Hotel Review: Rainforest Junior Suite at the Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, Malaysia
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To The Point
The world’s newest Ritz-Carlton was the ideal setting for a last-minute beach getaway. Pros: great award availability, charming staff. Cons: Not all rooms were open, and there were service snafus.
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During a recent trip to Malaysia, I decided to catch a cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi for a last-minute beach vacation. Langkawi is quickly becoming a major leisure destination not just in Malaysia, but for all of Southeast Asia, thanks to its many beaches, growing number of luxury hotels and relatively low price point.
While I was researching my stay, I was spoiled for choice in terms of both points and paid rates at a variety of luxurious hotels. At first, I considered staying at the St. Regis Langkawi, which just opened last year. But I discovered that the Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi officially opened on Sep. 21, 2017, meaning I would get to check out the resort just weeks afterward.
My two-night stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, would have cost $989 for the starting category of a Rainforest Deluxe Room with a king bed, garden view and balcony.
The hotel was a Tier 2 property where award nights require 40,000 points apiece, so I would need 80,000 points total for my stay.
I had 15,000 points in my account when I started to look, but because I was a few weeks out, I managed to score 1,000 points two weekends in a row by completing Marriott’s NFL Sunday Twitter promotion, which brought my tally up to 17,000 points. For the rest, I decided to transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points into my Marriott account. The transfer ratio was 1:3 from SPG to Marriott, so I needed 21,000 Starpoints to boost my balance up to 80,000 Marriott Rewards points. When I was ready, the transfer went through instantly, I logged into my Marriott account and booked my stay. All told, I was getting about 1.2 cents per Marriott point on my stay, or 3.7 cents per Starpoint, taking into account the portion of the award that they covered.
As a point of comparison, I also could have used points to book a stay at the St. Regis Langkawi for my trip instead. Rooms there were starting at $417 or 20,000 points per night.
So not only was I coming out ahead in terms of the number of points I needed for my Ritz-Carlton stay (just 21,000 as opposed to 40,000) but I also was getting a better value for my Starpoints.
The hotel had a long driveway, with security just off the main road, and then a little roundabout near the reception area. Along the way, I saw black monkeys frolicking in the bushes. I did not see them for the rest of my stay, but was warned to keep the doors to my room closed in case they came in looking for food.
There was no real lobby to speak of. Rather, the staff greeted guests at the porte cochère, rang a welcome gong, then escorted them along the so-called Walkway of Wishes into one of two outdoor seating areas. According to the hotel site, guests are asked to write their wishes down on a stone then place it into the water of the fountain here, but I was simply taken to the seating area for a cup of calamansi: coconut and hibiscus juice.
When I finished, I was taken to a golf cart for a quick property tour before completing the check-in process in my room.
We drove to the pool area, the gym and children’s center and the spa, then drove back up to the building where my room was.
The resort had 70 rooms, 15 suites and 29 villas designed by Philippe Villeroux at Tropical Area Architects, a Kuala Lumpur design firm. The architecture was inspired by local villages called kampongs. My building had three floors with two suites each.
Though I’d booked a Rainforest Deluxe Room in the starter category as an award, I was upgraded to the next category, a Rainforest Junior Suite with a king bed, garden view and balcony. If I had booked the suite at a regular paid rate, it would have cost $1,250 for my two nights, netting me even more value for my points.
With more than 1,076 square feet (including indoor and outdoor areas), the suite was spacious.
Inside the door was a short foyer and to the right was the closet and bathroom. There was a control panel by the door with buttons for the lights as well as settings for do not disturb and housekeeping.
There was plenty of space for clothes, and a large safe.
Between the two halves of the closet was a countertop with a chair that was meant to be a vanity area. There was a brightly painted sliding panel for privacy between the bathroom and the bedroom.
The bathroom was beautiful, with dual sinks set into a long white-and-green marble countertop.
The shower was glassed in on two sides but open to the rest of the bathroom, and had handheld and overhead shower heads plus a faucet for washing your feet.
The bathtub was a large, freestanding soaking tub made of white marble and set by the window.
The Ritz-Carlton stocked Asprey Purple Water bath amenities, which were fragrant but smelled clean rather than overpowering.
Speaking of the window, it was enormous and made up one wall of the room — only it looked right out onto the building’s staircase and the main walkway of the resort, so I had to keep the shade up the whole time. I’m not sure who thought this was a good layout, but why put the room where you want the most privacy where it will have the least of it? The other window was shielded by wooden slats — another nod to the local architecture.
There was a separate WC with the toilet.
The minibar was a large built-in piece containing drawers of snacks.
There was a wine refrigerator stocked with a bottle of red and a bottle of white (for about $40 each, which is pretty reasonable for Asia), Ritz-branded Champagne and other beverages.
There was an electric kettle and a Nespresso coffeemaker, which came in handy in the mornings.
The main part of the room held the king bed, which was dressed with white 600-thread-count sheets (according to the hotel site). It was extremely comfortable. The one thing I missed was a top sheet.
I’m sure there was an operational reason for this, but I do not understand why resorts in tropical places only offer big, fluffy duvets. I would much rather keep the air conditioning on low, or the windows open, and sleep with just a sheet over me. Still, the bed was snug.
The nightstand on the side of the bed closest to the door had a clock and a panel with power ports.
The one farthest from the door had another hidden power panel with buttons to control the lights and shades. There were also a couple books.
Across from the bed was another wall of windows, this one looking out into the gardens and another walkway below my building.
The alcove held a loveseat upholstered in taupe with a round wooden side table. There was a 52-inch flat-screen television swivel-mounted on the wall opposite it.
Along the wall separating the bedroom from the living room was a narrow table with a welcome layout of fresh fruits and three different tropical fruit puddings. I wouldn’t call this a desk, as it was not convenient for working and there were no power ports.
The living room had windows on three sides and its own loveseat.
The round wooden table with two chairs was set with a pretty ceramic tea set.
You could exit to the balcony through the sliding glass door, where there was another loveseat, another table with two chairs and a ceiling fan for keeping cool in the evening. The evenings were muggy and occasionally rainy, but it was a delightful spot to have breakfast in the mornings.
The Wi-Fi was free and worked well.
Housekeeping was wonderful in general and left me extra bottles of water every time they came by the room. There was also an issue with the air conditioning that got fixed quickly when I called.
I was a bit confused by turndown service. When I got back to my room in the evenings, someone had clearly been in the room to put down the shades and leave bottles of water, but the bed had not been remade and my bath towels were not replaced or hung up. The tray where housekeeping typically puts the room-service menu that you hang on your door at night and the laundry list were not left out either night, though they were sitting in one of the drawers in the closet. I’m not sure if the resort wasn’t staffed up enough at the time for it to be offered, but it felt odd to get a half turndown.
Overall, I really liked the look and feel of my suite. It felt so airy, bright and spacious. The wooden slats and many windows gave it the feeling of a luxurious treehouse, while the linens and upholstery and the other high-end touches like marble accents in the bathroom were gorgeous. I would have liked more privacy in the bathroom so I could have kept the shades open and let in natural light, though.
Just a note on villas and other accommodations. I did not get a tour of the other rooms, but many of the villas were still under construction while I was there. So if you book in the near term, be sure to check exactly which one you are getting and what amenities, like a plunge pool, it will offer.
Food and Beverage
The hotel had four dining outlets serving a variety of cuisines. Langkawi Kitchen was closest to the lobby and served Malaysian, Chinese and Indian menus in a casual setting. The indoor dining room was understated and airy, while there were several outdoor decks on stilts overlooking the gardens.
I had dinner here on my second night, and the beef rendang I ordered was filling and flavorful.
The Beach Grill was down by the family pool and the beach. It was open for lunch and dinner.
You could order the menu out by the pool, but there were tables and booths around the bar and further along in the main part of the restaurant and along an outdoor deck.
My first day, I came to sit by the pool and ordered quinoa salad with chicken for lunch, which was light and healthy. Along with a glass of wine, the total came to about $50.
For dinner that night, I watched the sunset from here.
I had a stir fry of Australian wagyu beef and stir-fried vegetables that was delicious, if not extraordinary. Along with a cocktail, my dinner tab came to $60 or so.
Near the adult pool, Horizon was more like a casual indoor-outdoor bar serving a short menu of Thai dishes. There was still construction going on while I was there, so it was not fully operational, but they served drinks and a short menu.
I had lunch by the pool the second day and enjoyed a salad of shredded green papaya with long beans, chilies, peanuts, tomato and shrimp; and crispy fried chicken balls with onion, coriander and chilies. That lunch, with a glass of wine, was also around $50.
I came back there for sunset the second day of my stay, but did not stay for dinner.
Supposedly, at dawn and sunset guests could watch a tarian payang dancing ceremony on the beach. I was not up for sunrise, but I was by the beach at both sunsets and did not see this, so perhaps the resort hadn’t started doing this yet.
Finally, the resort’s high-end outlet was Hai Yan, a Chinese fine-dining restaurant. I liked the décor, and it was in a lovely setting on stilts right over the water.
I decided not to eat here, but was tempted by dishes like wok-fried Andaman lobster with honey-pepper sauce, morning glory, garlic and red chilies paired with Dog Point Section 94 sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.
I have Marriott Rewards Gold status, which sometimes gets me free breakfast at Ritz-Carltons. But because this was an award stay, I was informed that I would not be entitled to breakfast. So instead of going to Langkawi Kitchen, I had room service both days for between $20 and $25.
The first day, I had whole-grain bread with smoked salmon and avocado. I had ordered it the evening before to arrive at 9:30am and it came at 9:05am instead, which was a surprise.
The second day, I just had a traditional breakfast of sunny-side-up eggs with all the fixings.
While I did not come to the resort specifically for the food, I had high hopes, since I love Malay cuisine. The food was uniformly good, but not amazing. That said, there were plenty of options in terms of cuisine, though all of it was at an extremely high price point compared to what you could get a meal for in a town like Kuala Lumpur or Penang.
The raised wooden walkway to the Langkawi Kitchen passed by the hotel’s boutique, which sold the usual mix of local handicrafts and beach essentials.
Past that was the library with a work area, seating and shelves with books for guests to borrow.
Just down the hill from Langkawi Kitchen was the Ritz Kids center, which I thought was pretty extensive. It had two single-story buildings and a two-story one, and activities like kite-making, treasure hunts and nature walks.
Next to that was the gym, which was compact but well-equipped and had a yoga studio.
Down toward the beach was a pond with a red wooden bridge, reminiscent of the one across Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.
The main pool was down by the beach and the Beach Grill. It had a curved infinity border and a two-level deck.
The chairs were arranged under umbrellas so you could have sun or shade at will.
Attendants set out baskets with cool towels and an essential oil spray.
From there, you could walk down to the beach, though people stayed out of the water while I was there because there were jellyfish. The beach attendant told me it only happens from time to time, but they didn’t want to take any chances.
There was a water-sports hut where you could borrow a kayak or paddle board for free, and I went kayaking in the neighboring coves one day.
The resort’s other pool was at Horizon and was for adults only. I went there my second day and loved it. I had it to myself for most of the day, so it was really peaceful, and the pool attendants were solicitous without being overbearing. They stopped by from time to time with treats like a slushy grenadine cocktail and skewers of fresh fruit, and pointed out interesting indigenous birds that flew by, or the tiny turquoise crabs skittering around on the rocks below.
I also thought this pool was nicer than the other, perched over the waves with views of the coastline and the beach.
The Ritz-Carlton Spa incorporated ESPA products and with a menu of treatments inspired by local shamanic healing ceremonies, and was one of the hotel’s standout amenities.
The five treatment rooms were freestanding thatched structures built to resemble traditional Malay bubus, or fishing traps, suspended above the rocks and sea and connected by wooden walkways. The setting felt truly spectacular.
As did the 90-minute stress-relief massage I got, which incorporated Swedish, Balinese and pressure-point techniques. My therapist was great — she spoke English well and checked in with me throughout to make sure the ambience and the pressure were right. It was exactly what I needed after so many days on the road and so many flights, and cost about $140.
Among the other signature treatments was the two-hour Mystical Ocean and Earth Ritual, which included a hot-stone massage, a marine-mud wrap and a full-body exfoliation that sounded wonderful but was out of my price range at $245.
A couple of days before I arrived, I received an email outlining the optional (read: extra, paid) activities at the resort. They included outings like a mangrove boat ride and swimming excursion, jungle walks, yoga inspired by ancient Malay war training, and sunset cruises. Unfortunately, none of them took place the two days I was there. I could have booked optional cooking, ceramics or batik-painting classes, trips to the rainforest or the UNESCO Global Geopark, but decided to relax at the resort instead.
As for service, all the the staff I interacted with at the resort — which is to say nearly everyone, since they all said hello as they passed by — were sweet, cheerful and efficient. I felt like I was checked in on just the right amount, and any time I called the front desk for anything, I got prompt and friendly service.
It’s always interesting staying at a just-opened resort. There were service kinks to expect, like the turndown service or not all the rooms or restaurants being open, but they did not materially affect my stay. Rather, I enjoyed the fact that there were possibly 20 guests total while I was there. What’s more, it meant that there was wide-open award availability for my dates. I was upgraded to a room that cost nearly 30% more than I’d paid, and I got to spend two days relaxing in a beautiful private beach setting.
I do think resorts like this tend to overcharge for everything from food and wine to spa treatments, but the rates were not obscene. For a massage and six meals over the course of two and a half days, I walked out of there paying about $350, which I charged to my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points per dollar. That wasn’t outrageous for a hotel in this price range, but was expensive for Southeast Asia nonetheless, and was the splurge of my trip.
For my needs, the Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi, ticked all the right boxes: a beach vacation on short notice in an up-and-coming destination where points and miles made it possible and saved me nearly $1,000. It will be interesting to see over time how the resort develops its activities program to keep up with guests’ expectations and help them keep busy with authentic, place-specific excursions during their stays.
In the meantime, the hotel remains a bargain in terms of points rates. So if you plan to pass through Malaysia this year, it should stay on your radar.
Have you stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi? What did you think?
Featured image courtesy of the author.