haven on earth

with a name like the haven, this luxurious resort condotel in tambun near ipoh, which combines serviced residences with a family-friendly resort that’s operated by best western international under its premier or five-star range, certainly has a lot to live up to. there are three towering blocks – tower acacia, banyan, and cycas – that are painted in colours that complement their surroundings: white like the clouds, blue like the sky, and green like nature. a number of the units are for sale and managed under haven lakeside residences, while 150 are rented out to guests like at a regular hotel or in this case, a condotel.

except this is not your everyday hotel: where else can you find yourself minutes from a city (ipoh) yet enveloped by an ancient virgin rainforest, and inches away from a pristine 4-acre natural lake surrounding a 280-million-year-old limestone outcrop? forming the centrepiece of the resort, the 14-storey high geological marvel is called rockhaven, a moniker that was chosen from a naming contest held four years ago that netted the winner a cool rm25,000.

if you think that amount is jaw-dropping, the outcrop is even more so. perched majestically next to tower cycas and reflected onto the still waters below, its commanding presence has a calming effect. couple that with the unique seahorse-shaped swimming pool that rests adjacent to the lake and you have a panorama that is no less than inspiring, the kind you want to wake up to every morning and that no matter how long or often you’ve stared at it, never gets tiresome.

unsurprisingly, since its official launch in august 2015, the haven has rarely had a quiet weekend. many who find their way here are families with young children in hand and grandparents in tow – as the resort likes to put it, they cater to three generations of holidaymakers. the pool is where most while their time, taking a dip and getting a thrill each time they pull up to the transparent glass enclosure (at the ‘beak’ of the ‘seahorse’) that looks out to the lake and rockhaven. the elderly like to sit in the jacuzzi, and there’s a heated water section that’s akin to soaking in a hot spring, with bubbles. children can ride water slides into the wading pool and clamber around a nearby playground.

for fitness buffs, the haven’s gym provides an adequate workout with a good selection of equipment and weights. located on the first floor of a standalone building by the pool (above cuisines restaurant), its wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows present one of the best vantage points of the resort. a squash court, indoor badminton court and table tennis room make up the rest of the sports facilities. 

adrenaline junkie can consider the three-hour via ferrata adventure course. suitable for children and adults, it covers seven different activities – including rope and rock climbing – that will take you up and down the 76m-high mount haven, the other limestone crop on premise. other challenges are available, for a group of at least 15 persons as well as for corporate teambuilding groups.

you’ll see mount haven as you drive in from the main road and past two guarded entrances, where their friendly and well-trained security guards set you off on the right tone with a welcoming introduction on the haven’s highlights. that warmth, you will discover, extends through to all their staff, who appear to have hospitality down pat and know just how to make you feel at home. it is thus deserving that to date, the haven has chalked up an impressive 30 awards, including the world luxury hotel awards 2015 at which the resort won for luxury family all-inclusive hotel (global) and luxury hotel – best scenic environment (continent), and were also nominated for the luxury suite hotel category.

one of their proudest achievements is being crowned the best green development in malaysia by sea property award 2014, a nod to their commitment of not only being close to nature but doing their part to protect the sanctity and biodiversity of the area. the lake, not open to bathers or anglers, is fed by water that flows from the hillside and underground springs. reportedly, neither trees nor hills were harmed in the construction of the haven and they are the country’s first development that harvests all available renewable energy resources: rainwater, solar energy, and with a windmill turbine (located near the amphitheatre by the lake).

you’d think the place would be swarming with pesky mosquitoes or they would need to fog frequently. instead, the haven insists on not using any harmful substances within their compounds so as not to compromise the air quality. that includes chemical sprays, aerosols and fogging practices. mosquitoes are kept at bay naturally by planting pandan and lemongrass around the property.

a nod to their commitment of not only being close to nature but doing their part to protect the sanctity and biodiversity of the area

those are among the greens you will see when you stroll around the perimeters of the lake which, on a misty morning, takes on an ethereal aura. hundreds of species of tropical flora have been recorded here, including pitcher plants, brightly flowering shrubs, and a gorgeous bloom that resembles pomegranate. the diversity of local fauna is no less impressive and if you’re worried about bumping into slithering creatures, be assured of a seven-foot anti-snake, anti-climb and anti-cut fencing that forms a protective barrier.

as you inhale the crisp air, you will be entertained by the chirps of birds among other wild songs, or perhaps spot a peregrine falcon (world’s fastest eagle) or a black-thighed falconet (world’s smallest eagle) if you’re very lucky or have sharp eyes. one creature you will definitely come across is a dinosaur... sculpture that is, by the rockhaven. besides providing photo opportunities, it’s a whimsical reminder that when at the haven, you are living in the midst of a prehistoric monument that has outlasted the dinosaurs and is still standing strong.

you can also run along the 600m jogging trail or practise mindfulness at the meditation deck, and when you’ve worked up enough of an appetite, head to cuisines, the haven’s sole food and beverage outlet. tuck into a buffet of local and western for breakfast, and mediterranean delights for dinner. start your day with a plate of hearty nasi lemak, eggs done to your liking; parked outside the restaurant and with the pool and lake in the background, the egg station makes for a picturesque little corner.

at dinner, kickstart your meal with a trio of popular middle eastern appetisers – hummus, moutabal (roasted eggplant mash), and tabouleh salad – before moving on to the mains of grilled meats. fresh ingredients, balanced seasoning and authentic flavours make for an enjoyable meal, which will be further heightened if f&b manager miguel is at hand to serve your party. affable and humorous, he will regale you with amusing anecdotes or even break out into song (a chinese one, no less).

nights are quiet at the haven; after the poolside excitement ends when it gets dark, there isn’t much to do here except to rest in the spacious comfort of your condotel. channel-surf through astro, or stream your favourite shows and movies on their advance fibre-optic wifi that promises high speeds and a stable connection.

 

the units come in a number of sizes, starting from one-bedroom that’s perfect for a couple to three-bedroom suites that can sleep up to six adults and enough room for a cosy family gathering. designed for fresh air access, the perforated aluminium grilled gate creates a tunnelling effect if you leave the front door and balcony sliding doors open. inside the suits, a muted colour palette affords a restful ambience, the earthy tones punctuated only by selected furniture pieces. every unit comes with a kitchen, which is available for use to guests staying upward of seven nights.

that may sound like a long break for those of us accustomed to short weekend getaways but once you set your eyes on the rockhaven and its serene surrounds, one week will feel like nothing. from anywhere within the resort, as you rest your eyes on the iconic outcrop, it will make you pause and ponder.

we toil to earn a decent income, often sacrificing health and time with ourselves or loved ones in the name of having a better life. yet it is when we retreat to such a sanctuary that we realise riches are not what come from meeting deadlines or securing the next big contract...

they come from having the luxury of time to enjoy what nature has always intended. it may have taken us a long time, but at least we now have a true haven to call home, even if it’s just for a weekend.



> best western premier the haven ipoh jalan haven (persiaran lembah perpaduan), 31150 tambun, ipoh, perak gps e 101°9'43.2" n 4°38'14.2" tel +605 220 9000/1700 8 1700 0 www.thehavenresorts.com


before you leave tambun...

just five minutes’ drive from the haven is tung wah tong, a taoist temple built into a limestone cave that’s accessible via a winding staircase built along the natural terrain. as you climb, look to your left and you are rewarded with sweeping vistas of almost the entire karst hill range that encircles the kinta valley. several small altars lie along the way, which you can offer your prayers at but the main one is at the top. inside the cavernous temple, the textures and uneven shapes of the stalactite form a striking backdrop and fresco to hanging lanterns and brightly-painted altars.

tip the temple is typically open 9am-5pm daily but to be sure, look at the hours shown on a gigantic digital signboard that hangs out front and is highly visible even from the road – so you don’t huff and puff your way up only to find that it’s closed.

 

 

 

 

 

attaining zen among taiwan's hot springs

photos courtesy of volando urai spring spa & resort 

his form-fitting t-shirt clings to luo sang xi rang’s muscled form like a second skin as he takes his place in front of the taiko drum placed poolside at volando urai spring spa & resort in wulai, an idyllic town 30 minutes by train from taipei.

the al fresco deck overlooks the nashi river, whose chameleonic waters transform as surely the seasons change, deepening in shade as temperatures dip. in the last days of autumn, it’s an inviting translucent emerald that complements the forested hill on the facing riverbank where amidst the dense greens, a white-washed bungalow rises solitarily as a sign of human inhabitance.

it’s the home of local artist wu zong-lin, whose specialty are the traditional copper gongs used at temple fairs across taiwan. two fine examples of his works can be viewed at volando’s lobby: eight gongs in varying sizes hang across a thick arched tree branch and an intricate sculpted lotus pond are the first things that guests see upon arrival.

wu lends more than just his aesthetics to volando; each day, at precisely 4pm, he participates in a unique ‘life ritual’ known as the valley cascade with luo, the resort’s art director.

poised at the drum, luo raises his arms, a pair of drumsticks firmly in his hands. as he rains rhythmic thumps onto the drum, the pounding sound reverberates through the misty air and for those in attendance, the vibrations hit at the heart like an emotional charge. more so when luo ups the tempo into a crescendo, his hands a blur of increasingly rapid movements that taper off into a gentle stop. just as the resonance fades into silence, a different wave of sound can be heard from wu’s house on the other side of the river. the artist is responding to luo’s drumming by hitting a giant gong, sending the chime across the valley.

the exchange, called valley cascade, is what luo describes as a conversational ritual, one that breathes spiritual and artistic elements into daily lives. it’s a manifestation of the concept on which volando was built: to celebrate all of one’s senses and the art of living while protecting the harmony of the land, the environment and its people. in the same breath, it embraces taiwan’s cultural arts as part of its dna.

valley cascade is one of four life rituals that luo conceived of to encapsulate all that, each with its own meaning and carried out at different spots around the resort at different hours. another gong-based routine is the cleansing retreat, held near the spa every morning as an energising wake-up call while in the evenings, velvet pool combines crystals and vibrations in a calming repertoire.

twice a day, the pool becomes the centre of attention for the tranquil meeting of the minds where two individuals sit facing each other on a floating raft and engage in a wordless ‘dialogue’ through chess play using musical stones. inspired by a chinese proverb that opines staying silent while watching people play chess makes one a true gentleman,  it represents a calming of the mind and taking the time to listen to one’s mind and soul.

the vibrations hit at the heart like an emotional charge, more so when luo ups the tempo into a crescendo
volando drum

general manager chun-lin chiang was instrumental in conceptualising this unique hospitality approach, one that emphasises human touch over thread counts. it was he who first heard the chime of wu’s gong echoing across the valley and initiated contact with the artist. the story goes that the latter was caught by surprise when chiang and luo turned up at his doorstep as he has lived in the mountains for years and never have strangers found their way there. the trio sat in silence over mugs of wood fire-roasted tea while wu pondered their appearance, and the ice was broken.

it has to be noted that for the resort, the rituals are not mere performances but an intrinsic way of life. they are carried out whether or not there are guests present – although tranquil is subject to the weather as it’s held outdoors – and are so important to volando that all employees are required to undergo artistic training to internalise those core values so that they can go about their jobs with calm minds and deliver sincere, personable hospitality.

as a guest, you feel, see and receive that warmth in many thoughtful, meaningful ways that tell of the keen attention that’s been levied on every detail. it begins en route to the resort, a 30-minute drive from xindian train station in their complimentary shuttle that can accommodate eight at a time and runs on a fixed schedule. the van winds uphill past small townships and swathes of forests, restful and bucolic settings that make wulai a well-visited side trip from the capital city.

 

inside the vehicle, the ambience is equally mellow, set by an instrumentalsoundtrack that was produced exclusively for volando by owen wang, an award-winning composer whose works for the movie jump ashin! has been nominated for both the golden horse and golden melody awards.

the soothing tracks lull you into a relaxed state so that by the time you step off the shuttle and into volando’s lobby, you feel right at home. natural light floods through floor-to-ceiling windows, which look out to nashi river, across the lounge that’s awash in earthy tones. continuing on the zen-like calmness, the air is scented with specially commissioned essential oils that capture the essence of each season. 

the soundtrack continues playing in the 23 rooms and suites, spacious sanctuaries that are tastefully appointed in modern luxuries and awash the natural colour palette that dresses much of the resort. the suites are always the first to be booked out as they come with a piece de resistance: en suite hot springs bath, framed by large windows that afford enjoyment of the river vista while you relax and rejuvenate in utmost privacy.

wulai is, after all, one of taiwan’s foremost hot springs destinations. holiday-makers flock here with the main purpose of soaking in its healing waters and then find time to explore the aboriginal culture of the atayal people. the name wulai itself derives from an atayal phrase that means ‘hot and poisonous’, a nod to the town’s heated water pools. free public baths welcome all visitors, who can also pay for better options at the town’s many hotels or as is the case with volando’s guests, make a complete escapade of it among the most luxurious of offerings.

day visitors can rent volando’s 10 individual baths, while staying guests can enjoy a host of facilities at the kurhaus bath house that include several large indoor hot and cold water baths, an outdoor bath surrounded by stunning landscaping, a hydrotherapy pool with submerged chaise lounges, steam rooms and saunas.

following in the tradition of japanese bath houses, the dress code is birthday suit and baths are separated into men’s and ladies’ areas. the recommended soaking time in each is no more than 15-20 minutes in each, but you can dip in and out as many times as you wish. in between, you can slip out to the adjoining dasha spa and surrender to further bliss with a massage based on the traditional five-element meridian that’s suited to your chi for the day and using bespoke aromatherapy oils.

the name wulai itself derives from an atayal phrase that means hot and poisonous

it’s a fine way to work up an appetite for hong kong-born chef bu qiu rong’s gourmet cuisine at the in-house restaurant whose moniker is a play on his surname. abu sits above the poolside deck with large french windows that open out to views of the river, creating an idyllic ambience for guests to savour their equally inspiring cuisine.

chef bu had completed stints at top restaurants in dubai and taipei before he was roped in to helm the kitchens here. his culinary style is unbounded by definitions, merging flavours, techniques and styles to bring out the best of each carefully-chosen ingredient.

what is a signature at abu is the delicate presentation of each element so that every meal begins as a feast for the eyes. their afternoon tea is a highlight, served at the deck level so that diners can witness the tranquil and valley rituals while tucking into an array of dainty bites. on a traditional chinese bamboo tray, small japanese plates are arranged neatly and each filled with a savoury or sweet delight of varying origins. parma ham and melon is plated next to a grilled cheese and ham sandwich, along with ma lat (szechuan pepper-coated) chicken wings and a waldorf salad. for desserts, bite into a delightfully zesty lemon macaron and sink your spoon into a bombe alaska.

their chinese breakfast set is also served platter-style, with every single dish cooked only upon order so you can expect a bit of a wait but it is well worth it. the silky pumpkin porridge, contrasted by crunchy dough fritters, pairs well with sautéed cabbage, steamed fish, preserved plumes and japanese-style hanjuku tamago (soft-boiled eggs). xiao long bao sit in a small bamboo steamer, and a tiny skewer of pan-fried radish cake completes the course.

no doubt, each meal is a work of art and for the full experience, you have to sit down for dinner and let chef bu demonstrate his versatility in a range of western-inspired dishes. the appetiser of duck liver pate sets the tone beautifully, served in a specially designed tin as one would caviar, garnished with edible flowers, crisped ginger strands, fresh grapes and grape jelly. it comes with a slice of lightly toasted croissant from a baker whose forte is the flaky french bread.

as the meal progresses, the chef’s perfectionism shines through as does his mastery of flavour pairings and techniques. the wild mushroom and truffle egg is a testament of that, a fluffy omelette enriched with aromatic fungi and topped with milk foam while the seafood bisque highlights a local specialty, the wonli crab.

mid-meal, an organic cranberry sorbet is served in a frosted blue bowl and garnished with the petals of a mini chrysanthemum from japan. it’s both a palate cleanser and eye candy before the indulging continues with the steamed truffle beef tenderloin with anchovy garlic sauce. the meat is meltingly tender and the sauce gives it an umami lift, further enhanced with a side condiment of fleur de sel (french sea salt) with grilled spices and pepper.

food aside, what truly makes a meal at abu is the impeccable service rendered by their attentive staff. on par with that of michelin-starred restaurants, they seem to have a sixth sense about what diners may want even before you realise it yourself. each course is explained in detail as it is served, and halfway through my dinner, a waiter asked if i would like to move to a just-vacated window table so as to take in the river vista, which is ethereal at night as soft lights shine over its greenish waters.

taking my leave at the end of the meal, a waiter escorts me down the stairs and asks if there’s anything they need to improve on. “none,” i tell him, “everything’s just perfect.” it’s no surprise that since 2012, volando has been in the esteemed relais & chateaux list of exquisite boutique properties that’s renowned for meeting the strictest standards according to these five c’s: character, courtesy, calm, charm and cuisine. it’s only the second hotel in taiwan to be accorded the honour after villa 32 in beitou, also a hot springs resort.

as the resort deigns, it is the human touch and the connection between hearts that matter above all else – what they call the soul of the innkeeper. later that evening, as i drift off into blissful slumber in the four-poster bed cocooned by netting, luo’s parting words at the end of the valley cascade ritual come back to me. “in the forests across this river, there’s a precious gift that awaits all. it’s always there. i hope you find it and take it with you...that gift is one of peace and calm.”

 


> volando urai spring spa & resort no 176 sec 5, xinwu road, wulai district, new taipei city, taiwan www.volandospringpark.com.tw

this story first appeared in the malay mail online and crave in sunday mail

opposites attract

the floorboards occasionally creak as one walks over them and even with the doors tightly closed, voices travel across the wooden landing and up the wooden staircase easily. far from being causes for concern, however, guests embrace these as part of the charms of living in a heritage building such as the one housing opposite place, a boutique hotel that was converted from one of the atypical 19th-century long, narrow shophouses that are ubiquitous in melaka’s jonker street area.

this third property by musang lena residences, founded by advertising art director soon lau and fashion stylist david chang, follows the success of their first two ventures that had won the hearts of many a visitor to the historical city. “45lekiu was our first foray into the hospitality industry, followed by the stable,” says david. “both properties are now rather established with returning guests and a steady flow of new clienteles. with 45lekiu being a high-end guesthouse and the stable targeting the lower range, we felt that we needed something in between.”

boutique bounty opposite place is composed of two separate rooms that face each other across a wooden landing that looks down into the courtyard. like their previous efforts, the hotel is hidden in plain sight, sandwiched by unassuming shops with no signboard on its facade – as if it doesn’t want to be found. look, instead, for eat@18 cafe, which occupies the ground floor of the two-storey shophouse, its entrance marked by wooden railings and a small gate. the front patio, paved with pebbles and a stone walkway, seats four guests at two small tables underneath hanging trellises of leafy plants. this semi-al fresco spot is one of four small dining areas; there are pub-style high tables inside, lined against the wall and along the bar-like open kitchen, that leads to the courtyard where mismatched tables and chairs offer a more chilled out environment. beyond that, a private dining room is reserved for functions and events.

diners are often unaware that above them sits a boutique hotel, accessed via a wooden staircase in the courtyard that’s part of the original fixtures of the building. “the property had been left unoccupied for a number of years when we took possession. it was stripped to its bare minimum but luckily, all of the original beams, floorboards and roof tiles were left untouched,” soon recalls.

in fact, the interiors were in fairly good condition, leaving little need for reconstruction except for the restoration of some broken pieces. old, unsightly paintwork on the wooden beams and floorboards were stripped clean to let the natural features reclaim their place in the spotlight. “the main facade of the building was also well preserved and needed just a fresh lick of paint. we were thus able to adhere to melaka’s laws for heritage buildings, in that nothing much was altered.”

maintaining the overall original structure, as stipulated by the strict regulations governing melaka’s built heritage, was thus a relatively easy task but this is an old building after all and one that was not meant to be a hotel. in transforming it into one, certain limitations arose. “the most frustrating part of the renovation was the plumbing work. there were no pipes or plumbing upstairs, at the front of the building where the west room is located. all the plumbing was at the back of the building and so we had to basically re-do all the piping work as well as add septic tanks in the building,” soon reveals, adding that the other challenge they faced was in adding two internal courtyards into the property, “as we wanted a green space. proper drainage was required and choosing the right foliage that will thrive in a semi-covered area is crucial. we made this work with the help of a landscape designer.”

the result is two patches of mini green lungs that punctuate the bricks-and-wood enclosure like breaths of fresh air. the first is a feature wall of creepers that forms the backdrop at eat’s courtyard dining area, the luscious greens a striking contrast to the bright orange eames style eiffel side chairs. the other nestles right toward the back of the ground floor, adjacent to the function room, from where you can get a full view through large glass windows that let the sunlight in.

contemporary luxury guests who have stayed at musang lena’s previous properties will identify with recurrent design elements such as the exposed brick walls that are original features that had been covered by plaster for years. now allowed to ‘breathe’ in their bare form, they frame the interiors throughout to create that raw, industrial backdrop that’s a recurrent theme throughout musang lena’s hotels.

in the west room, a muted palette and dim warm lights complements the nude walls with a tasteful mix of decor pieces that provides chic accents throughout the room: above the king-size bed, a monochrome portrait of tilda swinton hangs in the spotlight with more framed photographs above the oversized sofa parked against the facing wall. dressed like a suite, the first portion of the room is the living cum dining area, where a vintage chinese wall cabinet complements the dark marble table and a wooden chest that doubles as a low wardrobe, crowned by a life-sized deer sculpture.

the overall effect is one of restrained decadence that recalls 45lekiu (which is just across the road) but the bathroom takes it to another level. taking up almost half the room, a vintage murano chandelier takes centre stage above a clawed bathtub with the showers and toilets encased glass cubicles, and everything sits on a raised wooden platform. heavy velvet draperies offer privacy from the rest of the room if needed, or drawn to leave an open space as soon envisioned. “in order to maintain the fluidity of the room, we kept the floor uninterrupted, with no walls to break up the space. and in keeping with this concept, we decided to have the bathroom blend seamlessly with the bedroom.”

the spatial comfort is further enhanced by removing the attic, thus doubling the height in both rooms. where the west room has dark tones to bring out its opulent flair, east room is contrastingly airy and well-lit with a contemporary cinematic allure. “we wanted a room flooded with natural light but that still remains cosy. we created a long corridor of light with the use of louvered windows that can be opened to reveal the two courtyards downstairs,” soon explains. “we also wanted a hip youthful interior with the interior design so we added in a mix of vintage pasolini posters and mid century furniture juxtaposed by traditional chinese calligraphy.” 

pops of colours brighten up the bedroom, in the posters and artworks plastered above the bed and a collection of hardcover books that are both decor and reading material. an entire collection of architecture and design journal domus – 12 issues dating from 1928 to 1999 – sits above a sleek retro cabinet facing the bed, with amenities like a flat screen television, mini bar and nespresso machine hiding behind sliding panels.

this, on the other hand, is a spot that you actually look forward to spending time in, an extension of the living area that doesn’t take away from it

if you think west’s bathroom is a highlight, east’s version is definitely a talking point. walk through the original wooden door that separates it from the bedroom and your eyes will immediately be drawn to the end of the room. like the indoor dining area of eat@18, two tall chairs flank a small high table to afford a hangout spot, right next to a replica eames la chaise while wrap-around louvred shutters stream in soft light that’s partly filtered by dark bamboo blinds hanging outside.

at most hotels, the bathroom is simply a utility point and nothing more, an essential that doesn’t usually warrant more than a cursory mention. this, on the other hand, is a spot that you actually look forward to spending time in, an extension of the living area that doesn’t take away from it. “the bathrooms were design in such a way that you can be just as relaxed in the bathrooms as you would be in the rooms,” soon elaborates. 

 

artisanal enjoyment rather than convert the ground floor into more rooms, the duo opted to have an in-house cafe to complete their hospitality offerings for guests at all their three hotels. “with the cafe, we are able to provide additional services that we were not able to do previously, like breakfast and in-room dining,” says david. “eat@18 also stocks a selection of fine wines and can cater for private dining for up to 20 people in the dining room.”

eat@18 is managed by eli lum, who also plays the role of caretaker for opposite place and guests check in with her. eli specialises in artisanal breads that are made of organic flour and free from preservatives or additives, which are sold in loaves and also incorporated into the hot food menu. previously based in kuala lumpur, she was a home baker and had a stall at the plaza mont kiara market on thursday nights and also supplied to jasons food hall at bangsar shopping centre. under her knead & simple label, eli also sold a variety of cookies.

the hot food, like the breads, are authentic and honest-to-goodness dishes that emphasise freshness and well-balanced flavours. staying guests have a choice between three breakfast sets: scrambled eggs, french toast and scones – all made freshly and from scratch. the creamy eggs are served on a thick slice of toasted wholemeal bread, with a side salad while the toast is well-browned and sits among fresh berries and bananas. the scones, buttery and crumbly, are served with fresh cream and eli’s homemade strawberry jam. thick but silky and not too sweet, the jam also features in desserts like the beautiful meringue nest, served with a scoop of haagen-dazs vanilla ice-cream. for diners, other options are available, including a savoury grilled bell pepper and chicken with sides of roast potatoes and a salad.

since its opening in mid-2014, eat@18 is already drawing a good crowd that’s made up of more locals as aside from those staying at the three hotels, few tourists venture along this quiet street that branches off the main jonker street. the relative solitude and seclusion are part of opposite place’s plus points, affording the intimate privacy that’s ideal for a restful escapade within such homey settings. it’s no wonder that some guests check into the rooms and hardly venture out, except to troop down the stairs for a bite at eat@18.

that is when you know you’ve truly found a home away from home and you can expect more of such welcoming abodes from david and soon. “we intend to add more properties under the musang lena residences brand,” david confirms. “restoration and preservation of heritage buildings are our passion and that is what we will be focusing on in our future projects.”

 

opposite place 18 jalan hang lekiu, melaka tel +6016 274 9686/+6012 623 9459 (eli) or +6012 698 491 (sharen) email enquiries@musanglena.com website http://opposite-place.com/

 

this article first appeared in crave/themalaymailonline on 2 nov 2014

 

a retreat between two limestone hills

anak bukit takun stands between a natural pond and the landscaped greens of perangsang templer golf club, popular with golfers from korea and japan. the limestone hill measures about 15 metres high and hosts unique cave fauna. if you think anak is majestic looking, its “mother” bukit takun is even more resplendent at about 20 times the height. this solitary outcrop that sits on a granite base dates back at least a million years and was one of the first rock climbing sites in malaysia.

such limestone hills are what one would typically associate with ipoh or kedah but is hardly thought of when describing selangor. yet there they are in all their imposing glory, part of the view that greets you at templer park rainforest retreat, a family-owned and run holiday home set out over a four-acre piece of land that’s open for rentals year round.

guests check into one of four rooms in a two-level house built of merbau and teakwood, with solar panels to power the water heaters. there are two room types: the smaller one is meant for two and the other can sleep up to six. all units are fitted with air-conditioners and fans, while the latter is also equipped with a flat screen tv with more than 100 movies stored in a usb drive. altogether, the retreat can house at least 16 guests at a time, with the capacity for more on foldable canvas beds.

since receiving their first guests last year, rainforest retreat has drawn a steady stream of visitors looking for an escape from the pressures of the city that it is so close to (just 20 minutes by car from kl), yet is a world away from. already, their weekends are booked out until the end of the year while advance reservations have been locked in for next march. airbnb, the vacation rental site where rainforest retreat is listed, has named them as a superhost based on their hospitality style and quality of travellers’ experience.

the response was a surprise to owners saw kim hock and his wife juliet chew, a retired t-shirt manufacturer and chartered accountant, respectively. the couple and their three sons used to live in taman tun dr ismail and only moved here about 10 years ago, drawn by the crisp air, serenity and slow pace. saw had owned the piece of land where the retreat now sits for a number of years prior to that but didn’t have any specific plans for it.

“we never thought of running a resort, we initially just built a fish pond with a barbecue deck next to it as a place for family and friends to gather,” saw explains. there are some 5,000 fish in the pond, including prized species such as soon hock (marble goby) and wang bu liao (tor tambroides). “then we realised we needed shelter in case it rains, so we constructed a studio apartment-style room under the deck.”

when their youngest son returned from architecture studies in the uk, he convinced his parents that they should open the place to others and share the restful environment. the saws listed their place on airbnb at the end of 2013 and almost immediately, visitors began arriving.

at the time, guests could either stay at the apartment by the pond or at the family’s home next door. as their inbox began filling up with more enquiries, saw realised the need to provide more accommodation options and so right after chinese new year this year, they built the guest house.

drawn by the crisp air, serenity and slow pace

“even the weekdays are filling up fast,” juliet reveals, adding that some guests book at the very last minute, as if they urgently need a respite from the city and their daily lives. “we’ve had people who happened to visit the area, spotted our place from the road and immediately after, they booked a stay with us!” it’s also not uncommon for visitors to return for repeat stays after getting a taste of what the retreat has to offer.

turning in from lebuhraya rawang, you drive past rows of tall trees flanking a small road. further in, the trees grow closer together, bending to meet in the middle and creating a tunnel-like path with their lush foliage. once you reach the retreat, the air is perceptibly cooler. “since moving here, we have only used our air-conditioner about five times,” says saw while juliet reveals how it can get so chilly in the early mornings that they have to rouse themselves from sleep to put socks on!

bring your car up a short driveway and park at the edge of the lawn fronting the retreat. the open field is an ideal playground for children, dogs (the retreat is pet friendly) and also corporate team-building groups. juliet, who now runs a tuition centre with her second son, has taken care to provide some games that are suitable for all ages. besides water guns and dart boards, there are traditional games like congkak, rubber band jump ropes, and she’s constantly thinking of more childhood favourites to add to the mix.

next to the guest house is a small semi-open air kitchen where you can cook your own meals or prepare a barbecue. the retreat doesn’t cater any food – except for bread and eggs for breakfast – but provides all the necessary utensils, including grills and tongs. there’s a smattering of sauces and dips left behind by guests but you need to bring your own food and ingredients; the nearest tesco is about 10 minutes away.

enjoy your barbecue at the relaxation pavilion that’s linked by stone paths to the kitchen, an airy space with high ceilings filled with a motley selection of furniture. sporting organic shapes and materials, they complement the surroundings perfectly. the centrepiece is three boulders with their tops flattened and the surfaces coated in tiny pebbles. cool to the touch and large enough to fit a person each, they make great spots for an afternoon lie down.

if you prefer a softer surface, get comfortable on the two hammocks that look out directly over the golf course or settle into one of the unique chairs that are carved from a type of indonesian wood and shaped like cupped hands. tuck into breakfast at the large irregular-shaped dining table, sculpted from a stone slab, with stools to match. nearby, a jagged white marble-like block with small craters coating its top is the most significant feature here: a chip off bukit takun that was unearthed during the construction of the fish pond. a staircase leads to the upper deck, where wooden swings and gazebos are well placed to offer more chill-out spots and lookout points.

the retreat doesn’t offer any other facilities but it doesn’t need to. most guests are content to simply lounge around, listening to the chirp of birds and making the most of the laidback environment. juliet can arrange for a masseuse if you feel a need for further relaxation.

in many ways, the retreat reflects the couple themselves, who are very much in tune with nature. besides being animal lovers – they have five dogs of their own – they also keep their own chickens and juliet enjoys making fruit enzymes. a variety of fruit trees grow on their land, including a taiwanese species of pomelo that’s about the size of a large orange with sweet, pale yellow flesh.

some species of wildlife call this place home as well, though they tend to shy away from people. the saws have spotted, among others, otters from the stream that runs parallel to the guest house. at dusk, bats fly along the banks and towards bukit takun as they leave their roost to forage for food, returning before sunrise. wild boars sometimes dig up the lawn and occasionally, monitor lizard help themselves to fish in the pond, which are actually meant for the family’s own consumption. fed by natural spring waters – which juliet also filters and provides as drinking water for guests – the fish are lovingly cared for and have grown to healthy sizes.

“the lizards are known for their huge appetites so we have lost a good number of our fish.”  and while it is obviously a source of heartache, they have decided to let it be. “it’s the cycle of life, as nature intended. we take it as a good sign that these wild animals still roam in our land and are able to find food.”

perhaps the same can be said of the urban dwellers who have found their way to this retreat. as much as we have adapted to the fast pace of modern living, every now and then everyone needs an escape. it’s certainly an assuring sign that there are such beautiful, unspoiled green lungs within easy reach of the city where one can go to feed, nourish and rejuvenate the mind and soul.

 

reservations for templer park rainforest resort can be made via their facebook page at www.facebook.com/rr.templer.park; they are also listed on airbnb, flipkey and tripadvisor

 

 

this article first appeared in crave/themalaymailonline on 5 october 2014

 

 

m for magnificent

ipoh’s hottest stay is the m boutique hotel, a showcase of form, function and fabulosity.

 

if you’ve stepped inside the lifeshop atelier, you would understand when we describe it as ‘structured  chaos’. every single square inch, from floor to ceiling, of the gorgeously dressed store is covered by lifestyle curios of one form or another but far from being messy, the well-designed offerings call out to you at every turn to stop, look and convince yourself you want to take a piece of everything home. with just a single storey shoplot’s worth of space to play with, lifeshop certainly made clever use of its quaint size, displaying its wares to great effect. now what do you think will happen when they have an entire four-storey building to play house with, to create and decorate and flex their creative muscles around? less is often more, but sometimes, the more the merrier.

the result is the stunning m boutique hotel, a member of singapore-based ariva group, in ipoh. this slow-paced capital city of perak has been silently but surely creeping up the cool and chic radar with a slew of hipster-inclined, design-led establishments. m not only fits right into that merry bandwagon but is leading the pack with enough wow factors to star in every designophile’s wet dream. if you’re already a fan of lifeshop atelier, m is your not-to-be-missed playground.

m for memorable the first thing that sets m apart is its location. instead of joining the rest of the hip crew crowding ipoh’s old town, m has chosen the new, quiet and nondescript commercial area of hala datuk 5, made up of several blocks of shoplots that are still mostly unoccupied. situated along a main road, cars tend to whizz past on their way to town without so much of a glance at this lot because frankly, there isn’t much to look at.

except for m that is, which takes up a corner that faces the main road and spans several shoplots. during the day, m’s wraparound stacked bricks facade barely stands out but come night, the entire building is ablaze in yellow lights. the hotel’s logo – a single letter m in the dutch font plantin, famously used by monocle magazine, that also features in a number of their paraphernalia – stares boldly from the centre of the minimalist yet eye-catching frontage. more than just a design element, the brick structure also affords some sun protection and privacy for the guest rooms that occupy the top three floors. the hotel’s name, spelled out in full using gigantic letters, is perched atop the building.

the ground floor, on the other hand, lets passers-by look in through floor-to-ceiling glass windows and you can be assured of a visual feast. step in and like a first timer at the lifeshop atelier, you won’t know where to begin looking. we suggest first flopping down onto the large sofas in the reception area and relax into its homey ambience. it really does feel like someone’s home, albeit an extremely well-dressed and showy one. take your time taking it all in; there are plenty of wonderful assaults on one’s senses.

 

the sofas themselves are worth more than a second look, upholstered in mismatched fabrics, with cushions in a variety of covers. wooden chandeliers, which resemble the naked outline of chinese lanterns, hang above. the long, bar-like reception counter is backed by a neat wall of drawers that give it the semblance of a weathered apothecary. if not for the shiny imacs peeking from the counter, you’d half expect the friendly staff to hand you packets of dried herbs and roots. they might hand you some hacks instead or you can grab a handful yourself from the tall jars on the counter. a collection of vintage suitcases are propped up near the lifts, under a row of clocks displaying current times of major cities.

at one end of the reception lounge sits the m shop, which carries a range of lifeshop’s goods (rebranded under m) as well as m's own merchandise that include smart apparel, small leather goods, scented candles and stationery. from the other end, myth eatery & bar’s hollywood-esque neon-lit signs and naked bulb chandeliers beckon you for a meal (they serve a good range of global flavours) or a cuppa amid recycled wooden shutters, victorian-style furniture and a small retail section of home and kitchenware.

myth is one of two breakfast spots guests can choose from, the other being old town white coffee grand, the first ‘black label’ of the kopitiam franchise in malaysia and which sits adjacent to the m shop, connected by a walk-through entrance. besides a more refined menu, grand also sports a completely different aura than its regular counterparts: vintage-style black and white floor tiles, dark wood and leather finishes, marble counter top and half curtains. really, this is more old town cafe au lait than old town white coffee!

m for marvellous m offers 93 rooms in five categories spread out over three different thematic floors. on the ‘adventure’ floor, wild animals are let loose in details like framed monochromatic photographs that deck exposed brick walls, zebra-striped cushion covers and horse sculptures. ‘majestic’ replaces the safari images with numbers against much more minimalist backdrops of white brick or grey slate walls. inspired by and named after two classic art deco hotels in the usa, a raw industrial elan is married with an understated, timeless elegance. on the other end of the colour spectrum is the ‘excelsior’ floor, embellished with soft furnishings in bright hues and geometric prints, and furniture assembled from recycled painted wood. the entire effect recalls the flower power vibe of the 1970s.

the rooms are a bit of a squeeze but as lifeshop has shown with their own store, size is just a number if you know how to maximise what space you have or at least, create illusions that extend spatial comfort. for example, placing large mirrors in both the rooms and bathrooms to widen the perspective. wardrobes that appear free standing rather than built all the way to the floor but are supported by slim steel frames and wrap seamlessly into an L-shape while concealing a small utility cabinet to store tea and coffee making facilities.

m has left nothing to chance where details are concerned, down to the smallest items in the rooms and manages to throw in neat little surprises in subtle gestures: black bathrobes emblazoned with the hotel’s name on the back, matching fabric ‘do not disturb’ sign  and gingham bedroom slippers. toiletries – the shampoos and conditioners are handcrafted in small batches and scented with the natural extracts of verbena – bear specially designed labels that showcase a play of fonts. a cylindrical stool lets you shower while sitting down, a simple yet strangely relaxing way to get clean, although its smooth surface means it can get tricky and slippery when wet. turndown service delivers ‘bites’ of local snacks such as salted green peas and pillow biscuits in tiny mason jars.

as different as each floor is, there are common features that run through all the rooms: an earthy palette of beiges, browns and blacks; dark metal finishes and detailing; touches of old england in vintage-style furniture pieces emblazoned with the union jack; black and white tiles across all the bathrooms. in the corridors, dark wood floor panelling is the yin to the yang of the whitewashed walls, the stark contrast softened by chocolate leather armchairs and soft furnishings in neutral tones. warm yellow lights shine dim spotlights on the feature walls, where more of the black and white snapshots that decorate the rooms share limelight with keywords and symbols that reflect the three aforementioned themes. bare tungsten bulbs in metal contraptions hang above while room numbers are depicted in framed up posters next to the corresponding doors.

 

m for malaya altogether, m projects an aesthetic that some have termed urban vintage but there really is a local flavour to it all. the inspiration comes from an east-meets-west union of architectural styles that was prevalent in malaya in the early 20th century, known as straits eclectic and which often saw the incorporation of british elements into local homes and shophouses.

at m, that eclecticism not only manifests in beautiful form without sacrificing function but is further elevated with practicalities that cement its appeal among today’s appreciative traveller. on the adventure floor, guests can relax at the loungey living room where two imacs are provided for internet surfing (free wifi is available throughout the hotel). there’s a small but adequate gym that lets you work up a good sweat and next to it, m space is available for rent for a variety of functions. if you’re staying mid- to long-term, you would appreciate the self-service, complimentary laundry facilities. m provides detergent, softener, a spinner and even an ironing board.

m for more they really do think of everything here, making m a chic abode with all the charms of a boutique hotel and the down-to-earth, welcoming embrace of a guest house/homestay – surely it would be too much to ask for more?

as a showcase, m is a treasure chest that invites you to explore every square inch for little gems and surprises. as a home away from home, m is intimate and homey. if this is your actual home, you would be more than proud to show it off.

 

2 hala datuk 5, ipoh, perak tel +605 255 5566 www.mboutiquehotels.com

 

 

yolo wolo

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kl’s newest boutique hotel just made the golden triangle that much cooler.

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the white man sits on the foot-wide wooden table, his face illuminating the book in his hands. another source of light comes from a lamp, constructed from metal pipes, on the other end of the counter. propped up against a wall behind the man are two gigantic apples lit by a fat naked bulb while an oversized foldable lamp stands over a large white pouffe. nearby, a gold leather sofa takes centrepiece, its sleek lines boasting a futuristic aesthetic that recalls the signature flair of starchitect zaha hadid. take a seat and look up, and if you think you see the cloud-shaped lamps ceiling lamps moving about, you are not imagining it. at the time of our stay, which was during the chinese new year period, the reception wall was decked out in halved paper accordion lanterns while a giant origami horse stood by the reception.

the last two features change seasonally but that pretty much describes the scene that greets guests as soon as the lift door opens on the second floor lobby of the 4-star wolo bukit bintang, one of kl’s newest hospitality offerings and definitely the coolest, chicest kid on the golden triangle block. sitting at one corner of the always bustling bukit bintang-sultan ismail cross junction and just across from lot 10, wolo is as inconspicuous as its building grabs your attention.

 

at a glance palm trees encircle its periphery and front its glass facade, showing off the exposed red bricks columns and arch that are the original fixtures of the decades-old building that once housed a bank, among its many incarnations. french-inspired korean bakery and cafe tous les jours occupy the first two floors and at first glance, you’d think there’s all there is to the 14-storey corner lot.

that is, until you notice wolo’s fuss-free sign crowning the main entrance or if you’re looking at the side of the building, larger letters lit up in red. both simply spell out the four letters with no indication of what it stands for yet tempting the curious to venture in and find out for themselves.

wolo (we only lives once) marks empire mammoth group’s – they’re the same folks behind empire gallery subang and empire damansara in damansara perdana – foray into boutique hotels, and wolo bukit bintang is reportedly the first of what has been planned to be a chain. unlike their other properties, which have a more corporate aesthetic to cater to business travellers and families, wolo is targeted at the young and mobile traveller for whom connectivity, creativity, a fun spirit and being in the heart of a locale’s action are the things to consider when deciding on a place to stay.

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what we like wolo fulfils all that with its artistic and playful inclinations, seen in everything from the big details such as the aforementioned lobby decor to the most minute. the room key card is exactly that: a plastic card with an illustrated key printed on it. the in-room toiletries, while encased in simple plastic and foil packets with the hotel’s name emblazoned in white against a big blue dot, have each been renamed with cheeky monikers.

‘smile with confidence’ beams from the molar motif printed on the dental pack, the shaving kit promises that you will be ‘scruffy no more’ and if you’re looking for the soap, that would be the ‘shower gel’s ancestor’. slide open the wardrobe door and you will find the ‘hair gun’ (hairdryer) and you can’t miss the laundry bag, sporting a monochromatic photo of a washing machine. contrastingly, the hotel’s four room types are simply named my room, our room, our big room and our family room. there are a total of 138 rooms and they range in size from 18-48 sqm.

it is such little details that will make you smile as you scrub down in the black marble-tiled bathroom, itself a feature worth mentioning for its generous space (about half the size of the room and we stayed in the our room, which measures 22-25 sqm) and high-pressure rain shower. and if you happen to get a room that looks out over jalan sultan ismail, you get to traffic-watch through the blinds while you wash the day’s heat away. when you’re ready for slumber, ryokan-style ‘beds’ await with foot-high mattresses sunken snugly into rectangular spaces carved into the wooden platform.

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what needs work it’s a classic form-over-function conundrum and in the case of wolo, simply ironic that its design works against itself in some ways. the table lamp, for example, is really a floor lamp that’s embedded into the writing desk itself, its pole stretching all the way down to the floor. a unique feature, no doubt, but that renders the lamp unmoveable so you need to reach around it to plug your gadgets into the power bar – which, we need to add, helpfully includes a usb port – behind it.

but that’s really small potatoes compared to the air-conditioning situation: the wooden platform that serves as the bed is built all the way to the ceiling, with a beam that lines up next to the air vents. as a result, air flow is restricted and doesn’t cool down the sleeping area enough even when set at full blast.

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facilities a modest workout room sits on level three, with one small section jutting out and overlooking the lobby and wine & cigar lounge below. the latter is dressed in a refreshing departure from the usual staid and serious gentleman’s club furnishings. instead, mismatched furniture and some statement pieces – fancy resting atop a leather leatherback? – jazz up the space. and how do old-fashioned table lamps figure into such mod settings? why, simply turn them upside down and attach to the ceiling as ceiling lamps!

wolo does not have any f&b outlets; for breakfast, the friendly staff will suggest their co-tenant tous les jours, which serves a selection of hot food (including all-day breakfast) besides pastries, sandwiches and cakes. the hotel is working on setting up special deals for staying guests. also in the pipeline are an art gallery and japanese salon.

overall experience the air conditioner issue aside, wolo is a delight in all aspects. the courteous staff are eager to please and quite prompt to response to queries and complaints. never mind that there are no in-house f&b outlets, you are ideally positioned to move around the bukit bintang and jalan alor area easily, where all manners of great food can be found. 

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wolo bukit bintang corner of jalan bukit bintang and jalan sultan ismail, kl tel +603 2719 1333   facebook  www.thewolo.com

 

 



refresh, recharge, renew

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a former durian orchard with natural hot springs and a river flowing through with an igloo as lodgings and aromatic nasi lemak for breakfast – if refreshing springs resort sounds like paradise, it is.

guests have several choices of accommodation, from longhouse-style dormitories to cosy villas for two. the aforementioned igloo certainly stands out for its unique architecture and for being the only one of its design in this nature tourism property – after completing it, the owners realised how difficult it was to get the shape right and so they reverted to a regular design for the other villas. the furnishings are basic but most importantly, clean and comfortable.

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that pretty much sums up the entire resort; there are no fancy amenities but nature provides all the enjoyment and entertainment. undulating greens and fruit trees surround the spacious property so you feel as if you’re in a sprawling, neatly kept garden that invites you for a relaxing stroll. take a dip in the relatively calm sungai gumut within the resort grounds; find a spot in between the rocks and sit with your back against the cool gushing water for a natural aqua massage that’s both relaxing and refreshing. or warm up in the pools which are fed by natural hot springs, although the water is more lukewarm than hot.

if you’re looking to let off steam though, there’s the lakeside climbing wall as well paintball facilities and also an obstacle course where families and corporate groups – the resort is very popular among this crowd – can conduct teambuilding telematches. work up an appetite and you will be rewarded at meal times.

local malay ladies manage the kitchen, dishing up simple, wholesome meat and vegetable options to pair with rice. like the facilities, there’s nothing fancy about the food but authentic, home-cooked flavours. If there’s enough demand, the resort can also prepare a barbecue dinner at additional charge. for breakfast, you’re in for a treat if nasi lemak is on the menu as the sambal is superb. 

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nights are the most enjoyable as that’s when you really feel the crispness and freshness of the air, and best savoured with a post-dinner stroll around. end with a bout of pool at the games room or just chill at the adjoining living lounge, both housed in a cosy semi open-air wooden complex. the owners not only built this themselves as they did the other lodgings on site but also designed all the wooden furniture here. a warung stands outside this complex, where a family friend sometimes set up stall selling snacks like shaved ice with cendol and ais kacang. 

a bowl of icy cold dessert enjoyed under the trees amidst cool, clean air at the end of a day surrounded by and submerged in nature – refreshing truly is the word that comes to mind.


refreshing springs resort pt 4049, mukim sungai gumut, kampung gumut tambahan, kalumpang, selangor refreshingspringsresort.com Facebook Where exactly About an hour’s drive from KL; the resort will provide directions and a map after your reservation is confirmed

note the resort is not open for walk-in guests as it only opens when there is a minimum of 30 guests; reservations can be made via email or by filling out a form on their website. you can still try your luck if you fall short of this number as you can join other groups.

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one with the universe

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the term 'hidden gem' is usually over-rated, especially in a city like kl which, while is not so small that everyone knows where everything is, is also not big enough to have that many secret spots that are thriving quietly. villa samadhi, though, falls into the latter category and to add to its mystique, this luxurious boutique accommodation is just minutes from klcc, nestled in the u-thant area. this part of the city is known for its high-profile residents, including embassies, high commissions, ambassadors and some of the most expensive real estate in the city. but a relaxing resort, right in the midst of all that, where one can lounge by a free form lagoon pool dotted with tropical palms or stay holed up in spacious timber-panelled rooms, warm with asian accents, and some fitted with an outdoor jacuzzi? why yes, villa samadhi is all that and is indeed a charming surprise. 

a member of the secret retreats collection, it places guests within easy distance of the city centre and all its conveniences while offering a respite away from its maddening traffic and crowds. owned by the power couple behind the tamarind group of restaurants and inspired by the success of their first boutique resort, japamala on pulau tioman, federico and maple asaro conceptualised this 'rustic-luxe' retreat from a former private residence, remodelling it into a 21-room romantic getaway designed for couples. 

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all-day dining is available at the sole f&b outlet on premise, mandi-mandi, which, like the rest of the group's eateries, specialises in south east asian cuisine. most items are made in-house and from scratch, including the breads, fruit jams and nasi lemak served at the daily buffet breakfast. for dinner, guests have the option of using their free car transfer to any of their other 3 restaurants in kl - tamarind hill, neo tamarind and tamarind springs. 

there is 24-hour front desk service, although this isn't like a regular hotel where everything is on standby and available at a moment's notice. if you need a car transfer to anywhere within the kl city centre, for example, the villa is happy to arrange it for you but do give advance notice as they only have one vehicle available. What you will get is personable service courtesy of villa manager cherie and her small team, who will welcome you like a guest to their family home. for local staycationers who choose to drive there, not only is shaded parking available but they will even clean your car for you. anything else that can't be provided in-house will be arranged for you through third party providers, including day trips to the countryside, city tours - cherie herself often plays tour guide to her guests when time permits - and spa services.

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for foreign guests, samadhi may just spoil your perception of the country for good - it is possibly the only urban resort of its kind in malaysia. for locals, especially kl-ites looking for an escape from the usual humdrum, this is it: a sanctuary that's so near home and feels like one, yet places you in a different mind frame and a world that's removed from what you know the city to be. 

samadhi, after all, means 'one with the universe' in sanskrit. in the evenings, as you enjoy complimentary drinks and cocktails at bumbung bar, the highest point in the villa overlooking the pool and parts of the capital, you could well find yourself in such a state.

 

villa samadhi no 8 jalan madge, kl Tel  +603 2143 2300 http://www.villasamadhi.com.my/

 

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of mulligatawny, music and memories

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she was the grand dame of the 1930s, a symbol of prestige and glamour, the place to be seen back in the day. for 51 years, she served guests - many of them prolific, some were royalty - in her stately colonial whitewashed premises before being converted into the national art gallery. when that shifted out, she lay abandoned, her grand doors closed and forgotten, as if sealing her fate. that would have been the case if ytl hotels did not take it upon themselves to revive this gem of a place and to give kl another colonial treasure after carcosa seri negara. its reopening last dec, as majestic hotel kuala lumpur, is meant to be what the raffles, peninsula and other majestic of the world represent in their respective cities: an icon of old world charm, luxury and honour.

architect zaidan tahir, who was also behind ytl's other heritage properties including majestic malacca and cameron highlands resort, spent seven patient years combing through archival documents and records to piece everything back together. the original building, now named majestic wing - has been recreated as faithfully as zaidan could find information on. the all-suites wing houses the hotel's main offerings: the colonial cafe, bar, tea lounge, drawing room, orchid conservatory and two separate buildings, one housing the majestic spa and the other, the gentleman's club-style smoke house. from the staff's uniform - crisp white jackets, mandarin collars and even pith helmets for the doormen all designed by edmund ser - to the rich brocade, velvet and leather furnishings with dark wo od panelling and the claw foot soaking tub in the suites, the majestic wing is like a living time capsule that transports one to victorian england. and what is more english than a spot of traditional afternoon tea, which can be enjoyed at the sunlit tea lounge, the more staidly drawing room or what is now the much sought-after (there's a two-month waiting list), inside the airy orchid conservatory where some 1,000 plants of the vibrant moth orchid reside. 

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accommodation some of the original 51 rooms have been combined to create more spatial comfort in the all-suites majestic wing. there are three categories, with colonial suites being the smallest and majestic suites considered the penthouse among them. the governor suite affords views of the historical mile, the main road where the hotel sits, the same view one would see from the spa pool. 

the decor complements the rest of the wing, and the bathroom is particularly nostalgic with its black and white diamond floor tiles and claw foot bath tub - ask your butler to draw up a bubble bath for you. but this is a modern hotel after all, so rain showers, led tvs and wifi connection are part of the package. it is however, a little surprising for a hotel of this calibre (it's malaysia's first entry into the leading hotels of the world list) to not provide a coffee machine in the suites - you get sachets of instant coffee - and that the turndown service is just that: your bedcovers folded down. 

guests of the majestic wing can enjoy free car transfer to anywhere within kl up till 11pm nightly, butler service - including garments pressing, breakfast served in your suite and any other needs you may have.  

the other half of the hotel is the 15-storey tower wing, a modern - but with art deco design elements - accompaniment with facilities like a fitness centre, swimming pool and kl's biggest ballroom.

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majestic spa the colonial influence is reflected well in the majestic spa's menu; treatments are tailored to embrace english ingredients and healing traditions. every session is preceded by the herb-infused gifts of the garden foot soak and scrub, and a scalp massage using rosemary hair tonic. the treatments read like a book of english fables - queen victoria's lavender, english afternoon tea (that includes a blueberry-and-cream body scrub that will make you feel like a scone) and the most luxe, the malay golden chersonese, which retraces the story of british explorer isabella lucy bird. post-treatment, take a dip in the lap pool fronting the spa and looking out to the ktm station across the road and the ktm headquarters next door - two of kl's most beautiful buildings dating back to the 1910s.

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smoke house while the spa caters to both sexes, it is undoubtedly the ladies who will make a beeline for it first whereas the men may be more drawn to big boys' toys galore, the smoke house. shoot some pool, light up in the cigar room, play a round in the card room, clean up at truefitt & hill's salon or simply relax in the lounge while veteran bartender john yap pours you a single malt, vintage cocktail or colonial classics like stengahs (half whisky, half soda) and gin pahit (gin with bitters). 

another offering in the smoke house is the screening room, which plays black & white films till about midnight daily, with leather armchairs and you can order a drink or food from the dining outlets to have here. besides entertaining guests while staying in the mood of the hotel, this mini cinema is also a tribute to a bit of the majestic's history: back in the 1960s, it was one of the first places in kl to have a television set, a black and white attraction that would be switched on from 6pm-11pm nightly for the enjoyment of guests. 

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colonial cafe you wouldn't feel out of place dressed in flapper fineries while tucking into near-forgotten classics such as mulligatawny soup (a spice-rich, creamy soup with minced meat of indian origins that were favoured by british officers stationed in india in the 18th century), old-fashioned faggots (meatballs made of mixed meat and offal over a bed of mash, dressed in a thick mace sauce) and spotted dick (a suet pudding with custard cream and berries). the soup is easy to enjoy, the faggots are moist and tender - and don't reek of the strong flavours that turn some people off offal - while the spotted dick, which of course looks nothing like its name, is a nice balance of textures and most importantly, not too sweet. 

or try the hainanese cuisine; at rm75++ each, the chicken chop and chicken rice have become famous in their own right. the former, using the yeoh family recipe, is a piece of crumbed, well-fried chicken with a gooey sweetish, ketchup-tasting sauce that we loved as kids. the chicken rice, rolled into balls, is quite a hearty portion that can easily be shared between two people. the condiments are well presented - a zesty chilli sauce, spicy minced ginger, thick soy sauce - and the rice is suitably fluffy. the chicken itself, though tender, doesn't have much natural sweetness. the set comes with a simple cabbage soup - a bowl of pure chicken stock would have hit the spot better. in short, the dishes are decent but not worth the hefty price tag.


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the overall experience when the hotel majestic first opened in 1932, it was one of the largest hotels in kl. of course, we have come a long way since then and coupled with the 'bigger is better' thinking, today's hotels' room count easily number in the hundreds. with just 35 suites and quaint lifestyle spaces, the majestic hotel kl is refreshingly cosy, intimate and personable all at once. it has the charms of a boutique property and the full amenities of bigger chain hotels.

chill in the tea lounge - where music veteran ooi eow jin plays evergreen classics during the day while the solianos jazz things up nightly - and you will feel as if you're simply relaxing in someone's home, albeit a stately, luxuriously furnished home with polite, polished service staff standing by to make your stay ever so comfortable.

 

the majestic hotel kuala lumpur 5 jalan sultan hishamuddin, kl tel +603 2785 8000 www.majestickl.com/

 

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