If, like me, deciding on where to go for your next holiday consists of a Google search containing the words, 'best hotel (insert the desired destination)', followed by a hopeful result from Conde Nast Traveller showcasing the creme de la creme of said region, with nothing left to do but make the agonising decision of which to choose, then read on, for the Datai Langkawi is not just a highlight of Asia, but a highlight of the world.
Following a year-long US$60 million refurbishment, the iconic Langkawi property has returned to its former glory as a charming rainforest refuge, recently recognised by Time Magazine as one of the 100 greatest places in the world.
The island of Langkawi is located off the west coast of the northern tip of Malaysia. While a ferry exists, flying is cheap and far more efficient, with direct flights from Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian or Air Asia and Singapore on Silk Air, at 55mins and 1.5hours respectively. From the airport, The Datai is a 40min drive, which is, ideally, covered in one of the hotel's luxurious limousine fleet, complete with a cooled and scented towel.
There's no shortage of choice on the island of Langkawi and my ever pertinent adage 'the newer the better' means the competition is stiff, with recent builds from St Regis and Four Seasons. The Datai is nestled into the forest on the north-western corner of the island with panoramic views of the Andaman Sea and direct access to the white-sand beach of Datai Bay.
It not only boasts a stunning refurbishment of the Kerry Hill conceived property, but it also has 26 years of learnings under the belt, having served guests to the island since 1993. The resulting product is as considered as they come, exhibiting the very best in design, dining, dedicated service and sustainability across its one hundred and twenty-one rooms, four restaurants, lobby lounge and forest encased spa.
The Datai offers a range of accommodation options differing in size, privacy and price. The Canopy collection of rooms exist within the hotel's main buildings, flanking the lobby lounge, main pool and the dining room. They're sizeable at 63sqm and all feature balconies with commanding views of the rainforest and property.
For those who require a little more space, the thirty-two Rainforest Villas, one of which I spent three nights in, are palatial 123sqm one-bedroom suites, with a sitting area, daybed, desk, balcony and stunning bathroom. The four-poster king bed was phenomenal, as was the complimentary mini-bar while the spacious bathroom, with dual vanities and ottoman, provided the perfect setting for relaxed bathing.
The free-standing villas, another eight of which have private pools, are situated in front of the main buildings, at sea level and are accessed via efficient buggies and a network of paths through the enchanting forest. For the ultimate in privacy, thirteen secluded one-bedroom beachfront villas reveal a 350sqm wonderland with a stand-alone ensuite with designer bathtub, a separate open-plan living/dining room with table for four and a master bedroom that opens onto a private sundeck and 10m pool.
Where The Datai really shines, is the food offering, with five dining options including two dedicated restaurants. It's so comprehensive that there's actually no need to leave the hotel, not that you'd want to anyway.
Upon arrival, we ate lunch at the Beach Club which serves up a mix of western favourites from burgers and pizza to grilled meat and fresh seafood while the Beach Bar prepared us delicious cocktails. In the evening, tables are brought out onto the deck area where guests can dine among hoards of inquisitive monkeys.
On, our first night we dined at the Gulai House, serving stunning Malaysian cuisine in an equally stunning setting. The Chicken Tandoori and fried Snapper were standouts followed by a unique and scrumptious dessert called Sago Gula Melaka. The following evening we dined at The Pavilion restaurant, perched on stilts among the treetops. We watched the storm come in while experiencing a world-class Thai meal, with both the Red Curry duck and Massaman blowing us away, complemented by a well priced Joseph Drouhin Laforêt Bourgogne Pinot Noir from the extensive wine list.
On our last evening, we did the degustation at The Dining Room, which also serves The Datai's extensive breakfast. I was initially turned away for not wearing trousers (linen shorts don't cut it here), which I found frustrating and marred the overall experience. Ultimately, the meal designed by Chef Jerome Voltat, with interesting matching wines, was enjoyable, but not excellent and at MYR770 per person including service charge (AU$268) it's a fair whack. In saying that, the Jacquart Mosaique Rose to start was delightful and the grouper fish paired with the Syrian Domaine de Bargylus white was pretty special.
Like the dining choices, The Datai offers guests an abundance of activities to fill your day. Along with the beach, where you can borrow all types of watercraft, there are three pools on the property (not including the one that may be in your room), a state-of-the-art fitness centre and an array of wellness activities including silat and yoga that guests can partake in. A short drive away is The Els Club Teluk Datai, designed by the man himself. I didn't play but you drive through it on route to the hotel and it looked sensational.
My itinerary featured two walks, the first a Rainforest Awakening walk to spot wildlife, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the weather. The second was a nature walk to discover the various habitats on the property including a canopy walk on the purpose-built footbridge overlooking the forest below.
Weather also affected our cooking class at The Dapur (inside The Gulai House), which was meant to start in the hotel's garden to pick fresh ingredients before turning them into a chilli prawn salad and beef rendang. Despite the shortened class, I really enjoyed the chance to hone my Malaysian skills and was pretty chuffed with my Rendang, which we enjoyed with other participating guests after.
Finally, The Spa is a must-visit for those seeking ultimate relaxation. I enjoyed a Ramuan Harmony treatment for two hours which included a flower and spices foot bath and flower bath blessing before a light body massage and Phyto 5 facial. An outdoor shower capped off a luxurious and rejuvenating session.
There's no doubt that The Datai Langkawi, with its wondrous wildlife and majestic location, is one of the finest hotel's I've ever had the pleasure of staying at. Service across the board was friendly and faultless, my room was amazing and the food and drink offering was probably the best I've experienced within a hotel, but be warned, it doesn't come cheap.
With prices starting at roughly MYR1,200 (AU$418) in low season (skyrocketing to MYR5,700 (AU$1,988) during peak season over NYE), you can quite easily spend AU$1000 a day without booze. If you're tempted by a 96 Salon at the Dining Room and staying in a Beach Villa, you could quite easily add another zero to that. I was a guest of The Datai Langkawi who covered my room, activities and food, but not grog and we got through a bit of it in three days with little consideration of cost.
Not only will I be back, but I'd also be happy to go back and pay for it (all) and it's pretty achievable in the low season, even in the Rainforest Villa (roughly AU$610 per night depending on the deal). It really was a special three nights in a hotel I couldn't recommend highly enough.
The official rates as provided by The Datai are as follows (plus the 10% service charge) however, these are subject to change depending on the season or who you book through.
Canopy Deluxe: from 2500 RM
Rainforest Villa: from 3200 RM
Canopy Suite: from 3900 RM
Rain Forest Pool Villa: from 4900 RM
1 Bedroom Beach Villa: from 6400 RM
2 Bedroom Beach Villa: from 16500 RM
5 Bedroom Datai Estate Villa: from 50 000 RM
For more information head to thedatai.com