Luxuriating in Langkawi

Writer Pete Wong | July 6, 2017

As our boat chugged along the labyrinth of passages in the mangrove forest that dates back 500 million years, I looked up half expecting to see pterodactyls. They did not appear, but I wasn’t disappointed. In their place were a convocation of eagles circling and swooping in an almost choreographed routine dazzling the boatloads of tourists who gathered to watch.

We are in the UNESCO-endorsed Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, one of several geoparks spread across 104 islands in the Langkawi archipelago featuring a breathtaking limestone landscape, an extensive mangrove forest system and pristine beaches.

“This is my office,” says Aidi Abdullah, our resident naturalist from Four Seasons Langkawi. “I would rather come here to work every day than be stuck in city traffic,” he quips while I take in another lungful of rich oxygenated air.

The name Langkawi is said to originate from the combination of the Malay words helang and kawi which mean eagle and red-brown respectively. The red-brown colour is common on the brahminy kites with the other being the white bellied, both eagle species indigenous to the island.

Lying off the northwestern coast of Malaysia and bordered by Thailand to the north, Langkawi is an island steeped in myths and legends. The most famous story is that of a beautiful woman named Mahsuri who was falsely accused of adultery and put to death. As a sign of her innocence, white blood flowed from her body when she was executed turning the sands white, while the island was cursed for seven generations. The curse has since expired and you can visit Mahsuri’s tomb on the island.

Another story tells of a prince who ate half-cooked rice during a wedding feast, suffered indigestion and farted at two spots now known as Pulau Kentut Besar (Big Fart island) and Pulau Kentut Kecil (Small Fart island).

In recent years, Langkawi has prospered due to the increasing number of tourists every year, giving rise to even more resorts and spas around the island. What’s unfortunate is that the authorities have placed a cap on the number of foreign workers being brought into the island to work, which could be detrimental to the growth of the wellness industry.

However, Langkawi remains one of the most attractive travel destinations for nature lovers yearning to escape the crowd. The island represents a microcosm of Malaysia with beaches, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, local villages and paddy fields – all within one location.

Ishan Malaysian Spa at Ambong Ambong Langkawi Rainforest Retreat

Named after a plant indigenous to the island, Ambong Ambong is a boutique resort sequestered in the rainforest with just 11 guest units, a small pool, restaurant, a yoga deck and spa. Guest quarters do not offer five-star luxury but the interior is cosy and feels like home. Their suites are divided into two parts – an air-conditioned room with a four-poster king-size bed and an open-air area where you can sip champagne on the balcony or soak in a wooden tub surrounded by the rainforest. If you are lucky, you might catch sight of one of those cute dusky leaf monkeys.

Cuddly stuffed toys, from tigers to crocodiles, are placed in the rooms and restaurant to scare the monkeys, which worked in the beginning, but over time the monkeys figured out the ruse.

The resort, now in its fourth year and possibly one of Langkawi’s best-kept secrets, is small enough to be explored on foot and you will get a good workout from walking up and down the hilly slopes.

For a dose of wellness, the Ishan Malaysian Spa is just a few steps away from the restaurant. On the menu are spa treatments ranging from Ayurvedic and hot stone to special packages for honeymoon couples and pregnant women.

To get to Ambong, take a taxi to Unkaizan Japanese Restaurant where a car will take you up a few minutes along a 45-degree slope. While you are there, treat yourself to a sunset dinner at the highly rated Unkaizan for a truly memorable experience.

Heavenly Spa by Westin at The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa

Westin Langkawi is a favourite among business travellers because of the adjacent convention centre and its location on the fringe of downtown Kuah – Langkawi’s largest town – with its duty-free shops, ferry terminal and entertainment spots. The resort enjoys brisk business and the lobby is mostly crowded but don’t let that deter you.

Once you are checked into your room, expect your worries to disappear. Sprawled across 104 acres of beachfront land, Westin Langkawi features 202 spacious rooms and suites and 20 luxurious Ocean View Pool Villas that come with private pools. Their villas are the epitome of luxury, with chandeliers adding a touch of class. Around the resort, you can find four pools, the infinity pool, Ocean Rock pool, children’s pool and spa pool.

For wellness, Heavenly Spa by Westin is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and the only one in Malaysia. The menu is abundant with wellness offerings derived from Malay, Ayurveda, Chinese, Turkish, Swedish and Indonesian traditions. They offer a Spa by Night package, which combines one of their treatments with a three-course dinner by the sea, which is perfect for couples.

Iridium Spa at The St. Regis Langkawi

The St. Regis Langkawi launched last year amid much excitement. The resort architecture – smaller in scale compared to its neighbour, the Westin Langkawi – reflects understated elegance with a mix of European and Middle Eastern influences. St. Regis is also quieter and more secluded than its neighbour. Guests are assigned a personal butler at check-in, and a flower-filled bath awaits couples in the room.

The resort has more suites than rooms and four are over-water villas. Among the six eateries, Kayuputi, which serves Asian-inspired haute cuisine, is the most impressive. During sunset, guests can relax on a huge over-water hammock at the side of the restaurant and watch the sun go down while sipping cocktails.

At their 800sqm Iridium Spa are eight treatment rooms and two couple rooms. Guests are led along a black-marbled walkway before entering the bright treatment room with beige furnishings set against dark wood and marble walls.

One of their signature treatments is The Malaya which is a spa journey born out of the rich heritage of traditional beauty rituals inspired by the royal palaces of Malay sultanate. Each therapeutic treatment contains a nourishing blend of carefully curated traditional botanicals that makes the skin sparkle. For couples seeking a luxurious resort that is comparatively smaller and quieter on the outskirts of Kuah town, St. Regis fits the bill.

The ultimate experience for couples is the Raja & Ratu Connect that includes a rythmic scrub, massage and warm oil therapy with powerful rose, orange blossom and jasmine oils