I am going with another couple to Malaysia, and while they are adventurous travelers, they are a bit fussy about what they eat. Is there a resort you’d recommend to people who love exotic food but have delicate stomachs?
Splash the Cash: Unreservedly, I would recommend the Datai, in Langkawi. I have sent many friends there, including the historian Sir Max Hastings, who has just booked his sixth visit and says, “It is the best resort in the world.” This is a resort hotel with a heart and soul. It is a favorite of mine because it is excellent without being show-offy. It has been a model of deliciousness since the 90s but closed for a year in 2017 to have a $60 million face-lift, but no character has been lost, no glitz superimposed. It is the same, darling Datai but super-better: marvelous new suites in the rain forest, the rooms in the main building more spacious, a spit-spot gym on the beach, and a nature center that would thrill Sir David Attenborough. Tell your friends not to worry about the food; it is superb. The Pavilion has Thai cuisine, delicate and elegant; the Gulai House has Malaysian with wonderful flavors. At the Dining Room, by the huge main pool, you can have whatever your heart desires and, at breakfast, see great hornbills feeding on the fig trees. The Beach Club and Bar is where I hang out (the pool is child-free); again, lovely, fresh, organic, non-frightening food, and once, when the British guests drank all the rosé, the hotel kindly flew in an extra consignment. The sickle-shaped beach is manicured at dawn, probably by virgins, and certainly by mermen out in the sea who sieve the water for plastic. The Datai is religiously eco-friendly and sustainable (a big concern, and rightly so), with its own water plant, composting, kitchen garden; the resort also recycles 1.5 million tons of waste a year. Most impressive if you are cash-splashing are the beach villas, because their configuration is unmatched in Asia. Each has a large swimming pool (not a pathetic footbath pretending to be a private pool); a separate, air-conditioned living room for writing, working, reading, and telly; and a huge bedroom/dressing room/bathroom with indoor and outdoor showers. And a butler. Life-changing, trust me. You can check your brain in, because you’ll be buttled to death with laundry, unpacking and packing, and room service all blissfully taken care of. Again, no intrusion; it is done invisibly. Did I mention the spa? Gently superb with Bastien Gonzalez manicures and pedicures, which are sensational and world-renowned. The fact that you will never want to leave the Datai depends entirely on your credit-card rating.
Cut a Dash: The only other hotel along the same beach as the Datai is The Andaman and was much resented by Datai regulars as a serpent in their paradise. But it has blended into the rain forest now and is friendly and kind, with nice service and two good restaurants (Jala for seafood and the Japanese Restaurant for—guess what?—Japanese). Again, eco. They’re developing a coral garden. The bedroom balconies are so narrow you cannot even put a chair on them—and you will spend the entire time gazing at the Datai and wondering why you didn’t take out a loan. Hotel envy is a terrible thing.
Surprise! You didn’t think you were going to the jungle? Think again. The rain forest in Langkawi is spectacular, and Irshad Mobarak is the Datai’s resident naturalist, known worldwide: he can make the most insignificant beetle exciting. His walks are complimentary (the Datai is not a greedy hotel, one of its charms) and riveting. There is now a canopy walk through the trees covering three different habitats. When I was there in April, I was rushed off to see a python wrapped around a branch before I had even had a cocktail. Pythons, btw, move VERY SLOWLY. It had been there for two days. Anyway, your butler will deal with it.
Victoria Mather is a veteran travel writer based in London.