As I turned the key to open the large door in front of me, I realized that two of my lifelong traveling fantasies had just come true. One, that I was in one of the world’s oldest rainforests, and two, that later that night, I’d be sleeping in the middle of it. For as long as I can remember, the notion of rainforests has captured my lust for the wilderness, my childhood association of damp humidity with summertime, my interest in biological and geological diversity, and my love for any place with a palm tree and some water. Here, at the Berjaya Langkawi, standing on the front stoop to a gorgeous wooden chalet in a jungle with my two suitcases and camera hanging around my neck, I’ve never, ever felt more like a travel writer–and I’ve never felt more like I wanted to share a particular moment with the world as I did right then. So here we are: at the Berjaya Langkawi Resort in northwestern Malaysia on the shores of the quintessentially greenish-blue waters of the Andaman Sea.
Of course, to push this lifelong fantasy even further, I would have had to actually stay in one of Berjaya’s coveted over-water chalets, as I’ve always dreamed about what it would be like to sleep over water in a house on stilts and be wooed to sleep by the tide lapping up on the shore. But, sleeping in a wooden treehouse in the middle of an ancient rainforest comes in a close second, and as the chalets over the water and in the trees are basically the same, I could certainly make do with this treehouse.
However, while most visitors won’t actually hear the word “treehouse” used to describe their lodgings here (chalet or bungalow are the preferred terms), the Berjaya Langkawi is one of the best places in Malaysia to truly sleep in the traditional kampong-style reminiscent of traditional Malay stilt houses. While there are plenty of high end accommodation options on Langkawi that offer single and double-story wooden chalets with details characteristically reminiscent of the Malay treehouse, complete with sloping roofs, exposed roof tiles and trusses, raised stilts, spacious open verandas, and indoor wood tiling, what I love most about the Berjaya is its location. Steps away from white sand beaches, steps away from lush green mountains, steps away from the famed Langkawi skybridge….the Berjaya is perhaps one of the most perfectly situated resorts I’ve ever seen. All of my traveling companions–who have traveled, lived, and visited beautiful places all over the world–fully agreed.
There are eight accommodation options to choose from at Berjaya, ranging from rainforest chalets to their full presidential suite on the water. In between these two extremes are a number of other equally amazing options: seaview chalets, rainforest suites, family chalets, premier land or water chalets, and an executive suite (which is a step down in terms of space from the presidential suite). Prices, too, are appetizingly reasonable: while the over-water presidential suite would have been way outside my budget at 1390 MYR (about $435 USD), this price actually isn’t as high as I would have expected, and if split amongst a family, would be exceptionally modest. My rainforest chalet–which almost-but-didn’t-quite have a view of the sea–runs 490 MYR/night during the summertime (about $150 USD), but if you’re like me, and a rainforest chalet fits both your budget and your appetite for adventure, I recommend spending the extra 80 MYR (that’s about $30 USD) and upgrading from a forest view chalet to a sea view. If you do, you’ll be able to wake up to a stunning sunrise over a white sand beach. Craning my neck to see above the treeline in the morning to catch a glimpse of the sun was fun in some ways, but it would have been a whole lot easier had I been able to brew up my instant coffee and just sit on the wooden porch and watch it come up naturally. That experience in itself is probably worth the extra $30.
And while the exterior of the chalets might evoke adjectives such as “rustic” or “traditional,” the insides are nothing short of sophisticated and polished. Not only are the rooms comfortable and spacious, the side walls facing the sea are completely made of windows and thus, if you want, you can let in a beautiful amount of light. (Otherwise, you can just pull the sheer curtains together and viola, no more intrusive light). There is a small patio with sleek brown wicker furniture adorning the back of the chalet that is accessible through a sliding glass door, and there is a sturdy wooden table and chair facing the opposite wall of the bed for note-taking or simply sitting. The bathrooms are modern and clean, featuring stand-up glass showers with rain-style showerheads, and the floors are made from a nice, clean cedar. The entire chalet’s color scheme and decor, in fact, evoke the natural beauty of Langkawi– with a bamboo head board, stylish canvas painting of a tree and leaves, and soft, minimal green and ivory touches on the pillows and curtains, Berjaya has done an impeccable job of marrying contemporary luxe with traditional Malaysian heritage. (Note: Of course, do keep in mind that you are in the middle of the jungle, and no matter how well your chalet is sealed, you will probably meet a monkey and a bug or two during your stay. It’s a simple fact of jungle life. If, like me, you come home one night to a fat cockroach in the closet and don’t want to pluck it off the wall yourself, feel free to call the friendly concierge at the front desk, who will quickly send someone over to gallantly remove the bug for you.)
The Berjaya Langkawi is not a small property–on 70 acres, it features over 200 chalets, meaning that you will probably need to take advantage of their complimentary pick-up service. Every ten minutes, the resort sends drivers in open-air buggies to pick up guests and take them to the many restaurants and spas around the property. While this could be perceived as annoying to some people, I didn’t mind waiting for the buggies at all (and was actually grateful for not having to schlep up and down the giant hill to my chalet every time I needed to go to the lobby). Their service is exceptionally timely and very friendly, and all it takes is a quick call to the front desk to let them know you need to be picked up, and in just a few minutes, they’ll be there.
So, if you’re willing to ride around in a buggy, you could literally spend a week eating all of your meals at the resort and never duplicate a restaurant: there are eight restaurants, lounges, and bars scattered throughout the property’s impressive acreage. Like many resorts, the diversity of restaurants reflects Berjaya’s interest in pleasing everyone’s taste buds: from the stunning stilt-house Pahn-Thai restaurant out on the water next to the over-water chalets to the Cantonese-style Oriental Pearl to the Rimba, a Western-style sports bar, there’s really no way to run out of options. There’s even the Sunken Pool Bar, a classy swim-up pool bar with spectacular views of the lush Langkawi mountains in one direction and white sand beaches in the other. For breakfast, you can choose from the Dayang Café, which is a beach-themed restaurant downstairs from the lobby, or the Beach Restaurant, which is situated down by the water on Berjaya’s private beach. Both restaurants, which offer similar buffet-style cuisine in Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Western traditions, are excellent.
While I can’t speak to all eight restaurants, I can certainly attest to both Pahn-Thai and Oriental Pearl, because we actually spent one night dining at both of them. This unexpected twist, which was more of a testament to the hotel’s service staff than the impending monsoon that rolled in and nearly soaked everyone who was sitting outside at Pahn-Thai, was pretty impressive. As soon as the winds changed, the staff quickly cleared our cocktails and appetizers off the tables, rolled up the table runners, pulled in the tables and chairs, and escorted the entire restaurant via buggy back to the Oriental Pearl, where we were offered complimentary beverages while the staff found seating for over 100 people. With the level of poise it took to pull this off successfully, I suspect this wasn’t the first time the staff had to work around the weather.
By the end of the evening, I’d dined in two beautiful restaurants, watched an ominous monsoon blow through the rainforest, ridden a buggy through the jungle, and drank my fair share of cocktails. Soon, I’d be sleeping in a treehouse. All on a tropical Malaysian island.
What could have possibly been better than that?
The Berjaya Langkawi Resort is located on the shores of Burau Bay in northwest Malaysia in the Langkawi island chain. At the time of this publication, the Berjaya Langkawi’s rates start at just 490 MYR/night (about $150 USD) for a rainforest chalet. Chalets with a view of the water are a little higher at 570 MYR/night (or about $178 USD). To stay in one of their premier chalets on the water, rates begin at 1390 MYR/night (about $435 USD).
Article and photographs by Kristin Winet.
A special thanks to Tourism Malaysia for graciously hosting me on this trip.