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.

 

 

 

 

 

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