The Datai Langkawi review: A jungle paradise with conservation at its core

On the 30th anniversary of one of Malaysia's leading hotels, Tiffany Daneff checks in to see if it's still at the top of its game.

Hidden inside a 10 million year old primordial rainforest on the north western coast of the Malaysian island of Langkawi, the Datai feels like a secret hideout that TinTin might stumble upon on one of his adventures. Dusky langur monkeys swing between the trees and oriental pied hornbills (below) fly back and forth across the vast swimming pool on the hotel’s main terrace. From here you can look down the magnificent central staircase — built using material excavated when the site was cleared — over the butterfly walk towards Datai beach and the Andaman Ocean. In the distance you can see the coast of Thailand.

The hotel was designed in 1993 by the visionary Australian architect Kerry Hill, together with the French architect and interior designer Didier Lefort, and five years ago all the rooms and villas were refurbished by Lefort. As a result, for its 30th anniversary this year, the Datai is looking better than ever.

It is also keeping to its pledge to support marine and terrestrial wildlife as well as local young people. Everything from using refillable glass bottles for drinking water to reducing the lighting on the beach as part of a drive to encourage marine turtles back is done thoughtfully and in such a way as to make guests feel part of something very special.

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The staff clearly love the place and are rightly proud of the Datai’s ethos. Local guides in the Nature Centre will point you in the direction of the wooden walk bridge (above) in the jungle where, if you keep your eyes peeled, you’re more than likely to spot the magnificent brown-winged kingfisher with its bright red bill. (The pretty banded kingfisher will be nearby, but is shyer.) Leisurely kayaking trips into the mangroves with a local botanist make you realise how much is going on unseen and unnoticed. Who knew that the filtration system in mangrove seeds inspired the kidney dialysis machine?

There are villas near the beach — perfect for early morning swims — but the Rainforest Villas (above) are closer to the main building and have a balcony opening into the forest where you can sit for ages, hypnotised by the sounds of the jungle: the desperate male cicadas calling for a mate, the excited monkeys and the bird song, so many different birds all singing together. The rooms themselves are so luxurious and sympathetically designed you won’t want to leave them and every day brings another fresh mango or dragon fruit and delicious truffles from the kitchen. The attention to detail is impressive and reflects the hotel’s charming and effortlessly efficient general manager, Arnaud Girodon.

The grounds of the hotel are the jungle — beautifully landscaped close to the buildings — and being here is more than enough but there are plenty of tours you can book. It is worth taking a car to explore the island or a cruise to the Kilim Karst Mangroves. Or join a hiking trip to swim in a jungle stream or one of several courses (try Indian cooking with Chef Ariva or learn about beekeeping, see below).

If only all hotels were as good as the Datai.

While you’re there

• If you’re lucky you’ll spot flying lemurs clinging to the palm trees near the beach at dusk. Otherwise join one of the guided night walks

• Have cocktails (try the Langkawi Cooler) beside the water lily pool which is alive with green frogs

•  Buffets may not be your thing, but don’t miss the extensive and delicious Indian and Malay buffet at the Gulai House restaurant

•  Visit the Permaculture Garden — the new lab is built from 8,000 old glass bottles using glass and cement made from the onsite Asher, an incinerator that reduces everything that can’t be recycled to ash. See the extraordinary Trigona stingless bee hives where the honey is stored in miniature urns made from propolis. The honey tastes like no other

• Look out for the native Malaysian orchids, Cymbidium finlaysonianum,  growing on the palm trees near the water sports pavilion

Best time to go

• Avoid the rainy season and visit between November and April

Rooms at The Datai Langkawi start at £450 a night on a B&B basis. The price does not include a 10% nightly service charge.

Red Savannah offers a seven-night private journey in Malaysia from £3,695 per person, including seven nights on a B&B basis at The Datai Langkawi in a Canopy Deluxe Room, return flights from London Heathrow to Langkawi with Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur in economy, and private return airport transfers (01242 787800).