Feature Story by Kamila Delart

See also Short Portrait

Imagine Langkawi some 25 years ago. A pristine island unknown to the world. A breathtaking nature sanctuary with dreamlike beaches - keeping the exquisite beauty all to herself… Apart from a few simple guest houses and country clubs, there was no place to stay - until the very first five star resort, Meritus Pelangi, was built - marking the beginning of a new era.

Watching the construction from a nearby village, the local fishermen were initially wary of the new development. But as the resort began to take shape, their skepticism turned into curiosity and eventually into genuine enthusiasm: Celebrating Malay heritage, the resort had the flair of a traditional Malay kampong, seamlessly blending into the natural surroundings and the local culture and tradition, winning the hearts of the local community. So much so, Meritus Pelangi is until today the only large resort on the island that does not need to hire foreign staff. Just on the contrary! While barely any associates ever leave, it is common for family members to join. There are even a few cases of two generations working here!

Intrigued by the fascinating history, I walk towards the reception, looking forward to four relaxing days, eager to soak up the atmosphere of this unique place. Enjoying the Meritus Club privilege, I’m escorted to a cozy lounge, lean back in a comfortable chair, and savor a foamy latte macchiato and delicious local sweets while the friendly receptionist, Fitri, processes my check-in. A wonderful start! Topped only a few moments later when I enter my room:

Walls painted in soft pastel colors, photography art capturing exotic tropical flowers, fluffy sisal carpet, comfortable sofa, marble bathroom with a state-of-the-art rain shower and spacious bathtub offering a sea view. And a huge verandah that opens to an idyllic beach – barely ten steps away! 


Curious by nature, I leave my suitcase unpacked and set out to explore the property. Spreading over 35 acres, the beautifully landscaped tropical gardens delight with white spider lilies and red ginger flowers against lush greenery - honeycombed with paths that lead to rustic timber chalets.

Raised on stilts, with exposed trusses and sloping roofs in orange-red that matches the color of giant blossoms of the ‘Flame of the Forrest’ tree above them - they truly exude the charm of times gone by. And once I start noticing the tiny details, the feel of a traditional Malay kampong is complete: At the entrance of each chalet is a clay ewer filled with fresh water, with a coconut husk ladle, and I picture generations of local people cleansing their feet prior to entering their homes. Between the houses are village greens with benches – as made for a friendly neighborhood chat spiced up with the newest gossip. And on one of the verandahs is a little kitten, happily purring in the afternoon sun…

There is so much to see, I only notice how much time has passed as the dusk starts setting in. The pinnacle ornaments on the edge of the roofs descend in the dark of the sky, the paths bathe in the light of nostalgic ‘gas’ lamps,  and - illuminated from the inside - in the roof gables emerge intricate carvings, creating a fairytale atmosphere.

Enticed by the sea, I decide to enjoy a light supper in the privacy of my balcony. Savoring traditional Nasi Goreng accompanied by chilled Chardonnay, I listen to the soothing melody of the sea blending with a gentle rattle of palm trees, and watch the tiny lights of fisherman boats against the dark horizon. - Picturing how their nets get heavy with thousands of squids.

Rested after a long night’s sleep, I start the next day with delicious home-made muesli and freshly baked bread buns with an assortment of my favorite cheese, watching others load their plates with scrambled eggs and sausages or various Asian dishes. Seated on the canopied terrace of the Spice Market Restaurant, I inhale the aroma of freshly ground coffee, and enjoy the enchanting view in front of me: The patio is decorated with old fishing boats and flanked with pergolas entangled by twisted knobby trunks of a Bougainvillea. Thousands of pink, purple and magenta paper flowers frame the view of the lagoon-like Horizon Pool, with the Andaman Sea shimmering in the distance - luring with the fantasy of sweet idleness.

And so I let the day leisurely unfold. Enjoying the peace and tranquility, I stroll along the beach that stretches far into the distance.  I notice a glitter in the white sand, and as I bend down, I see hundreds of Capiz Seashells. Flat and nearly translucent, they come in black and pearl white, resembling tiny mermaid mirrors. Escaping the tropical heat, I sprawl out on a beach launcher underneath the canopy of an umbrella-shaped casuarina tree and take in the beautiful view. The sun is dancing on the water surface, exploding in tiny golden fireworks against the silhouettes of tiny deserted islands in the background. Colorful parasail balloons glide gracefully in the blue skies. And the calming symphony of the sea lulls me into a delicious afternoon nap.

Sleepy-eyed, I wander through the extensive gardens towards the Pelangi Spa to indulge in a massage. Shielded by lush greenery and surrounded by gurgling ponds, the relaxation lounge has a tranquil atmosphere. And as I sip a delicious tamarind juice and inhale the lemon grass aroma in the air, I feel my body relax even before my treatment begins. Making myself comfortable on the massage table, I watch the muslin drapes on the windows gently move in the afternoon breeze, listen to mellow music, drifting away as soon as my therapist, Rosliyati, applies rich almond oil infused with the floral Ylang-Ylang essence, gently rubbing away the tension in my shoulders.

Just next to the Pelangi Spa is the quiet Cascade Pool with a myriad of little waterfalls. The refreshing streams of water against my skin wake me gently up, and I swim a few rounds before returning to my room to get ready for dinner. 

The sun is slowly setting in, and so I choose to enjoy my supper at the ‘C BA’, a beautiful seaside lounge famous for spectacular sunset views. I order a selection of mouth-watering Canapés and the signature Meritus Sunset cocktail to mark the occasion, and stretch out on a spacious sofa. Listening to dreamy chill out soundtrack, I look at the horizon to see emerge between the Rebak Island and his tiny pendant on the left a blazing sphere that eventually erupts, turning the entire sky into a breathtaking piece of abstract art in gold, orange and blood red. What a spectacle!  

Entirely relaxed, I wake up the next day in an adventurous mood, ready for some action. Having noticed the state-of-the art gym with floor to ceiling glass front and a wonderful sea view, I briefly consider a morning work-out. But the beach view is far too tempting and so I opt for a jogging round along the shoreline instead. The air is fresh, the sand underneath my feet powdery, and I run - taking in the changing scenery. Leaving the quiet of the resort beach behind, the coast pulsates with activity: water sports providers lure with fun banana rides, Jet Ski adventures and parasailing, from the Babylon Mat Lounge sounds reggae music that makes my feet itch, and once I cross over to the main street, there is Underwater World, the largest marine and fresh water aquarium in South East Asia, a myriad of restaurants, cafés and food stalls, and countless shops selling craft, textile and souvenirs. All within a walking distance! And so I dive into the vibrant life of Pantai Cenang, returning to my resort only in the evening. 

Having burned a lot of energy during the day, I decide to treat myself to a three-course barbeque feast at the Spice Market Restaurant. Rugged wooden beam ceilings illuminated by subtle lighting and small alcoves with jars filled with local spices highlight the traditional theme, and I walk along the opulent buffet, filling my plate with a variety of scrumptious starters. But the best part is yet to come! On the outdoor terrace is a huge BBQ with rib eye steak, lamb chops, chicken wings, crab meat, fish skewers and a huge selection of fresh fish and seafood. I select large prawns, mussels and pink salmon and savor the tantalizing aroma that unfolds as soon as the seafood begins to sizzle on the charcoal grill. Flavored with tamarind and mint sauce, my meal is just delicious! 

I’m about to praise the culinary skills of the Chef, when Ridzuan approaches my table with spicy squid, the secret signature dish, telling me that I HAVE to try it! I’m pretty full but the excited look on his face is hard to resist, and so I put a spoon full into my mouth - and savoring the wonderful taste - I sigh in delight. Clearly a reaction Ridzuan was expecting as his entire face lights up. It’s charming how much pride he takes in his culinary creations! Indulging in a delicious mango and coconut ice cream to make the sumptuous dinner experience complete, I head to my room to dress up a little bit - planning to see the live band that plays nearly every evening at the Lobby Lounge.

Savoring the refreshing lime and mint flavor of a Mojito, I listen to the resident female trio, singing with so much passion as if they were performing in front of a bursting concert hall. The beat and their foxy moves are so contagious; two little girls from the next table jump spontaneously up, clumsily trying to emulate the dance routine. Adorable! As the evening progresses, the floor fills with couples, and when a handsome stranger asks me for a dance, I join happily in. Letting him sway me across the dance floor until I gasp for breath…

Returning to my chair I feel this jab in my ankle, suddenly very aware of a recent sprain. I guess, all the walking in the afternoon coupled with my wild dance performance were a little too much. Noticing my limping, a concerned waitress hurries to my ‘rescue’, calling on the spot a buggy. Only five minutes later, there is a knock on my door, with Syed from the room service delivering ice to sooth the pain and swelling. And when I return next day from my breakfast, Umi from the housekeeping just finished arranging a beautiful flower bouquet in my room, with a lovely note wishing me fast recovery. It’s so sweet; I struggle to fight back tears.

Taking it slowly on my last day to give my ankle a little break, I enjoy a refreshing dip in the Horizon Pool, sprawl on a launcher, and hiding behind a book, I engage in one of my favorite activities - people watching: A handsome French gentleman is applying tanning lotion on the back of his loved one - looking so smitten, the couple must be on their honeymoon. Two Chinese girlfriends in a party mood discuss what to wear when going clubbing tonight. A little Australian girl is excitedly jumping up and down on the top of a slide, calling her daddy to see her glide.  

Holding hands, a Middle Eastern couple heads towards the beach for a romantic walk. A group of young German or Austrian men passes with tennis racquets under their arms. And the lovely retired couple from Britain resting just next to me goes on and on about the wonderful candlelight dinner Chef Sufaan arranged for them yesterday. Already the second milestone anniversary they celebrate in here - as they keep returning for their annual holidays for the last twenty years!

There is the saying that ‘one cannot be all things to all people’, but looking around, I wonder… Translated into English, PELANGI means rainbow. And although the name is inspired by the colorful spectacle that appears from time to time on the sky above the resort, I cannot help but think that the name perfectly captures the atmosphere of the resort. All these different people with their varied expectations - each of them finding just what they are looking for! Quite a phenomenon…