James Delingpole

Welcome to the jungle: how Malaysia won me over

Even leeches and scorpions couldn't dent the charm of my rainforest retreat

  • From Spectator Life
Credit: The Datai Langkwai

It’s approaching 6 p.m. at the Datai on Langkawi island, the tropical sun is still warm but no longer burny, and through my binoculars from my poolside lounger I’m watching the hornbills swooping down from the tall tree opposite and the sunbirds delving their long curved beaks in to some sort of exotic, colourful flora. By my side is a barely read copy of a classic work of literature and a half-drunk cocktail. I’m not sure that life gets much better than this.

And that’s perhaps the main problem with staying in arguably Malaysia’s loveliest hotel. It’s so perfect – the service, the outrageously exclusive rainforest location next to Langkawi’s best beach, the villas on stilts with their colonial-style hardwood interiors, the Malaysian, Indian and Thai cuisine, the monkeys and orchids and stingless bees – you’re in danger of overdosing on schadenfreude: just think of all those billions of poor sods who aren’t here, experiencing what you are experiencing now!

The Datai Langkawi Resort

In my youthful backpacking days I would have been affronted by the very notion of it. How dare the Malaysian government commandeer the best part of the island – acres and acres of pristine rainforest – and reserve it for spoilt, rich tourists! Now that I’m older, though, I think it’s just the ticket. When I saw one of the hotel staff politely but firmly pointing out to an indignant mother that this adults-only quiet pool was not for the use of her splashing brats, my heart sang. As for the moment when I sauntered over to some Generation Z techno kid and asked him not to conduct his Zoom chat so audibly on his laptop – and he meekly complied – it felt like I had finally earned my spurs as a grumpy old fart.

Of the various South-East Asia destinations, Malaysia is probably less fashionable at the moment than Thailand or Vietnam.

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