The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia
Langkawi is everything that Bali is not. The former is relatively undeveloped, with few of the flash resorts that have come to characterise the latter, and being an island that belongs to a Muslim nation, booze does not proliferate and any nightlife is discreet. So, Langkawi, off the western coast of northern Malaysia and just 90 minutes from Singapore, less from Kuala Lumpur, is an ideal option for those seeking an south-east Asian island holiday sans the tat and the tats. The property, designed over 20 years ago by acclaimed Australian resort architect Kerry Hills, is located on a commanding site. Its reception and main accommodation wings are situated on an ancient rainforest-clad hill overlooking the ocean with views across the Andaman Sea to southern Thailand.
This beautifully designed and commendably understated resort tumbles steeply right down to the crescent-shaped Datai Bay, which some credit as boasting one of the best beaches in south-east Asia. The largely intact and shade-giving jungle – home to all manner of Malaysian wildlife including monkeys and birdlife, which Hill preserved in his original design – is peppered with discreet and villas. The resorts facilities, including its restaurants bars and spa, are dispersed between the main hilltop wing, which includes a large swimming pool in a lavishly tropical setting, with the beachside itself featuring its own dining and pool options.
For our four-night stay we have scored one of the relatively new and luxurious one-bedroom beachside villas designed not by Kerry Hill but by his Perth contemporaries, Grounds Kent. At a whopping 218-square metres, the capacious bedroom and bathroom space is separated from the living and dining room, a veritable glass box reached by a short sheltered walkway. Each of the villas has its own butler as well a generous-sized plunge pool and small lawn. The villas are set back and unseen from the beach which is accessed via a rear-entrance lockable doorway.
As befitting a resort of this calibre, there's no shortage of dining options. These range from the upscale The Gulai House, nestled in the jungle in a traditional Malay kampung house and serving Malay cuisine to The Pavilion, built on 30-metre high timber stilts, serving Thai food in honour of the resort's proximity to Thailand.
There's little reason to leave the resort, with its top-notch setting and extensive facilities, and the fact that The Datai offers some excellent and free nature tours within its own grounds. And, for golfers, there is Ernie Els-branded golf course, run by The Datai, just down the hill. But if you must take your leave of The Day, try a fascinating boat tour of the island's endangered complex of mangroves, listed as a UNESCO Geopark.
The Datai may not be the youngest of south-east Asia's islands resorts but it is certainly one of the classiest, thanks largely to Hill's timeless, sensitive and classic design. It provides an opportunity to commune with Langkawi's underrated natural assets without sacrificing the luxuries of a genuine five-star resort.
Deluxe king rooms in the main wing start from $467 with beach villas starting from $1275. Phone +60 4 9500 500; see thedatai.com
The tour can be booked through the resort. Head for lunch at Bon Ton, a charming Australian-owned resort and restaurant near the airport which doubles as a refuge for the island's stray felines. The natural setting, the architecture, the food, the luxury and the wildlife make for a unique and memorable stay.
It's sad that the resort wasn't able to entice the original architect back to design the new beach villas, as sympathetic as they are to Kerry Hill's original vision.