The Malay paradise where the world’s A-list comes to relax

THERE’s a moment, when I step in to the glistening emerald Malaysian waters of my own secluded cove, next to my private “Estate”, when I can see just why this place is so popular with celebrities. The sun is shining. Hornbills are squawking in the air. There’s no-one to take in my pasty white bikini-clad physique, let alone photograph it, just pure white sand and a butler on hand if I want a cocktail or a fresh towel.

I’m staying at Pangkor Laut, a private 300-acre island resort off the coast of Malaysia, built amid lush rainforest and greenery, giant granite boulders and white sandy beaches. The island’s famous Estates, or luxury private villas, have become a celebrity haunt recently, not least hosting Katherine Jenkins (the last visitor to sign the guest book in mine). Anna Friel, Sting and Kiera Knightly have also made the journey in the past few months, lured by the prospect of private beach space, dining and pools (each comes with a personal chef and butler), freedom from those gruesome cellulite bikini shots, while also having the facilities of the hotel’s buzzy bars and restaurants five minutes away in an island jeep.

Pangkor Laut is a 3-hour drive through the Malaysian countryside from Kuala Lumpur. The drive takes you past the Cameron mountainscape, through villages with traditional Malay wooden huts and a series of large rice, palm oil and rubber tree plantations, before a short boat ride from coastal town Lumut. (Although guests can fly by chopper in a third of the time to the island’s dedicated landing pad. This was Elle Macpherson’s chosen mode of transport, I gather.)

The Estates situated to the north of the island have the most luxurious prospect at the resort. Mine, nestled next to the edge of a bay, has a teak four-poster bed bigger than most London apartments. It also boasts all the technical bells and whistles (including WIFI, Sky TV), a veranda lounge mounted over the sea, private outdoor heated Jacuzzi, and four poster outdoor day-beds. There are four villas that share one large beach, each with their own dedicated beach area, which can be booked separately or together for families or groups. There are nine Estates in total on the island, with more properties built higher up into the hillscape.

The resort also offers more traditional hotel accommodations. There are Spa villas (Maldives-style huts on stilts in the sea, complete with the accompanying open baths. Very romantic.), Hill Villas nestled in the treetops, and Garden Villas, along with several suites. (Pavarotti, one of the island’s famous fans, has a suite named after him overlooking the sea.)

Beds across the board here are gigantic, each has a lounging balcony space, and any guest can use the internet in the resort’s open-air library, which comes with free WIFI.

Like all good resorts, Pangkor Laut does detail well too. Rooms are regularly refreshed throughout the day. Service is friendly and intuitive. Everyone in the entire resort seems to know your name before you meet them. (Spooky at first, but nice after a while.)

There’s also plenty to do. The island has a qualified Chinese doctor and award-winning spa; more infinity pools than you can shake a stick at; several beaches and seven resturants that range from fine dining to more informal daytime venues.

Add tennis courts, watersports, batik lessons, cooking classes and rainforest walks with the island’s resident naturalist “Uncle Yip” and you can see why the resort was named World Number One in the World by Conde Nast Traveller UK in 2003. (Many of the guests I speak to are repeat visitors.)

It is worth venturing out from the island, though. There are the pre-requisite sunset cruises and boat charter options. The hotel also runs excursions to nearby fishing village Pangkong to see local life, traditional wooden boat yards and the town’s Chinese temple.

To get a more varied view of Malaysia’s landscape, many visitors also combine a stay at Pangkor Laut with visiting sister resort Cameron Highlands Resort, a colonial-style property situated in the mountains amid the country’s famous tea plantations, accessible by a three-hour drive winding through the plantation hills. (Or again, the chopper.)

Until recently, Malaysia has flown relatively under the radar as a destination for upscale London travellers, not least because of the journey time – roughly a third longer than hotspots such as the Caribbean (and that’s if you fly direct. Many flights go via Doha or Dubai and run to 18 hours). A good way of softening the blow is to spend a night either side at the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. I spent both my first and last nights at the Ritz Carlton, situated in the centre, minutes away from the luxury malls. It’s one of the longer standing hotel players in the city, slightly old-fashioned in a marble, gold fixtures and bellhops kind of way. (I arrived to find my initials have been embroidered on my bed cushions. Nice touch.)

The roof terrace spa and open-air swimming pools, designed with waterfalls and exotic planting, are a great oasis in which to unwind after the flight. While staying, I checked out the recently opened Hutong Lot 10, a new collective of 2nd and 3rd generation Chinese street food stalls relocated to the basement of a nearby fashion mall. It’s authentic Chinese food at its finest (a meal runs to £5-6). Bizarrely enough, I ran into shoe designer Jimmy Choo entertaining guests there.

On my final night I also checked out the SkyBar at the Traders Hotel. The buzzy roof top bar has DJ and booth seating around an atmospherically lit pool, all over looking the city’s iconic Petronas Towers, which make a spectacular lasting image to sustain the journey home.

PANGKOR LAUT | Need to Know
The Estates begin at $1400 (£8,812) for two double rooms on an all-inclusive basis for a week, excluding alcoholic beverages. Pangkor Laut is currently running an offer for six couples to stay at the villas, all-inclusive (including alcohol and other extras) for $35,000 (£22,030) for a week. Resort Garden Villas – double rooms – begin at $350 (£220) per night based on room only. Helicopter flights from Kuala Lumpur to Pangkor Laut cost $3000 (£2108) and seat 4 people, and Pangkor Laut to the Cameron Highlands is $2500 (£1,573).

See or Tel: (603) 2783 1000 for all booking queries.