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March 30, 2010

The Indian Ocean: Langkawi

An island gem with stunning nature

Hot Properties: Luxe Eternal
Thanks to the opening of a new Four Seasons resort next spring, you'll hear quite a bit about Langkawi in the coming months. What we can tell you now is that Langkawi—unlike many Southeast Asian hot spots—is the real deal: an island gem with stunning nature, few crowds, and charming, prosperous villages. For the moment, Langkawi's hotel scene is as simple as the 55-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur. The Datai is an Aman-styled resort set deep in the jungle with 54 rooms, 40 villas, and 16 suites done in the typical sleek Asian style of Aman designer Ed Tuttle. Down the beach is The Andaman, a chic and less stuffy hotel with 186 rooms. While we like the Andaman's beachfront spot, relaxed atmosphere, and Malaysian restaurant, The Datai is still the better of the pair. Covered by a 500-million-year-old rainforest canopy, the hotel's gray-stone exteriors and rich teak interiors fit so completely into the environment they're almost indistinguishable from the towering tree trunks. Villas—five with plunge pools—are connected by a path that leads to a Mandara spa. A trio of restaurants serves Malaysian, European, and Thai dishes; we suggest the latter. The Datai: rooms and villas, $480-$2,100; 604-959-2500; www.ghmhotels.com. The Andaman: rooms, $400-$2,000; 604-959-1088; www.ghmhotels.com.

Hot Table: Rustic Kitchen
At Barn Thai the good, authentic Thai food and friendly service are mere afterthoughts to the setting: an open-air wood hut set above a dark, damp, monkey-filled mangrove swamp. But don't be nervous: Air-conditioning and a well-built footbridge take the "Survivor" out of dining beneath towering trees and above a lattice of their snakelike roots. Dinner, $40; 604-966-6699.

Great Finds: Craft Service
Langkawi's best shopping is at its many traditional crafts shops. Kompleks Kraf (604-959-1913; www.kraftangan.gov.my) sells wood carvings, silk flowers, sarongs, and woven baskets; De'Zone (604-955-6684) is good for silver jewelry, hand-painted pillows, and traditional masks; and at the Atma Alam Batik Art Village (604-955-2615) look for cotton and silk clothing with fantastic local handiwork. Nothing at these shops is more than $50, but the craftsmanship is exceptional.

The Scene: Sailor Suite
The Royal Langkawi Yacht Club is where to find everyone—and everything—nautical on the island. You can charter a yacht (33 to 46 feet) from Sunsail (604-966-5869; www.sunsail.com). Or just approach one of the local boaters at Charlie's Place Restaurant and Bar, which happens to be the club canteen serving Euro-Asian dishes and wines from Langkawi's best cellar, which has bottles from California, South Africa, and New Zealand. At Jalan Dato Syed Omar; 604-966-4078; www.langkawiyachtclub.com.

Chic Shack: Sweet and Simple
ONE TO WATCH The Bon Ton Resort may lack the opulence of the Datai, but it's our pick for simple, no-frills style and warm service. A labor of love from Australian Narelle McMurtrie, the resort consists of four traditional Malay homes transported to a site not far from Langkawi airport. Comfortable and filled with richly colored batiks and pillows, the huts are centered around a pool, Euro-Asian restaurant, hopping bar, and great gift shop. Rooms, $50. At Pantai Cenang; 604-955-6787; www.bontonresort.com.

Member of Fine Hotels & Resorts