Thursday, December 30, 2010
After spending Christmas in Singapore, the next stop on my winter sun adventure was Malaysia. It wasn’t just any part of Malaysia, though. It was Langkawi. Located off the west coast of the country near the border with Thailand, Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands. The largest, called Langkawi, is where I spent the past three days.
Langkawi is known for its beautiful beaches, lush forests, picturesque waterfalls, and great water sports. It is also home to some pretty impressive wildlife, several species of which I became rather attached to during my stay in the northern part of the island.
Not least among these was the Long-Tailed Macaque monkey. Groups of these cute furry creatures roamed around my hotel, The Andaman Langkawi, jumping through the trees and climbing on the rooftops. On my first morning in Langkawi I opened the curtains of my room and found two of them sitting on my balcony enjoying the views of the Andaman Sea.
Their cousins, the Spectacled Langurs, were also out and about, particularly up the hill from the hotel by the spa. They congregated in trees and on the deck of the spa, making a rowdy ruckus.
I also became quite enamored with the flying lemurs in Langkawi, which, incidentally are neither lemurs nor have the ability to fly. But like flying squirrels, they have a webbed area between their arms and legs, allowing them to glide from tree to tree. It was quite a sight to behold at night when they were active.
Speaking of flying, I also got to see some of the beautiful birds on the island. Not least among these was a Kingfisher that sat calmly in a tree by the reception on my last day at The Andaman.
While I enjoyed the animal life at the hotel, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the hotel experience overall. Overcrowding, disappointing service, and a lack of decent dining options left me wanting.
On my last night I even left dinner before my meal came because I was so frustrated with the slow service, screaming children, and a band that thought “Puff the Magic Dragon” was appropriate dinner music. The GM personally apologized for it the next day and assured me that they were working on improving things. I thought it was a nice gesture even if I wasn’t staying long enough to witness the changes.
On a brighter note, I had a press day scheduled at the nearby Four Seasons Langkawi, which gave me the opportunity to see how a resort of a comparable quality and price range would compare.
I started my day at the Four Seasons after being dropped off at the entrance of the hotel, which featured monumental Arab-Malaysian architecture. I got a bit lost in the maze of airy entry courtyards while trying to find the reception area, but a helpful member of the staff was kind enough to point me in the right direction.
Once I checked in at the front desk, I started my day with a tour of the property. The PR manager, Helena, drove me through the expansive manicured grounds on a golf cart. As we drove, she told me that the resort was spread over 48 acres of land, including gardens, beaches, and large ornamental ponds and pavilions. With only 90 guest rooms on all of that land, we saw very few people during our entire drive.
The tour took us through every part of the Four Seasons Langkawi, from the Adult Quiet Pool with private cabanas that could be rented for the afternoon, to the bustling Family Pool with the adjoining casual Kelapa Grill restaurant.
It took us to Rhu Bar, an Arabian Nights-esque beach bar, and to Ikan-Ikan, the award-winning Malaysian restaurant on the beach. It also took us by cabanas and real Rajasthani tents on the sand that could be rented out for private dinners.
Speaking of privacy, I toured one of the 20 amazing beach villas, which were the Four Seasons equivalent of honeymoon suites. Situated right on the sand, the villas were big and bright, and had their own private massage treatment rooms, enormous walk-in closets, huge bath tubs, indoor and outdoor showers, and plunge pools. They were gorgeous.
The regular rooms weren’t too shabby, either, and I learned shortly after my arrival that one of them had opened up so that I could stay the night. The room I was in had floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the bedroom, and a huge comfy bed with bright white linens. The bathroom was almost as large as the bedroom, and had beautiful sinks and mirrors, a big walk-in closet, and an outdoor shower and tub.
But back to the tour. We walked through the business center and its adjoining library, where computers were waiting for those, like me, who can’t go more than a few hours without checking their email.
There was also Wi-Fi there and in the rooms, but not elsewhere on the property. I know that I should have welcomed the opportunity to ‘unplug’ for awhile, but I thought it would have been really nice if the Wi-Fi coverage had extended over more of the resort.
Of course, that meant that I would have sat checking my email instead of checking out the shops. It would have been a shame, because there were a lot of beautiful things to buy (or wish to buy, in my case).
First there was the art gallery, which featured sculptures by an artist named Tanya Sierra. Then came several clothing shops with beautiful textiles and jewelery, and finally the store by the lobby that sold more traditional gift shop items.
Despite not having to do much walking on the tour, I still found that I had worked up quite an appetite after covering so much ground. Thankfully it was time for lunch with Helena and Greg, the GM, at the Italian restaurant, Serai.
At the recommendation of our server, I ordered a caprese salad made with delicious local Langkawian buffalo mozzarella, and a great pesto pasta dish with prawns. During lunch I got to hear about some of the hotel’s efforts to support the local community, including adopting schools and holding a Walk for Life to raise money for local charities.
After lunch Helena took me back to the adult pool to relax and sunbathe (or in my embarrassingly pale case, sit under an umbrella slathered in SPF 30). As I sat by the pool reading the beginning of Wolf Hall (yes, finally!), a staff member brought me a cooler with cold washcloths and bottled water. It was all so pleasant that I drifted off to sleep.
The nap didn’t last long, though. Soon I was awake again and whisked off to the spa, where I was to experience a traditional Malaysian massage. The therapist took me over picturesque ponds and through lush greenery to the treatment room, which was more of a treatment complex than anything else.
I had my own changing room, complete with a table and mirror, and before the massage started I was ushered into a steam room and then another room with nozzles on all sides creating the perfect tropical shower.
The massage itself lasted 60 minutes and involved a somewhat deep-tissue technique with scented oils. The pressure was a bit hard for me at times but the overall experience was relaxing. I was particularly thankful for the treatment because I was still jet lagged and my shoulders were aching from carrying my bags through three airports in two days.
After the massage I had some time to relax in my room before taking a leisurely stroll down the long, wide beach to Rhu Bar. There I enjoyed a sunset cocktail prior to having dinner at Ikan-Ikan.
Dinner was a feast of fried crab fritters and the restaurant’s signature dish, a whole red snapper. Both were excellent, and I was thrilled to find an extensive choice of California Cabs on the wine list. I chose a bottle of Stag’s Leap, which was perfect despite the fact that I paired it with fish. My server, Young, was great, and although the restaurant was busy, it never felt too crowded.
After dinner I was exhausted and fell into bed. I woke up the next morning to enjoy dim sum and fresh fruit from the Four Seasons’ big breakfast buffet before leaving the resort.
I was glad to have been a guest at the Four Seasons, and I had a great experience overall. Yes, they went above and beyond to ensure that I had a good experience, but it wasn’t hard to tell that I would have enjoyed my stay had I been a regular guest.
I also enjoyed my time there because it was one of the only times in my three days in Langkawi that I did anything besides lie on the beach with my book and lean over balconies to photograph my animal friends at The Andaman (the Four Seasons, being more beach-front than jungle-front, didn’t have as many critters as The Andaman, which had a small beach but was in a more forested area).
I felt a little guilty that I didn’t explore more of Langkawi, go snorkeling, explore the island’s caves and waterfalls, or see the crocodile farm. But having endured the majority of what is being called London’s coldest December in 100 years, I couldn’t feel too guilty lying on a lounge chair and remembering what being warm felt like.
And I didn’t completely ignore the island, either. On my last day in Langkawi I left the hotel a bit early and drove through the rain towards the airport. But instead of turning off to check in for my flight, I went further south until the road ended.
Along the way I passed through what could only be described as the ‘commercial’ area of Langkawi, which featured a jumble of restaurants and shops. It looked like a fun place to spend an afternoon, but it also made me feel like I had chosen well in staying in the calmer, more remote northern part of the island.
Back at the airport, it was time to leave Langkawi and head back to Singapore for a six hour layover that featured a business meeting and the compulsory Champagne in the BA First lounge. Then it was time for the next leg of my sunny winter journey: Sri Lanka…