THE DATAI  

Feature Story and Videos by Kamila Delart

See also Short Portrait

A tranquil hideaway surrounded by 10 million year old rainforest, The Datai Langkawi is set on a hill, overlooking a dreamy bay with pristine sandy beach. Designed by Kerry Hill, an architect renowned for bringing out the uniqueness of a place, the resort seamlessly blends into the breathtaking surroundings.

With massive walls, primordial ferns growing in the cracks of the black shale rocks, and exposed timber wood with a graceful patina of time, the main building resembles a majestic fortress. Hidden in the jungle of the mountain slope, along the gurgling Datai River, raise on stilts spacious Rainforest Villas. And the coastline boasts new luxurious Beach Villas surrounded by private gardens.

A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, The Datai has collected over the years more than 70 awards. So when I received an invitation to experience the legendary resort first hand, I was beyond excited!

Approaching the entrance, I immediately fall in love with the landscaping: wild Spider Lilies, prehistoric Staghorn Ferns hanging down from tree trunks, giant Bird’s Nest Ferns that trap in their leaf-rosette windblown seeds, turning into a breeding ground for random plant species. It seems as though the gardener’s hands were led by the God of Nature…

A deep sound of a gong announces my arrival; I am personally welcomed by the General Manager and escorted to the Lobby Lounge with a water lily pond and panoramic view of the Andaman Sea.

Waiting for my check-in to be processed, I lean back in the comfortable rattan chair, freshen-up with a rose-scented cold towel, and savor a delicious fruit punch - taking in the breathtaking scenery: All around are prehistoric trees, daringly reaching towards the sky. Beyond the jungle canopy glistens the Andaman Sea. Over the treetops soars a couple of Oriental Pied Hornbills and across the bellem-wood shingle roof leisurely walks a family of Long-Tailed Macaques. On one of the balconies stands a gentleman with binoculars, obviously as fascinated by the view as I am…

My thoughts are interrupted by a warm masculine voice. A handsome, gentle-mannered man introduces himself as my butler, Joseph, and offers to escort me to my villa.

The idea of enjoying around the clock bespoke individual service strikes me as slightly decadent - and alluring at the same time… 

Charming and engaging, Joseph asks during the buggy ride about my passion for writing, enquires about my favorite books, and before I know it, we are in the middle of an animated conversation about music. 

As we pass a junction leading to The Gulai House, Joseph describes the unique rainforest restaurant with so much enthusiasm; I instantly decide to book a table for the evening. 

Weaving our way through dense foliage with giant trees entangled by lianas, Joseph suddenly brings the buggy to a halt, presses his forefinger against his lips, and points towards a sunlit clearing. And there they are: A family of wild boars, peacefully grazing, giving us a curious look before they shyly disappear in the jungle.

Having arrived at the Beach Villa, Joseph gallantly opens the garden door - watching the bubbly me laps into an amazed silence. Surrounded by a private garden, the 218 square meters villa comprises three connected buildings and a 12 meters pool with adjacent sundeck. Impressive in size, it’s really the stunning architecture and refined interior design that take my breath away.

Sophistication in stone, wood and glass!  The transition between interior and exterior so seamless - the tropical surroundings are part of the overall ambiance. Furniture in contemporary Asian style, exquisite art with framed historical jewelry pieces, aboriginal spears, antique vases and candle holders. It’s like a fantasy straight from a coffee table book…

The beautiful interior incorporates state-of-the art technology, with remote-controlled humidity, ceiling fans and air conditioning, LCD flat screen, Bose sound system and iPod dock. To ensure pure comfort, there is a sophisticated cooler with a selection of vintage wines, a fully stocked bar, Lavazza coffee machine and wide array of herbal teas.

The spacious bathroom resembles a private Spa with a large vanity table, freestanding elliptical bath tub, designer sinks, state-of-the-art rain shower with a garden view and an outdoor shower.

All these exquisite details are so beautiful; I can barely take it all in! As I walk from one room into another, admiring the ambiance, Joseph turns discreetly away, smoothing the already perfectly arranged sofa cushions. As I finally settle down, Joseph asks about my plans for the afternoon. He suggests making my dinner reservations while I go to the beach, wondering whether I may want to indulge in a massage tomorrow or the day after. I’m beginning to really like the private butler concept!

Heading towards the back of the garden, I open the gate and walk along a private path to the white sandy beach, taking in the mesmerizing view in front of me! Framed by lush greenery, the tranquil coast stretches in a crescent, luring to a romantic walk. I inhale the fresh ocean air, savor the calming blue of the sea, and fall in love with the exquisite patterns I discover in the sand. 

Made of tiny balls left behind by the Sand Bubble Crabs after they extract organic matter from the sand, the evanescent art - fated to be washed away with the next high tide - is of such a delicate beauty, I cannot resist capturing their magnificence with my camera, making them eternal after all… 

The sun is slowly setting down, and so I return to my Beach Villa to get ready for my dinner. I don’t usually agonize about choosing the right outfit. But the spacious walk-in closet and a large dressing table bring out the feminine vanity, and so I spend forever, trying on various dresses, matching them with my favorite jewelry pieces, and experimenting with my make-up. - Secretly pleased as Joseph notices the little transformation and pays me a compliment as I get on the buggy.

Situated in the heart of the rainforest, the charming Gulai House is built in traditional Malay-style on stilts and with a thatched roof, luring with the rustic feel of a Kampong house. There is an open dining area and secluded nobat that offers privacy. But Joseph leads me to the traditional bersila seating section with candle-lit alcoves shielded by airy organza drapes, and comfortable cushions placed on hand-woven pandan mats around low tables. I’m starting to wonder whether he can read my mind…  

Wishing me a pleasant dinner experience, Joseph promises to pick me up afterward, and seems delighted to hear that rather than opting for a buggy ride, I plan to enjoy a nightly walk back to my villa, prior to indulging in a bath.

Making myself comfortable, I take in the unique atmosphere. There is an ancient tree with massive barky trunk, seamlessly integrated into the architecture. Leafy branches reach all the way into the open windows, and the transparent drapes move gently in the evening breeze.

There is a hand-written place card with my name written on a timber tree leaf. And as a waiter, dressed in a traditional costume, holds out a ceramic bowl to pour water over my hands according to a local custom, I feel like a Sultana from times gone by.

Savoring a signature drink with white rum, lemon grass, kaffir lime and mint leaf topped up with soda, I listen to the gentle sound of rain drops rhythmically drumming against the roof, blending with the symphony of wild birds, crickets and hundreds of frogs. A fairy-tale atmosphere…

The sensory journey continues with a scrumptious three-course feast. I love the creamy texture and coconut flavor of the crab mango salad, and the flavor of the cucumber raita and tamarind chutney that come with the pakoras.  The delicious crab - lemon grass soup is followed by a garoupa grilled in banana leaf, fried lobster with spicy curry, and savory beef rendang with blue ginger and lemon grass.  And as a sweet afterthought exquisite pandan wrapper filled with grated coconut and brown sugar… A true gourmet experience!  

Joseph is already waiting for me, ready to escort me back to my villa. We walk in silence, enjoying the magical feel of the jungle immersed in the velvety black of the night, stirring with nocturnal creatures. 

Slowing down, Joseph points the flashlight towards the rainforest canopy and we spot a flying lemur gliding between two giant trees. A breathtaking sight!

As we enter my villa, I hear the angelic voice of Enya, one of my favorite artists. The bath is illuminated by candles, the water sprinkled with exquisite orchid petals... It’s like entering my fantasy world! Noticing my astonishment, Joseph modestly smiles. But as he is leaving, there is something else in his facial expression. He seems genuinely delighted about his thoughtful surprise.

I plunge with relish into the warm scented water, watch the purple orchids form beautiful patterns on the water surface, and picture coming back for my honeymoon - once I find my Mr. Right. The private garden, the exquisite ambiance… It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful setting for a romance. 

About to dive into my bed, I discover a handwritten note wishing me good night, a cup of hot chocolate and a home-made chocolate truffle that literally melts in my mouth. I really could get used to this luxurious lifestyle! 

The next day begins with a nature walk led by the island’s most respected naturalist, Irshad Mobarak. Charismatic and passionate about Langkawi’s unique flora and fauna, he turns the following ninety minutes into the most fascinating jungle expedition.

With The Datai stretching over 750 hectares of rainforest, swamp, mangroves and seashore, we don’t even have to leave the resort’s premises to experience the wildlife. Just a few minutes after we set out, we spot in one of the tree tops a family of Dusky Leaf Monkeys enjoying their breakfast. While we get carried away by the adorable creatures with their big eyes, pink lips and silver hair, Irshad points out how picky they are - selecting only the young, tender shoots.  

As we continue, we see a giant monitor lizard crossing our path. And only a short moment later, Irshad draws our attention to a hollow in a tree trunk with a huge tarantula crawling out. Once we reach the beach, we head towards the rocky end that is teeming during low tight with Macaques monkeys looking for crabs. As we find out, some of them are quite resourceful - sticking their long tail underneath the boulders, waiting until a crab bites in - to swiftly retract their tail along with the desired delicacy. Just before we part, Irshad mentions that if we get up really early, we may spot on the beach Sea Otters basking in the sun. And although a rare sight, the peaceful Datai Bay occasionally attracts even dolphins. What an amazing, amazing place!

I spend half of the day lazing around in my villa - listening to music, sunbathing on the spacious deck, enjoying an occasional dip in my pool… Dialing the number of a room service, I order a delicious Caesar salad, and head in the afternoon to the main pool. Following a boardwalk flanked by tall bamboo trees, I pass the enchanting Spa with villas set along the winding silver stream of Sungai Datai, and climb sets of stairs embedded in the rainforest, enjoying the changing scenery. 

The moment I arrive at the pool, I fall in love:  large, shielded by dense foliage, with a distant view of the Andaman Sea and the enchanting fragrance of Frangipani flowers in the air… An adults-only sanctuary, the atmosphere is so tranquil; all I can hear is the sound of nature. I dive into the warm, calming blue water, swimming forth and back until I lose count, reaching a state of deep meditation…

Looking forward to the evening ahead, I put on my favorite dress, and Joseph drives me to The Pavilion, a Thai restaurant repeatedly awarded by Malaysian Tatler for out-of-this-world culinary creations. 

Floating above the green foliage of the rainforest, with shy Dusky Leaf Monkeys peeking from the canopy of the surrounding trees, The Pavilion has a truly spectacular setting. And with soft Thai music in the background, permute tabletops, white orchids and the flickering light of candles, the ambiance is just dreamlike. 

The moment I enter, I’m greeted by the restaurant manager who escorts me to my favorite table - clearly remembering my preference although months have passed since my last visit. What a lovely personal touch!

As a special Wednesday treat, the restaurant serves a set Seafood & Lobster menu, and so I lean back in my chair, and savor a glass of chilled champagne, soaking up the serene atmosphere until the first course arrives.

Spicy seafood salad with grapes, crab spring rolls, fish roll with cucumber sauce, coconut prawn soup with turmeric, stir-fried lobster with lemongrass sauce, steamed garoupa with pickled ginger, wok-fried scallops with fresh herbs with stir-fried kalian, asparagus, and baby corn, jasmine rice… An enchanting symphony of flavors and textures completed by spicy pandan custard, passion fruit sherbet and delicately carved fruits. An amazing evening!

In a dreamy mood, I decide to go for a nightly walk along the beach. I listen to the soothing song of the sea, watch the waves reach in layers the coastline, shimmering in the moonlight like delicate lace. 

Then I switch on my torch and the seemingly sleepy beach comes to life! There are hundreds of Hermit Crabs, flaunting their colorful shells. As the creatures grow, they have to find a new, more spacious ‘home’. And I wonder whether they secretly ogle their peers, trying to become friends with those with a most beautiful shell, hoping that it may soon become vacant…

My last day at The Datai is all about indulgence. Sleeping in, I enjoy a slow morning and leisurely breakfast at the Dining Room. There is a huge muesli bar, large selection of tropical fruits, sushi and warm Asian favorites prepared à la minute. Craving hearty European fare, I opt for creamy camembert, salmon and spicy chorizo with home-baked bread, delicious pastries and a croissant with honey from wild Datai Bay bees. Along with an aromatic coffee served in the largest cup I ever came across in any resort.

Opening the gates to my garden some two hours later, I notice a subtle olibanum fragrance and gentle music, and as I proceed to the sun deck, there is a massage table, sprinkled with frangipani flowers. A smiling therapist lets me chose my favorite massage oil, clarifies my preference regarding pressure, and the moment her gentle hands begin to glide over my body, I blissfully drift away…

With only a few hours left, I walk along the beach and stretch out on a lounger underneath the shade-giving canopy of a giant tree. The sea is shimmering in turquoise and blue, mirroring the dreamy silhouettes of the distant Tarutao Islands. On the horizon passes in a slow motion a yacht, the calming sound of the sea blends with the love song of cicadas that hide somewhere in the foliage above my head. And I feel completely at peace…