By Matt Bellotti
When Dr Mahathir decided to turn Langkawi into a tourist paradise even he couldn’t have imagined the extravagant splendour of resorts such as Tanjung Rhu and the Four Seasons.
Initially a haven for budget travellers, the mystical island grew slowly and with an apt sense of restraint for several years. After all, the ‘purpose’ of Langkawi was for Malaysians to come and experience the paradise-like environment that their country offered and that meant things had to be done on a budget.
However, increasingly the big international resorts have moved in and the bar has been raised. As a (not unpleasing) result, this quiet, rolling island is now focussing more and more on hedonism and high living.
Take the Four Seasons Resort (04 950 8888/www.fourseasons.com/langkawi); voted by various travel magazines and websites among the world’s best and most beautiful places to stay, not just in Malaysia but anywhere in the world. There are exclusive health and fitness services, six spa treatment pavilions, the innovative Serai restaurant, speciallyorganised beach tent dinner, indoor and outdoor bathrooms, private pools and direct entry to the white sand beaches, plus pristine, sumptuously designed and perfectly crafted interiors (and exteriors, to be fair).
Step next door and while it may possess fewer awards, the Tanjung Rhu Resort is no less mind-blowing. While Four Seasons has to dissuade members of the public from wandering onto their public sand, Tanjung Rhu’s beach, although directly next door, is all their own. And the longest private beach on the island at that.
The attraction doesn’t end there, though. Tanjung Rhu (04 959 1033/ www.tanjungrhu.com.my), despite having all the glitz and glamour you might
expect from one of the more splendid of the world’s resorts, is obviously eager to
give guests more roam for their ringgit. If you ever tire of swimming in the huge
family and lap-happy pool, think you’ve done enough sun-baking, and taken all
the natural Asian treatments on offer at Jivarhu Spa – Reflexology, rainforest,
aromatherapy, Thai, Balinese and Malay massage of the highest order are
all available but if you only go for one treatment make it the ayervedic – that
shouldn’t mean it’s time to go home. In fact, before you get sucked in to the spa, beach and incredible dining opportunities at Saffron (Mediterranean) or The Rhu: arguably Langkawi’s top resort restaurant (the lobster defies superlatives), make sure you book your trip(s) with Tanjung Rhu’s very own naturalist. You leave by boat from the beach and after checking out the amazing rock formations facing the resort in the Andaman Sea you motor on into the mangroves. You also get up close and personal to unique plants, trees, and insects, not to mention feeding eagles, monitor lizards and maybe otters and other rare animals that live in the mangroves. Other independent tour operators offer a version of this tour but their prime concern is taking your money. Tanjung Rhu’s expert guide Zoher makes you appreciate more meats, salads and bottles of expensive European wines. Well, a little. For a further five-star retreat over the other end of Langkawi (it does seem somewhat negligent to recommend two next-door neighbours on an island with scores of unforgettable places to stay), the relatively new Westin Resort & Spa (04 960 8888) is another world-renowned destination, with its 500-metre long private beachfront. It has everything you need to de-stress and wind down with aromatic candles, decorated botanical gardens, personalised refreshing drinks, divinely prepared food or the best equipped gymnasium on the island. It is also much more convenient when it comes to exploring the town. With the various attractions and your resort, there may not any reason to leave the you can’t go away without experiencing the local culture and the best way to do that in Langkawi is through the food. Once (04 959 4866/www.theloaflangkawi.com) – co-owned by Dr M. and still head and shoulders above the vast majority of restaurants in Langkawi – and a romantic dinner at Bon Ton, head down to Pantai Cenang and adjacent Pantai Tengah for the centre of Langkawian gastronomy.
Sheela’s (04 955 2308) doesn’t appear in many guides but has a very loyal following and is quite simply the best – and best value – restaurant on the island. Quaint and unprepossessing from the outside, step through the gate for a warm welcome in their green, garden dining space – beautiful by candlelight – and an incredible menu of local and western food (the homemade pizzas are great but go back for that after trying the local dishes first), perfectly prepared. And within any travellers budget.
Papadam Ria serves very good Indian food, however, the fact it is situated next to the ever-popular (especially when it rains and the beaches empty) Underwater World, and is thus a prime spot for hungry tourists allows them to take a certain liberty over their prices which leaves an unpleasant taste no matter how good the dish.
Finally, one to avoid is Champor Champor (04 955 1449). Their reputation is excellent, they’ve been around for years and even boast an outlet in the UK but, right now, the food is poor (there is a reason that Caribbean, Malaysian and Western foods are not ‘fused’ anywhere else in the world) and the service obnoxious. In fact, in Malaysia I’ve never known worse service. And that’s saying something. I know for a fact that they were considered one of Langkawi’s, if not the country’s, top outlets as recently as 2006 so perhaps their decline is a blip, but I won’t be hurrying back.