I was tired. My husband was tired. My infant son had finally cried himself to sleep after fidgeting through the entire Kuala Lumpur-Langkawi plane ride. Even my four-year-old, who usually has the energy of a nuclear reactor, was looking a little rough around the edges.
But any semblance of travel-weariness seemed to dissipate as soon as we entered the serene, soothing confines of Ambong Pool Villas. Nestled amidst the lush rainforest that surrounds Pantai Tengah on the beautiful island of Langkawi, this boutique resort hideaway was a welcome respite from city life. A mere 20 minutes drive from the Langkawi International Airport and one might easily forget that they were still in Malaysia, given the resort’s decidedly Balinese aesthetic and luxe island vibes.
If Langkawi truly is the “Jewel of Kedah”, then Ambong Pool Villas might well be its hidden gem.
Deriving its name from the local Pokok Merambong, a tropical plant native to Langkawi and other islands in the Indian Ocean, Ambong Pool Villas remains true to its core values of sustainability, wellness and eco-consciousness.
There is a clear sense of respect for the environment that is distinctly felt throughout the resort. Structures (constructed from recycled, repurposed or sustainably grown wood) are built in such a way so as to cause minimal disruption to the surrounding flora and fauna. The low-density nature of the property (only nine villas in total) results in a lower environmental impact, whilst also affording an added level of privacy for guests. Sightings of dusky leaf monkeys, macaques and the occasional hornbill are also not uncommon – a fact that particularly delighted my two nature-loving children.
We called the beautiful Villa Kemarong home for the duration our three-day, two-night stay. Overlooking east towards Teluk Baru and blessed with a gorgeous sunrise view, the glimpse of the Andaman Sea, as blue and wide as the eye can see, is truly unparalleled. Each villa boasts similarly stunning sea views, with those facing west towards Pulau Tepor giving travellers a glimpse of Langkawi’s famously vibrant sunsets.
Complete seclusion and privacy are hallmarks of the Ambong experience (ever-important as cautious travellers continue to navigate the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic). Parents with young children in particular can (literally) breathe easy, with private in-villa breakfasts offered, and no common lifts, corridors, pools or central air-conditioning to pose a risk of exposure to the resort’s guests.
A sneak peek
Villa Kemarong itself is a sight for sore eyes, with its warm, burnished orange walls offset by cool white interiors and a tasteful use of natural materials. At just over 153 square meters, the villa is designed to fit a young family of four. With its split-level construction (king-sized bed on the upper level, generous daybed and requested baby cot on the lower level), the design of the villa made our sleeping arrangements in a single room setup surprisingly comfortable.
It wasn’t long before my children were kitted up in their swimmers, taking to our private 12 meter long infinity pool with sheer abandon. As a mother of two young (and extremely active) sons, the attached children’s wading pool was a big plus point, helping to provide an added measure of safety – so important for families with little ones.
The bathroom, with its wide open spaces, rainfall shower overlooking the lovely view outside, and easy access to the pool area, was also fully appreciated, as was the fully-equipped kitchenette that came complete with a Nespresso coffee machine and a range of complimentary snacks throughout our stay.
Exploring (and enjoying) our surroundings
Reluctant as we were to leave the comforts of our villa, we did eventually venture out to explore the grounds (hungry stomachs will do that to you). During our stay, we managed to sample some meals at the resort’s in-house restaurant, Rimba. Highlights included their Squid Ink Sambal Spaghetti (one of Rimba’s signature dishes, offering a moreish combination of savoury seafood with a spicy kick) (RM40) and their generously packed Club Sandwich (RM38).
A short flight of stairs up to the restaurant’s rooftop, and we soon found ourselves awash in the beautiful glow of the setting sun at Rimba Sky, the resort’s rooftop bar – an intimate space to chill amidst cocktail-crafting mixologists and thirsty travellers.
Ambong-Ambong Rainforest Retreat
Not content with merely exploring Ambong Pool Villas, I also paid a visit to the resort’s sister property, Ambong-Ambong Rainforest Retreat – located 300 meters away via a brief shuttle ride. This property was, in fact, the one that started it all – from its humble beginnings in 2011 as a personal family retreat, to the 11-room boutique eco resort and wellness haven it has become today.
I managed to catch the tail end of a yoga session taking place at Ambong-Ambong, as part of a Wellness and Yoga Retreat held that weekend with yoga instructor Nabilla Sharil (founder of Mind Body Breath). With the retreat’s lovely open-air space, overlooking the verdant rainforest and infused with the calming sounds of nature (as well as the instructor’s gentle encouragement), it doesn’t seem too difficult to get into a Zen-like state of mind here.
My family and I also enjoyed a delicious meal at the retreat’s on-site Japanese restaurant, Unkaizen, during one of the nights. The restaurant’s simple exterior belies its solid reputation, lauded by locals and visitors alike for having some of the freshest seafood this side of the peninsula. Even my fussy toddler declared a newfound love for sushi, after happily demolishing half of his mother’s sushi and sashimi dinner (thank you, son).
The personal touch
Our final night at Ambong Pool Villas culminated in a chat over dinner with the resort’s co-founder, Amran Ahmed, who was coincidentally visiting at the same time.
Amran, who flies into Langkawi on a weekly basis, is committed to making sure both the resort and its sister property remain in sterling shape. Ambong is a family-owned business (inspired by Amran’s many family vacations and fond memories of the island during his childhood) – and his pride in the two properties is palpable.
“Hospitality is all about teamwork, it goes beyond being a slogan. Our team is known as the Ambong family and we treat our guests as visiting family members or close family friends. In everything we do, we ask ourselves: how would our guests feel about this – and we do everything we can to continuously improve our guests’ experience.”
Whilst these past two years have no doubt been tumultuous, Amran remains hopeful for a future that is slowly seeing Langkawi rise again. There are plans to further expand the Ambong brand, with a new resort in development on a site adjacent to Ambong Pool Villas, as well as several exciting events planned for Ambong-Ambong Rainforest Retreat as it continues to develop as the next name in wellness. At the heart of this however, remains Amran’s deep affection for these labours of love – as well as an admirable commitment on his part to create as many jobs as possible for as many people as possible.
And it certainly seems like this personal touch has paid off. Travellers, drawn to the comfort and attention to detail that Ambong Pool Villas exudes, often leave with glowing reviews, resulting in the resort receiving the coveted TripAdvisor 2020 Traveller’s Choice Award as one of Asia’s Best Small Hotels.
What to do in Langkawi
When asked about his personal recommendations for our #makchicmumtribe who might be planning a Langkawi visit in the future, Amran suggested:
- booking an island hopping boat departing from Teluk Baru to explore the lesser-known beaches on the south of Dayang Bunting Island;
- taking a Kilim Mangrove tour, either by boat or kayak, to explore the beautiful sights of the mangroves, followed by a tour of Gua Kelawar (the bat cave); and
- completing this tour with an outdoor lunch by Tanjung Rhu beach, at Scarborough Fish & Chips.
There were some of my family’s own personal favourites in Langkawi:
1. Taking a ride on the Langkawi Skycab Cable Car and crossing the SkyBridge
We booked our tickets for the Langkawi Skycab cable car ride in advance on Klook, which saved us from having to queue up on the day of our visit. This wound up being one of the highlights of our trip, with the 15-minute ride up Mount Machinchang granting us beautiful views of the island and key sights such as Langkawi’s famed Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells) Waterfalls.
Once we reached the Top Station, we had to purchase separate tickets (at RM6 for adults and RM4 for children) to access the Langkawi SkyBridge, the world’s longest curve suspension bridge, at 125m in length. There were two options for accessing the SkyBridge: 1) a nature walk of approximately 10 minutes down flight of stairs (and back up, subsequently) through a jungle trail and 2) a (very short) ride on the SkyGlide, a glass elevator cabin that moves upwards or downwards, depending on the hill’s incline.
The SkyBridge itself proved an enjoyable experience, with its spectacular view and glass-bottom panels that allowed visitors to observe how high up they really were. Definitely worth the visit!
Tip: We chose to descend from the Top Station to the SkyBridge via the SkyGlide option (at an additional RM16 for adults and RM11 for children), as we were informed that the nature walk might prove challenging for the kids. The wait for the elevator, however, took much longer than expected – and we wound up taking the relatively easy trek back up to the Top Station to avoid the queue, upon completion of our visit to the SkyBridge. Unless you’re accompanied by elderly travellers, or have mobility issues, I’d say: just skip the SkyGlide and enjoy the walk!
2. Going on a mangrove boat tour
Taking Amran on his advice, we also arranged a private boat tour of the mangrove forest with our guide, Wendy (who came highly recommended by the Ambong team).
We met Wendy on a sunny afternoon post-lunch at the Tanjung Rhu Mangrove Jetty and set off on our adventure. Throughout the course of our two-hour boat ride, our experienced guide took us through gorgeous sights of limestone outcrops and mysterious mangroves, explaining the history of the Langkawi Geopark and pointing out the animals that call this place home.
Along the way, we saw majestic Brahminy Kites, kingfishers, mudskippers, monkeys – and a large monitor lizard lazing about in the heat of the day. Our sharp-eyed boatman, Jamie, even spotted a couple of small snakes curled up in the tree branches, which we observed from a safe distance. What we loved about Wendy was her knowledge and love for this unique natural habitat, and her ethical approach in conducting her tours (no eagle or monkey feeding here). She also had the patience of a saint, taking my active firstborn and his restless brother (who was particularly cranky that afternoon) in her stride!
Wendy’s private tours are entirely customisable, based on travellers’ personal schedules. You can get in touch with her at her Facebook page or contact her at +011-23236728.
Tip: Grab drivers can be hard to come by at the Tanjung Rhu Mangrove Jetty area, so make sure to arrange beforehand for a driver to pick you up. Our driver, Richard (+016-4435128) was friendly, capable and always prompt with pick-ups – someone we’d certainly get in touch with again upon our return to Langkawi!
3. Indulging in some spa time
Not to be outdone by the kids’ holiday fun, both my husband and I (miraculously) managed to sneak in some time for a relaxing massage at Amaala by Ambong Ambong (previously known as Ishan Spa). There are a variety of pampering options available – from body scrubs and facials, to calming baths and mani-pedis – but the Stress Relief (Aromatherapy Massage) (RM165 for 90 minutes) was a definite highlight.
Under the strong, yet soothing, ministrations of my therapist Ju’s excellent hands, all my knots (and cares) soon melted away. I left the spa feeling refreshed and renewed (albeit with the slightest twinge of regret that our stay wasn’t longer to accommodate a Round 2!).
Thank you, Ambong Pool Villas, for inviting us to experience such a memorable holiday – we hope to see you again in the coming year!
by Kimberly Lee
Ambong Pool Villas
Address: Jl. Teluk Baru, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah
Contact: +604-955 8428 / WhatsApp: +6012-7028 428
makchic’s stay was sponsored by Ambong Pool Villas. The writer’s opinions, however, are solely her own.
Ambong Pool Villas is currently having a Stay and Celebrate promotion over the festive season for stays between 23rd December 2021 to 31st December 2021. For more information, please visit their website or check out their Instagram page. You can also learn about their sister property, Ambong-Ambong Rainforest Retreat, at the retreat’s website or socials.