Words: Jane Fulcher
Langkawi means ‘the jewel of Kedah’ and the island earns its name. Located off the coast of the northwestern Malaysian state of Kedah in an archipelago of over 100 islands, its sandy beaches are lapped by turquoise waters and fringed by lush jungle teeming with wildlife. ‘These forests have been the perfect laboratory for the evolution of flight,’ says Irshad Mobarak, resident naturalist at The Datai, a resort built into the rainforest. ‘The tall trees have meant all kinds of species have evolved with wings with which to fly or glide.’
The resort’s location in the northwest corner of the island is extraordinary, as is its employ of the world-renowned Mobarak who guides guests through the rainforests. He joined The Datai when it opened in 1993 and has seen the rain forest thrive as he closely follows the progress of its plants and animals.
At any time of day at The Datai, the creatures can be seen ying and gliding through the forests. On the hotel’s private beach, the aptly-named paradise ying snake can be seen launching itself into the air, pressing its ribs into a concave shape and sinuously moving its body to glide on a cushion of air from tree to tree. It’s not as scary as it sounds – the snake is small and its venom not very poisonous. ‘The bite will hurt for a bit and you’ll have a low fever, but it’s not dangerous,’ Mobarak reassures. Also gliding across sand and forest are ying lizards spreading their ribs out from their bodies into wings. Along the path winding through the lush forest to the hotel, there is the chance to see ying frogs gliding on their webbed feet, spread out like four open umbrellas.
The Datai in fact, is a haven for frogs – they’re everywhere.The hotel’s entrance has a frog pond and the chirping makes a great background soundtrack to cocktail hour. There are frogs sitting on the artwork, hopping across the oor and trying to avoid the attentions of the local predatory Tokay gecko population. The low hum of croaking frogs resonates through the foliage and, as Mobarak says, ‘that is the sound of a healthy rainforest.’
The island’s monkeys also get a lot of attention. Cheeky macaques might try and steal your snacks but watching them leap around the forest canopy is great entertainment. And at the beach, the large population of black and white dusky leaf monkeys eat the leaves in the surrounding trees and snooze in the branches over the open-air showers; their white facial markings giving them a constantly surprised expression.
In the evening, the local colony of 3,000 bats swarm elegantly in search of food. If you’re lucky you’ll also see the world’s only winged primate and one of Langkawi’s main draws, the reclusive colugo, swooping from tree to tree. Perhaps more impressive in ight is the surprisingly large Javanese ying squirrel, whose path across the canopy is perhaps best witnessed from the hotel’s raised Pavilion Thai restaurant. The wealth of natural beauty at The Datai is extraordinary. It’s a place where every experience – a massage, a delicious meal, a yoga lesson – goes hand-in-hand with witnessing the most wonderful aspects of the natural world. thedatai.com