Tucked away in the ancient rainforest of Langkawi, Malaysia, there is no better way to disconnect from our technology driven world and reconnect with nature, than a guided nature walk in the lush surroundings of The Datai resort. With more than two decades of experience as the Datai’s resident naturalist, Ishrad Mobarak’s knowledge of this natural environment is extraordinary, resulting in his expertise being sought out by teams from National Geographic and the Discovery Channel to document some of Southeast Asia’s mysterious wildlife and flora.

Starting in the early morning, the nature walk begins with a greeting from Ishrad around the blossoming lily pond alive with hundreds of tiny frogs effortlessly surfing the waterways on their giant lily pad rafts. Standing tall over his audience dressed in safari attire with an authoritative flair, Ishrad immediately captivates the group with detailed accounts of the various species occupying the pond. Leading the group in silence through the hotel’s grounds, he echoes a birdcall, followed by a bark of the Tokay Gecko, the world’s longest gecko. Moving through the property with his trailing audience, he gently recites, “Look here”, “Look there” as a Swift bird flutters in the distance or a monitor lizard, expertly camouflaged, is spotted sunning itself high on the trunk of the rainforest’s strangler fig tree. Shaded by the canopy trees, the natural elements of the rainforest continue to reveal themselves while Ishrad’s stories seamlessly unfold to highlight their habits and significance. In an environment completely void of urban noise, this time with Ishrad will give you a new appreciation for the sounds of nature and the vibrant interdependent ecosystem that exists in this ancient rainforest. To learn more about the Datai’s resident naturalist and what you can discover at the Datai, read our interview with Ishrad Mobarak and the Facts Section for more details on The Datai resort.

Link to the Datai Gallery

Interview Questions for Ishrad Mobarak, Resident Naturalist, The Datai

TL: How did you make the career change from being a banker to becoming The Datai’s naturalist, and what attracted you to work exclusively with the Datai?

IM: Despite having a science background, I started my professional life working in a bank because I had an opportunity to play my favorite sport, rugby. After 4.5 years and a handful of rugby inquiries, I decided I didn’t want to end up in a city desk job. While soul searching for my next career move, I went on holiday to a coral island and was blown away by the colors of the marine world. I knew then that my heart was with nature and islands, and this experience prompted me to resign from the bank on my return to the city. I looked for the right fit for over three years, then landed in Langkawi over 28 years ago working for a hotel and fell in love with the Datai Bay. When The Datai Resort was opening over 23 years ago, I applied for an open position and got the job. The Datai is a very special place with an unbeatable setting of the backdrop of the Matcincang Formation and a rainforest that kisses the Andaman Sea. The birds and wildlife are just amazing and are not shy. This has been my home and my passion now since the hotel opened 23 years ago.

TL: The Datai’s location allows visitors an opportunity to disconnect from their busy lifestyles and reconnect with nature. What are some benefits of reconnecting with nature that you have observed and experienced personally in the years of hosting international travelers on private walks through Langkawi’s Rainforest?

IM: Located in the middle of an ancient and virgin rainforest that meets the sea, simply being present in this breathtaking environment makes up 50% of the memorable experience at the Datai. The great service, food and accommodations accent this wonderful surrounding. As the naturalist, my job is to highlight the little gems of nature by bringing it to our guests’ attention and putting it into context to complete the entire experience. Seeing animals for the first time, like the colugo or hornbills and being informed of their natural history adds great value for our guests. I believe that we have an innate affinity to bond with the natural world. I like to use Edward O. Wilson’s term “Biophilia” defined as human’s instinctual urge to affiliate with other forms of life. So, my job is easy, it’s to help our guests reconnect via interesting natural history facts and stories – the rest is done by nature itself.

TL: What can you expect to see on the nature walk in the rainforest

IM: The fixed attractions are the geology, flora and herbs. When is comes to the fauna, everyday may be different, but one can depend on the territorial animals to make an appearance including, the Dollar bird, nesting pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles, Dusky Langur Monkey, Crab Eating Macaque Monkey, Oriental-Pied Hornbill, Racket-Tailed Drongo, Giant Squirrels, Sunda Squirrels, and Crimson Sunbirds.

TL: How do the species vary during the evening nature walks?

IM: As darkness descends, different creatures come out of the rainforest, and you may see Wild Boars, Tokay Geckos, Flying Squirrels, Flying Lemurs, Wild Pigs and Insect Eating Bats.

TL: What is your favorite animal, bird or insect and why are you fascinated by this species?

IM: My all time favorite is the Resident Great Hornbill. They are one of the many bird species that mate for life.  Over the last 23 years, I have had the privilege of knowing the Male for 23 years, and his mate for 21 years. I have witnessed the trials and tribulations that this male bird and this pair have gone through: including, the death of his first mate by a poacher, the courtship of the hornbills, the year that the tree (where his mate was nesting) came crashing down one stormy night, and I held her to inspect her condition before releasing her, and the 15 chicks that they have raised together.

TL: What is most interesting to you about the Rainforest’s ecosystem?

IM: I am very interested in how geology impacts biodiversity. Langkawi has a interesting geological history which started 550 million years ago resulting in an amazing diversity of rock/soil substrate that determined an equally diverse forest type, which in turn determined the diversity of fauna that thrives on it. This diverse biosystem allows a tiny island like Langkawi to accommodate more butterflies (530 species) than the entire continent of Australia (450 species). This is fascinating.

TL: What have you learned from observing nature?

IM: Nature can teach us many things about the daily interactions and daily relationships we experience as humans. Nature has had millions of years to come up with designs, processes and systems and holds solutions to our modern day human problems. A new field of science emerged over the last 20 years called Biomimicry, based on looking at nature for examples of sustainable solutions to solve human challenges. This science is being used for solutions to global warming to a closed loop manufacturing systems where waste is a resource.

TL: What have you learned from observing visitors connecting with nature during your nature walks?

IM: Guests say that there is a before and after feel to their stay. Before the walk, it’s easy to see the surrounding as beautiful, but not the details. After the walk, guests say that they are more tuned into their surroundings and their senses are heightened to see, hear and observe more of what is around them. One regret I consistently hear from guests is that they wish they had done the walk earlier in their stay.

TL: In terms of eco tourism, how can international visitors contribute to the preservation of Malaysia’s natural resources?

IM: International visitors can help first by visiting and staying in an eco destination. Additionally, it is important to support tour operators who follow Eco Best Practices to ensure that wildlife and vegetation are not harmed by their visit. This means no gimmicky tours that feed wildlife, which alters the animals’ natural behavior. Also, traveling at high speeds in enclosed waterways should be avoided, as it can cause erosion of riverbanks and the felling of the vegetation along the banks.

TL: What do you predict and hope for as the future of nature tourism?

IM: Increasingly the world is getting more and more wired. I find the hand phone, as a key distraction from us getting 100% into the natural surrounding. I see a future, a niche, in which people will search out places where there is little or no Wi-Fi, so they can truly immerse himself/herself in the forest atmosphere and reconnect with each other (friends, family and children). Nature can be a true medium for this. “Disconnect to Reconnect”. I would like to see travel develop where visitors can be directly involved in conservation work whether it is citizen science (collecting data from the natural world for the purpose of research) or volunteerism.

“If we can instill in the hearts of people the wonders of the natural world first-hand, then we have friends of nature for life.” Ishrad Mobarak

Link to the Datai Gallery

Photography provided by The Datai.

The Datai www.thedatai.com

Opening Date: 1993

Location: The Datai is located in Langkawi, Malaysia at the base of the Matcincang Mountain. This mountain is the oldest rock formation in Southeast Asia with its formation developed 550 million years ago. The property cascades down the side of the hilltop meeting a golden beach shoreline of Datai Bay and the Adaman sea encompassing 5000 hectres.

When to Visit: Dry Season mid November-mid April | Weather: Tropical, ranging from 23C to 35C

Getting There: Singapore Changi and Kula Lumpur are the two closest international hubs for flights into Langkawi with Silk Air and Tiger being two of the best options into Langkawi. From the airport, it is a 45-minute drive to the resort, and we suggest pre-arranging car service with the hotel for a more confortable journey.

Architect and Design: Visionary Kerry Hill’s ability to create a structure of this scale in the rainforest honoring its natural surrounding is extraordinary. The resort has a natural organic feel, and while showing some signs of age, the outlets and accommodations are authentic in design allowing nature to be the focal point of your experience.

Accommodations: The Main House set high atop the hill houses the majority of guest rooms and one-bedroom corner suites. All of these rooms have balconies, but with the elements of nature including curious masques, it is unlikely you will spend much time on the balcony. The Lobby, The Dining Room, where breakfast is served, and the Adult Pool are also located in this area. For guests wanting easy walkable access to these facilities and venues, you may enjoy the convenience of the Main House. If you are interested in a more remote location, there are a number of one and two bedroom villas located within the rain forest, some including a private pool that blend into the natural surroundings. Regardless of where you are located, there are beautifully walking trails throughout the property that you might expect to be titled “This Way to Eden”. The hotel has a very efficient transportation system, picking you up in a golf cart and delivering you to your desired destination at a moment’s notice.

Dining: With the remote location of this resort, you will be dining here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Executive Chef, Richard Millar has put an extraordinary international culinary team together offering four choices of restaurants, including The Gulai House (Malay-Indian), The Pavilion (Thai), and The Beach Club (Seafood Specialties), and The Dining Room (International all day dining). The Breakfast is beautifully executed with a la carte to order items in addition to a buffet with homemade preserves, local honey, and house made beautiful breads and pastries including gluten free options. The coconut milk and quinoa muesli was delicious. The Lobby Bar offers beautiful views over the resort and rainforest where you can enjoy Afternoon High Tea, cocktails and a selection of fine wines, whiskeys and cigars.

The Beach Experience: High tide brings the Adaman sea line to the resorts’ beachfront lawn until early afternoon where guests gather on lounge chairs at the water’s edge opposite the beachside pool. Be early afternoon, the tide quickly recedes leaving a pristine glow to a beautifully manicured golden beach for walking or swimming. Although there is one hotel some distance down the beach, there is a wonderful private feel to the Datai’s beachfront while nesting under the shade of the wild mangrove trees. This experience is enhanced by the staff’s constant delivery of iced water and surprise treats including a personal assistant to spritz you with water and wipe off your sunglasses. The Beach Pavilion, open day to evening, serves an international menu that can keep families and adults quite content. By 6:00pm, you can witness the magical star patterned designs covering the beach populated over the afternoon by the busy sand crabs.

The Beach Activities Center offers complimentary snorkeling gear, as well as windsurfing, sea kayaks, and sail boats.

The Naga Pelangi, a traditional Malay junk schooner, accommodating 12 guests is available for private cruises throughout the Datai Bay from May-mid November.

Nature Walks: The resident naturalist and marine biologist offer a number of walks, trekking tours and activities for adults and families with children to discover the natural surroundings. Participation in these nature events early on in your stay will allow you to fully appreciate this magical environment. Please note that the complimentary nature walk is confined to the main house area, rather than inside the rainforest. For a more adventurous experience, the trekking tours with the Medicine Man will bring you inside the jungle, highlighting medicinal plants used in traditional Malay medicine.

Golfing: The Ernie Els designed Golf Course with greens bordered by the rainforest extending to the ocean is less than 5 minutes from the hotel lobby.

Wellness/Sports: The Spa located within the rainforest offers a number of services in an open-air environment. Private and public Yoga classes are offered as well. | Complimentary Mountain Bikes are available to enjoy the extensive grounds and surrounding area. | Two Tennis Courts are also located at the Els Club Teluk Dati. | For foodies, Culinary Classes are available weekly or as a private class for guests to learn Malay and Thai specialties. |

Facilities: Adults only pool located near the main house, and beach side family pool. Gym with separate men’s and women’s sauna and cold plunge pool.

Events: This hotel is designed for leisure travelers, but would be appropriate for a small incentive and or team-building program making use of one of the restaurants for event space.

Service: The staff is well versed in English and is incredibly friendly and accommodating.

Hotel Affiliation: The Leading Hotels of the World

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