Langkawi has undergone a quiet, almost unnoticed, transformation in recent years, and now deserves to be spoken of alongside a number of other high-end tropical getaways in Asia-Pacific, offering groups a variety of options for pampering and adventure.
Most importantly, the island is still natural and quiet enough to offer corporate groups a taste of unspoilt nature and a calm environment to focus on the business agenda.
Strictly speaking, Langkawi is a group of 104 different islands lying off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, but the largest, Pulau Langkawi, is the main focus of attention.
Driving along the rustic quiet of the under-populated countryside whose green landscape is intermittently dotted with simple houses, it is easy to forget that Langkawi has a string of ritziest resorts discreetly waiting to usher visitors to the opulent world of rest and leisure.
“The silence is the first thing that strikes you. People are attracted to the quiet which perfectly matches the island’s scenic beauty,” says Greg Pirkles, general manager at Four Seasons Resort Langkawi (www.fourseasons.com/langkawi).
Privacy is a premium the two-and-a-half-year-old property for guests out to enjoy the finer things in life in style far from hustle and bustle and away from curious eyes. Even at full capacity (Four Seasons Langkawi has just over 90 villas), it is easy to get oneself cloistered for days on end; and with 455 staff, the resort has one of the highest guest-to-staff ratio in the island, ensuring that there is always someone around ready to serve you.
Four Seasons Langkawi has been known to host some regional and international notables in Asia both from government, sports and entertainment.
One key event it hosted last year was the summit between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia for a few days in May.
With its experience in organising high-profile, tight security events, Pirkle’s team was able to prepare, plan and execute the various logistics needed for the summit — together with each nation’s protocol officers in barely a month.
The resort was almost entirely taken over by delegates attending the summit whose itinerary, together with a series of meetings, included a welcome dinner and a durian party for 80 people, as well as an offsite cruise.
“The Malaysian prime minister has been here twice before and likes it. We deliver a high level of services which match the profile of these dignitaries, and Langkawi’s isolated location made it ideal,” Pirkles said.
Four Seasons also hosted a major four-day incentive trip for a leading European telecommunications company in late 2007. The group was too large that it had to be divided into three.
“It was a back-to-back-to-back programme which happened over a 12-day period. We had 55 plus rooms for each group. The programme kicked off with an arrival beach barbecue, followed by group activities and then a gala dinner on the fourth night when we set up a tent, round tables on the beach and a live band from Kuala Lumpur for up to 110 people.
We ran the programme three times as we could not accommodate such a big group at one time.”
Group business represents around 12 percent of the resort’s guests last year.
Whether on-site and off-site, there are a range of activities that your group could occupy themselves with to burn some energy or to simply chill out.
Not to be missed is the spa and yoga sessions that melt the stress away. But to keep fit – there are always the gym and tennis courts, lush gardens and mangroves waiting to be explored as well as a range of beach activities – snorkelling, fishing, windsurfing and many more.
“We are getting some new sports equipment – still non-motorised. More kayaks and more sailboats as we still want to keep it as a quiet beach. We do not want to have jet skis that will destroy the serenity of the place.”
In the coming year, Pirkles expects to expand existing facilities in the resort such as a new spa room and a new tennis court to cater to increased demand from guests.
The resort will also be beefing up its restaurant offerings at its pool beach, which would effectively make it an additional dining outlet to complement the existing Kape Kelapa, Serai, Ikan-Ikan and the Rhu Bar.
Malaysia Airlines (MAS) offers direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi on a daily basis and budget carrier AirAsia flies the route five times weekly. SilkAir runs flights between Singapore and Langkawi four times a week.
Visitors can also reach Langkawi via Penang. While MAS has direct flights, consider taking the two-and-a-half ferry ride offered by Fast Ferry Ventures.
Or visitors can start their island breakaway with a touch of adventure aboard the Malayan Railway train to Alor Star or Arau, and then proceed by taxi or bus to Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis where they can take the express ferry services to Langkawi.
Temperature ranges between 24ºC and 33ºC all year round. Dry season is from November to March.
English is widely used and the official language Bahasa Malaysia is spoken everywhere.
Citizens of ASEAN countries can enter both destinations visa-free for stays of less than a month. Visa on arrival is available for residents of most countries at the Langkawi International Airport for stays of up to 30 days. See www.imi.gov.my for latest regulations.
Email the Langkawi Tourist Information Centre in Kuah at email@example.com
Team building in a private island paradise
With its over 100-odd islands, Langkawi offers opportunities for the sumptuous private island getaway that groups love.
Rebak Island Resort (www.tajhotels.com) is one of them. Part of the upscale Taj Hotels Resort and Palaces, the resort sits on a 158-hectare private island of lush rainforests, mountains, clear blue beaches and crimson sunsets.
“The resort is a very conducive destination for teambuilding. We offer a variety of incentive packages, most of them tailored ones to suit the different needs of corporate customers. What makes us stand out is the exclusive and uniquely personalized Taj hospitality,” says Samir Khanna, general manager, Rebak Island Resort Langkawi.
“We are promoting the resort only to those customers who are looking for a private resort located on a private island with the secondary option of going to the mainland (Pulau Langkawi) for sightseeing and shopping,” Khanna says, adding the resort’s incentive corporate customers include Cadbury, Tata Group of Companies, Gardenia and BEA to name a few.
The 82-room resort has all the creature comforts and upscale leisure amenities both for passive and active guests that you get to expect in these private getaways. Must-do activities include canoeing on the Andaman Sea by day or by night and cocktails at the Minum-Minum bar.
“We try to mainly cater to the special customer requests by providing service in-house whenever and wherever possible. However, we can outsource special requests to a qualified third party in order to meet the requirements of the customers. Most of our guests are from multinational companies from India, with a few coming from countries as far as Italy and the UK. Regionally, Singapore looks to be a potential incentive market for us in the near future.”
DESTINATION EAST/PACIFIC WORLD PENANG
Contact: Sadie Yeoh, area manager
DISCOVERY OVERLAND HOLIDAYS SDN BHD
Contact: Erik Ewe, managing director
MAYFLOWER ACME TOURS SDN BHD
Contact: Patricia Abdullah, manager for international sales
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Shopping and Dining
Since 1987, Langkawi is one, big duty-free paradise. The capital Kuah is the main shopping artery. Langkawi Mall, Langkawi Fair Shopping Complex and Jetty Point Duty Free Complex are a good places to start your shopping spree with wide range of perfumes, sports gears, ladies accessories, liquor and cigarettes.
For a taste of local shopping, head for the bazaars in the main town as well as Cenang and Black Sand Beach. These are good places for fine-tuning your haggling skill.
Hotel dining outlets and other restaurants in town serve multicultural cuisine, some come with live music and an explosive atmosphere. Don’t forget to try the local food on sale before heading elsewhere.
Beaches and Cruising
Tanjung Rhu lies on the northern cape of Langkawi. Its scenic coastline gives a clear vista of nearby islands, which can be reached at low tide on foot. Meanwhile, Pantai Kok, Cenang, Tengah, Datai and Burau bay are among the island’s idyllic beaches, offering sun-kissed days and breezy evening strolls.
Langkawi has been named the first Geopark in Southeast Asia in June last year. There are three geoforest parks in the island – the Machincang Cambrian, known to be the oldest geological formation in the country; the Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park features fine marbles; and the Kilim Karst, one can see the magnificently formed landscapes as well as pinnacles of various shapes and sizes.
Sungai Kilim or Kilim Nature Park spans over 100sqm of well-protected green mangrove forests. On the rail of the calm winding river, get to know rich marine ecosystem in the area as well as the varied flora and fauna like the overhanging Bogak trees, brown eagles, tree crabs, iguanas and macaques.
The Hole in The Wall Fish Farm located in the Kilim mangrove areas nurtures a variety of marine life. Get up close and personal to stingrays, coral fishes, eels and oysters to your heart’s delight.
Legend says that fairies come down to bathe at the Seven Wells or Telaga Tuju. The waterfall is known for its cascading waters that are broken by a series of seven natural pools. The green forest that surrounds the waterfall adds a mystical touch to the natural splendour.
The Langkawi Cable Car is located on the southwest coast of Langkawi, a half an hour drive from the town of Kuah. The 25-minute cable car ride will give you a bird’s eyeview of the island’s forest canopy and will take you to the top of Mount Mat Cincang.
The Ayer Hangat Village is a modern complex build around a three-tiered fountain believed to have curative waters. Enjoy the cultural performances held there and browse through the souvenir shops.
Langkawi’s original art village in Padang Matsirat, Atma Alam Batik Art Village, welcome groups and individuals to be a part of the batik workshop. Original batik and oil paintings are for sale while you can get some made-to-order.
Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation features a collection of works by Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, one of Malyasia’s renowned artists.
PARADISE ON STILTS
Berjaya Langkawi Beach & Spa Resort
Located in Burau Bay, Berjaya Langkawi Beach & Spa Resort is largely renowned for its traditional chalets and suites that are spread over 28 ha. The chalets are designed according to rustic Malay architectural style, in harmony with their surroundings amid lush tropical rainforests, while the suites are uniquely built by the water’s edge on stilts, placing you in the lap of luxury. Each suite is spaciously designed with a private terrace to offer a spectacular view of the ocean or lagoon pool. All 502 rooms and suites are beautifully decorated and furnished with modern amenities.
The resort offers an open-air tropical spa, making it a private haven and a perfect spa experience like no other.
Sheraton Langkawi Beach Resort
With its lush tropical surroundings with private beach coves, it’s hard to believe that Sheraton Langkawi Beach Resort is just a short 10-minute car ride from Langkawi International Airport.
In a country known for great food, Sheraton beckons with a temptation of flavours. From Feast’s interactive dining concept to Chime – Langkawi’s hottest night spot, Asian delicacies at Spice Trader, or an evening dining under the stars at the Captain’s Grill – the resort has great spots to gather with friends or family for a memorable evening.
Tanjung Rhu Resort
There is no dearth of things to do at Tanjung Rhu Resort, which because of its exclusivity and distance from the capital town of Kuah, has virtually everything within reach. Upscale amenities are not short supply for leisurely idyll and adrenaline-pumped guests.
But a must-do for both is an evening of stargazing.
From its vantage location near the equator, the resort has a clear vista of the entire celestial sphere. The resort’s user-friendly telescope, the revolutionary Meade ETX with its brainy Autostar Computer Controller, will take you on a guided tour of the wondrous night skies over Langkawi.
UNIQUE THEME NIGHTS
The Andaman Langkawi
Situated between the majestic Mat Cincang Range and the deep blue Andaman Sea, centuries-old trees, many with huge buttress roots and jungle creepers envelope The Andaman at Datai Bay creating a haven far from the bustle of city life.
Party time is never dull at The Andaman with a choice of flexible venues that can transform to accommodate the needs of any theme events – from the Malay-inspired Wira Gunong Mat Chincang Night to the Western-style Black and Gold Dinner to the outdoor Andaman Sunset Bonfire Barbeque Dinner – for groups with a minimum of 40 people.
CHILL OUT SPAS
Deep into the northwestern tip of Langkawi lies an oasis of tranquil luxury known as, The Datai with its 54 deluxe rooms, 40 villas and 18 suites nestled amidst lush rainforests and a private stretch of sandy shore facing the breathtaking Andaman Sea, The Datai is an idyllic natural retreat for well-heeled travellers.
The Spa at the The Datai promises to be special. Select from a comprehensive menu of exquisite spa treatments by expert and nurturing hands, to relax, rejuvenate and revitalise for a sense of overall well being. Signature treatments include The Datai massage, Balinese Massage, Warm Stone Massage, and Rainforest Harmony. Individual and couple spa sessions are available in four enchanting spa pavilions.
The Westin Langkawi
If you are planning a family-oriented incentive or event which encourages participants to bring along their spouses and children, the Westin offers an easy solution. The Westin Kids Club welcomes all kids from 4 to 12 years old on a complimentary basis. Open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Introduce your kids to the traditions, sights, tastes and sounds of beautiful Langkawi. With Westin Kids Workout, they’ll walk through rainforests. Local Vocal will enchant them with songs and stories.