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The Datai Experience: lush jungles of Langkawi

In hindsight we probably didn’t have to scream at the driver until he screeched to a halt so that we could scramble out of the car on our way from the airport, to take pictures of a family of dusky leaf monkeys leisurely nit-picking by the roadside.

But as we wended our way through the centuries-old virgin jungle of north western Langkawi, one of the world’s oldest rainforests, towards our hotel, monitor lizards glaring at us in indignation as they waddled across the road, we began to understand that our destination was no run of the mill beach resort, and that perhaps our early sighting of the primates was not a rare National Geographic moment.

Settling into The Datai is no hardship. Each room and villa is hugely spacious and exquisitely designed in earthy tones, with a scrumptious king sized bed as well as a palatial day bed and bathroom larger than most New York apartments. Lavazza coffee machines and Bose entertainment systems with a for-all-tastes ipod are among some of the in-room features, and upon arrival I immediately turned the volume up on a particularly rousing Bocelli song as we stepped out onto our private balcony which jutted out into the lush jungle, a trickling stream running by (naturalists breathe easy, sounds do not leave the villas to interrupt mother nature’s acoustic orchestra).

The Datai is as organic as a resort can be in a lush national park rainforest. Designed by the same architect as its GHM sister, The Chedi Chiang Mai, it emerges and ducks amongst the camouflage of lush green foliage and towering canopies. The resort is set on an undeveloped corner of the island on Datai Bay, a sanctuary within the sanctuary, because the entire island was granted World Geopark status – one of only 52 – from UNESCO due to its ecological as well as geological significance. Pathways meander throughout the resort where silent buggies glide guests from reception to villa, private beach to spa, swimming pool to any one of its four restaurants. Like any five star resort, guests are treated like royalty (in fact many guests are royalty) and, apart from mother nature’s offerings, which will require a separate homage later on, the service is simply the highlight of The Datai experience. Like genies, members of staff appear when needed only to vanish with a flash of a smile when no longer required. Once the buggy drops you off by the beach and you make your way to your comfortable sun bed on the glistening white half moon beach, within minutes a grinning man bearing iced water, beach towels, and lovely cold face towels turns up, a routine repeated every half hour or so. The beach, with its crystal clear, gently lapping sea, faces Tarutao Island in Thailand, a mere 30 kilometres north, and on a windy day guests can take the catamaran out for a swift sail.

Luxuries, fine dining, fabulous wine list, world class facilities and impeccably intuitive service aside, what elevates The Datai to its lofty heights is its synergy with the surrounding wildlife. After enjoying the single malt tasters at the bar one evening we careened down the path in our buggy, only to nearly run over a family – including five babies – of wild boar. Monkeys, both dusky leafed and macaques, became as ubiquitous as Chiang Mai soi dogs and one of the week’s highlight was floating on our backs in the seaside pool watching them swing from tree to tree above, flinging their Teletubbiesque babies with abandon from one to another, though on many mornings we would also find them chattering away on our balcony while we indulged in our breakfast spreads. Monitor lizards were a daily sighting, and we were also fortunate enough to have spotted a mouse deer – standing at an adorable 18 inches tall – looking as startled as we were to see it. Though sipping on a chilled sauvignon blanc watching the sunset and seeing flying squirrels and colugos (a primate similar to monkeys but appearing more like bats) glide past was breathtaking, we were rather thankful we didn’t see some of the other local gliders and flyers such as the flying gecko or snake, whose sightings we were happy to do without.

The wildlife at The Datai wasn’t confined to land or air. Lying on the beach all day didn’t mean that we missed out on any other exotic locals. While sadly, and with Tarutao with its world class dive sites a mere wave away, Langkawi is not known for its quality diving, however, as we were floating in the sea one evening, a couple of sea otters speeded by, ducking and diving into the sunset. Another famous sunset sighting are the macaques, who descend en-troop in the evenings to forage for crabs. The occasional splash in the water meant a glimpse of the occasional flying fish, while massive sea eagles were probably the most common sighting, with up to six soaring above at any one time.

Most guests, once checked in, do not leave the resort until it is time to check out – or until management pry them kicking and screaming from the premises. After all, everything one could need from a holiday is right there at The Datai – fine dining, spa, fitness centre, nearby golf course, tennis, and nature. Tours are of course available and the most popular are with Irshad Mobarak, the resort’s resident naturalist. An incredibly knowledgeable guide who has intimate knowledge of just about every fig and insect on the island, Irshad takes guests on daily morning and evening walks around the resort as well as trips to the mangrove forest further afield, each excursion offering fascinating insights and information on all things natural, and all highly recommended.

So when you make it to The Datai, make sure you don’t cause your driver to have a near accident on the way to the airport…there are plenty more monkeys in that jungle.

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