Take a break from Phuket.

Malaysia’s paradise islands are barely an hour’s flight away but somehow always slip under the radar—losing out to Phuket and Bali in the weekend getaway stakes. But that just means quieter beaches and fewer crowds for the rest of us. We wrote about some of the key attractions there a few months back (read the story here) but now there are even more reasons to make the trip.


Naga Pelangi

A chance to sail on the last boat of its kind

For only the second year, luxury retreat The Datai (www.thedatai.com) has teamed up with the crew of the Naga Pelangi (Rainbow Dragon), the last remaining Malaysian wooden junk schooner, for excursions in the bay in front of the resort and beyond. Hand-built in the shipyards of Terengganu on Malaysia’s East Coast it’s a truly beautiful vessel, made of traditional chengal wood and evoking the glory years of South China Sea sailing, and the views —across to Thailand in one direction and back over Langkawi’s Machinchang mountains in the other—are stunning (not for nothing did National Geographic list Datai Bay among its top 10 beaches in the world). Sunset cruises (including freeflow Champagne) are RM450 ($152) per person, while a private day charter goes for RM7,000 ($2,360) for up to 10 hours. 

Also new at The Datai: Forest Therapy (Mandi Embun in Malay), which involves a soothing walk through the 10 million year-old rainforest that surrounds the resort, and —since March—three new spa treatments at the secluded Datai Spa, including the Tungku Batu (heart of stone) massage and a synchronized treatment with two therapists working in tandem. 

The resort is also offering a special ASEAN retreat package (valid for stays from Apr 1-Jul 5 and Sep 1-Dec 23 2016), in which ASEAN residents get special rates starting from $330++/night for a Canopy Deluxe Room, inclusive of breakfast, guided nature walks, complimentary non-motorised water sports, 15 percent off spa treatment and 10 percent off F&B.


Skydive Langkawi 

A very different kind of diving 

Langkawi boasts some fantastic scuba diving, but Skydive Langkawi (www.skydivelangkawi.com), which opened for business in mid-December, offers a more adrenaline-fuelled day out. Packages, which start from RM1495 ($505), include a 20-minute scenic flight with views of the 99 islands that make up the Langkawi archipelago and a tandem skydive from 10,000 feet (with 32 seconds of freefall) with an experienced instructor (the operation is keen to stress that they comply with Australian Parachuting Safety Standards), finishing with a landing on Tanjong Rhu, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches.


Tuba Trail Run

A new way to explore some of the smaller islands

Langkawi is already well established as a destination for adventurous fitness fanatics, with the grueling Tour de Langkawi cycle race having just concluded for this year and the Ironman Langkawi (http://is.gd/ironmanlangkawi) coming up in November, but a new trail race opens up a previously under-explored area. Pulau Tuba is the archipelago’s second-largest island after Langkawi itself and, despite being only a 15-minute speedboat ride away, remains remarkably undeveloped. Together with neighboring Pulau Dayang Bunting it’s home to just 2,000 people, and only certain motorized vehicles are permitted, which makes for a fascinating glimpse of island life before tourism takes hold. To celebrate the opening of a new 30km trail across the two islands, Apr 2 sees the first ever Tuba Trail Run (www.spacebib.com/members/events/view/57), a challenging course taking in pristine mangrove forests and imposing limestone cliffs, as well as beaches and ancient rainforests, with some RM21,000 ($7,000) on offer for the winners across six categories. There’s also a 4.6km fun run if you’re not in the mood for the main event.


L'Orangerie at St Regis Langkawi

Exciting new accommodation options

Other than The Datai and the Four Seasons, Langkawi isn’t exactly overflowing with high-end accommodation options. That looks set to change next month, with the opening (on April 6) of St. Regis Langkawi (www.stregis.com/langkawi), the brand’s first Malaysian property, offering 85 suites and four water villas, five F&B venues and what’s billed as the island’s “largest swimmable lagoon”. Their opening offer is USD$580 ($800) nett per night for a St. Regis Suite. 

Also on the horizon (though pushed to next year) is the 132-room Ritz Carlton, Langkawi (www.ritzcarlton.com). The new resort, which includes 42 villas, overlook a quiet cove on the island’s south-western corner, and feature the island’s first hammam (Turkish-style steam bath), with a view to further establishing Langkawi as a premium spa destination. It’ll be positioned as a family-friendly destination, complete with dedicated children’s swimming pool and Kids Club, so you can expect a slightly different crowd to the one you’ll find at the more established resorts. 


GETTING THERE

Tigerair (www.tigerair.com) and AirAsia (www.airasia.com) have return flights from Singapore starting from $80-100. Malaysia Airlines and Silkair have more timing options, but require a short stopover in KL.