Datai, Malaysia

Photo: The Datai Langkawi

Everyone is constantly searching for the next best thing. Hot new restaurants. Sleek new spas. Chic new hotels. But new doesn’t always mean better. Some well-established—no one likes to be called old—resorts do things so well that they’re considered legendary.

The Datai Langkawi is legendary. The resort was built in 1993 with elephants instead of heavy machinery. They left the surrounding thick emerald rainforest largely intact. The timber-framed buildings were constructed to be open-air and minimal. The lobby was designed around a high-vaulted ceiling and guarded by two teak horses. They led to an open courtyard, a pond dotted with pink lotuses, and, eventually, a peaceful pool. A vanilla-colored beach, the Andaman Sea, and Ko Tarutao, a Thai island, were in the background.

This breathtaking entrance didn’t change during a renovation that was unveiled at the end of last year. The discreet service—some staff members have been with the resort since it opened—didn’t either. But the unfussy rooms were upgraded with the latest technology (charging ports and IPTVs). A Nature Centre, a beachside Health Club, and spa pavilions were added to the facilities. Plus the Pavilion, a stilted Thai restaurant that looks like it’s floating in the trees, expanded both its size and menus.

Photo: The Datai Langkawi

None of these look like new additions when you arrive at the Datai Langkawi after a 40-minute drive from the airport. That’s a good thing. It means that the renovations blend seamlessly into the resort the way the resort first settled into the 10-million-year-old rainforest. You immediately feel at peace when you walk into the open lobby. You make a mental note of the seat you’ll later claim for a sundowner in the Lobby Lounge. And you almost forget to breathe as you take in the view of the pool, the rainforest, and Datai Bay.

Then you feel at home when you move into your room. A large dressing area leads to the bathroom with its deep tub. Egyptian cotton linens top the king-size bed. Hardwood floors extend into the outdoor living space, nearly doubling its size. While, as if on cue, the little heads of two dusky leaf monkeys pop out of a tree to greet you. The kinks were obviously worked out long ago on the northwest tip of Langkawi.

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