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Nature’s the star at The Datai resort in Malaysia. But… beware the monkeys raiding the minibar!

My wooden villa stands on stilts, surrounded by towering trees that obscure the view to the ocean 200 yards away. At night, giant squirrels thud onto the shingle roof.

By day, long-tailed macaques perch overhead, throwing jungle debris at each other. They are ever hopeful that I might leave my balcony door open.

‘Macaques appreciate creature comforts,’ warns my host, ‘and wouldn’t hesitate to raid your minibar and throw a party in your villa.’

I am on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, staying at The Datai, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, having set the bar for luxury when it opened.

The 65-acre site lies deep within a rainforest and mangrove swamp that creep up to a crescent of caramel sand on the Andaman Sea, home to more than 250 bird and 500 butterfly species.

Teresa Levonian Cole checks into The Datai on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. Above is the resort’s two-bedroom Beach Villa  

Like most guests, I barely venture beyond the hotel grounds, a pristine microcosm of an island that became a Unesco Global Geopark in 2007.

That Langkawi has not been overdeveloped is due in part to the legend of Mahsuri’s Curse.

‘In the late 1800s, a beautiful bride was wrongly accused of adultery by jealous villagers and put to death,’ explains Irshad Mobarak, Datai’s head naturalist, during a walk to a rockpool for an early-morning dip.

‘With her dying breath she cursed the island for seven generations.’

The island of Langkawi (pictured) became a Unesco Global Geopark in 2007, reveals Teresa

Fearing the curse, people stayed away until it ‘expired’ in the mid-1980s – and then tourism took off.

Conservation of this environment is central to The Datai’s philosophy, with initiatives covering land, sea and local community.

So it is that one day I find myself with Dr Ravinder Kaur from Gaia, a social enterprise which has teamed up with The Datai for the protection of hornbills on the island.

The birds – known as nature’s gardeners for their habit of regurgitating seeds – are threatened by poachers and deforestation.

Prime spot: The Datai is tucked away on a crescent of sand on the Andaman Sea

We spot a male and wait for him to visit his nesting partner, bringing her the choicest fruit he can find. She has enclosed herself in the hollow of a tree, but the cautious bird, having spotted our presence, does not want to reveal its location.

When I do see one it is by chance, over breakfast.

An oriental pied hornbill is making a flurry of trips to a keruing tree by the main pool.

It starts a rush for cameras among guests – and opens up opportunities for the thieving macaques.

Teresa tries the freshest catch – grouper, snapper, pomfret – for lunch at the Beach Club, pictured above

A walk through the ten million-year-old rainforest with nature centre manager Dev Dass reveals more wonders.

Trying not to trip over roots in the shaded forest floor, I see tiny orchids and hardwoods rising over 100 ft.

Wedged in the cleft of one tree, a rare colugo – the only ‘flying’ primate – slumbers, his fur blending with the bark.

‘Poachers hunt for critically endangered animals and cut down precious agar trees as the wood fetches £2,500 per kilo,’ says Dev. ‘We employ 35 security guards to protect our rainforest.’

Cheeky: Teresa discovers that macaques (pictured) roam the resort, waiting to get into guest rooms and raid the minibar

Teresa spies an oriental pied hornbill, like the one pictured here, making a flurry of trips to a keruing tree by the main pool

It is midday now and I have an appointment to go kayaking in the mangroves.

Through a narrow channel I paddle into another world – sun-dappled and still but for the insistent whirr of cicadas and the squawk and trill of birds. I glide and duck under branches.

A collared kingfisher takes flight as a spectacled langur leaps through the canopy. Less cuddly are reticulated pythons, which also haunt the mangroves.

The next day, I feel the call of the ocean. I have the freshest catch – grouper, snapper, pomfret – for lunch at the Beach Club.

As the tide ebbs, I watch tiny sand bubbler crabs set to work, creating their granular artworks, like a mantilla of lace.

‘Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads,’ proclaimed American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. I would agree with that.


Seven nights’ B&B at The Datai Langkawi from £2,249pp, including flights, transfers and lounge passes ( Malaysia Airlines flies from London to Kuala Lumpur from £749 return (

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