Wake on the wild side

29 december 2013
By Kate Cox
Original Article posted at The Sydney Morning Herald

Kate Cox learns how to embrace nature at The Andaman Langkawi.

There’s someone screaming in the room: unhinged, maniacal even. ‘‘Geekawwwww.

Gee-kaa!’’ But Ria, the massage therapist, pushes on. Surely she can hear this beast in our midst? It’s right at the end of the bed! ‘‘Gee Kawwwwww!’’ I can’t take it any more.
‘‘What is that?’’ Ria can’t stop laughing.

‘‘Welcome to the jungle, miss! It’s a gecko.’’ As the massage continues and the sun sets, a bird starts up – one of the island’s many, I learn. It’s a cacophony of wildlife tunes with a background beat of breaking waves. It’s brilliant. Suddenly I understand why people stay at The Andaman on Malaysia’s Langkawi, rather than the slicker, five-star establishments dotting the island.

Before, when the monkeys sneaked into the room and raided the minibar and the bats pooed on my beach towel, I didn’t get it. It all seemed a little too rustic.

I needed to shake my city-slicker stresses, though, and this is the perfect place to do it. It doesn’t take long for rustic to become peaceful to become wonderfully, essentially soul-nourishing.

The resort is tucked away on some of the world’s oldest geology, between a 10-million-year-old rainforest and its own calm bay featuring an 8000-year-old coral reef.

Most of the rooms have been recently renovated. Think smooth, dark wooden floorboards, cosy beds, big windows, a balcony for two and a choice between the beach or rainforest end. All have baths, but the very fancy have plunge pools, private gardens or outdoor spas.

There is a unique ‘‘wellness programme’’ running at the spa, gym and restaurants. One can take an island holiday and come back fit, healthy and inspired, if one so desires.

Despite the sustainable philosophy and the healthy vibe, it’s acceptable to lie all day on padded deckchairs by the ocean or the pool, complete with a waterslide if you want to get extra energetic, and pig out.

The food here is delicious and varied. There’s a stylish Japanese restaurant, posh seafood on the beach, and two more casual restaurants with local and western options.

The massive breakfast buffet has everything, including champagne on the juice table and waffle, omelette and pancake bars.

There are cleverly constructed cocktails and bars by the pool, beach and lobby.

The Andaman is a Luxury Collection Resort, meaning lots of exclusive options – candlelight dinners with a personal butler, kayak, yacht or mangrove cruises, and one-on-one Batik sessions.

Book a trainer for a wellness program, detox or yoga lesson, a chef for a private cooking course or the medicine man for a jungle trek.

There is a programme for kids: the Young Explorers’ Club, and five minutes up the road, the Els Club Teluk Datai – a stunning Ernie Els-designed golf course – will open in March.

Even the V Botanical Spa’s location – it is perched atop a hill and overlooks Datai Bay – is overshadowed by its giant range of organic treatments, holistic therapies and wonderful therapists.

The song of the Malay rainforest ritual, for example, has a spicy foot bath, traditional Malay massage, a gamat (sea cucumber) body scrub and wrap, lime and floral bath and a traditional Mashuri glowfacial.

Ladies can even organise a guided visit to the home of an indigenous healer.

But most guests eventually opt to get active and explore the natural surrounds.

Many are keen to give back to the environment, via the resort’s coral regeneration programme, launched after some of the island and much of its colourful coral was destroyed by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

Guests Ben and Alicia were married during our visit and incorporated a coral regenerating project into their ceremony. They decorated a concrete heart with a mix of live and dead coral and planted it in the resort’s coral nursery, where it will grow and eventually be transplanted to the ocean. They plan to come back some day and snorkel around it.

Inspired by my surrounds, I booked a guided walk with resident naturalist Irshad Morbarak, Malaysia’s Steve Irwin and a 20-year veteran of all things environmental. What he doesn’t know about nature isn’t worth knowing. It was wonderful. I even made friends with a gecko

Travel Au:Wake on the wild side