Malaysia

Jaw-drop­ping na­ture and in­ven­tive hos­pi­tal­ity make Malaysia and Langkawi a par­adise on earth.

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This surely has to be the ul­ti­mate ho­tel check-in. In­stead of head­ing to re­cep­tion, we are seated in the el­e­gant colo­nial foyer of The Danna. A line of uni­formed masseurs ar­rive, stand be­hind the newly ar­rived guests and de­liver a deep neck mas­sage as you sim­ply sign the regis­ter pre­sented on a tray.

This wel­come is typ­i­cal of the level of ser­vice and at­ten­tion to de­tail we are to ex­pe­ri­ence in Malaysia – and it all re­ally be­gan back at Heathrow.

Af­ter spend­ing 24 hours in the air and cross­ing a quar­ter of the planet, plus eight time zones in two air­craft, you can imag­ine why a mas­sage would be wel­come. But hav­ing re­laxed in beau­ti­fully-de­signed de­par­ture lounges with com­pli­men­tary cater­ing and with stream­ing en­ter­tain­ment and chefs on­call, the pam­per­ing has lit­er­ally been con­stant since check-in with Malaysia Air­lines.

If the length of our jour­ney hardly reg­is­tered it’s ob­vi­ous we’ve trav­elled a world away on the de­scent into Langkawi. It’s the largest of only four in­hab­ited is­lands in a clus­tered coast of Malaysia. Two-thirds cov­ered with pri­mary rain­for­est – jun­gle, in other words –

Nes­tled on the white sweep of a se­cluded bay is the im­pos­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of The Danna. In­side, the hushed ele­gance is a wel­come es­cape from the out­side hu­mid­ity. Im­pos­ing halls are stirred by ceil­ing fans and lead to taste­fully-ap­pointed lounges with grand pi­anos. French win­dows open onto shaded gar­den ter­races. There’s a lush in­ner court­yard, a li­brary and even a bil­liard room. It’s as if a bil­lion­aire so­cialite built a man­sion es­cape in the trop­ics dur­ing the Roar­ing 20s.

out­doors is over­whelm­ing. It al­most seems ex­ces­sive that in be­tween the ho­tel and the It’s a mas­ter­piece of de­sign, with end­less se­cluded ar­eas in which to laze away the days, but – as the sun be­gins to sink and the air turns golden – we have to be else­where.

The only place to be dur­ing sun­set is on a yacht, out on the An­daman Sea among the is­lands of the ar­chi­pel­ago. Far from land, with the dozens of palm-cov­ered is­lands slowly turn­ing to sil­hou­ette, the sun­set out CGI in a movie, it would be de­scribed as too over-the-top to be real and be­comes even more epic as a dis­tant trop­i­cal storm splits the hori­zon with vi­o­let light­ning.

Although a day in a swamp may not sound as al­lur­ing as the yacht-and-sun­set spec­tac­u­lar the night be­fore, ex­plor­ing the on-wa­ter maze of man­groves na­tive to Langkawi is a gritty ad­ven­ture well worth un­der­tak­ing. The right guide will ne­go­ti­ate the for­bid­ding pri­mal tan­gle and point out the rich wildlife be­fore let­ting loose on the en­gine and roar­ing you out to sea to ex­plore the is­lands only seen in sil­hou­ette the night be­fore. We sun­bathe for a while on an In­sta­gram-mo­ment sand­bar that emerges be­tween two of them for just a short pe­riod each day.

On the way back, the spec­ta­cle of wild ea­gles – the em­blem of Langkawi – is an es­pe­cially mov­ing sight. Dozens cir­cle above us be­fore div­ing down into the sur­round­ing wa­ters to feed. A lunch stop for us hu­mans on of lo­cal food and work­ing life, eat­ing among worth it alone for the hottest of fresh chilli sauces we still crave to­day.

Feel­ing quite in­trepid now, de­spite crip­pling

Wa­ter­falls slice the fo­liage and tum­ble in slow mo­tion over half a kilo­me­tre be­low.

ver­tigo, back at The Danna it’s time to brave the is­land’s famed ca­ble car. Just a white speck above dis­tant hills when viewed from the pool, it’s an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ride be­ing the steep­est ca­ble car in the world. The views as it glides over an emer­ald car­pet of solid rain­for­est that stretches to the hori­zon. Wa­ter­falls slice the fo­liage and tum­ble in slow mo­tion over half a kilo­me­tre be­low. It’s an in­spir­ing sight and makes us yearn to get closer to the rain­for­est it­self. So it’s time to move on to what has to be one the most un­usual prop­er­ties in Malaysia.

A lo­cal plane hop to the main­land brings us to the Ban­jaran Hot­springs Re­treat. If viewed from the air, all you would re­ally see is a dense ex­actly what the Ban­jaran is – a pri­vate val­ley.

Hid­den within the ex­otic fo­liage are se­cluded wa­ter vil­las; es­sen­tially houses with their own gar­den pools. Il­lu­mi­nated walk­ways are cut through the jun­gle – and this is real jun­gle, although it’s en­closed, se­cure and con­stantly swept of un­wanted wildlife by an on-site team of ex-mil­i­tary. The num­ber of guests is lim­ited, so it feels like you have a slice of eden all to your­selves.

An an­cient geo­ther­mal spring rises here, feed­ing a wide lake shrouded by clouds of steam that blur into the trees. It’s fringed by nat­u­ral jacuzzis that are test­ingly hot but melt­ingly re­lax­ing. Ex­plor­ing fur­ther un­cov­ers a stun­ning main swim­ming pool and a world-class spa with an ex­ten­sive menu of treat­ments. An open-sided restau­rant rests on stilts over the wa­ter if you wish to eat al fresco, but the real jewel is hid­den in the

can quite pre­pare you for the un­der­ground cathe­dral of sta­lac­tites and sta­lag­mites that adorn this vast 280 mil­lion-year-old cave. It’s part is spe­cial too, stocked with rare or­ganic wines. After­wards, thank­fully, it’s rain­ing...

It might be un­usual to be on a trip and wish for rain but here it’s just an­other nat­u­ral won­der to en­joy. As bil­lions of hot rain­drops bounce over the bil­lions of ex­otic leaves across the jun­gle val­ley, the sound and fra­grance cre­ated is an over­whelm­ing sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence – a phrase that justly sums up Malaysia it­self. It can only be added to by slip­ping into a hot­spring jacuzzi, cradling a night­cap and look­ing up to the stars with eyes closed to the rain.

BE­LOW THE DANNA HO­TEL IN THE BAY OF TELAGA HAR­BOUR PARK, LANGKAWI

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