The Datai has long been a byword for exclusive luxury on the Malaysian island of Langkawi and recently marked its 20th birthday by opening several chic beach-front villas and a new golf course designed by Ernie Els, Winsor Dobbin reports.
This multiple award-winning island resort off the north-west coast of peninsular Malaysia offers so many options for pampering, dining, adventure and sports that many guests do not leave even when staying for a week or more – and one of its selling points is that it is almost completely isolated among the ancient rainforest.
The 124 rooms, suites and villas, and 14 superb new beach-front pool villas (think personal butler and in-room wine cellars) offer luxury living in a very laidback environment. Twice I walked along the pristine beach and only saw two other people. The resort has two swimming pools, a beach club and an award-winning spa (try the signature tugku batu hot stone treatment or maybe a lembut massage using herbal oils) with many of the villas nestled under a natural rainforest canopy.
Guests can enjoy a range of dining options which include The Dining Room, The Pavilion restaurant and The Gulai House, all within close proximity to the villas – if you don’t want to walk you just call up a buggy to take you wherever you want to go. The more adventurous guests can trek through the rainforest, or take a culinary class and learn how to cook chicken and herbs in coconut broth, or maybe stir-fried king prawns in garlic and black pepper sauce.
There is a strong Thai influence in this part of Malaysia, which is no surprise as it lies just a couple of kilometres across the water, and eating and drinking well are certainly a key element of any stay here. There’s plenty of variety on offer in house as there are no nearby alternatives other than The Andaman resort at the other end of the beach, where Datai guests can sign for meals that are added to their account.
The Dining Room offers western-style dishes like honey-soy duck breast, or roast rack of lamb in a black olive crust, while the Pavilion and Gulai House are for the more adventurous. The Pavilion is run by a Thai kitchen team with choices like spicy green papaya with dried shrimp salad, crispy soft-shell crab with Thai chilli oil, massaman beef and roasted duck curry with pineapple. Service, here, like throughout the resort is solicitous and efficient.
Gulai House, deep in the rainforest in a traditional kampung-style setting, highlights Malaysian and Indian specialities and has its own tandoori oven. Think dishes like grilled fish and prawns in a banana leaf, nonya chicken coconut curry or grilled seasonal fish with a variety of traditional sauces. The Pool Bar, on the water, is a superb spot to enjoy a drink at any time of day and serves beer on tap, cocktails, a selection of wines by the glass and dishes ranging from satays to hamburgers.
Here you are greeted with an iced towel, a glass of cold water and complimentary peanuts while you watch the sun set – a magnificent sight – or you can go a step more upmarket and enjoy one of the buffet evenings at the Beach Club.
Unusual in Asia, there is a well-chosen global wine list with a good selection from France, Italy and Chile, as well as names familiar to Australians such as Grosset, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, Rolf Binder and Kiwis Cloudy Bay, Neudorf and Saint Clair. No sign yet, of Els’s own South African wine label, but it can’t be far away.
There is a range of accommodation options from deluxe hotel rooms to those new ultra-luxe beach villas featuring their own 10-metre swimming pools, separate bedroom and living room, dining table, wine cellar, free wi-fi and all mod cons, including indoor and al fresco showers and a minibar with complimentary beers and soft drinks. Satellite TVs, free wi-fi and iPod docks are de rigueur.
Guests can also participate in free morning and afternoon nature walks, use mountain bikes, the gym, catamarans, wind surfers and kayaks, play tennis or participate in a cooking class, ensuring that any non golfers have plenty to occupy their time.
Guests are given a daily newsletter listing the next day’s activities, the weather and optional activities like deep-sea fishing trips, photographic safaris, bird watching or night-time nature walks. Venture off track and you may encounter anything from squirrels to goannas that appear to have been taking steroids. But keep the windows to your accommodation closed – the local monkeys can be both curious and destructive.
The new golf course is magnificent – and already a favourite with the Malaysian royal family, who fly in for a round or two before heading back to Kuala Lumpur.
Locked between million-year-old rainforest and the Andaman Sea, the sparkling new Els Club Teluk Datai has been described as as one of the world’s most captivating new golf courses. The layout, unique in that it has no bunkers, puts the island of Langkawi back on the map for both serious golfers and hackers.
The course is overlooked by the marbled limestone peaks of the Mat Cincang Mountain range and has natural streams flowing throughout the course, as well as predatory Macaque and Dusky Leaf monkeys that have been known to pilfer the odd ball. You may also see eagles (I spotted an eagle’s nest in a tree), giant lizards and hornbills. It doesn’t come much more exotic than this.
Els, a regular visitor during the three-year period in which a former golf course on the site was transformed, says his vision was to “preserve and enhance the natural environment while creating a unique luxury and educational eco-tourism experience.”
The 18-hole course has five sea front holes with views across the water to Thailand. Els incorporated the natural fauna of the rainforest into the course design but has opted for the latest Club Car Precedent buggies equipped with state-of-the-art Visage GPS units.
Nothing but the best for guests here.
The Datai, a member of Leading Hotels, Jalan Datai, Teluk Datai, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia. +60 4-959 2500. Prices start from around $450 per night. www.thedatai.com. Check out the Els Club Teluk Datai course at www.elsclubmalaysia.com/teluk-datai/the-experience/
AirAsia X, together with AirAsia, provides Australians with access to over 80 destinations across 23 countries. It flies twice daily to Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s new No.2 terminal from Sydney. There are up to 11 connecting flights to Langkawi each day, a trip which takes less than an hour. For bookings or further information visit www.airasia.com.