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Inside The Taj Rebak Island Resort, Langkawi

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  Site Where: Kuah Langkawi, Kedah Darul Aman, Malaysia
March 31, 2009 at 11:51 AM | by | ()

Until last week, if you said “Langkawi" to us, we’d have replied ”Datai”. Admittedly, this is mainly because we once had the pleasure of interviewing his hotness Ewan McGregor, and he said that the Datai was his favourite hotel in the world, and we’ve been indulging in poolside cocktail fantasies ever since. But also, the Datai is pretty synonymous with Langkawi luxury.

Langkawi luxury, Datai-style, comes at a price, though – rooms start at $400 and up. We were looking for luxury on a budget, so when we found rates at $121 at the Taj Rebak Island Resort (formerly known as the Rebak Marina Resort), we decided that Ewan wasn’t really worth an extra $300 a night.

We were a bit hesitant on arrival, because the website wasn’t that inspiring, and TripAdvisor had some very mixed reviews. Speaking to locals, apparently it used to be a little grim before Taj took it over two years ago – but none of them had been out since the revamp.

So we were preparing for the worst. As we were being driven from the airport down a grotty, un-paved path to the hotel jetty (it’s the only resort on Langkawi to be on its own private island, so you have to get a boat to and from the main island of Langkawi), we were having doubts.

But then we reached a pretty little gazebo with snazzy armchairs on the water’s edge, and after a short wait (we timed our flight well) we got onto the boat. It’s about 10-15 minutes to the island, and on our way we spied a pod of dolphins. Things were looking up.

We were met at the jetty by a crew of buggies, and taken to the reception and main resort area (about 7 minutes walk from the jetty).

About six people were waiting to welcome us there, a glass of ice tea was thrust into our hand, and we were checked in. Another buggy then drove us to our room – all of 30 seconds away.

Room Reaction
There are no normal blocks at the Rebak. The entry level rooms (called superior) are like little white blocks of flats, looking out over the beach. On the other side of the lobby area is the pool, and then a series of wooden huts, divided into four rooms each – the deluxe rooms, and the one and two-bedroom villas.

We were given a one bedroom villa overlooking the pool*. This is difficult, because we don’t like being gushy, but it was near perfect. There was a funky striped wooden floor (which beats fugly hotel carpeting any day), a large living room with a dining table at the end, a nice sized bedroom (with towels wrapped in ribbon at the foot of the bed!), big marble bathroom, and the crowning glory – the balcony with two wicker recliners. There was a TV in both the bedroom and the living room.

We looked round the other rooms too. The superior rooms were smaller and simpler, but had a better view than ours (that’s if, like us, you’d rather see the sea than the pool), although the terraces are smaller. We wouldn’t go crazy about them, as we would ours, because they were a bit lacking in sun when we saw them in the afternoon. But they were perfectly fine – and come in at excellent price for this type of resort – from about RM380, or $104.

The deluxe room we saw was gorgeous – we actually preferred it to ours. It sat directly on the beach, and had a massive bedroom, complete with sofa and seating area, leading into the bathroom behind. The terrace led out onto the beach, and there was even an outdoor shower coming out of a terracotta pot. There are no screens here though, so it would be for the brave/exhibitionist/don’t-mind-showering-in-the-dark only.

What we Liked
The whole place. We loved our room – good lofty ceilings – and the little touches in it, like a torch by the bedside, and the towels wrapped up with a ribbon at the foot of the bed. And we loved the vibe – utterly relaxed and sleepy. The staff realise you’re there to relax, and totally encourage you to do so. We are normally itching to run around sightseeing, but we found it so idyllic that we didn’t feel remotely guilty about spending our entire second day in a hammock reading trashy novels, with the bar guys bringing us smoothies (blueberry, banana, strawberry – amazing) when we got thirsty.

We’re not sure why – because the grounds at the Rasa Sayang on nearby Penang were bigger and lusher – but we were totally blown away by the gardens. You have an entire island to roam around, of course, so space is never going to be an issue (there are more beaches the other side of the island, but it was a 40 minute walk so we opted for hammock time instead).

And most people seem to cluster round, and in, the pool (be warned, there is a lot of couply nuzzling going on in the pool, which left us a bit unsure about whether we wanted to share that water). So there were only about 8 people on the beach at any one time, and the two hammocks were always free – at least, they were when we weren’t parked in them. Absolutely, utterly gorgeous.

And utterly silent, because you’re on your own island. Apart from the planes (see below), which you get used to, all we heard was the odd boat, and lots of birdsong, like hornbills.

Also, they have a family of giant lizards which they feed every day at 3pm. We were all set to go along, until we got out of the hammock and realised it was 5pm. Whoops. So we didn’t see them, but they sounded pretty awesome – they run to 2m long, so they’re pretty cool if you like the idea of meeting a monster.

What We Didn’t Like
The island is directly under the flightpath to Langkawi airport. We counted about eight flights coming in over a whole day, so although they are very loud when they come, they’re infrequent enough to be an event. We even had a taste of airline geekery, spying the difference between the AirAsia, Malaysia Airways and Firefly flights.

The other thing that disturbed our quiet on the one evening we spent there was the in house entertainment – a lady singer. She was fine as a singer, but her belting out ballads (we’ve blocked out which ones) did not fit in with the chilling we were wanting to do. Still, she only started up at 9, and when we went to bed, we couldn’t hear a thing. So she is escapable, if nothing else.

There is WiFi in the lobby and bar, although it kept cutting out when we tried to use it. in the room, there was a connection with a lead, but our MacBook didn’t have the relevant hole, so we did without. This was far more painful than we could have imagined. Taj really need to sort that one out.

We only went to the mainland once, but if you do go, plan it carefully, because the boats only go every couple of hours. And on the timetable, they stop at 5.30pm, which isn’t good. We were going out for dinner, and asked what to do – we were told that there were extra boats at 8.30 and 10.30pm, but that they didn’t advertise them.

They said this was because Langkawi is a duty free island, so they didn’t want people getting tanked up every night before the boatride home. This seemed like an unlikely excuse for “we want everyone to eat at our not so reasonably priced restaurant every night” to us. But those boats are yours to use, and apparently there’s one around midnight too, although we didn’t use that. A pitch black ride at 10.30pm was as intrepid as we got.

And finally – the beach. The sand was a bit scrubby, and it was quite small – not that that mattered, because there was nobody on it. But the water – oh dear. We took one dip and forced ourselves to stay in for five minutes. It was lovely and warm, like bathing in a cup of tea, but unfortunately looked like the colour of tea, too, with a few equally ominous-looking bubbles on the surface. It was waist-deep for the whole way we went out in it (a couple of minutes of swimming and walking), and the bottom felt rank – all slimy underfoot. So we grabbed a bit of “sand” to have a look. It was more like black earth, and pretty yucky. We got out, had a thorough shower, and retreated to the hammock.

Bottom Line
When we list its faults, we are mainly quibbling (apart from the beach). We are probably setting ourselves up for a fall on this one, but it was one of the nicest places we’ve stayed. If you’re a party animal, it won’t be your scene, and, actually, they probably wouldn’t want you (there’s a reason they’ve done zero marketing to the Brits). But, if you want to lie in the sun/under a tree in utter silence, and are happy with a pool rather than the sea, you will probably find it hard to do better for a price like this.

Rates start at about $104 if you book online at www.tajhotels.com.

*Disclaimer: juliaB stayed as a guest of Taj hotels while on assignment for The London Paper.

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