The Datai Langkawi—A Remarkable Nature’s Haven
There is an air of mystic and wonder if you truly ponder on the history of Langkawi island. Filled with local folklores and legends that most Malaysians grew up listening to, each tale holds some truth and has shaped the island to the Langkawi we know today. As the present continues to shift to the future, the core lives on in the form of a 10-million years old rainforest.
The story of The Datai begun in 1993, when the great architect Kerry Hill discovered the Datai Bay along with its breathtaking view. Even though the island was not known for its tourism and hospitality, Hill fell in love with this ancient wilderness. To honor its natural setting, he decided to build a resort so everyone would have the opportunity to be bewitched by this hidden treasure. To preserve the surrounding as much as possible, Hill concocted a visionary plan—rather than a seafront resort with direct Andaman Sea views, Hill wanted the main building on a forest ridge 40 meters above sea level and 300 meters back from the beach. In addition to that, Hill insisted on using trained elephants to fell the trees, and the wood reused in the construction. Furthermore, when a clearing had to be made, new trees were planted immediately.
The proposal was met with bewilderment—green initiatives and sustainability were unheard of in the 1990s. When The Datai was completed, all were agreeable that the effort spent was worth it, and the coastline’s pristine beauty would be able to live on. Since then, the iconic property has become Malaysia’s most sought-after luxury destination resort and received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001.
For its 25th anniversary in 2018, Didier Lefor was appointed to revamp the property while retaining its original architectural DNA and spirit. After a year-long refurbishment, the iconic resort is back to its former glory and was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 greatest places in the world. To keep the facilities up to date and enhance the guest’s experience, the renovation also included the construction of a newly dedicated nature center as well as additional spa villas and a health club by the beach.
While all are designed to foster a closer connection to nature, The Spa, in particular, provides a sensory journey of aligning wellness with nature. Located along a small winding stream, treatments are uniquely delivered in a natural environment. As the guests relax and rejuvenate through its signature Ramuan-based offerings, they are also surrounded by the sounds and subtle aromatic scent of the rainforest.
In addition to that, the charming rainforest refuge also introduced new policies such as zero waste to the landfill and a ban on single-use plastics, along with its ambitious conservation programme called The Datai Pledge. While the guests are welcomed to soak into the rainforest’s magical qualities and uniqueness, the programme aims to provide meaningful experiences that both educate and uplift them whilst also sustaining the environment. Activities part of the pledge includes guided nature walks, collecting corals for rehabilitation at its Coral Nursery, and dolphin adoption programs in the cohort with the local community.
One unique activity that most guests would find interesting is its upcycling workshop. Unlike recycling that requires more processes, upcycling simply means refresh the outlook of a used item so it can continue its purpose to the end of its circle. Through the Upcycling Lab, guests can better understand the property’s sustainable initiatives. Examples of activities include soap making and candle creating.
Of course, as a resort, the key is comfort—guests want to be nurtured into a state of perfect well-being by the time they checkout. At The Datai, it offers a range of accommodation options, each generously-sized but all built with privacy in mind. The Canopy collection of rooms exist within the resort’s main building, all with feature balconies overlooking the rainforest and property. For those who are looking for a calmer space, the Rainforest Villa is a palatial one-bedroom suite plotted in the dense foliage. Set on stilts, it comes with a sitting area, daybed, desk balcony and a stunning bathroom with dual vanities and ottoman. If privacy is the ultimate goal, the secluded one-bedroom beachfront villa offers a master bedroom that opens onto a private sundeck and a 10-meter pool, as well as direct access to the shore. A new addition to the inventory is the five-bedroom Datai Estate with pool, games room, and private gardens, currently ranked as one of Asia’s biggest hotel villas.
For some memorable dining experiences, The Datai shines the brightest with its dining options. The Gulai House serves unpretentious Malaysian food in a traditional open-walled kampung house in the middle of the forest. The Dining Room, which also serves the property’s extensive breakfast, is known for its fine European cuisine, with a well-stocked walk-in wine cellar. The Beach Club offers casual dining—pizzas, salads, gazpacho—by the sea where guests are sure to spot dusky-leaf monkeys. Lastly would be The Pavilion that serves world-class Thai meals in a beautiful treehouse setting in the rainforest’s canopy.
Clearly, the revitalized eco-hotel has yet again redefined luxury hospitality in Malaysia. Back with a fresh focus on its wondrous wildlife, majestic location and rich culture, The Datai Langkawi is most definitely Malaysia’s most sought-after luxury destination resort with unrivaled experiences—where else can one find an untouched golden swoop of the sandy bay with panoramic views of the Andaman Sea amid the thick foliage.