A hornbill flies above the treeline; just below it, a wild boar rummages up a hill. Less than a kilometre away, a colugo glides from a tree top while, in a stream nearby, a monitor lizard is locked in battle with a reticulated python. Although what is described may sound like a National Geographic special, it is actually just an average day at The Datai Langkawi.
It may sound unbelievable but these wildlife elements have undoubtedly set The Datai Langkawi apart from other resorts on the idyllic island, perhaps even in the region. This pure and natural environment, along with class-leading services, amenities and opulent accommodations, has duly put The Datai Langkawi on the world map when it comes to luxurious getaways.
Following a year-long refurbishment, which began in 2018, the resort has received numerous accolades, including The Best New Hotels in the World 2019 by Condé Nast Traveller in 2019. It was also listed as one of the 100 in the World’s Greatest Places 2019 by Time magazine. A recent visit to the resort shows why The Datai is not just deserving of its recognition but also why it continues to be among the world’s unique and most memorable holiday destinations today.
Revitalised with renewed charm
Ever since it opened its doors in 1993, The Datai Langkawi has stood out as one of the best designed properties in the region. Much of this is due to the handiwork of visionary architect Kerry Hill, who helped shape a living and breathing resort nestled in a lush rainforest. Fortunately, that key unique selling point has not been compromised at the slightest by its recent refurbishment, but it has been enhanced.
To ensure the DNA of The Datai Langkawi is maintained, Didier Lefort of French architecture and interior architecture design agency DL2A was once again roped in to lead the project. Lefort, who worked with Hill on the original property, orchestrated a vision to refresh and revamp the spaces within the property while adding a touch of modernity.
The approach to The Datai Langkawi’s revamp, as with the original design, is inspired by local cultural heritage. Yet, it also adds simplicity, modernity and creativity into the mix, resulting in a resort that blends effortlessly into its vast natural surroundings.
New spaces have been added to the resort, including a fitness centre, spa pavilions and conference rooms. The Datai Langkawi now boasts 121 rooms, suites and villas, some with the Andaman Sea virtually steps away.
The 3,500 sq m Datai Estate Villa is one of the most prominent additions to the resort. Boasting five bedrooms, two connected pools, five balconies, a games room, a pool table and bar, the villa also features round-the-clock butler service and its own private chef. The villa can also be separated into a three-bedroom Meranti villa and two-bedroom Seraya villa, with an individual pool and exclusive services for added convenience and privacy.
Nature at your doorstep
Part of the new refurbishment includes the installation of a new Nature Centre, which serves as a base for guests to engage in nature activities that the resort is famously known for. The Datai Langkawi sits in a 10-million-year-old rainforest. It is also home to one of the region’s best beaches.
The Nature Centre, which is inspired by tribal long houses and built out of bamboo, is the ideal leap-off point for guests to discover the 65-acre rainforest surrounding the property. The Datai Langkawi now offers a plethora of environmental activities — led by Irshad Mobarak and his team of naturalists and marine biologists — for guests to engage in.
In addition to the highly popular morning and evening walks as well as the butterfly and beach walks curated by Mobarak and his team, which are all conducted on the grounds of the property, guests also have access to new exciting programmes and facilities. They include a new Datai observatory deck featuring a 20m-long canopy walk, a kayak tour through the mangroves and birdwatching treks.
A Tea Corner in the Nature Centre serves specially curated beverages made using herbs and spices from plants endemic to the rainforest. Young guests can also enrol in edutainment programmes.
The numerous activities on offer aside, the rich biodiversity that surrounds the resort also allows guests to discover nature at their own pace. The Datai Langkawi is home to the dusky langur, long-tailed macaque, black giant squirrel, great hornbill and Sunda colugo. Crossing paths with some of them during a stay is a virtual guarantee, which adds to the mystique of this beautiful resort.
Dining options aplenty
Guests may indulge in a variety of dining options and cuisines during their stay. The Pavilion, a perennial favourite, offers distinctive and authentic Thai cuisine, with expansive views of the surrounding rainforest. The Beach Club, adjacent to the beach, provides a breezy atmosphere, along with Western and Asian dishes during the day before transforming into a seafood grill restaurant in the evening.
The Dining Room, facing the main pool, serves a lavish breakfast with ample local and Western fare. It also carries a Malaysian and international à la carte menu at lunchtime. In the evenings, the establishment transitions into a fine dining restaurant perfect for romantic dinners.
For guests eager to savour more traditional flavours, The Gulai House offers that quintessential experience with authentic Malaysian cuisine. Modelled after a traditional kampung house, the restaurant offers diners a choice of dishes from around the country. Those keen for a more authentic experience can opt to bersila, or sit cross-legged on the floor, to enjoy their feast.
Budding cooks can also participate in cooking classes held at The Dapur, where Malay, Indian and Thai dishes are taught by resident chefs.
Relaxation + rejuvenation
When it comes wellness treatments, The Datai Langkawi fulfils the needs of its guests in true opulent form. Taking advantage of the resort’s natural surroundings, The Spa offers treatments complemented by the sounds and subtle aromatic scents of the rainforest. Situated along a small winding stream, The Spa’s five treatment villas focus on aligning wellness with nature.
Traditional treatments are undoubtedly the main attraction at The Spa, with therapies designed to refresh and revitalise. From facials to body treatments, each treatment incorporates local plants and herbs, inspired by age-old philosophies of Malay culture known as ramuan.
In addition to the spa treatment menu, guests can indulge in beauty and skincare treatments courtesy of The Bastien Gonzales Studio and Phyto 5. There are the luxury manicures and pedicures that the French celebrity podiatrist is renowned for as well as organic facials by the well-established vegan skincare range.
A resort for the future
Another appealing factor about The Datai Langkawi is its intent focus on sustainability. The resort’s management has clearly instilled this important ideology in the DNA of The Datai Langkawi with commendable initiatives that are part of The Datai Pledge.
Led by general manager Arnaud Girodon and his team, the ground-breaking and ambitious conservation and sustainability CSR initiative is primarily designed to preserve and strengthen the environment, ecosystems, culture, heritage and local community.
As part of its Pure for the Future programme, the resort is committed to using less energy, water and single-use plastics. In the rooms, water is now served in reusable glass bottles. Stainless steel drinking flasks are provided for excursions, with drinking straws made of 100% bamboo or stainless steel. All rooms also feature sustainable wooden toiletries.
The resort is working hard towards reducing its carbon footprint and operational wastage. The Permaculture Garden, for instance, acts as a self-sustaining, zero-waste, organic food production system. Just next door, the Organic Wealth Centre and Worm Farm helps transform organic waste into bio-fertiliser for the garden. The resort also boasts its own Composting Station and Wetland Filtration System, which helps purify water from the sewage treatment plant before it is released into the sea. A new upcycling centre is also being erected to further help the resort achieve its mission of zero waste to the landfill.
With nature being such a prominent feature at The Datai Langkawi, there have been huge concentrated efforts to regenerate the vital ecosystem that surrounds the resort. The Wildlife for the Future programme actively helps protect and restore the natural heritage of the island. Its initiatives include establishing a network of wildlife corridors in the area to enable the safe migration of arboreal wildlife between the fragmented wildlands and replanting of trees to mitigate the effects of deforestation. Education forms an important pillar for Wildlife of the Future, with support programmes that help inform the importance of conservation to maintain Langkawi’s rich natural heritage for future generations.
The Fish for the Future programme aims to preserve and strengthen the precious marine ecosystems of Teluk Datai. This initiative not only promotes sustainable fishing within the bay area but also coral reef rehabilitation initiatives and artificial reef programmes. The resort has already deployed fish aggregating devices, which are large structures designed to serve as a habitat for marine life in the bay.
Finally, the Youth for the Future programme represents one of the most important pillars of the Datai Pledge. The programme serves to educate the young about the effects of sustainability, climate change and human impact on the environment. With the youth today viewed as the bringers of change, Youth for the Future is helping instil appreciation for wildlife and nature in schools and within the community through strategic partnerships with organisations and NGOs.
Activities include field trips to learn about Langkawi’s unique ecosystem; visits to The Garden to learn about the benefits of a self-sustaining and organic food production system; and eco-focused events. Overall, the programmes instilled will not only help serve as a catalyst for change but also ensure that the beauty and uniqueness of the island and The Datai Langkawi and its many important natural attractions are retained for future generations to cherish.
This article first appeared on June 29, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.