Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Southeast Asia. It was on the islands and among the rain forests of Malaysia that I discovered my wanderlust. If Singapore was home for the six years I lived there, Malaysia was my second home, and Vietnam and Indonesia were those indulgent escapes that you needed to fork out money for a flight, to get to. Truth is, there was no lack of indulgence in Malaysia itself, albiet the indulgence of luxury and pampering rather than that of long distance or air travel.
Complementing Malaysia’s natural beauty are an array of luxury retreats that have surfaced on each of its coasts, on the banks of tranquil waters, to indulge those who spend long hours at work, five days a week, and jostle the traffic every night to catch a few hours of sleep (that was me at some point). These are getaways that will pamper your every sense, and let you leave rejuvenated in the body, mind and soul.
3. LAKE KENYIR RESORT AND SPA (Terengganu).
Above: Lake Kenyir. Photo by Mohd Tarmizi, Flickr.
Many spas have an artificial waterfall in the background, to soothe your senses with the effect of trickling water. Imagine looking into the serenity of a lake instead, while being pampered in a traditional rejuvenation treatment, reflecting in your subconscious upon life in its vastness. Welcome to Lake Kenyir Resort & Spa, nestled in the oldest rainforests of Taman Negara, in Terengganu.
Lake Kenyir, Malaysia’s largest artificial lake, created by the damming of the Kenyir River, is home to 340 islands, sparkling waters, and unique biodiversity, given its location at the periphery of the forests of the Taman Negara National Park. Majestically perched at the edge of the lake, Lake Kenyir Resort & Spa offers luxurious accommodation in wooden chalets constructed in the traditional Malay architecture of the region. You can opt for a rejuvenating spa with Asian treatments, trek into the wilderness of the surrounding forest; spend hours bird-watching by the lake for the many varieties of hornbills that inhabit the region; visit the resort’s deer sanctuary or the nearby elephant sanctuary; or simply while away time gazing at the tranquility of the lake with a good book.
The nearest airport is at Kuala Terengganu on Malaysia’s east coast, from where the resort is an hour’s drive. To reach by road, you can take a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Terengganu, and a taxi further to the resort.
2. TANJONG JARA RESORT (Dungun).
Tanjong Jara Resort replicates the magnificent palaces and the indulgent luxury of Malay kings in Terengganu. As you step back into the gloriously old-fashioned grandeur of 17th century Malaysia, the turquoise seas beckon to you, and hospitality steeped in traditions makes you feel right at home. After all, you must live life king size at least once!
The Spa Village at Tanjong Jara Resort combines Indian, Malay, Arab and Chinese influences in its spa and wellness treatments, while giving you a glimpse into the ancient Malay way of life. You can put on a traditional Batik sarong, relax at the palm-fringed coastline, dive into the colorful coral-studded depths of the South China Sea, or enjoy a quiet romantic hideout. The more adventurous can head to Pulau Tenggol, a small island off the resort, known among experienced divers for its spectacular underwater life and coral. Water lovers can explore the Marang River on a half day cruise, spotting mangroves and a whole array of wildlife, and visiting a traditional Malay village to buy local handicrafts.
The closest airport is at Kuala Terengganu, from where private transfers can be organized to the resort, about an hour and a half away. The nearest bus stop is also at Terengganu, and limousine services are available at the resort.
1. PANGKOR LAUT RESORT (Pangkor Laut Island).
You may have heard of Pangkor Island on Malaysia’s west coast, but Pangkor Laut, a private island resort, is a world in itself. Think crystal blue waters, sparkling white sands, and chalets on stilts; think indulgence. Listed in Patricia Shultz’s1000 places to see before you die, Pangkor Laut Resort is located along the Straits of Malacca, and secluded from the rest of the Pangkor Island, making it the perfect place to seek out luxury in the lap of nature.
Split into jungle island estates amid the natural wilderness of the island, and sea villas housed on stilts in the sea, Pangkor Laut is a rare experience of elegant indulgence. You can go island hopping into the waters, snorkel on their surface to explore the region’s exquisite marine life, take a cruise into the sunset, and race your adrenalin in activities like wakeboarding and waterskiing. The resort’s Spa Village offers an extensive range of rejuvenating treatments in surroundings so beautiful you’ll feel revitalized even before you get started. Private yoga lessons can be arranged at the resort, and if there is a place to practice those postures in harmony with nature, this is it.
The nearest airport is at Ipoh, from where private car transfers can be arranged to Marina Island Pangkor, followed by a private boat to Pangkor Laut Resort. Helicopter services are also available directly to the island, from Subang airport.
Note: I originally wrote this article for Travel Wire Asia.