Jess Smit makes an amazing discovery – The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort. The resort is situated on the world’s ninth-best beach and has taken the trek out of going on tropical beach holidays for Jess and her family.
Sometimes I feel like we’re on our own personal mission to track down the most family-friendly break out of Singapore. See, when it takes just shy of a day to cram everyone’s things into a 20kg suitcase, wherever we’re headed had better be amazing enough to make me forget all the planning and packing involved.
And so it is that we find ourselves with the loftiest of expectations at The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort, in Datai Bay, Langkawi, 30km off the northwestern coast of mainland Malaysia and a totally manageable one-and-a-half-hour flight away. So far, so great.
Part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts and The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, The Andaman has 178 rooms and suites – all decked out in contemporary Malaysian style and with sweeping views over Datai Bay and ancient rainforest. Checking into our 86sqm Executive Pool Suite wasn’t your average bag drop before heading off to explore – the children had stripped and were christening our private plunge pool before we could even crack open the complimentary minibar.
We pool-hopped to the resort’s lush lagoon-style swimming pool just beside the beach, with the waterslide (“Again! “Again!”) and toddler-friendly wading-section wearing out the little ones enough for us to justify dropping them off with the smiling ambassadors at the Young Explorers’ Club. (It’s a holiday for us too, right?) You don’t need to work too hard to extricate yourself from here, with heaps of books, toys, games and educational adventures to distract. Our lot did junior yoga, made friendship bracelets, built sandcastles, collected seashells, and got crafty with nature – all of that and we were only there for four days (and we didn’t check them in the whole time, promise!).
The likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Condé Nast and TripAdvisor have made a real deal about The Andaman’s V Botanical Spa over the years, giving it numerous spa awards. And so, along the rainforest-fringed pathway I went, like seasoned spa-goers before me, towards my open-air spa villa perched on the hillside with the most incredible view of Datai Bay below. Signature treatments include the Kahuna Wave Massage and Song of the Malay Rainforest ritual – save some time for this, folks!
Was it coincidental that my stresses and strains were kinked out just in time for Happy Hour at The Beach Bar at 5pm? We had to clink and drink fast, though, as fish feeding at the Coral Nursery along the beach started at 5.30pm and our lot aren’t queuers. Part fun, part extensive coral conservation programme, the Coral Nursery aims to restore the 8,000-year-old coral reef fringing the resort that was badly damaged in the 2004 tsunami.
Guests are encouraged to give a helping hand by getting involved in everything from live coral transplanting to coral clearing, and you can discover more about the underwater world by joining guided coral reef walks or donning a life jacket and taking a private guided snorkel in the Coral Nursery. (You’ll see everything from anemones and clown fish, to sea cucumber, crabs and lobster.)
The lobby-level Marine Life Laboratory is worthy of a look-see too, and packed with aquaria to help guests understand more about the ecosystem that exists in Datai Bay. You can even sign older children up to become a marine biologist for a day – work experience à la tropical beach!
Just in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, children are treated like royalty here. Plus, if you sign up to become a Starwood Preferred Guest (it’s free to join), children aged 12 and younger will qualify for an SPG Kids Pass for 80 ringgit (around S$27) a day. They’ll be kitted out with a wristband that means they’re able to nosh for free from kids’ menus across the resort – think junior salads, Asian slaw, chicken quesadillas, bangers and mash, fruit platters, ice-cream sundaes, and way more – as well as participate free in all Young Explorers activities. (FYI: children under three don’t need a wristband to munch gratis!)
With six restaurants dotted around the resort, we had plenty of dining options, but the casual beachside vibe at Tepian Laut saw us return most often for lunch and dinner, with their waiting staff prepping our table before I could even say “highchair, please”.
But date night Andaman-style can only be at Jala, the fine-dining seafood restaurant headed by chef de cuisine Thorsten Killian. This is barefoot chic, with footwear checked into the Shoe Concierge on your way in. Meaning “fisherman’s cast net” in Malay, Jala’s sand flooring, beach front position and open-kitchen concept set the stage for a gastronomical adventure of Malay and Western cooking styles.
Go à la carte or head up to the sustainable seafood counter to choose your catch (brought to the beach by local fishermen every few days), method of preparation, sauce and trimmings – it’s worth stepping away from your sauvignon for. Special mention must also go to the buffet breakfast at The Restaurant: sparkling wine and a brand-new bakery wing (hello, brioche, croissants, bread and butter pudding, gluten-free muffins, muesli bread and apple strudel puffs!) earned it some serious Smit points.
Using chocolate-sprinkled doughnuts smuggled from breakfast as bait for the children, we set off one morning en famille for the Rainforest Awakening Nature Walk, a guided stroll around the resort grounds. The architect who designed the main hotel building did everything he could to preserve as much of the precious 10-million-year-old rainforest as possible, and it shows.
We saw creatures such as giant geckos, hornbills, dusky leaf monkeys and colugos – and even had a first kingfisher sighting, much to our guide’s delight, before we’d so much as left the carpark – and learnt about the medicinal qualities of the rattan palm, mischievous macaques with an eye on your minibar, and the eating habits and artistry of the ghost crab.
The tour ended on the stretch of beach in front of The Andaman that’s been voted ninth-best in the world by National Geographic. Swim, sunbathe, kayak, windsurf or paddle board your days away here, as it’s this idyllic tropical setting you’ll dream about once you’re back in Singers. (No offence, Sentosa!)
This article first appeared in the March edition of Expat Living magazine Subscribe
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