Luxury Break-In


“Many of the best [beaches] are inside luxury resorts and are inaccessible to nonguests” is how Lonely Planet Malaysia describes the island of Langkawi. We already tired of hearing jet-skis and reggae bars. It didn’t seem right that the islands best beaches were off limits.


Any guidebook will tell you to bargain hard in South-East Asia. Shopping around gave us an idea of what was on offer, and we arrived prepared at the rental car agent. He tried to give us a Nissan for 80 ringgit ($25 USD), but after some back-and-forth we got a Proton, a Malaysian car, for 60 ringgit ($19). The bartering process doesn’t come naturally to me, and I want it end as soon as possible. This time I left feeling like I’d done well.

The car gave a constant, low rumble from the beginning, but for only two days it seemed trivial. 5 km down the road I notice the speedometer doesn’t work. Another 5 and Alex sees the window levers are snapped off. It wasn’t until night fall that I found one headlight burned out and the other about to go.


With our jalopy we drove to the north side of the island to crash The Datai, a luxury resort which practically owns the Datai Bay beach, and the lush jungle grounds on the hill above. Private villas are nestled amongst the trees along a path down to the beach. I feared arriving at a gated entrance with our rumbling, unwashed car and windows that couldn’t be rolled down. Luckily no such gate existed, and we spotted a staff parking lot near the entrance and tried to look decent before entering the hotel.

The lobby was what you would expect, soft earth tones, lots of wood and a large veranda overlooking the pool where pairs of pasty white people like us lay reading novels. But we came to see the beach, so we headed down the hill on a path past the private villas down to a second pool, a bar, and finally the beach.

The beach was a quiet, secluded crescent of white sand on protected bay of the Andaman Sea. It was the prototypical idyllic tropical scene calling you to spend your days splashing around and laying in the shade.


Later that day we had a ferry ride to Penang, and I kept coming back to The Datai in my mind. At first it seems wrong to own a beach, and charge $400 a night to see it. Yet, the largest beach on Langkawi is crammed with vendors, noise, and general over-development. How can serenity be kept without turning the place into a club for the wealthy? Tourism volume brings more money to places that need it, and you certainly can’t blame Langkawians for trying to cash in when other opportunities are scarce.

Everybody who travels has a story of how a place used to be, before development came and ruined it. For travelers the solution has been to keep searching for unspoiled places further and further from an expanding beaten path. But must we collectively keep consuming places and and throwing them away before finding a new one to mess with? I suppose it comes back to the idea of sustainability, but so far sustainability isn’t so lucrative.

May 16, 2010

Langkawi, Malaysia

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