Travel: The jungles of Malaysia

Published on Monday 14 February 2011 17:46

A little luxury, a little adventure: that was what I wanted from a holiday in Malaysia. The country’s appeal had taken hold years back when I had read about the “Jungle Line” train that runs north-east from Kuala Lumpur through spectacular mountains and rainforest.

More recently, I had stumbled across The Datai, a secluded resort and spa at the tip of the island of Langkawi off the west of Malaysia’s mainland. Gazing at the photographs on the hotel’s website, it looked almost magical, nestled among the trees of a centuries-old virgin rainforest.

So the plan was this: start decadently at The Datai, then meander down the west coast to KL via Penang and Malacca enjoying some of the top-notch food, culture and history the country is famous for along the way.

After spending a few days enjoying the buzz of the capital, I would hop on the train and spend the final few days of my two-week trip relaxing in the Perhentian Islands, known for their great beaches and great snorkeling.

The decision to kick off at The Datai was inspired. One of the hotel’s biggest draws is its location and it makes a conscious effort to fit in to, rather than dominate, its environment. Guests are invited to join the resident naturalist, Irshad Mobarak, for daily morning and evening nature walks.

Mobarak has a lovely, gentle manner and his enthusiasm is infectious. It is humbling, as a city dweller who rarely considers such things, to be reminded just how clever nature is and how amazingly well it all fits together.

Shortly after our group ambled out into the dusk, Mobarak gathered us around a tree and, looking carefully around, surreptitiously teased back a flap of leaves covering the hole that was home to a baby tarantula. The reason for his stealth was that tarantulas are a local delicacy and if this one’s location were revealed it would soon have become a delicious snack.

Other curious creatures include the mouse deer, which has the head of a mouse and the body of a mouse-sized deer, which I didn’t see, and flying squirrels, which I did. Large pythons also lurk.

After four days enjoying The Datai, its idyllic private beach on the Andaman sea and its treetops restaurant, it was wrench to leave. But Penang beckoned.