Friday, November 18, 2011

Detox, Malaysian-style



I spent most of today detoxing Malaysian-style at a luxury resort in the middle of Malaysia that one of the region's most prestigious upmarket publications (not Travelife) has just called one of the best "luxury under-the-radar" resorts.

It's relatively new but very nicely designed without too much of the artificialness you see in recently launched spa destinations. It's kept the natural part but at the same time provided fantastic privacy -- you almost don't see anyone around unless you head to the restaurant for a meal -- and every imaginable luxury. Nothing over the top, mind you, but everything with impeccable taste and great comfort.



LESS HYPE, MORE NATURE

This place is very much like Chiva-Som in Hua Hin, Thailand, although it's much less hyped-up and more relaxed in terms of service. Chiva-Som is a smaller resort but it's such a tightly-run ship that you'll almost never find a single thing out of place. It's got a pretty high profile clientele, as well, along with ordinary mortals.

WHO'S NEXT TO YOU?

So, at Chiva-Som, if you're doing 9 am yoga class in the open-air pavilion or relaxing before dinner in the Turkish sauna, that guy next to you with the two old Blackberries on silent mode placed on the ledge is likely to be the CEO of a major international bank or a hotshot hedge fund manager with a regular starring role in the Asian Wall Street Journal. Or some urban legend in his own city. Just guessing, of course.

Once I was (half-heartedly) at Fit Ball class and a couple rushed in midway and quietly took their places at the back. When I happened to glance their way, I realized I knew the guy. Pretty nice guy and more on the ordinary mortal side, although he worked in finance and owned a pretty amazing house in Chelsea in London.

When we said our hellos at the end of class, I got introduced to his girlfriend who was quite friendly. Only later on did I learn that she was a famous singer in England who counted some of the UK's top stars as her close friends.


This place I'm at for the weekend isn't at all like that -- perhaps because it's under the radar. But it's certainly got the same potential, if management were to decide to give Chiva-Som a run for its money and really make it as tightly-run a ship. It could very well go for that same fastidious and super stressed out crowd that regularly visits Chiva-Som, if it seriously wanted to do so, by paying stricter attention to the details.

In fact, in terms of environment and dramatic landscape, it's probably better, although it's not by the beach. The spa menu is pretty extensive, as well, although it's not the dizzying array that Chiva-Som offers.

JAPANESE TOURISTS IN THE 1900S

This morning we climbed midway up a small mountain to get a lovely view of the resort, which is right smack in the middle of craggy limestone mountains. Everywhere you look, you see lovely trees and this dramatic limestone scenery. I'd read somewhere that Japanese soldiers stationed in Malaysia during World War II had often visited this place because it reminded them somewhat of home; and on the walls of the caves they'd tearfully written about homesickness, loneliness and fear of death.


But when I finally got up to the midway landing where the inscriptions were supposed to be, I did see incredible Japanese writing that had withstood the ages. However, upon closer look, I was astonished by two things: One, they were actually much older than what I'd read previously. If the soldiers had been stationed in Malaysia around World War II, that would have been in the 1940s. However these inscriptions were actually dated in the 1920s.

Two, except for one or two, which I could clearly make out as names and positions of people identifying themselves as part of the Japanese navy, the rest seemed to be more on a Buddhist pilgrimage in the 1920s. Perhaps some of the first tourists of last century from Japan.

AMAZING STEAM ROOM


Beneath this landing was a natural steam bath which is reportedly good for detoxifying. I head for steam rooms in hotels and resorts I stay every time, but I'd never ever encountered a steam bath like this in my life. It's a mammoth cave full of nooks and crannies, with stalactites on the ceiling, that reminded me of a very mini version of our Palawan Underground River -- but without the river. In another life, this could have been (or perhaps will be) a very cool party space.

There were geothermal pools everywhere that contributed steam to the cave, and so this was a completely natural and amazing steam room. It was incredibly relaxing and peaceful -- and so out of this world that I almost couldn't believe that I'd just been in Manila yesterday morning.


TWO QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS

Then, this afternoon, I was relaxing in my own hot springs pool when my prodigal friend J sent me a BBM.

"Are you trying to elicit a response from me with your latest blog?" He asked, adding a smiley face at the end, so I assumed he was amused. I was also guessing he meant my blog entry yesterday about my day in Kuala Lumpur.

"Whatever do you mean?" I asked him, adding my own smiley face. Of course we both knew the answer already, but he was pretending to ask and I was pretending not to know. I'll leave you to guess whether it was yes or no -- or somewhere in the middle.


Then I had a whole bunch of treatments booked, followed by an al fresco healthy dinner of fish and vegetables, and then drinks in what is perhaps Malaysia's most famously unusual cave. All in all a wonderfully relaxing Saturday. Read more about it soon in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine.

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