Spa heaven framed by nature.
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 redbrown 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.
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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. www.ambong-ambong.com
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. www.westinlangkawi.com
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. www.stregis.com
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Practise yoga surrounded by nature at The Andaman; the Iridium Spa exudes the brand’s signature elegance; The Geo Spa at Four Seasons Langkawi faces million-year-old limestone hills; The Westin Langkawi is a favorite among business travellers; breathtaking sea view from the V Botanical Spa.
V BOTANICAL SPA AT THE ANDAMAN
The Andaman has the advantage of being secluded in the northwestern part of the island sandwiched between an unspoilt beach and an age-old rainforest. The resort architecture pays tribute to the rich culture and tradition of Kedah, one of 13 states in Malaysia, and the lobby is styled after the Balai Nobat, a performance hall for the royal orchestra. The Andaman has been recreating itself over the last 20 years, with a new coral reef conservation effort – do drop by the coral nursery to find out more. Being so close to nature, their morning and evening walks are highlights. Also new is their Jala restaurant where the floor is covered with sand and you are encouraged to dine barefoot. Seafood is brought in fresh from the sea daily and you just need to pick what you want and tell the chef how you want it cooked. A candlelit dinner at Jala by the beach makes for a memorable experience.
The resort’s V Botanical Spa offers one of the best pampering experiences on the island. Their six open-air rooms are perched on a hill overlooking the sea, and your sessions are often punctuated by the sounds of whooping monkeys and the waves lapping the shore.
Their spa menu is quite extensive and one of the signature treatments is the Song of the Malay Rainforest ritual based on local healing traditions using plants and medicinal herbs. The three-hour session includes a scrub, body wrap, floral bath, traditional Malay massage and facial. www.starwoodhotels.com
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.
THE GEO SPA AT FOUR SEASONS RESORT LANGKAWI
After 12 years of setting a benchmark for resorts on the island, the owners of Four Seasons Resort Langkawi thought it might be timely to do a makeover. All the buildings on property are given a new coat of blue paint that reminds one of Chefchaouen, the blue town in Morocco. In Langkawi, that might be a bit out of context and returning guests may actually miss the beige and clay-red colours of old.
What has not changed is that Four Seasons Resort Langkawi is still a magical place for both jetsetters and holidaymakers. The 48-acre resort is secluded on the northern end facing Tanjung Rhu, possibly the best beach on the island. They have 91 pavilions and villas of varying sizes and you probably need a buggy to get from one end to the other – or just grab a bicycle provided by the resort.
For the best resort experiences, head to Rhu Bar to watch the sun set over a cocktail; enjoy time with your loved one at the Adult Quiet Pool that comes with private cabanas; or dine at Ikan Ikan, famous for their Malaysian-style seafood. The combination of traditional local music playing in the background with the sunset reflecting off the restaurant’s timber structure creates a surreal and truly memorable experience. Another highlight is the mangrove forest tour led by the enthusiastic resident naturalist Aidi.
The Geo Spa is equally impressive – from the ‘floating’ lounge at the entrance to huge treatment rooms that face the millionyear- old limestone hills. They have an extensive range of treatments grouped under earth, water, light and air categories. The ultimate experience for couples is the Raja & Ratu Connect that includes a rhythmic scrub, massage and warm oil therapy with powerful rose, orange blossom and jasmine oils, followed by a flower bath. At the end of the session, the therapists will sing a song as you renew love vows with your partner. www.fourseasons.com
PELANGI SPA AT MERITUS PELANGI BEACH RESORT & SPA LANGKAWI
Meritus Pelangi is a pioneering five-star resort in Langkawi, spruced up recently with a new lobby and room interiors. CBA restaurant is also a new addition, offering a great place to grab a beer and watch the sun set.
The 30-acre resort, styled like a traditional Malay village, sits on one of the best locations on the island. You can take a 10-minute stroll to the popular Cenang beach area with rows of shops and restaurants, and the airport is just 10 kilometres away.
Rooms are located within wooden chalets facing either the beach lined with coconut trees or beautifully landscaped garden with ponds and water lilies. The resort is geared towards families with children and the day's itinerary is chocka- block with water sports and outdoor activities – from sailing and windsurfing to water skiing, kayaking and banana boat rides.
Tucked away in a corner of the resort is Pelangi Spa. On the menu are treatments from 45-minute body scrubs to three-hour spa rituals, with some specially created for children. Jamil, the spa manager, manages a team of seven therapists and sometimes offers his services upon request. Being the only male in the team, his specialty is a strong deep-tissue massage. www.meritushotels.com
PREVIOUS PAGE: The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi is a magical place for both jetsetters and holidaymakers. THIS PAGE: The Pelangi Spa at Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa Langkawi offers spa rituals, some created just for kids. OPPOSITE PAGE: The St. Regis Langkawi boasts four over-water villas, including this luxurious Sunset Royal Villa.