Temple Tree Resort, Langkawi
Resting beside a lagoon in an old coconut plantation on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, an ageing banyan tree sits stoically with a temple at its base. In the grounds surrounding this ‘Temple Tree’ are eight renovated colonial villas of Chinese, Eurasian, Malaysian and Indian descent, given new lives as boutique dwellings in a pristine tropical setting. But the beautifully ornate exteriors, awash with once-bright colonial colours subdued with age, are just the beginning of the magic of this unique resort.
It’s 7:30 am and already the air is dense with humidity, its damp clutches seizing every pore and sliding slickly down my throat. The morning sun shows no remorse, shining its brightest upon the island of Langkawi. The fact that I’m practically in paradise makes this all the more easy to bear. That I’m also swimming languid laps through the glass-like surface of a pristine infinity pool, surrounded by verdant sweeping views, lessens the discomfort even more so.
My lodgings in this tropical setting are in one of the renovated antique houses of Temple Tree Resort, on the west coast of the island. My particular dwelling, known simply as ‘The Black and White House’, is a stunning Malay House originally built in the 1940s in Negri Sembilan, south of Kuala Lumpur.
I shake off the refreshing chill of my swim and pad barefoot up the front steps of my abode, water dripping between my toes and onto the ageing floorboards. The double doors require a concerted effort to push open, but it’s all part of the charm of this majestic old structure that has welcomed me into its reaches for the next few days.
Beyond the expansive porch is a living and dining area decorated with well-loved and lived-in curios and artefacts. Chromatic stained-glass windows line the facade, ready to be flung open to enjoy the evening breeze and glorious tropical downpours from the comfort of the cosy couch. Further inside the dwelling, a four-poster bed draped lavishly in mosquito nets (a requisite of tropical chic) appears to be the centrepiece of the room – until you lay eyes on the glorious wooden bathtub sitting stoutly behind it. Through a pair of wooden doors next to the tub is the actual bathroom, with two rain showers that spill through the floorboards onto a rockpool below the raised house. And if you feel so inclined, there is an exercise room complete with a treadmill.
Content with my swim, I’ve politely declined the treadmill’s advances and decided instead to set out to explore the island. A rented scooter, my trusted sidekick in this island adventure, is parked just outside my abode – the sun has warmed the seat to a temperature just slightly below unbearable. I fire up the engine and surge into motion; the natural air-conditioning resulting from my relative speed is an instant relief. I am soon zooming along the narrow coastal road and a distinct saltiness seasons the air. The island is just nudging awake and as my explorations take me through small villages dotted with simple houses splashed with vibrant oranges, yellows and pinks, locals are constructing roadside stalls selling coconuts, fresh juice, rotis and other gustatory temptations.
When I return to Temple Tree in the late afternoon, the sun is on its way down. The pool sparkles seductively in my direction, but I opt for a wander through the grounds of the resort and its sister property, Bon Ton. Roosting side by side, the two locales provide recondite respite from the tourist-weary strip of the nearby Pantai Cenang. With only eight heritage villas at Temple Tree and an equivalent number of thatched-roof chalets at Bon Ton, the fortunate guests of these establishments have all the seclusion they could wish for.
But what is most curious about these dwellings are their permanent occupants – as I wander about the property, I have the distinct feeling of being watched. I soon catch sight of my voyeurs, perched atop walls, under houses, and snoozing on sunbeds, and I am relieved to see they are of the feline variety. Narelle McMurtrie, owner of Temple Tree and Bon Ton, also runs a private animal shelter next door and uses profits from the resorts to fund its activities.
Upon hearing that guests are happily encouraged to help out with the animals, I’ve volunteered to take one of the dogs for a walk. I wander past a sign warning me of the perils of falling coconuts, and onto the extensive deck of Bon Ton’s restaurant that looks out onto the lagoon. Beside the deck, the dogs hear me coming and appear from all directions to greet me. It’s tempting to try to take all of them for a walk, but after being warned of their strength, I end up taking the leash of a golden-haired mutt named Shane (affectionately referred to as ‘the lazy one’). As we mosey off down the dirt road, the rhythmic crunch of our footsteps on the gravel is soon interrupted by a passionate wailing. We pause, transfixed by a Muslim call to prayer echoing across the landscape, and revel in the majesty of a glorious sunset.
This story was originally published in map magazine.