A stunning hotel with service to match: A review of The St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia
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My girlfriend and I arrived at the St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia near the end of a month-long dream trip during Chinese New Year. We'd been pampered on Etihad Apartments (with the best flight attendant I've ever had and a surprise cockpit tour) and spoiled on five-night stays in the Seychelles and at the W Maldives. By the time we reached Langkawi our standards were high; it would take a lot for The St. Regis to wow us.
That took no more than 15 minutes.
By the time our butler Farhan finished our in-depth tour of the property and led us to our pool suite, we were sold. Read on to see how The St. Regis Langkawi exceeded my lofty expectations.
We'd originally planned to fly home to Shanghai after our stay in the Maldives, but with the spread of the coronavirus in China and the launch of flights to Penang (PEN) by Taiwanese startup Starlux Airlines, we tacked on five days in Malaysia, two of them at The St. Regis.
There was award availability for only one night of our stay. As a Category 6 property, the St. Regis Langkawi costs 50,000 points for a standard award (with prices ranging from 40,000 points for off-peak dates up to 60,000 points for peak pricing). The hotel was under standard pricing on our dates, which meant that I was able to redeem the up to 50,000-point free-night certificate I earned with my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. (That card has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) but also comes with an up to $300 in annual statement credits on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, dropping your out-of-pocket cost to $150 a year.)
The cash rate that we ended up paying for the other night was a whopping $650, meaning that my $150 upfront cost for the Bonvoy Brilliant card netted me a $500 return this year via the free night. TPG values 50,000 Marriott points at $400, so this was an excellent redemption on paper and one of the most valuable uses of the Bonvoy Brilliant free-night certificate out there.
The St. Regis is nestled in a private cove on the southeast corner of Langkawi Island, near the convention center. We took a Grab from the airport and reached the hotel in about 30 minutes. There isn't much else in the area, except for the Westin next door (you can see the property from the St. Regis' main restaurant). Each hotel allows guests to dine at restaurants at its neighbor. (We were told that elite discounts cross over as well.)
After a quick stop to wave to the security guard at the compound's entrance, we were ushered through the gate and up to the check-in area. Spacious, overflowing with plants, and mostly empty, the hotel gives an instant impression of tropical luxury.
Two bellhops quickly took our bags (which were sent ahead to our room) and an employee by the door rang a loud gong to announce our entrance. We walked into a white-marble lobby with tall ceilings that, not for the last time, reminded me of our stay a year earlier at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island.
There was a reception desk on the right and a concierge on the left, but a friendly agent brought us, instead, to a couch in the back of the lobby where we took a seat while she checked us in. We were given cold, scented towels, delicious fruit juice and a small coconut pastry while we waited.
After a few minutes, the agent came back to wish us a happy anniversary, confirm that we'd been upgraded to a St. Regis pool suite for both nights and introduce us to our butler, Farhan. Butler service is a unique element of the St. Regis experience. In addition to being a dedicated point person to coordinate your stay, the butler provides free coffee and tea service and complimentary clothes pressing daily. Farhan took us on our tour while explaining all the amenities and dining options at the hotel before finally leading us to our room.
The entrance to the hotel (where you'll find the main lobby, bar, and breakfast restaurant) is actually on the third floor. Most of the first floor consists of pool suites. We were in room 121, a location with pros and cons. We were the farthest room from the lobby which meant a long walk through winding hallways to get to our room, but it also meant that our pool area and stretch of beach were considerably more private. I wasn't sure how I felt about this tradeoff at first, but by the end of our stay I was convinced that they'd given us one of the best rooms in the house.
The room itself continued the stunning and detailed design we'd seen elsewhere on the property. The door opened into the living room, with a large couch and several chairs as well as a TV and desk.
The minibar included several varieties of TWG tea and a Nespresso machine. I asked Farhan if I could have English breakfast tea instead of the flavors on hand and we were well-supplied for the rest of our stay.
Toward the back window was a desk as well as a small bar stocked with full-size bottles and a few signature cocktail recipes.
There were a number of snacks waiting on the main table, including a fruit plate, crackers, more coconut pastries and an anniversary cake (which Farhan proudly presented to us).
To the left of the living room was the bedroom, where we found beautiful towel swans waiting for us. We let every hotel where we stayed on this trip know that we were celebrating our six-year anniversary. Some hotels scattered flowers randomly around the bed, but the St. Regis went all out with the bed decoration, grouping them in threes and spacing them out evenly.
The bedroom opened up to the bathroom, which had a large tub in the middle and two identical sinks on either side.
Toiletries were made by Laboratoire Remède, though we couldn't find any lotion in the room.
There was a large closet in the walkway between the bathroom and the main door, with a few beach towels (though there were plenty more by the main pool if you forgot to bring the ones from your room).
Everything to this point was pretty normal for a suite at a nice St. Regis. What really set this room apart was the massive pool and deck area, accessible from a door by the bed.
We had our own deck with two chairs and a large plunge pool with an elevated daybed at one end. Farhan even suggested that we could sleep outdoors if we wanted, and I think if we'd stayed one more night, we would've tried it.
I loved the fact that we could walk directly out our back door onto the beach instead of going around the front of the hotel. The back doors don't lock very securely -- they just use a small wooden peg that can be opened or closed from the outside. Housekeeping (logically) kept locking the door from our bedroom to the deck so no one could get into our room, but we found ourselves locked out a few times and had to walk around the long way to get in. Most of the pool suites don't have direct beach views, so not only did we have one of the best room types available, but within that category, one of the best rooms.
It's unfair to compare this room to an overwater bungalow in the Maldives or a desert villa at Al Maha, but as "standard" hotel suites go, this was my all-time favorite. All the little things were done right (including well-placed outlets by the bed and strong Wi-Fi connectivity throughout), but the lush jungle greenery and vibrant design made this property easy to love.
Food and beverage
One of the first things I do at a St. Regis is to sample the signature Bloody Mary. The drink was invented at The St. Regis New York and every property around the world adds a local twist.
We arrived at the bar a bit before sunset and you could tell that this venue -- with its high ceilings and colorful artwork -- would look equally stunning by day or by night.
We'd done our research and before we sat down, we ordered two Lang Marys. I've found the quality of a Bloody Mary to be a very good litmus test for the rest of the hotel and this one passed with flying colors. The local pandan, tamarind and lemongrass gave the drink a uniquely southeast Asian flavor without sacrificing the intense spice that I love. We were served pretzels, but I would think a hotel of this caliber could get more creative when it comes to bar snacks.
Then we walked to Kayuputi for dinner. The restaurant and bar are located at the end of a jetty separating the St. Regis from the Westin, with an excellent view of the entire resort.
We were planning on going straight to dinner, but staffers said most guests prefer to have a drink or two on the nets out back and watch the sunset before eating. We ended up pushing our dinner reservation back an hour. We also went back for sunset the next night as well to take in these breathtaking cotton-candy skies.
The bar, located at the back of the restaurant, directly faced the setting sun. That brown-roofed structure you see in the first picture below is the neighboring Westin. The nets hanging over the water made us feel like we'd never left the Maldives.
In addition to a standard cocktail menu, Kayuputi had a gin-and-tonic bar, complete with homemade bitters.
You could order some of their favorite concoctions or ask the bartender to help you craft something unique, but we ended up sticking to the menu. I thoroughly enjoyed the ginger negroni and my girlfriend had very good things to say about her "gem of the island."
After milking every possible moment of sunset, we headed inside for dinner. Our server Joey had suggested that we order in advance before heading outside for drinks, so he could alert the kitchen and they could prepare our food faster once we were ready to eat.
Dinner started with a bread course, but this wasn't any ordinary bread. It was walnut-cranberry bread toasted and served with wagyu fat, and the sweet and savory flavors blended deliciously with the richness of the fat.
Joey was a delight, and he helped guide us through an interesting but intimidating menu. We'd been under the impression that Kayuputi served more local food, but it ended up being fine French dining with local ingredients. The meal was delicious, but we went to Malaysia primarily for the food and were disappointed that none of the hotel restaurants served Malaysian favorites.
We started with crabmeat with sliced mushroom, watermelon radish and beetroot caviar -- a small dish packed with flavor. Next was the hamachi sashimi -- the fish imported from Japan -- with miso radish and and lime-soy broth.
Since the starters were on the small side, we decided to have the crab bisque with candied Boston lobster as well. We had told Joey we wanted everything to share, so he had the kitchen divide the dish into two beautifully presented portions. First he brought out a bowl with all the solid ingredients, plated as carefully as if they were the main event. He then poured the soup tableside, drowning all that hard work yet simultaneously making it more impressive.
A quick word of praise for Joey: While we were enjoying our sunset drinks, he placed our order with the kitchen and also preemptively spoke to the restaurant's sommelier on our behalf. We'd had a bit to drink outside and only wanted one glass of wine with dinner. Picking between white and red was a challenge, given the variety of our dishes, but the sommelier suggested a pinot grigio that would complement our meal. We hadn't said a word about wine to Joey when we first ordered, and the fact that he had this recommendation ready for us was a testament to his amazing service. Tips are not necessary or expected in Malaysia, but I felt compelled to leave Joey a sizeable one.
After we finished our soup, Joey brought out a palate-cleansing sorbet, and my eyes lit up when he told us the flavor: Kayuputi had worked with the St. Regis bar to create a nonalcoholic sorbet in the flavor of the Lang Mary, a zesty transition. I've never seen a St. Regis outside of New York that's so committed to its signature Mary. But we were just getting started.
For our mains we decided to split the Patagonia toothfish with risotto (at Joey's recommendation) and the aubergine. The risotto packed a great kick without overpowering the fish, which cut like butter. The aubergine was presented in a variety of ways (grilled, tempura, etc.) and was unique and delicious.
My Marriott Titanium Elite status entitled us to free breakfast, and in all my years of traveling, I've never seen such an impressive hotel spread. The fact that it was open from 7-11 a.m. every day (most hotels stop at 10 or 10:30) made it even better.
Further Reading: Your complete guide to Marriott elite breakfast benefits
When we showed up on the first morning, a server gave us a full tour of the many buffet stations at the L'Orangerie restaurant. I made a beeline to the nasi lemak station, where a woman in traditional dress was serving up the national dish of Malaysia: a base of rice with beef curry, chopped egg, some vegetables, a healthy dose of sambal (spicy chili paste) and prawn crackers.
There was an open bar, where the Tattinger champagne was free-flowing and accompanied by a half dozen juices to mix with it (ranging from your standard mimosa orange to peach, mango, carrot and other interesting mixers). There was also a station with all the ingredients necessary to assemble your own Lang Mary.
The rest of the offerings were equally impressive, including a dim sum station, various hot dishes from every corner of the planet, salads, cold cuts, fruit and yogurt.
And if for some reason the buffet didn't satisfy you, they also offered made-to-order eggs and a small a la carte menu. Servers roamed the floor, taking coffee and tea orders which were delivered quickly.
We enjoyed our meal at Kayuputi but we were measuring our time in Malaysia by the number of meals we had, not how many days, and we didn't want to "waste" another meal eating anything but local. The room-service menu featured more local options, so on our second and last night we decided to preorder dinner to be delivered after the sun had set.
We asked about eating in one of the cabanas along the beach, but those are reserved for private dining and include a steep surcharge, so we settled for our pool deck and a dinner under the stars. While we were at Kayuputi watching the sky fade from fire orange to cherry pink, we realized we'd set our dining time a bit too early. We asked our server to call in-room dining and let them know we wanted to push our meal back by half an hour, but the message never made it and we arrived back at our room to find a note from the room service team saying they'd attempted to deliver our food. We got things sorted out, and after a ~20-minute delay our meal arrived exactly as ordered, tasting as fresh as if it had just been prepared.
We ordered a Malaysian feast: chicken and beef satay with peanut sauce, Langkawi laksa (a fishy noodle soup), beef rendang and Ikan Bakar, a grilled catch of the day. This was the meal we'd been craving and it was wonderful. Our deck was a lovely and private place to eat, but I wish the hotel served this food in at least one of its restaurants.
In addition to the food we sampled, there are a few other dining options. L'Orangerie, where breakfast is served, is also open for lunch and dinner serving European food, as is the attached gourmet deli. During the afternoon and early evening, Pantai Grill is open on the beach for fresh-caught, barbecued seafood. There is a barbecue and bonfire every Friday night. Guests can also dine at the Westin's several bars and restaurants and the St. Regis offers transportation to the property next door.
Although the selection of restaurants didn't always match up with what we wanted, everything we ate was delicious and reasonably priced for a St. Regis property. I still dream about the breakfast spread (that nasi lemak was one of the best dishes I had on our month-long trip) and Joey's A+ service enhanced our experience at Kayuputi.
The beach and pool are highlights at this hotel, and even though we had a private pool outside our room, we didn't use it once. Instead we opted to soak up the sun at the hotel's main multi-level pool, which included some very interesting art (spot the oversized durian sculpture) and a section that could only be reached by wading through the water.
The beach offered plenty of variety as well, with sections offering multiple seating options and others offering more privacy. It's worth noting that the tide was a very important consideration here -- at low tide the beach was unsuitable for swimming.
Some of my favorite perks of my Titanium Elite status are the on-site discounts I get at many hotels. These vary widely by brand, region and even individual property, but when Farhan mentioned a 15% discount at the hotel's Iridium Spa, it drew us in.
We were budget-conscious at this point in the trip, so rather than opting for a full massage we decided to get a Lang Mary body scrub instead. The drink was so good that we wanted to get it into our bodies any way possible, even by osmosis.
The spa itself was welcoming, with a lavender scent that hits you as soon as you walk in.
We arrived about 20 minutes early and were shown to a waiting room where we were offered ginger tea while we filled out a short health questionnaire.
The walk back to the treatment room took us through a small indoor water display that helped set the mood for the relaxation ahead.
The treatment room was designed with just enough natural light to keep us from drifting off. The bathtub was massive, about twice the size of a normal tub, but we didn't get a chance to try it out. Both of our therapists were excellent, and I loved little details like the hot stones they had us hold while they were scrubbing our feet and the scented bowl underneath the headrest.
A Bloody Mary body scrub might not be everyone's cup of tea, but we loved it and I wish more St. Regis properties would offer it. The price was reasonable, and we ended up getting a 20% discount instead of the 15% initially advertised.
The St. Regis athletic club was located across from the spa and featured one decently sized room with weights and machines and another yoga studio that included a second set of kettle bells. The facility was empty both times we went, and although it wasn't staffed, there were plenty of towels and water bottles.
Near the gym and spa was an on-site barbershop and hairstylist which I'd never seen before. I can imagine that if you're traveling here for work (i.e., an event at the nearby convention center) this shop might be useful, but I wonder how much business they get from people on vacation.
One cute tradition that you'll find at every St. Regis hotel, in addition to the signature Bloody Mary, is the daily champagne sabering. This has been going on every day for over a hundred years. One of the butlers will give a short speech, quoting Napoleon about how he served his troops champagne in victory (to celebrate) and in defeat (because they needed it). If you're hanging around the lobby at the right time of day, you can even enjoy a free glass on the house after watching a butler cut off the top of the bottle with a saber.
Normally, the hotel experience ends when you check out and leave the property. However, in a touch that I've only ever seen elsewhere in the Maldives, the St. Regis and Westin share a joint lounge at the Langkawi Airport for departing passengers.
The lounge was located just past security in the domestic terminal (we were flying back to Penang for a few days).
It was small and basic, with some waters and sodas, a fridge full of fruit and some candy, cookies and other sweet snacks. The truth is a free bottle of water and stable Wi-Fi is more than I was expecting, so if your flight ends up getting delayed (as ours was), this is not a bad place to pass the time. Normally you just need to provide your room number for access, but the desk was unattended when we showed up and it was a good five minutes before someone came and checked us in (by that point we'd already settled into one of the couches).
When you mix a naturally hospitable country with a high staffing level and St. Regis standards, you have a recipe for success. The service was definitely a highlight of our stay, with so many people going out of their way to take care of us. Our butler Farhan was exceptional: After dinner at Kayuputi on the first night, he drew us an anniversary bubble bath complete with rose petals, without us asking.
When we passed him in the hall one day, he insisted on offering us our free coffee and tea, almost as if he was getting paid based on how many drinks he served.
I've written about our waiter Joey already, but when he saw us come back the second night just for drinks outside, he found us a prime spot to watch the sunset (the last net that was still available!) and looked after us personally.
When we sat down at the beach, it never took more than three or four minutes for a server to come up, introduce himself, offer us ice water with lemon and ask if he could get us anything else. Every employee we interacted with was incredibly friendly, and most would run ahead of us to hold doors open.
I had high hopes for The St. Regis Langkawi, but of all the elements of our trip this was not the stop I expected to completely blow me out of the water. Yet that's exactly what happened. This property is an incredible value, whether you redeem points or a free-night certificate from the Bonvoy Brilliant card. Our upgraded pool suite was a bit of a walk from most of the amenities, but it was worth it for the incredible privacy we got. The food and service (especially breakfast) were among the best I've had anywhere in the world. There are many destinations I've visited that I want to return to, but there isn't a hotel that I want to revisit as much as this one.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, click here.