The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia | HOTEL REVIEW

Some resorts cannot simply be seen, they need to be experienced as the visceral, raw adventure they were meant to be. The Datai Langkawi – celebrating its 30th year – is one such resort – a ‘breathing, living resort’, where the animals, who trace their origins back to millions of years, much like the rainforest that engulfs this resort, call these surrounds their home. The location and design in particular combine with the food and the service here to make this our most memorable stay in a long time, and possibly one of the best resorts at which we’ve ever stayed.

Date of stay: September 2022
Room: Rainforest Villa (#31)
Reviewed by: Chinmoy Lad

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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS by CHINMOY LAD

WHAT WE LOVED

  • Location. At the northwest corner of Langkawi, Malaysia, in a secluded spot nestled within a 10-million-year-old rainforest, The Datai is about a 45-minute drive from Langkawi International Airport. Fronting Datai Bay, once rated by National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 beaches, the main resort takes cleverly sits about 300 metres behind the beach, in the midst of the rainforest with the main building featuring multiple rooms and suites as well as a few facilities including restaurants and the adult pool. The rest of the resort is beautifully spread out within the jungle, culminating in the beachfront. Opened in 1993, The Datai followed in the footsteps of many boutique luxury resorts opening around its time, but soon after opening took over as one of the region’s most iconic properties.
  • Arrival. From a setting standpoint, this has to be one of the most spectacular arrivals, which really sets the scene for the destination. The arrival pavilion is set high up the resort and enjoys uninterrupted ocean views. There are a few easy lounging chairs to relax while staff await to take you to your room, and a central sunken space that acts as a bar, all centred around a beautiful lily pond that takes centre stage.
  • Design. It was the late Kerry Hill’s decision to allow the jungle to shine here by not making the entire resort a beachfront property, and a vision which reflected what Adrian Zecha wanted from this property. The resort’s design is one of the best we have ever seen, which is no surprise as we are big Kerry Hill fans. There are many Kerry Hill signatures here – allowing the natural surroundings to shine, grandiose central spaces that feel spacious but never over the top (the grand staircase, the hanging Pavilion restaurant on stilts, the adult pool) and the beautiful use of woods that makes the entire property feel timeless.
    The resort underwent a full refurbishment, overseen by Didier Lefort (who was part of the original vision) – the re-design has maintained the touches of Kerry Hill but added a fresher touch to the rooms, suites and villas creating a slightly more modern but simplified look.
  • Rainforest rooms, suites and villas. There are some resorts where staying at a lead-in room category vastly changes the experience. Not here. If budget doesn’t allow for something more luxurious, go for the Canopy Collection rooms, set in the main building. Starting at 63 sqm/680 sqft, the Canopy Deluxe, Garden and Premium rooms offer ample size and a spacious open living/lounging area within the bedroom, and each comes with a bath tub, with the only difference being the view and location within the building. The suites naturally offer a separation for the living/lounging space.
    The Rainforest Villas (without and with a heated private pool) are set closer to sea-level, spread out around the resort winding closer towards the beach. Our Rainforest Villa #31 was merely steps from the beachfront area. Many are creek-side, offering the ambiance and soothing sounds of constant flowing water. The Rainforest
  • Beach Villas. The original resort was built around the jungle. A small selection of Beach Villas (five 1-bedroom villas and one 2-bedroom villa) are a welcome addition to the property offering beachfront access for guests that prefer this experience. As new additions, these are among the most stunning villas on the property, featuring their own separate living pavilion and the most incredible en-suite bathrooms. However, while the Beach Villas are among the most stunning accommodation at The Datai, we do feel you miss out a bit by staying here and the Rainforest Villas truly encapsulates The Datai jungle experience. The Beach Villas, on the other hand, are great options for families with younger children.
  • The Datai Estate Villa. The resort’s stunning piece-de-resistance is the 3,500 square-metre 5-bedroom The Datai Estate Villa. The rainforest villa features multiple lounging areas, incredible master en-suite bedrooms, flexible spaces that can be converted into a private spa, gym, children’s playroom or as the guest wishes. The villa can be split into two separate 2- and 3-bedroom villas (including splitting the large ‘lake-like’ pool), and also comes with a 24-hour in-villa butler and private chef. Read more about The Datai Estate Villa here.
  • Beach. We expected the jungle experience, and having stayed in Langkawi previously, we thought we knew what to expect with the beach. But this was perhaps the biggest surprise. At first glance, one might think there are better beaches. The sand, while soft and golden-white, isn’t the softest. The water, while blue, isn’t the blue-est (if such a thing exists). But it’s the constantly changing nature of the beach with the tide, with the time of day, with the light, and with the season that it really shines through and reveals a new face each time. This is not only a beach to enjoy when it’s warm, sunny and crystal clear outside, it’s a beach to enjoy at any time of the day or night, sunshine or rain.
  • The Pools. The resort offers multiple pools beyond just those in your villas. The central pool around the main building is a Kerry Hill signature, which is for adults (and much older children) only. The pool by the beach is for all ages, and there is also a separate toddlers pool at the back.
  • Spa. The setting of the spa, in the rainforest and close to a creek, is a sight to behold. Some of the spa suites are creek-adjacent with open-air baths. The spa is well integrated into The Datai, not just in design but also in what it offers. There are plenty of wellness activities that make the most of the natural elements that surround The Datai, including ancient Malay rituals and practicses that combine forest walks with, stretching and breathing exercises, massages, dips in the refreshing waters of the creek, and also integrate food and diet.
  • Food. The Datai has arguably one of the best Thai restaurants around, The Pavilion. At first, this may seem surprising given it’s in Malaysia, but then you realise it’s in the Andaman Sea and close to the Thai border and it all starts to make sense. The lobster is something we ordered on a site-visit in 2019, and we just had to get it during our stay as well.
    The Gulai House serves traditional Malay cuisine in a local ‘kampung’ house style environment, complete with floor seating on offer (there are tables too). We enjoyed a buffet here on the first night with plenty of selection.
    Breakfast is always a highlight at most resorts, but at The Datai, breakfast at poolside The Dining Room sets the scene for each day – we had the best congee we have EVER tried. The pastries were also spectacular. At night, The Dining Room turns into a more formal white tablecloth-styled venue, offering degustation menus.
    We also enjoyed a private beach seafood dinner that was exceptionally well put together, from the elegant setup to the food on offer – with the Hokkaido Scallop Ceviche and the baked lobster being the highlight
  • Service. The service throughout was friendly and personal, with many staff often greeting us often by name and remembering some key preferences (although we were sometimes asked for our room number too). We’re offering a slight pass for housekeeping and service who sometimes knocked at inopportune times because, although this is a boutique resort, it’s not quite as small as some of the more intimate properties to truly make this work. Other than that, service and housekeeping was largely very good.
    If you’re staying in a Beach Pool Villa, your villa will come with a personal butler as well on hand to assist with anything.
  • Activities, Nature Centre and sustainability. Sustainability is at the heart of The Datai. The Datai Pledge, which aims to ensure the island continues to thrive, features four pillars to create an impact, was set up by Irshad Mobarak, one of Langkawi’s pioneers for conservation. The team’s set of Naturalists and Marine Biologists start most (nature-related) experiences at the resort’s newly built Nature Centre, guiding guests through what makes The Datai so special before heading off into the surrounds with activities such as kayaking through the mangroves, birdwatching and butterfly walks, treks in the jungle, canopy walks (not to be missed!) and more. For the younger ones, the Nature Centre also acts as a place to learn about the rainforests, mangroves and ecosystems – keeping them busy (as the parents head off to the spa) while teaching them something new!

POINTS TO NOTE

  • Mangrove experience. As detailed above, The Datai’s private mangrove is wonderful to explore. However, to get the full Langkawi experience, we do recommend guests explore other mangroves on the island too which offer an entirely different experience – we highly recommend the mangrove on the eastern coast. Perhaps the one time we do recommend leaving this Eden!
  • Child friendly? While the resort most certainly welcomes children (there’s a kid’s pool near the pool by the Beach Club), due to the wild nature of the resort, it’s one that older and/or more adventurous children would generally enjoy more than a much younger crowd. Many of the activities, including those for children, either have a minimum age or are better suited to those of an older age.
  • TV. While the resort is incredibly beautiful and it’s unlikely you’ll spend much time watching TV, it can come in handy during some rainy days (of which there are plenty in a rainforest). Unlike many of our favourite resorts which don’t have a TV in-room, each room, suite and villa here comes with a TV. However, given the recent refurbishment, it’s disappointing that it’s not a true Smart TV setup to connect to Netflix/AirPlay in this day and age.
  • The Datai app. The Datai app makes it easy to view activities and information about the resort. But while the app is visually very nice, navigating it can sometimes be a bit cumbersome (due to how to the information is structured). And for true integration, it would be great if it were also possible to communicate with the team using the app for a seamless experience. Perhaps one of the very few places where we think some improvements could be made.
  • Third party transportation request. While we really do think The Datai Langkawi really encapsulates the Langkawi experience, if you do plan to leave the resort for a day or evening out, and plan to use third-party transportation services, allow for plenty of time (hours!) in advance to pre-book or request a car – although Langkawi isn’t a particularly big island, due to the resort’s extremely remote location and winding roads in and out, it can take a Grab or taxi car an hour to get there from picking up your request/order.

GENERAL INFORMATION

The Datai Langkawi is located about a 45-minute drive from Langkawi International Airport.

HOTEL FACT SHEET

  • LOCATION: Langkawi, Malaysia
  • OPENED: 1993
  • HOTEL ROOMS: 121 
  • RESIDENCE VILLAS: 1
  • RATES FROM: USD $675/night++

LOCATION

OFFICIAL HOTEL PHOTOS

© The Datai Langkawi and Eric Martin

Special thanks to The Datai Langkawi and Heavens Portfolio for hosting us.