Nature takes flight at the Datai resort on Langkawi
From flying snakes to cheeky monkeys, the Malaysian island is home to incredible wildlife, along with breathtaking natural beauty
Langkawi is known as "the jewel of Kedah" and the island certainly earns its nickname. Located off the coast of the north-western Malaysian state, its white sandy beaches are lapped by turquoise waters and fringed by lush jungle.
It's also a gem for those looking to see a menagerie of extraordinary animals.
"These forests have been the perfect laboratory for the evolution of flight," says Irshad Mobarak, the resident naturalist at the Datai, a resort built into the Langkawi rainforest. "The tall trees of the rainforest have allowed all kinds of species to evolve wings with which to fly or glide."
The resort is nestled in the most remote corner of Langkawi – the main road comes to an abrupt stop just past the hotel – and is backed by mountainous craggy peaks, meaning the feeling of isolation in nature is complete. Its location is extraordinary, as is its use of a world-renowned expert to make sure guests get the best out of the local flora and fauna. Mobarak has been part of the Datai since it opened in 1993 and has seen the rainforest thrive around the hotel. He closely follows the progress of its plants and animals, eloquently telling their stories to visitors on daily nature walks.
At any time of day, Mobarak's flight laboratory is in evidence. During the hot, tropical days on the hotel's private white sandy beach, the aptly named paradise flying snake can be seen launching itself into the air, pressing its ribs into a concave shape and sinuously moving its body to glide on a cushion of air from tree to tree. It's actually a lot less scary than it sounds – the snake is small, rather pretty and not very venomous. "The bite will hurt for a bit and you'll have a low fever, but it's not dangerous," Mobarak reassures guests.
Also gliding across sand and forest are flying lizards that can spread their ribs out from their bodies into wings in order to glide distances of up to 164ft. And on the path from the beach to the hotel, which winds its way through lush foliage, there is the chance to see flying frogs that can spread their webbed feet like four open umbrellas in order to glide distances of a no less impressive 50ft.
The Datai is a real haven for frogs – they are absolutely everywhere. The hotel's entranceway has a frog pond and the croaking and chirping makes a great accompaniment to cocktails. There are frogs climbing the walls, sitting on the artwork, hopping across the floor and trying to avoid the attentions of the local Tokay gecko population. The sound of cheerful frogs resonates through the foliage: "That is the sound of a healthy rainforest," Mobarak says.
During the day, it's the monkeys who get the most attention. Cheeky macaques might try and steal your snacks, but watching them crash through the forest canopy is great entertainment. And at the beach, the large population of quieter black-and-white dusky leaf monkeys eat the leaves in the surrounding trees and snooze in the branches above the open-air showers, their white face markings giving them a constantly surprised expression.
In the evenings, the mammals take to the air – starting with a colony of around 3,000 bats that leaves the eaves of the hotel en masse every night at 7pm to swarm elegantly around the lower floors and the rainforest villas in search of food. If you're lucky, you'll also see a colugo swooping from tree to tree. The reclusive animal, also known as a flying lemur - despite neither flying nor being a lemur - is the world's only winged primate and one of the animals people come specifically to Langkawi to see. Perhaps more impressive in flight is the surprisingly large javanese flying squirrel, whose path across the canopy is best witnessed from the hotel's raised Pavilion Thai restaurant in the canopy of the rainforest. And though it doesn't fly per se, the civet cat is another highlight as it nimbly runs from branch to branch in pursuit of its dinner.
The wealth of natural beauty at the Datai is extraordinary. This is a place where every experience – a soothing massage, a delicious meal, a calming yoga class – is set against a backdrop that could only be described as top flight.