(CNN) — Travelers that venture beyond Malaysia's polished commercial capital Kuala Lumpur will find deserted beaches, forested hill stations, UNESCO heritage cities and some of the most extravagant resorts in Southeast Asia.
For leisure seekers looking to surround themselves with contemporary Malaysian hospitality and design, but who also enjoy an occasional breath of colonial opulence, these are some of the best resorts in the country.
1. Pangkor Laut Resort
Pangkor Laut guests get their own two million-year-old rainforest to play around in.
courtesy YTL Hotels
Three miles off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, the Pangkor Laut Resort proves that the "one island one resort" concept is not unique to the Maldives.
Resort guests have all 300 acres of a two million-year-old rainforest as their private playground, including four acres set aside for the spa village.
The 140 villas and suites include the 242 square meter Pavarotti Suite, named after the tenor who performed at the resort's official launch and opening of the spa village.
Whether you're staying in a sea villa perched on stilts over the Straits of Malacca, a hill villa, or a beach villa, the surroundings might just inspire you to burst out into an aria too.
Chapman's Bar on Emerald Bay marks the spot where, in 1945, a British colonel rendezvous'd with his submarine to escape occupied Malaya during WWII.
2. Cameron Highlands Resort
Gotta hand it to the Brits. They knew how to build a hill station.
courtesy Tourism Malaysia
Located approximately 3.5 hours drive north of Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands is as quintessentially English as afternoon tea.
Not surprising, considering the area was a popular vacation spot for British colonials back in the day, attracted by the clement weather at 1,500 meters above sea level.
The landscape is dominated rolling hills blanketed with verdant tea plantations, and the temperature never exceeds a balmy 25°C or 26°C.
The Cameron Highlands Resort carries many of classic colonial design quirks, from white shuttered windows to four poster beds in each of the 56 rooms and suites.
The plateau is also where famed silk merchant Jim Thompson was last seen -- the mystery of his disappearance kept alive by one of the many "trails" offered by the resort.
Location-specific activities from Cameron Highlands Resort include packing a hamper for a romantic picnic-for-two at the tea gardens, soaking in a tea bath, tee'ing off at the adjacent 18-hole golf course, and visiting strawberry fields.
3. Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa
For romance, there's Bunga Raya's Treehouse Villa.
Located in the South China Sea off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Pulau Raya is one of the islands that make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park.
Guests at Bunga Raya have the choice of 48 dark timbered standalone villas and suites, each one featuring open air balconies with sea or jungle views.
The Treehouse Villa with outdoor Jacuzzi offers the most privacy for lovebirds to sequester away in hidden bliss, while the poshest is the two-bedroom Royal Villa, tucked between the South China Sea and jungle, and featuring a private barbecue pit, two dip pools and a dedicated round-the-clock service team.
Activities include all those adventures Borneo is famous for -- jungle trekking, wildlife spotting or diving with turtles, whale sharks and stingrays.
Guests can also organize a tour to the Marine Ecology Research Center at the sister property Gayana Eco Resort on the same island, and even adopt a piece of coral (complete with periodic updates).
4. Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort
Spa pool on the balcony? Why not.
courtesy shangri la rasa ria
With its international airport, Kota Kinabalu is a popular gateway destination for visitors arriving in East Malaysia in search of lush rainforests, wide beaches, and biodiversity -- Shangri-la Rasa Ria's got them all.
Its 416 rooms and suites are housed in two main wings that front a three kilometer-long beach. At one end of the beach, the resort's very own 64-acre nature reserve also houses an orangutan conservation and rehabilitation center.
Next door is the Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club with an 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course and a Chi Spa.
Guests can explore Shangri-la's 400 acres of greenery on an all-terrain vehicle, or arrange for trips to Mount Kinabalu -- the national park which earned the first World Heritage status in Malaysia -- or go diving in the South China Sea.
Shangri-la, Pantai Dalit Beach, Tuaran, Sabah, 89208; +60 88 797 888
5. Casa del Mar
A little bit of the Mediterranean in the middle of Malaysia.
courtesy casa del mar
Casa del Mar is a boutique hideaway along Pantai Cenang, the most popular and developed stretch of sand on Langkawi.
As the name suggests, the resort is built in a Mediterranean style.
Deluxe and Junior Suites feature large balconies with a hammock from which to kick back and enjoy the view.
Guests who like to explore their surroundings can stroll along the beach lined with shops and restaurants, while at the other end of the scale, the resort can arrange a castaway picnic at a more secluded stretch of sand complete with a tent and day bed.
Casa del Mar also organizes weekly sunset cruises on its 27-foot boat, plus twice-weekly day cruises and sailing lessons on the resort Hobie Cat.
Casa Del Mar, Jalan Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, 07000 Langkawi; +60 4 955 2388
6. The Datai Langkawi
The Datai Langkawi is where you can get your David Attenborough on.
courtesy The Datai Langkawi
The problem with The Datai's gorgeous new pool villas is you won't want to leave. Ever.
Despite the lure of Langkawi's duty-free shopping, and the biodiversity on offer in the island's UNESCO-recognized Geopark, guests at The Datai may well be happy to just stay put.
The luxury resort, located on the northern shores of the island, is nestled amongst the rainforest with rooms interconnected by a network of pathways.
Of the 124 guest rooms, suites, and villas, 14 one-and two-bedroom beach villas were launched earlier this year, with only a grassy lawn separating the residences from the beach.
All rooms feature a private balcony or veranda, from which you can spend hours practicing your best David Attenborough impersonation as you narrate the activities of the dusky leaf monkeys, eagles, and hornbills.
The full suite of facilities includes a beach club which looks out over the Andaman Sea to Thailand's Tarutao island in the distance, and a spa tucked in the forest next to a babbling stream.
Water sports there are a-plenty, and the resort offers twice-daily wildlife tours with guides pointing out the neighboring natural residents.
The Datai, Jalan Teluk Datai, 07000 Pulau Langkawi; +60 4 9500 500
7. Four Seasons Resort Langkawi
The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi: All soaring arches, bright skylights and outdoor soaking tubs.
Courtesy of Four Seasons
Being a branded property means you will already have some preconceptions as to the level of service and facilities on offer at this resort, and all the usual five-star trimmings are accounted for.
Emulating a Malay village -- albeit a rather luxurious one -- the 91-key resort is located within 48 acres of gardens along the northern coast of the island. The rooms and amenities are linked by pathways and spread around a 1.5 kilometer beach frontage.
Limestone cliffs add to the dramatic landscape, featuring heavily in the design of the spa and the largest Royal Villa -- actually a three-villa residence that features its own spa treatment room.
Kilim Karst Geoforest Park safaris are led by the resort's resident naturalist, and there's also a photographic mangrove safari that offers knowledge of camera tricks with the tour. Rock climbers can scale a 12 meter-high limestone outcrop, and Katniss or Robin Hood fans can master a bow and arrow at the on-site archery range.
With a kids club and recently launched Family Beach Houses, the Four Seasons is definitely family-friendly, but there is also an adults only pool for a quiet(er) escape.
Four Seasons, Jalan Tanjung Rhu, 07000 Langkawi; +60 4 950 8888
8. Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Eastern & Oriental Hotel -- modernity mixed with old school charm.
E&O is located within walking distance to some of Georgetown's main heritage attractions, including Fort Cornwallis and the City Hall.
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel as we now know it opened in 2001, but Penang's heritage hotel traces its history back to 1885 when the Sarkies brothers -- who we also have to thank for Raffles in Singapore -- merged the Eastern hotel with the adjacent Oriental hotel.
Situated along a sweeping sea frontage overlooking the Straits of Malacca, the E&O comprises the 100-key Heritage Wing and the Victory Annex, the latter opening in March 2013 with an additional 122 suites.
Rooms in the Victory Annex retain the old-school charm, but with a little more modernity injected into the interiors.
White plantation shutters, clawfoot baths and whirling ceiling fans add to the colonial charm of the place, as does the private butler service (though be careful as the "call butler" switch looks awfully similar to the light switches in the rooms).
E & O Hotel, 10 Lebuh Farquhar 10200 Penang; +60 4222 2000
9. Macalister Mansion
Despite being in a 100-year-old house, Macalister Mansion's amenities are slick and modern.
Named after island's former British governor, Macalister Mansion houses just eight guest rooms in a 100-year-old building.
The boutique property is slick and modern, and each guest room features privately commissioned artworks, including a love sonnet inscribed on the walls, a fabric collage, and a wire sculpture.
Some features of the original building have been incorporated into the otherwise sleek boutique design lines, including exposed truss beams in some of the rooms and a wrought iron spiral staircase inside the turret room.
To escape the pervading color palette of light pastel and white, you can fall into the arms of dark wood and leather (helped by fine wine, single cask whiskies and cigars). All this is on offer at The Cellar and The Den, just two of the five places to eat and drink on site.
Editor's note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.