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