In tropical Langkawi, an island hideaway in the Andaman Sea off the North West Malaysian peninsular, a locally owned hotel is setting the benchmark for environmental practises in the region.
A winner of multiple environmental awards, the Frangipani hotel didn’t start out so green. It took more than seven years to turn the existing hotel into a sustainable resort. Owner Anthony Wong said his inspiration was to create a responsible resort by implementing a sustainable tourism program, as well as acting as a role model for others on how to minimise their environmental impact.
Mr Wong’s commitment to eco-tourism started back in the 1970s and with more than 200 environmental initiatives completed or underway at the resort, he proudly states that the Frangipani is Malaysia’s greenest resort. This is a big claim, but from what I saw on my two-week stay on the island, it is clearly the most sustainable hotel in Langkawi.
While Langkawi was designated a World GeoPark in 2007 – South-East Asia’s first in this global network of areas with geological heritage of international significance – the Frangipani is one of only a handful of hotels on the island with a demonstrable commitment to sustainability. The Global Geopark brand is a voluntary quality label supported by UNESCO and is designed to protect natural heritage sites and promote the sustainable development of the local communities who live there.
Sustainable materials and recycling
The Frangipani has been constructed with sustainable materials wherever possible. The focus on smart recycling is visible on entering the hotel with recycled plywood designs by local artists in the artwork and decorations in the breezy reception area.
Wine and beer bottles are repurposed for lightshades. This isn’t just clever; it’s a practical solution to avoid land dumping, as there is currently no glass recycling facility in Langkawi. Energy saving lightbulbs have been adapted into spotlight torches around the grounds. Worn out furniture from the hotel is fixed and given to staff and the community, while a local artist’s studio onsite creates recycled artwork and products for the resort.
Kitchen waste is segregated and used for compost via worm farms. In addition to the environment benefits, the hotel estimates it saves around 1000 MYR or A$350 per month by not buying chemical fertilisers.
Onsite water recycling and treatment using plants
Langkawi receives, on average, more than 2400mm of rainfall per year. The resort takes advantage of this with 85 individual 4000-litre tanks onsite for rainwater harvesting. The collected water is then used for toilet flushing, watering the gardens and cleaning the pool decks.
In addition, an innovative wetland area and onsite water treatment plant has been developed, which not only attracts local wildlife such as cattle egret and water monitor lizards, but also recycles the hotel’s water through the use of aquatic plants.
Stage 1 sees greywater passed through a tank of water mimosa which absorbs nitrogen and phosphorous. The plant stores approximately 10 per cent of the microbes in its roots, so the plants are changed regularly. The water then passes through red stem flag plants in stage 2, then through water hyacinths – which I am informed are the fastest growing plants in the world – and are very effective at removing heavy metals and reducing pathogens.
This innovative system took four years of research and considerable investment to develop. The resort’s water is audited regularly and is seen as such a centre of excellence that the local council has asked the resort to treat the adjacent local river.
Staff and guest education key to success
Common to what I’ve seen in other leading sustainable hotels around the world, the management team recognise that educating and incentivising staff to participate in environmental programs brings about the biggest changes. At The Frangipani, much of the money raised from plastic recycling going into a staff fund.
This education extends to guests and visitors with weekly environmental tours of the property provided by the resident environmental and education officer Priscilla Morris. I attended one of these informative tours hosted by Priscilla, who has a biotechnology degree, and is very passionate about sustainability and the innovative practices at the resort.
Throughout the hotel, notice boards and signs promote the hotel’s green credentials and accolades.
At mealtimes, the tables are set with informative placemats detailing the hotel’s sustainable commitment and philosophy. The restaurant has an organic menu of produce from its onsite organic farm and offers both a traditional and innovative organic menu option. Dishes range from edible flowers to local fish delicacies including snakehead, tilapia and catfish.
The namesake Frangipani also features in this organic menu including savoury frangipani fritters and frangipani cake. Better known for their beauty and fragrance, frangipani flowers are also edible and have several health benefits and uses, including anti-bacterial properties, aiding digestion and stopping coughs.
Even guest facilities are designed to be sustainable
In such a tropical environment, airconditioning is essential for guest comfort, but water from the units is recycled to provide up to 1000 litres per day for plant watering and each bungalow has solar water heating.
The resort has two swimming pools, one of which is a saltwater pool that uses rock salt for a chemical-free swim.
The adjacent change facilities feature walls of recycled bottles to let the daylight in and reduce electricity usage, while also retaining privacy.
The selection of plants and trees used in the landscaping is also determined based on their sustainable properties and benefits. For example, Neem trees are planted for their natural pesticide properties, while lemongrass plants are dotted around the resort to deter mosquitoes.
At the shorefront, beach morning glory is grown which creates a natural border from the resort to the beachfront and is good for jellyfish stings, which can occur particularly in high season.
The owner’s vision extends to alternative therapies, with an outdoor reflexology path made from local pebbles and a negative ion Japanese far infrared sauna and spa. Far infrared saunas are believed to cure many ailments, increase detoxification and aid circulation. In another sign of the owner’s commitment to community wellbeing, the sauna is provided free for employees with priority use given to those who are sick.
The hotel team has really thought of everything, with sustainability innovation evident in every aspect of the resort. The Frangipani is a lovely four star eco-hideaway in tropical Langkawi, good for the conscience, as well as the wallet. Whether you stay at the resort or not, I would encourage everyone to go on their fantastic environmental tour.
Room for improvement
Nothing to fault. The Frangipani sets the benchmark for sustainability integration at every level of the hotel’s operations.
Room rates start from
From A$220 per night in the high season. For more information or to book visit: https://www.frangipanilangkawi.com
Best time to visit
Langkawi’s dry season runs from December to March, but the temperature remains consistently warm all year round.
How to get there
Langkawi is a one hour flight from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, with low cost airlines Firefly, Air Asia and Singapore Airlines’ Silk Air servicing the island. You can also get there by ferry from Penang and peninsular Malaysia or by speedboat from Southern Thailand.
Emma Parry runs RTW Communications, a brand, marketing and communications consultancy in Sydney. In her spare time she travels the globe and travel writes whenever she gets the chance.