The Indian Ocean: Pangkor Laut

Private island

Far and Away
Any island that requires a three-and-a-half-hour drive and a 45-minute boat ride after nearly an entire day of flying begs the question: Is it worth it? For Pangkor Laut—a 300-acre retreat favored by the like of Joan Collins and Luciano Pavarotti (if that makes it your kind of place)—the answer is a resounding . . . maybe. Pangkor Laut's 138 suites and villas are extremely luxe and take full advantage of the island's natural beauty: Beach Villas with outdoor tubs; forest-shrouded Hill Villas; verdant Garden Villas; and 43 Sea and Spa Villas surrounded by the balmy Malaccan Straits. But Pankgor's impeccably manicured paths, glitzy restaurants, and precisely planned activities—tennis, hikes, windsurfing—make it feel something like a tropical adult Disneyland. Even the elaborate new spa compound could use a dose of modesty (but we hope they don't get rid of the wonderful banana and duneberry bath products). What make this island worth the trip are the eight private estates for rent far from the heart of the resort. Among these isolated compounds—each with a staff and exclusive beach access—we especially loved Estate Seven, a four-bedroom house set amid rolling hills deep in the forest. It has endless lawns, an outdoor bathroom, a private pond, and an infinity pool. Staying here makes you appreciate the island's truly majestic landscape, which is still 80 percent untouched. Edging 140 million-year-old rainforests and silky-sanded coves are beaches so perfect they look as if they'd been created by engineers and bulldozers. The best are Emerald Bay beach, which is about a half-hour hike over monkey-filled hills from the main resort, and Marina Bay, which is just in front of the private estates. Rooms, $240-$635; estates, $2,630 for three nights, includes staff and meals. At 32200 Lumut Perak; 605-699-1100;