 little tips to help you glide along during your stay:
- The Ritz-Carlton Spa’s mandi bunga-inspired treatment (RM880 for 90 minutes) originates from the royal Malay courts as a means to buang sui or dispel bad energy. Here, it takes on an infinitely luxurious slant, complete with foot ritual, rhythmic massage and scalp massage and is both purifying and restorative. Try it!
- The signature egg custard tarts (RM68) at Hai Yan are a must to order and come in three variants: original, caramelised and topped with bird’s nest and gold leaf.
- Be sure to take full advantage of your in-room egg-shaped Claybrook bathtub, seeing as you will be treated to a full line-up of Asprey amenities.
- Children acting up? Need to sweeten them a little? Hop over to the Beach Grill and order the Chinta milkshake (RM30) for them — a mood-improving blend of vanilla ice cream, Nutella and Oreo cookies.
- For adults who need a bit of a sugar boost, the Beach Grill also does luscious popsicles (RM40 each) with your choice of: straciatella, dark chocolate and caramel; mango and yoghurt with berry coulis; caramel, milk chocolate and almonds.
- The Ritz Kids programme ensures you and your partner can while the hours away at Horizon as the little ones are well taken care of in a duplex play complex filled with toys of all sorts and run by expert, attentive staff. There are treasure hunts, nature discovery programmes as well as creative activities to occupy curious young minds, including painting traditional Malay kites called wau.
- The family that does asanas together, stays together. Do arrange for a session of family yoga while you are here.
- Like the food at Langkawi Kitchen? Sign up then for a cooking class where you can learn how to prepare dishes like gulai udang, ayam percik and coconut rice.
- The pristine beach is also where you should spend most of the daylight hours. Make full use of the complimentary activities like kayakking and stand-up paddle boarding. There are also tennis courts for you to practise your serve and volley.
- Fancy learning a new skill? Other Ritz activities to sign up for include learning the Mak Inang, a traditional folk dance, pottery-making, batik painting and bespoke soap-making.
This article first appeared on Mar 12, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.