The Datai Langkawi, Langkawi Island, Malaysia

Forget beach bliss – this legendary northern Malaysian retreat proves that paradise (and luxury) can be found in the depths of the jungle

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Rainforest Pool Villa, Datai Langkawi, Malaysia
Datai Langkawi Resort, Malaysia


In a word, epic. Pick between a rainforest villa, a beach-gazing
suite or a canopy room tucked into the main building. We were in a
tree-hugged villa, a stilted, 123sq m property with soaring
ceilings, a vast bathroom – the kind you can dance around in in the
luxurious bathrobes provided (some of the plushest we’ve ever
encountered) – and, in some villas, a private pool. If it rains,
there’s nowhere better to curl up with a book than on the
jungle-dappled terrace, listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops
on waxy leaves.

The resort was originally designed by visionary Australian
architect Kerry Hill, and a 2019 update saw the property’s original
interior designer Didier Lefort return to refresh the look, adding
a quiet, luxurious confidence to the mix. Expect minimalist, sexy
hues, with lots of wood, marble and rattan touches.

What’s for breakfast?

A buffet with some seriously good regional offerings – hot,
traditional Malay breakfast (including fresh dosas and roti); cakes
and pastries baked by Lebanese chef Said Hazar; luxurious lassi to
go, plus watermelon, guava and other tropical juices. Breakfast
runs until 11am but we’d recommend heading down between seven and
eight to grab a front-seat table overlooking the pool. Bring your
bins to spy the birdlife: hornbills and drongos are early-morning
visitors, too.

Bathroom, villa, Datai Lankawi, Malaysia

How about lunch and dinner?

The Pavilion offers authentic Thai food from a treetop perch;
The Dining Room is a fine dining restaurant that serves up an
exemplary nine-course meal that borrows flavours from across the
Asian continent; and thatch-roofed The Gulai House (build in the
traditional kampung style) plates Malay favourites like kerabu
betik muda dada puyuh salai (papaya salad with smoked quail
breast), as well as boat-fresh seafood and tandoor-cooked meat.

Our favourite, though, is The Beach Club, an all-day dining
offering that overlooks the waves. We’d recommend ordering a whole
grilled grouper from the lunch menu, plus a fresh coconut (served
with a bamboo straw).

Is there a bar?

The ceiling fan-cooled lounge bar, open every day and occupying
an elevated position above the pool, offers stunning views both of
the rainforest canopy and the paradisiacal vision of Thailand’s Koh
Tarutao island out across the bay. It has a sophisticated vibe:
think live piano performances, cigars come sunset, and a craft
cocktail menu that borrows flavours from the Malay kitchen. Try the
signature “the butterfly” cocktail, which features Datai’s house
gin, or a refreshing lychee ice tea mocktail.


There’s an almost overwhelming offering, so we’d make use of the
handy app prior to arrival to plan your weekly schedule around pit
stops at the three hotel pools. We loved the upcycling workshop at
The Lab, where you can make your own soaps and candles, as well as
The Dapur cookery school, where a class gave us the foundations to
start whipping up our own Malay creations.

Elsewhere, there’s yoga, kayaking, paddingboarding and sailing,
and excursions into the rainforest led by Dev Dass and Irshad
Mobarak at The Nature Centre (think butterfly walks, mangrove
trails and six-hour jungle hikes).

Don’t miss The Spa, either, which utilises indigenous
ingredients and ancient Malay herbal rituals. We’d switch to a
typical oil treatment for a tungku massage, which uses a heated
cotton pouch containing a riverstone that’s wrapped in lemongrass,
galangal, pepper and other healing herbal ingredients to reduce
pain and increase circulation.

What are the hotel’s eco-credentials like?

Impressive – just ask the GM. The Datai Pledge promises to
protect marine life, conserve and regenerate rainforest wildlife,
nurture local communities via environmental education and make the
hotel’s business operations entirely sustainable. No mean feat
given that the island is home to more than 520 tree species, and 80
per cent of the biodiversity of Malay mangroves.

Canopy walk, Datai Langkawi, Malaysia
Great Hornbill, The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia

Photo credit: Eric Martin

But it’s not just lofty ideals; there are extensive recycling
systems in use, a plastic-free mentality and a serious investment
in data-capture tools to monitor – and cut down – the hotel’s
carbon footprint (including guest air miles). They’ve rebuilt coral
reefs in the bay, worked on habitat restoration and reforestation
of native forest, and supported NGOs in empowering and educating
local communities.

What about accessibility?

It’s a big property, but if you’re not fully mobile then there’s
a fleet of buggies on hand to get around. Villas are spacious, and
mobility ramps are available on request.

What’s the crowd like?

A mix of young and older couples, solo travellers and families
with older children. We met a fair few returning visitors (always a
good sign) and a number of binocular-wearing nature enthusiasts
(prepare to feel like your iPhone is a toy when you spy one of
their impressive cameras taking a snap).

Things I should know

Don’t leave your doors or windows open at night unless you’re
keen to have an early-hours wake-up call from some overconfident
monkeys and flying squirrels.

Within a short walk I can find…

The resort. It’s huge – you won’t need to leave

The Lowdown

A seven-night stay at The Datai costs from £3,695pp when
booked with Red Savannah. The rate includes bed and breakfast,
return economy flights from London Heathrow to Langkawi and private
airport transfers.

Since it opened 30 years ago, the resort has been committed
to responsible stewardship of its incredible surroundings, and in
2019 this commitment was formalised through The Datai Pledge. It
has achieved significant measurable successes across all four
‘pillars’ of the Pledge, which aim to support marine life,
terrestrial wildlife, and local youth, as well as leading the way
in sustainable business practices. Highlights include achieving
zero-waste-to-landfill, saving 146,704kg of waste; collecting 4,361
seedlings, including critically endangered species, to be
germinated in the resort’s Native Tree Nursery; beginning work on a
possibly world-first, trans-island wildlife corridor; and creating
an in-situ hatchery and conducive turtle environment in Datai Bay,
prompting its first turtle landing in over 10 years; setting up
‘green schools’ in partnership with Green Growth Asia Foundation,
to educate the younger generation on a sustainable future and much

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