Friday, April 4, 2014

The Andaman, A Luxury Collection Resort, Langkawi

I had the opportunity to stay at The Andaman, A Luxury Collection Resort in Langkawi, Malaysia last week. This was my first time staying at an SPG Luxury Collection property, and I was lucky enough to be traveling with a friend of mine who not only has Platinum status, but also a number of remaining Suite Night Awards that he graciously decided to use for our three-night stay.

Initially, the hotel responded to the upgrade request with three different rooms for each of the three nights. We would start off in a Jacuzzi Studio Suite, then move to an Executive Suite, then to a standard Deluxe Room. Unhappy with this arrangement, we pressed the issue further, and fortunately, they relented with an email letting us know that they were able to accommodate us in an Executive Suite for the entire stay. Even better, they put us in a ground-floor Executive Pool Suite, which included a private plunge pool, cabana daybed, and garden.

Approximately the size of Phuket but somewhat less developed, Langkawi is still home to a handful of high-end resorts, including Four Seasons and Westin. For The Andaman, one of its biggest draws also represents a major disadvantage for many guests. The secluded property is surrounded by a beautiful 10-million year old rain forest, but that means it is completely isolated from the rest of the island, and the drive there from the airport takes approximately half an hour along a small winding road. Airport transfers to and from the resort cost approximately $35 USD each way.

The Andaman lobby

Once there, however, I was completely taken by the pristine environment and surprisingly, the grandeur of the lobby. The centerpiece is a replica of the Balai Nobat, a traditional orchestral platform built for the royalty of the Malaysian state of Kedah. At the check-in counter, we were greeted by a friendly and extremely knowledgeable agent, who gave us an extensive rundown of the resort and all of the amenities and activities available. With her suggestion, we signed up for one of the morning nature walks around the property.

A great tip we received during check-in was to have our SPG Platinum card ready while dining at the resort restaurants for a 15% discount. This came in quite handy as guests are essentially held captive at the property unless you have a rental car or are willing to pay a hefty sum for a long taxi ride into town. If you forgot your card, reception can issue a temporary one during your stay.

Balai Nobat replica

This was one of the most pleasant check-in experiences I've ever had, with our awesome agent anticipating virtually every question and concern we had and addressing them in a remarkably knowledgeable and thorough manner. To our delight, she even gave my friend a hand-written card from the staff thanking him for his continued loyalty and Platinum status.

After a welcome drink and cold towels, the agent actually walked us through the resort to our suite at the northern end of the property. Since the hotel is built on a hillside, the lobby is located on the fourth floor, and it was a ways down to our ground-level room. Along the way, she gushed about how we were going to absolutely love the newly renovated features and decorations of the suite. Indeed, The Andaman had just completed an extensive modernization project on all of their North Wing rooms in September 2013.

We were definitely not disappointed when we walked into the suite. Immediately to the left was a large half bath. The living and dining area were beautifully modern with pleasant earth tones, plenty of natural light from the large glass doors, and unexpected perks such as a complimentary minibar with non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.

Executive Suite entrance

Half bath

Living and dining area

On the small dining table was a plate of fresh fruit, which was replenished every day, along with a welcome tray of chocolates. Platinum members also receive a complimentary bottle of wine. Although we stopped at a convenience store along the way to the hotel to buy snacks and water, it was actually not needed since we were provided with no less than six bottles of water, along with all the free drinks in the minibar.

Complimentary fruit, chocolates, and hand-written welcome card

Bar area

Wine for Platinum members

Complimentary minibar

To the left was the bedroom, with an extremely comfortable king bed and a work desk just behind it. There is hardly any division between the bedroom and full bathroom, which can make it somewhat uncomfortable if you are staying with friends, but I think it's understood that the vast majority of guests here are typically couples or families.

Bedroom and work desk

King bed

The master bath was quite lovely, with a standalone tub in the center of the room, a large walk-in shower, a separate space for the toilet, a vanity, two sinks, and a closet with a safe and iron. The shower had two nozzles, which made me feel a little bad about water conservation, but since we were in the middle of a rain forest, I wasn't too concerned. The bath amenities provided were good, as were the thick and plentiful towels.

Master bath


Closet with safe and iron



Both rooms had access to the private saltwater plunge pool outside. I never thought I needed or would enjoy a private pool, but I absolutely loved this part of the suite throughout our stay. After taking a dip at the beach and spending some time at the resort pool, it was nice to come back to the room and just relax in the private pool for a bit, enjoying the sunset while having a drink. In fact, this was my favorite time of day during our stay in Langkawi.

The patio actually consisted of three levels. The pool level led down to a small lounge area with a daybed, and then further down to the ground floor, where there was a private outdoor shower and a gate exiting the suite to the beach and other areas of the resort.

Private saltwater plunge pool

Pool and view

Daybed lounge

Outdoor shower

Walking paths in front of the suite patio

View from the patio at sunset

The property was designed to meld into its environment, and in fact, many of the buildings were hidden among the trees and could not be seen from the beach at all. The same could be said about the large pool, which felt like it meandered through a tropical forest. Outdoor service was good, with attendants taking food and drink orders and clearing plates consistently.

This is very family friendly resort, and there was even a fun water slide in the pool. In addition, a Young Explorers' Club provided plenty of daily activities and games for the little ones. Subtle touches throughout the resort made this property stand out, such as the beautiful outdoor, sand-filled bar and an organic herb garden.

Lobby and main restaurant

Resort grounds

Pool area

Outdoor bar

Organic herb garden

Arguably one of the best beaches in Langkawi, Datai Bay is quiet, secluded, and most importantly, clean. Only The Andaman and Datai Resorts share this beach and the location is remote enough such that it is fairly difficult for the general public to access. You can walk the entire length of the bay in about half an hour, and I highly recommend doing so during the early morning or late afternoon hours. The water is comfortably calm and shallow, although there is a fringing reef in some areas, so cuts and scrapes on your feet can occur if you don't watch where you're stepping.

Datai Bay and beach

Sand bubbler crab

View from the end of Datai Bay


Speaking of the reef, sadly, much of the coral in the bay was destroyed during the massive tsunami in 2004. Laudably, The Andaman established a restoration project during the past decade, creating a sheltered nursery to grow and replant coral into the bay. There is a daily tour of the nursery, where guests can wade into the shallow waters to get an up close view. Kids can even help build a small artificial reef that will be placed into the bay for eventual coral planting.

Coral nursery

An oft-repeated warning you will hear at The Andaman is to keep your doors locked at all times. This being an actual rain forest, there are wild brown monkeys that swarm the North Wing of the property around 5:00 - 6:00 pm every day looking for food. Over the years, these monkeys have learned all sorts of tricks, including opening doors and heading directly for the minibar snacks.

While entertaining to watch, the experience can be a bit unsettling, as you can hear the monkeys jumping onto your patio roof and leaping from balcony to balcony. They are completely unafraid of humans, and will approach to steal food directly out of your hands, so watch out if you have small children. They will even sit outside your patio door and scratch at the windows, rendering you a literal prisoner in your own room. Trust me, this was scene straight out of Planet of the Apes.

The monkeys arrive

Stealing fruit

Stalking our suite

There are four restaurants at the property, including a highly-regarded fresh seafood restaurant, a Malaysian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and the main restaurant, which serves a daily breakfast buffet and specializes in Italian cuisine during the evening hours. Reservations are recommended, as there are no other dining options in the area unless you decide to venture out to The Datai Resort for their restaurants (which we did on the third night).

We made a reservation at Jala, the seafood restaurant, on our second night, and it was a pleasant experience. The highlight was a fresh seafood bar where you can choose your own locally-caught fish and preparation method. Even with three small sides included, the fresh fish option wasn't cheap, totaling about $80 USD for just that one dish. Along with appetizers and drinks, the bill came out to just under $120 USD. One thing I really enjoyed about the restaurant was the sand-covered floor and barefoot concept. Be aware that there is somewhat of a dress code enforced here, as men are not allowed to wear sleeveless shirts.

We wanted to make a reservation at the Malaysian restaurant, but unfortunately, there was a large tour group that had to be accommodated. Instead, we decided to head over to The Datai to try out their Thai restaurant. After a short walk on the beach to the property and then a golf cart ride to the main resort complex, we enjoyed a delicious dinner there. It was, however, the most expensive Thai meal I have ever had in my life.

Sand-covered floor

Fresh seafood bar

The "Herb Collection" and bread

Crab meat on squid ink pasta

"Jalaksa", a modern take on the traditional laksa

Fresh garoupa and hoi sin sauce, with fried rice, morning glory, and asparagus

With Platinum status, we were afforded a complimentary daily breakfast buffet. Like most hotel buffets in Asia, the Andaman version was a literal smorgasbord of anything you could ever want for breakfast. There were Malaysian dishes, Western options, an omelette station, a pancake and waffle station, fruits, pastries, cheeses, cereals, congee, etc.

One point of complaint I had about the breakfast buffet, however, was the quality of the ingredients. Almost all the meats I tried, including the sausage, ham, and even the chicken in the sui mai, had a strange spongy texture that just screamed fake meat. And eggs for the omelettes were ladled in from a container of yellow liquid that I suspect was probably not 100% egg.

Breakfast buffet

Pancake and waffle station

Cheeses and salad

Yogurt and fruit


We joined a free morning nature walk on the second day, which was a great way to see some of the wildlife in the area. Our guide was an expert on the local plants and animals, and helped us see a few camouflaged residents of the rain forest, including the flying lemur and a number of bats. We also saw a group of black monkeys, which, unlike the fearless brown monkey, are a lot more shy and will never approach humans.

We walked along a paved path that led up to the V Botanical Spa villas located on a hillside. From there, we took in stunning views of Datai Bay and the Andaman Sea beyond. Although I skipped the spa, my friend booked a massage there the day before, and said it was impressive, especially with the views from the villa. A shortcut down a steep set of stairs led back to the beach next to the North Wing of the resort.

Black monkey

Flying lemur

Datai Bay from the V Botanical Spa

North end of Datai Bay

I visited the gym twice during the stay, and both times the place was virtually deserted. There was a good variety of equipment, including treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, machines, and free weights. There were two separate rooms for spinning, yoga, or stretching. Water, towels, and even a plate of fruit were provided.

V Integrated Wellness gym


I had a wonderful three days at The Andaman in Langkawi. As an SPG Category 5 hotel, redemption rates are 12,000 Starpoints per night or 6,000 Starpoints + $110 USD using Cash & Points. We decided to go with Cash & Points, and with Executive Suite prices regularly topping $500 per night, this was an amazing value. Of course, this is also assuming you have Platinum status and use your Suite Night Awards upgrade.

The room was stunning, service was impeccable, and the food was good. The extra perks given to elite members were generous, and the complimentary WiFi was surprisingly fast and reliable throughout the property. If you can, be sure to book one of the rooms in the newly renovated North Wing. Otherwise, enjoy the magnificent beach, take in the impressive rain forest, and be pampered in this truly memorable resort.

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