On the north-eastern edge of the Indian Ocean lies the Andaman Sea; there, on the tip of Malaysia an archipelago of islands and sea stacks emerge from the water, cloaked in foliage; on the largest of these is a biosphere of mangroves and geoforests in which sits a beautiful resort facing a mile of unspoilt beach; here, nestled into giant palms and trailing vines, hardwood lodges mould into their environment, and on the veranda of one of these, one bright muggy morning in October, in plain sight, a monkey stole a pear from my fruitbowl.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence, I’m told, but it’s one of the joys that comes with the territory. Two families of macaques and a family of dusky monkeys have made Four Seasons Langkawi their home. They are as familiar with tourists as we are curious of them. A stroll back from the spa to my villa on my first day, frantic rustling in the foliage above me was met with initial alarm as Duskies bounded between branches. By the time I left, I knew I would miss them. This is the beauty of Four Seasons Langkawi, since it sits on the edge of a UNESCO geoforest, there’s an authenticity that most resorts lack; it embraces its environment, it doesn’t cocoon itself from it.
But the topography is not the first thing that strikes you as you enter the resort. I arrive at night, with that expectancy of what’s beyond the darkness, just out of reach of the light. Ushered through the lobby – if you could call it that – you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve entered less a remote hideaway in the Malay jungle, more a pasha’s palace in the Marrakech medina. Fire pits blaze in each open-air anteroom uplighting palm trees and Moorish archways, our heels tap on the flagstone floors and moonlight dapples over the inky lily pond as we sip an indulgent welcome cocktail on its terrace, the ideal shoulder-softener from the long haul to get there. We’ve arrived…and relaaaaaax.
The beachside villas are so big that when I draw the curtains in the morning it feels like hauling in the mainsail on a Man o’ War. To call them barn-like is an understatement. It’s no exaggeration to say it took me nearly a minute to walk its length, and that was just the bedroom. And I got lost at one point between the personal spa and the shower. It needn’t be that indulgent, however. Equally appealing are the maleluca pavilions, particularly those top-tier; you’re among giant palm fronds and jungle vines, integrated into your surroundings – some villas have exterior ‘jungle’ showers – and built in rich dark wood. I felt like the Greystokes, up among the monkeys, sipping my coffee on the wraparound balcony…before my face-off with the alpha macaque, that is.
It’s the setting that, simply, puts a smile on your face and it’s plain to see why the beachside villas have wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling sea-facing windows; through coconut palms, you look out past your plunge pool and colonial terrace to a clutch of islands like pillars of green rock emerging from flat-calm sea. It’s not all perfect; living on the fringes of rainforest comes with a devilishly difficult upkeep – it takes an army of gardeners to keep the grounds so well-maintained – and the constant precipitation has taken its toll on the fabric of the buildings, but that’s all part of its charm; it’s lived in. Far from feeling the need to tidy up after myself, I settled in immediately.
There’s nothing like a tropical jungle to feel like you’re miles from its concrete equivalent, and add a beachfront to that and you’re starting to define paradise. Throw in the Four Seasons’ services and all the trimmings – their dining offers alone make it worth the journey – and, well, I don’t want you to get too envious now, do I? But that’s just icing on a proverbial cake. The thing that makes this resort stand out is its position on the fringes of the geoforest. The beach and the poolside could wait, I wanted to explore the surrounds.
Farouk, the resort’s dedicated naturalist, was to guide us by longboat along the shore and into the mangroves. It’s a safari unlike any other, to peel off from the sea, baking in the sunshine, into thick, dark, muggy mangroves was an extraordinary contrast. From macaques jeering at us from the branches – and, at one point, swimming to our boat – to Brahminy kites and white-bellied sea eagles circling overhead, it reminded me of something out of King Kong. And that was the easy trip.
The next day it was all about the rainforest hike. Back in the boat (a zippier variety this time) and out to one of those Bond-esque sea stacks for a jungle trek. Not quite the machete-hacking, leech-sucking test of character I’d anticipated, and aided for the most part by steps created through the terrain it was, nevertheless, a trial, with little to gain at the end (our destination was a brackish interior lake), but better than any workout a gym might have to offer. It certainly made the cocktail that evening feel like it was earned all the more.
There was more drama to come; the moment I decided to walk from my villa for said apero at the Rhubar, the heavens opened. And while it may have thwarted plans for beachside dining, it being the tail end of the monsoon season we were fortunate enough to experience the swiftly-passing lightning storms that sweep the island. And watching lightning over the sea is as much a way of appreciating the vista as a good, pink sunset the site is known for. While the menu is extensive, the cocktails are, alas, principally tropical, more suited to a Delboy delight down the Nag’s Head than a watering hole that might compete with cosmopolitan clientele. Still, while I may have missed my negroni, I couldn’t complain about the frozen margarita, and the cigar and post prandial scotch selection were more than accommodating.
Not content with enough rolling thunder and muggy jungle, perhaps Langkawi’s most appealing asset is the Skylab cable car. Once on the rooftop of the island, and hopping between pinnacles and viewing platforms on wobbly bridges and rickety connecting ‘cars’, it is worth the nerve-jangling to get a perspective over the carpet of undulating jungle tops as far as the eye can see. The island itself is, virtually, one big geopark, something that the Four Seasons resort was keen to embrace in its experience; from the discovery centre to its activities – take the climbing wall created from the limestone cliffs that border the northern end of the resort – right down to its relaxation, even the spa became a geospa. Is there a difference? Indeed there is, when you see where its set.
Four Seasons Langkawi is about drama; the setting, the architecture, the excursions, activities, the weather, and embracing its jungle habitat. In fact, the least dramatic thing about Langkawi is that the Andaman Sea is like a millpond, but then that makes the resort as fitting for families as solace-seeking honeymooners. So, you can have your pear and eat it.
Unless it’s snatched by a dastardly monkey.
For more information about Four Seasons Langkawi, including details of accommodation, offers and excursions, visit www.fourseasons.com. You can read more about Larry’s Four Seasons’ Langkawi mangrove experience in the Four Seasons magazine.