Luxury at the Jungle’s Edge
The Langkawi is an archipelago of ninety-nine islands called the Land of the Eagles. Located northwest of mainland Malaysia, where the Andaman Sea meets the Straits of Malacca, it is a tropical paradise of the purest white sand, magical sunsets, and idyllic sun-filled days. Just three of the islands are inhabited, and one is home to the discreet Datai, undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s most beautiful resorts.
Inspired by the local Malay kampong-style structures, and using native balau wood and local white marble, the Datai snuggles unobtrusively into an ancient rain forest. Aesthetic influences are at times Thai and Indonesian, at times hinting of Japanese or even Aztec.
Lovely guest rooms, connecting corridors, lobbies, and the elevated Thai restaurant are all open-sided, letting in the jungle and creating a cool, exotic cocoon that ensnares and envelops guests, who are happy to stay within the exquisite grounds – except, perhaps, for those who make it to the hotel’s adjacent 18-hole championship golf course, not your average rain forest attraction.
In the Footprints of the Wild Men of Borneo
For centuries the jungle area now called Sarawak was closed to outsiders and shunned for fear of its cannibal “wild men of Borneo.” Its exotic rain forests are what most people imagine when they think of Borneo, and its communal longhouses, once home to notorious headhunters, now welcome outside visitors for the night.
Retrace the original trail of the feared tribesmen, partially by longboat along the Baram River, partially by short treks through the dense jungle. Organized tours explore the Sarawak Chamber, the world’s largest cave system, located in Gunung National Park; so far, twenty-seven interconnecting caves and 64 miles of passages have been discovered.
You’ll visit only choice areas, and stay to see the resident bats’ evening departure in search of dinner. Gifts and food to share are brought to the Iban headman, the tuai rumah, whose longhouse will be your digs for the night.
The river rides and primeval beauty of the encroaching jungle make this the adventure of a lifetime; sharing homemade hooch with your new Iban best friend isn’t something you’ll soon forget either.
Epic Diving That Rates Among the Best
“I have seen other places like Sipidan – forty-five years ago – but now, no more. Now we have found again an untouched piece of art,” said Jacques Cousteau, thereby placing this speck of an island on every diver’s dream list.
The tiny limestone island off the coast of Borneo offers little of interest, but walk 15 feet out from the shore’s soft white sandy beach, stick your head in the water, and be prepared for the treat of a lifetime. Incredibly clear and calm waters enable even beginning snorkelers to experience the wonders of this underwater kingdom. Scuba divers will find unparalleled wall diving, with a drop-off that falls 2,800 feet into a deep blue abyss, plus other, equally awesome dive experiences, all less than a five-minute boat ride away.
Sipidan’s turtle population, one of the world’s greatest concentrations, is indicative of the outstanding marine life that held Cousteau in thrall. Until 1989, the only accommodations were in tents, but the rustic Sipidan Island Dive Lodge now offers a few dozen thatched-roof beachfront bungalows. This spot won’t stay unhurried and unspoiled for long.