Thursday, November 3, 2011

Walking on water in Langkawi

"Blast from the past! I'm in Langkawi." I cheerily greeted Anthony Sebastian, when I finally got him on the mobile. I was in Langkawi at the kind invitation of Malaysia's Minister of Tourism, Dr. Ng Yen Yen, to have dinner with the next Queen of Malaysia. I'd just arrived and I was being driven around some places for shopping and sightseeing before my much-awaited dinner with the Queen.

In between a very busy schedule, I'd decided to try and get hold of my old friend Anthony, who I knew was now the general manager of the ultra-luxurious Datai in Langkawi, which is one of the top resorts in this part of the world and a great favorite of the rich and famous seeking the ultimate R&R hideaway. Apparently, many of them come here for two weeks and never leave the resort during their stay.

"OMG. What are you doing in Langkawi?" He asked me. "And why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

Long story. My life is a never-ending Travelife and in many cases, there's very little time to plan the private stuff because the work part of my travels take up so much coordination time. I'd just flown in from Cebu, in fact, and spent a day in Manila, before flying to Malaysia. I'd barely caught my breath. And from Malaysia, it's on to another country again in a matter of hours.


"Come and stay then?" He asked me. "You can't possibly come to Langkawi and not stay here." Did the sun rise every morning? Do we need air to breathe? Of course I wanted to stay at the Datai. "Yes, I'd love to. Tomorrow, after dinner with the Queen tonight," I told him.

And within minutes, I'd rearranged my entire schedule -- hotels and previous engagements included -- to enable me to check into the Datai the following day after lunch.

My driver and guide who'd been with me in the car as I worked my mobile were very amused that I'd arranged a stay at one of the world's most beautiful resorts in a matter of minutes, just like that. "When I grow up, I want to be just like you," the driver said.

The next day, after a couple of stops at crafts centers to pick up more silk gowns and caftans -- just my luck, Langkawi has the second-largest Karyaneka store in Malaysia, and it's exactly on the way to the Datai -- I finally drove up to the Datai, which is at the end of a mountain road at one end of the island.


The resort is pretty low-key so the first thing you'll see is a very nice lobby that opens up to a lily pond, and a view of the rainforest and the sea in the distance.

I've already written this in a previous entry, but the Datai has the exclusive feel of an Aman resort, with the intimacy with nature of The Farm at San Benito, and the Oriental touches and attention to service of Chiva-Som in Thailand. So many aspects of some of my favorite places all in one resort.

At Chiva-Som, everyone knows your name and treats you like an honored member of the Chiva-Som family, and you feel left alone but you're never wanting for any kind of service. It's the same here at the Datai.

I don't know how they do it at these resorts as I certainly don't walk around with my name written on my forehead; but at the Datai, for example, everyone seemed to know when I'd had a massage, what time I was set for dinner, and which villa I was staying in. And this was from the time I'd just arrived.


What a beautiful place, and what a wonderful way to end my ultra-luxury trip to Malaysia at the kind and personal invitation of Malaysia's Minister of Tourism.

When I finally saw Anthony for dinner, the first thing I said to him was: "You're certainly living in paradise. What a fantastic place."

He smiled happily and replied: "Well, I certainly can't complain." This was an understatement, of course, as the Datai is certainly one gorgeous resort to run, in an equally stunning location, and Anthony was basically king of the place.


We had dinner by the beach, where we feasted on some of the Datai's award-winning Malaysian cuisine. Everything looked so good that we just decided to have a bit of everything: satay, soft-shell crab, soup and an entire slew of starters, followed by all kinds of curries and stews. For dessert I had the Malaysian version of sago with palm syrup.

While we were at dinner, Anthony got a call on his mobile from London, from one of the Datai's top regular clients.

It's such a low-key and high-maintenance place with a very selective clientele -- basically the kinds who only travel luxe and who don't do hotel chains, no matter how high-end they are -- that almost every direct reservation goes straight to the GM's mobile or email.

Anthony makes sure to greet every single guest upon arrival as well. That's how personalized the service of the Datai is.


Anyway, the call was from the head of one of the most recognizable upmarket companies in the world, and he was calling himself on an early morning in London to make sure that his plans to bring an entire phalanx of family and friends to the Datai very soon for his 60th birthday were all in place. Anthony said: "I get calls like this all the time. When people stay at the Datai, they expect to be taken care of very well."

I said: "You must have a million interesting stories to tell..."

Ever the paragon of discretion, he just flashed a knowing smile. But he did tell me -- without revealing names -- how just a few weeks ago he'd organized a very interesting birthday party for one of his regular guests.

"I want to walk on water," she'd told him. Yes, just like JC himself. Without batting an eyelash, Anthony replied: "We can arrange that -- if you're willing to pay for it." Well, who said money can't get everything done? She agreed without even asking what the bill would be like. After all, she'd already flown in dozens of people from all over the world for a week at the Datai, so what was give or take a couple of thousand more dollars?

So to enable this lady to walk on water -- or rather, to dance on water, for I understand they ended up dancing the night away -- Anthony and his team had put flowers and lights in the swimming pool one evening, and then covered the entire pool with a fiberglass cover just a few inches below the water.

This gave both the people in the pool and any onlookers the feeling and the illusion that the guests dancing the night away on top of the swimming were really walking on water.

I was thoroughly amused by this story and I so enjoyed dinner. But for Anthony, it was just another day's work at the Datai. And, for me, just another wonderful evening in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful, Travelife.


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