yolo wolo


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


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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



refresh, recharge, renew


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.


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. 


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.



one with the universe


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. 


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.


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/



of mulligatawny, music and memories


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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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/