The Datai in Langkawi, Malaysia is the ultimate destination for those looking for a silver spoon jungle experience in Asia. It is one of my favourite resorts of all time, and offers a surprisingly family-friendly experience, despite its reputation for exclusivity.
Embedded in the jungle where the rainforest meets the ocean, The Datai is paradise for nature lovers. Monkeys wander past as you sunbathe at the swimming pool, giant hornbills nest in the trees above your head as you enjoy sunset cocktails, and the nightly chorus of cicadas provide the soundtrack for dinner in the rainforest restaurants.
But make no mistake; this is no rustic jungle lodge. The 125 luxurious rooms, suites and villas feature all mod-cons, there are two swimming pools (one is adults only), four restaurants, a private beach, a back-to-nature spa and even an award-winning 18-hole championship golf course, which winds its way through the rainforest
Beyond the confines of the resort, Langkawi is an island paradise waiting to be discovered – with lofty limestone outcrops, mangrove-lined waterways and coral reefs to explore, and plenty of nature-based activities on offer.
Bedtime at the Datai
There are 125 rooms, suites and villas at the Datai. The rooms and suites are located within the main building, while the superior and pool villas are scattered throughout the rainforest, and the beach villas offer direct access to the beach.
We opted for a standard ‘Deluxe’ room – with the age of my children we are still at the stage where we can squeeze everyone in for the sake of saving some cash, but it won’t be long before we need to upgrade to a villa.
The rooms have all the mod-cons you would expect from a hotel of this caliber, including DVD player and coffee machine, although they are starting to show their age at the edges. I believe a refurbishment is imminent. The large bathroom has bath, separate shower, double sinks and a large dressing area with plenty of cupboard and drawer space – plus those all important Molton Brown toiletries. There’s also a small balcony where the monkeys can come and visit you (make sure you keep your balcony door closed, one of our neighbours had their room ransacked).
The villas, which are dotted along the rugged jungle paths, offer more space for the family and also provide a fun immersive rainforest experience. They feature large living areas with daybeds and sizeable balconies. Five of these have private plunge pools. The only downside with the villas is that they can be a bit of a trek to the main hotel area for breakfast and dining. However, the Datai has a large fleet of golf buggies, which are just a phone call away.
For the ultimate in luxury, check out the beach villas, which were opened in 2011. Available in one- and two-bedroom villas, these are beautifully designed in stone, wood and glass, and feature spacious separate living rooms, private swimming pools with sundeck, and a garden with outdoor shower and direct beach access. For that added touch of exclusivity, the beach villas also come with a personal butler and complementary mini bar, with wine, beer, champagne and spirits.
Playtime at the Datai
The thick tropical rainforest that surrounds the Datai is its most unique selling point, and there are plenty of ways to get in and explore the jungle.
Every morning, resident naturalist Irshad leads guided walks through the surrounding rainforest paths to look out for birds, monkeys and squirrels and teach you the secrets of the rainforest. There is also an evening trek on offer, where you head off after dark in search of bats, flying squirrels and even lemurs.
A family trek, specially designed for families with young children, leads down a short track along a jungle stream to arrive at a natural pool for swimming and splashing. Other nature adventures further afield, such as mangrove cruises and jungle trekking can also be organized through the hotel.
The rainforest stretches all the way down to a beautiful sweeping beach – Datai Bay. Renowned for its rugged natural beauty, Datai Bay was named by National Geographic as one of the top ten beaches in the world and is the perfect place to run, swim and build sandcastles in relative seclusion. You can also take a guided beach walk with Jonathan to learn more about the ecosystem of the beach.
The walk to the beach takes you down many (many) steps and along jungle boardwalks, with plenty more opportunity for spotting monkeys, monitor lizards and yes, even snakes. Alternatively, golf buggies are on hand to whisk you down (and more importantly back up the hill) in minutes.
There are two stunning swimming pools within the resort. The main swimming pool located up at the hotel is for adults only, so if you are visiting with children, you are restricted to using the beach swimming pool. Luckily this is not really a hardship as it is a beautiful pool, located right next to the beach and the beach bar.
Golfers are rewarded with an award-winning Ernie Els designed 18-hole par 72 championship golf course, which winds its way through the rainforest and includes five holes alongside the Andaman Sea. Keep your eye out for monitor lizards and dusky leaf monkeys who are likely to join you along the way.
If you are looking for complete relaxation and a bit of me-time, then the Datai Spa is another unique offering. Open-air pavilions are dotted alongside a babbling creek, with the sounds of the jungle all around you meaning ‘nature’ CDs are not required here. I even had a visit from two hornbills on my balcony during a massage – incredible!
Dinnertime at the Datai
As the Datai is immersed within the rainforest, its remote location means that you are really restricted to eating within the resort, unless you are prepared to travel far for your dinner. Luckily the restaurants are high quality and offer a good variety.
A generous and extensive breakfast is served in the Dining Room, where you can sit out on the verandah with a view over the pool, across the rainforest and out to sea. Freshly made pancakes kept our kids happy every morning, while homemade granola and freeflow champagne ensured mum and dad had smiles on their faces! The Dining Room also serves up Malaysian and Continental cuisine in the evenings, with an intimate poolside setting.
When eating with the kids, we tended to opt for the relaxed Beach Club, which offers all-day dining for lunch and dinner. They hold themed buffet evenings, and also provide an a la carte Mediterranean menu. Here you can dine under the stars to the sound of the waves, or head under the thatched roof of the open-air pavilion. The beach bar is adjacent – sipping cocktails here at sunset while you watch the hornbills fly home to their nests is an experience not to be missed.
There are two other restaurants, at which we indulged ourselves while the kids slept happily under the watchful eye of a babysitter. The Pavilion is perched on high stilts in the canopy of the rainforest, and dishes up fabulous Thai cuisine, while the Gulai House offers a unique setting, fully immersed in the rainforest. This rustic open-air restaurant dishes up authentic Malay and Indian cuisine to the sounds of traditional music, and the squawking of cicadas.
In the ‘hood
Pulau Langkawi is a wilderness of mountains, waterfalls, secluded sandy bays and rainforest, which covers more than 50% of the island. There are plenty of organised wildlife tours to excite the eco-warrior in you, from kayaking through crab-riddled mangroves to feeding White-bellied Sea Eagles in isolated lagoons or exploring the marine life of the neighbouring islands on an island hopping tour. The Datai can organize all manner of wildlife tours for you, and there are plenty of private tour companies out there too.
Not far from the Datai is the Skycab – a cable car that takes you up Machinchang Mountain to the Skybridge – a 125m freespan bridge, suspended above the rainforest. Elsewhere on the island, there’s also Langkawi Wildlife Park and Underwater World Langkawi, while adrenaline junkies can join a tour of the rainforest canopy on a zipline adventure, and Pulau Payar Marine Park is popular for snorkeling expeditions.
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The Datai is a magical place. It is not the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed at (but then I didn’t stay in a beach villa!), but it is certainly one of the most unique and memorable. It is not just a resort – it is an experience, and one that I would happily repeat many times over. It provides a fabulous back-to-nature environment while not forgoing any comfort.
The best time to visit Langkawi is from late November to early March.
Check here for the latest prices and more information about the Datai Langkawi.
If you are looking at somewhere more obviously child-friendly, then check out The Andaman next door to the Datai, which features a swimming pool with a slide and a Young Explorer’s Club. They share the same beach and you can easily eat at the Datai restaurants too.
Further South, and closer to the airport, you will also find the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa, which has family rooms and has the added benefit of being within walking distance of all the restaurants of Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s main “strip”.
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Mum on the Move visited the Datai “undercover” and paid for their own stay at the hotel. This post contains affiliate links. If you book a hotel through the affiliate website, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.