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Category: Accomodation

Heritage Suites, Siem Reap: Hospitality With Heart

Cambodia’s a developing country, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast and the slow emerging middle class is the very stratum of society that indicate the country’s…

Cambodia’s a developing country, where the gap between the rich and poor is vast and the slow emerging middle class is the very stratum of society that indicate the country’s economic progress. Travel ten kilometres out of Siem Reap, Cambodia’s vibrant tourist town centre and you will see the real Cambodia – wooden stilt homes, lack of proper toilets and roads ridden with pot holes.

Now travel back to the heart of Siem Reap and the reality can easily be forgotten. Five-star and luxury boutique hotels, restaurants that cater for any palate with international standards in mind, wine bars and even designer boutiques – but none of these places are patronised by locals. They are established to serve the growing stream of tourists that have been increasing since the tourism boom in 2002.

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Those who stand behind the counter and serve the food and drinks are local Cambodians. They are young people who travel out from the countryside to seek employment in hope for a better life. Alongside this boom, organisations have sought to do more for Cambodia through social responsibility initiatives. You don’t have to look hard and long before you spot another initiative that sounds something like this: “Helping local Cambodians craft a future” or “Alleviating poverty one bag at a time”. While all this is great, I can’t ignore the fact that many organisations have also jumped on the bandwagon for marketing gain. Jarring leaflets and posters stuck on walls, tacky and thick compendiums in hotel rooms and websites claiming that they can save the world. When staff are asked if they know of the hotel’s social commitment, they simply shrug their shoulders and hand me another leaflet.

That’s why when I came across a hotel like Heritage Suites and an organisation like Sala Bai, I’m duly refreshed to learn of their genuine commitment and sustainable efforts in helping people through practical ways. In the sea of copycats, there are genuine organisations that want to help and find a way to make their contribution more meaningful and lasting.

Heritage, Creating A Legacy

The luxury 26 room and suites boutique hotel is tucked away in Slokram Village not too far away from the buzz of Pub Street and the Night Markets, but far enough for a peaceful retreat. During the day, I hear children from the local school laughing and chatting and school bells ringing just behind the hotel’s compound walls and at night, along the street leading to the hotel, I watch families sitting out on their verandah enjoying a meal of rice, soup and vegetables. The hotel in all its luxury and top-notch service is set amongst a local Cambodian commune – the very thing that preserves its sense of place and community charm.

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The facade is that of a French colonial building curtained by palm trees. The hotel’s lobby, restaurant and bar sharing the same space, a lofty open hall with a tall ceilings supported by timbers and grand massive candle lights hanging over top. The arched window panes and large panelled mirrors at the bar facilitate the flow of natural light and magnify the spaciousness of the restaurant.

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The same simplistic grandeur follows through into the suites. My bungalow suite had wall-to-ceiling windows with thick curtains that turn the suite from a bright and airy space into a slumber wonderland. The decor is minimalistic with an emphasis on Cambodian art and modern furnishings. The hallmark of the suite is the private steam room and stand alone oversized stone tub facing the private garden and open air shower.

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Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my suite, I wanted to understand Heritage’s stand on their community efforts. So I sat down for a chat with Magnus Olovson, the hotel’s general manager, a seasoned hospitality professional who’s been in the industry for years and leading in his game. “I’ve been doing corporate hospitality for so long and when I was given the opportunity to return to old fashion hospitality, I jumped at it”.

“What is old-fashioned hospitality?”, I asked. “It’s where I get to greet every guest by name and learn about their day. It’s like welcoming people into your home”. Just then, he spots a couple behind the thick glass doors alighting from the hotel’s vintage Mercedez. He politely excused himself to greet some guests that have just arrived from the airport. After a few handshakes, some jovial laughs and a warm welcome, he returned and candidly said, “My guests are important to me but my staff are so much more important. Without them, all this would not be possible”.

Magnus continued to explain Heritage’s partnership with Sala Bai, a hospitality vocational school that have trained over 1000 students in the last 13 years and given them job opportunities at world-class hotels in Siem Reap and beyond. “Look around, would you have guessed that they (the staff) come from really poor families? Look at them now, they are thriving and building a future of their own”.

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Dressed in crisp black and white uniforms and a perpetual smile, the staff at Heritage Suites are all hands on deck. During my stay, I was met with prompt attentive service with the genuine warmth of Cambodian hospitality. I have stayed in Cambodia long enough to know that good job opportunities are hard to come by and even harder to keep. Cambodians, especially women have to battle with ongoing issues like human trafficking due to severe poverty and the social stigma that women are better off staying at home instead of working and earning a living. And those who fight through those battles have the chance to emerge as Cambodia’s new middle class.

Hope For Cambodia

Such is the story of Kim Hiv, a sweet, pretty, small statured lady with a big bright smile. At 27 years old, Thy Kim Hiv is the F&B supervisor at Heritage Suites and have hopes to climb the ranks in the future. Just five years ago, Kim Hiv’s story was extremely different. A graduating high schooler with no plans or means to further her studies, she heard from her neighbour about an application into Sala Bai school. She knew nothing about hospitality and her parents were disapproved of her decision to waitress as the job was frown upon and carried negative implications.

Kim Hiv Heritage Suites

After some persuasion, her parents agreed to her application into Sala Bai and she underwent seven months of intensive hospitality training with an additional four months of practical training. For Kim Hiv, this was the ideal opportunity as her food, lodging and tuition fees were completely paid for by Sala Bai and a job was guaranteed after her training.

“Heritage is my first job and I have been working here for five years. I am very lucky to learn about Sala Bai and when I started working, I help pay for my sister’s school fees”. Her family is one of many families living below the poverty line. They are simple farmers slogging to make ends meet. “Now, I am able to give my parents money too!”, Kim Hiv added with a wide grin. Schools like Sala Bai give hope to people who have little to look forward to. Sala Bai’s efforts are realistic with a clear goal in mind, to raise people from poverty and to create opportunities for a better life.

But the model won’t work without the commitment of hotels like Heritage Suites, the Raffles, Amansara and other trusted hospitality names. Heritage Suites give amateur hoteliers a chance to be further trained on the job and allow them equal opportunity to climb the ranks if they so desire.

As with all NGO organisations, Sala Bai is dependant on donations and have been thriving since with strong donor partnerships across the globe. Heritage saw an opportunity to give back and so every year since 2013, the hotel organises an annual charity gala dinner and auction at their beautiful property. This year in May, the gala titled ‘Changing Lives’ featured a culinary feasts prepared by Thailand’s rising culinary star Chef Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn. The dinner was aimed at raising funds to help Sala Bai expand its new campus to accommodate more students. The gala was a glamorous success and Heritage raised a total of $15,000 in funds, which, for a property of its size, is truly remarkable.

Photo credit: Sala Bai

Photo credit: Sala Bai

Social responsibility can be a fad that fades off over time for those who jump on the bandwagon, but genuine organisations are those that go the extra mile because they believe in the cause that would outlast the organisations lifetime.

Claude Colombie, director of Sala Bai explained, “Our model very simple, in a country as poor as Cambodia, we need to find real solutions that help close the gap. We find the poorest of the poor, educate them and give them a job. That’s it! And this model has proven successful over 13 years, families who earn less than $500 a year now have a daughter or a son who earns half or more a month and are able to support their families”.

It’s incredibly remarkable what a door of opportunity can do for one life, one family, one community. At Heritage Suites, there are no garish posters that spell “DONATE” or leaflets in the room’s compendium. Instead, an unassuming bicycle with a simple poster at the entrance explains the hotel’s partnership with Sala Bai. Hotel guests can donate if they wish and donations help pay for school materials and bicycles for the students to get to their place of work. The truest and most sincere testament of Heritage’s commitment to social responsibility is in the people, people like Kim Hiv who live to tell her story.

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Exploring Pokrovka In Moscow

We arrived in Moscow after a 40-hour train ride from Omsk. Two nights on the train with mediocre food and no shower, I was ready to jump off the train…

We arrived in Moscow after a 40-hour train ride from Omsk. Two nights on the train with mediocre food and no shower, I was ready to jump off the train and explore Moscow. Coming from the east, we made stops at Ulan Ude, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk and Omsk – each city with its own distinctive charm but it lacked the buzz of a thriving metropolitan like Moscow. We exited the train station and caught a cab to our hotel. The sparkling clean city and her grand architecture stood out amidst the growing morning traffic.

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Moscow boasts the largest number of billionaires in the world according to a Forbes report with New York coming in second. I imagine this city has a lot to offer to satisfy the deep pockets of the rich. It wasn’t too hard to imagine when a group party goers followed from behind, dressed in designer cocktail dresses, to-die-for stilettos, crisp suits and shiny shoes as I entered into the lobby of Mamaison, an all-suites luxury hotel in Pokrovka.

This trendy property with a modern artistic feel is the perfect getaway for savvy executives, artsy hipsters and weekend staycationers. Our suite was bright and lively in a pastel palette of minimalistic and modern furnishing. It had all the mod-cons – a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, lounge and a separate bedroom with a large comfortable king sized bed. While the rooms are more modest in design, the wow factor is definitely in the choice of eclectic furnishings and elaborate chic-looking chandeliers at the hotel’s lobby and restaurant. mamaison1 Mamaisoniphone2

The neighbourhood around Mamaison was a great place to start our exploration around Moscow. Pokrovka Street is filled with dainty cafes, boutiques, upmarket bars and restaurants. When evening falls, the place comes alive and beats a different tune – friends mingling over a bottle of wine on outdoor terraces, live music from a nearby garden bar, families tucking into Japanese bento boxes. Walking the Pokrovka stretch was enough to convince me that Moscow is a melting pot of cultures.

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I later learned that the street itself had a wonderful history to keep. It was the first stone road build in the 17th century and it was the roadway that connected the Kremlin to the Tsars villages. This was an affluent and gilded neighbourhood speckled with large homes and opulent cathedrals. The glitz never wore off, instead it evolved with time. Old buildings and cathedrals have been restored to near perfection, some new buildings have been put up and sandwiched in between high-end restaurants and bars are small groceries shops – a reminder that this was once a residential neighbourhood.

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We cooked a full breakfast the following morning taking advantage of the fully equipped kitchen and fancy cutlery. Having slept in the train for two-nights, waking up to a sprawling living room and bacon sizzling in the kitchen is pure comfort.

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Putting it on the map: Mamaison All-Suites is located 40 minutes walk from the Red Square. That’s also where the Kremlin, Lenin mausoleum, GUM departmental store and the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral is located. It’s a 10 – 15 minutes walk to the closest metro station – Kurskaya Metro Station or 20 minutes walk to Kitay Gorod station.

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Brickyard At Mutianyu, Beijing: A Factory Turned Retreat

Mutianyu is an interesting and well-preserved hamlet located 70 kilometres from China’s capital, Beijing – a little haven for exploration if you manage to beat the chaotic traffic congestion to…

Mutianyu is an interesting and well-preserved hamlet located 70 kilometres from China’s capital, Beijing – a little haven for exploration if you manage to beat the chaotic traffic congestion to get out here. The main draw, is of course the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, thought to be one of the best preserved parts of the Wall with 22 watchtowers densely situated along the wall boasting views from as high as 540 meters above sea level.

Great Wall - Mutianyu

Similarly, the unobstructed captivating views of the Great Wall is what attracts guests to the Brickyard Retreat at Mutianyu. But the Wall isn’t just all this property is about, the backstory of Brickyard is one of restoration, regeneration and rebuilding.

Back in 1986, Jim Spear, an American and his wife Liang Tang discovered the quaint Mutianyu hamlet after many weekend trips out from the city. Before long, they bought a peasant’s house and turned it into a retreat home. This was also the start of Jim’s self-taught designing journey. He worked closely with contractors and learn on the go as he remodelled the old dilapidated peasant home into a beautiful retreat fit for his family and personal guests.

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Around the same time, Mutianyu was also facing a social dilemma – young people were moving out to the city to find jobs leaving the very young and elderly behind. However, time was on their side – simultaneously, the Chinese government had also completed the restoration of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and an influx of tourists were to be expected in the years to come.

Jim and his business partners rolled out a sustainable plan to raise the social status of Mutianyu – they built the Schoolhouse, a high-end, high-quality restaurant that was once a primary school and is now a great advocate of the slow food movement. Today, the Schoolhouse is a collection of converted, restored buildings which includes Brickyard Retreat with 25 rooms and nine luxury retreat homes dotted around Mutianyu hamlet.

The business collective has provided many local people with employment and with a business model that is sustainable, the Schoolhouse (collective) through its lease of homes from peasants in the community have given these local families the opportunity and means to start their own small business and means to give their children quality tertiary education.

Restoration, Regeneration and Rebuilding

Few people can envision anything positive or promising of an old, rundown abandon tile factory. When Jim’s wife, Liang Tang first saw the factory, she didn’t see it for what it was, but what it could be. “It was a desert and the chimneys belched out horrible acrid, black smoke. I was appalled and thought ‘no way’ until she told me to turn round and I saw the incredible view of forested ridges topped by the imposing Great Wall,” Jim described.

It was clear that Jim wanted to keep the story alive even when he built the Brickyard. “When I designed the Brickyard my aim was to retain the original structures wherever possible. It means there is a real, and interesting, story for our guests to discover, but the main reason for keeping the old buildings was to be ecologically sound.”

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Stepping into compounds of the Brickyard is a humbling experience. Don’t expect a grand and pompous welcome, instead it is like walking into private quarters. The small reception area in an old kiln, modest and cosy. We walked the open courtyard and on the right is the Lodge, a traditional peasant brick house serving homemade comfort food and a fireplace with plush armchairs. I can only imagine how comforting this place can be on a cold winter night with a book and a cup of hot chocolate in front of a crackling fireplace.

Brickyard Lodge

Entering our premium room is a small outdoor lounge with sun beds and large glass sliding doors welcoming us into the room. The walls are decorated with colourful glazed tiles set in a beautiful mural. The same tiles can be seen throughout the retreat and I have been told that the tiles are salvaged scraps from the former tile factory.

Brickyard Room

The room decor is minimalistic and colours have been chosen to compliment the glazed tiles and earthy tones of the brick walls. A sense of harmony and symmetry flows through. The priceless view of the Great Wall is one the retreat’s biggest assets and I didn’t miss out it as top-to-floor panelled windows in the room provided unobstructed viewing. It was also a great source for natural light.

transsiberian_164For sensitive sleepers like me, the rising sun would have interrupted my slumber, but thanks to the eye masks provided by the hotel, I was able to snooze right past the break of dawn.

The Brickyard also has a spa promoting traditional massage methods like Tui Na and an outdoor jacuzzi perfect for star gazing. There is an organic garden on site, an outdoor play area for children, plenty of green spaces to lounge and a TV room for those that can’t go without entertainment.

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Staying at the Brickyard, I was able to explore Mutianyu’s part of the Great Wall without the throngs of tourists, I was free to venture into tiny lanes in the village, greet elderly folks while they sat outside playing mahjong, try local restaurants, poke my nose into local sundry shops and admire traditional homes while taking long summer strolls. At the end of the day, I’m back at Brickyard sipping a hot cup of tea in the cosy Lodge and enjoying homemade cookies, all this while mesmerised at the Wall before me.

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The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur: Old World Charm Marries Modern Luxury

Preserving the old while making way for the new, this tough and intricate balance is not an easy feat, especially when it comes to refurbishing timeworn hotels. Sustainability stands the…

Preserving the old while making way for the new, this tough and intricate balance is not an easy feat, especially when it comes to refurbishing timeworn hotels. Sustainability stands the test of time, it must outlive one generation and the successful passing down to the next generation is a testament to a hotel’s respect for its heritage, tradition and culture.

Opened in August 1932, The Majestic Hotel is a national treasure and an icon to Kuala Lumpur’s city scape and social tapestry. My parents have fond memories lunching at the hotel and the food was highly regarded as one of the best. Hainanese chefs dominated the kitchen churning out favourites like chicken chop, steak, hailam mee and sweet fluffy kaya Swiss rolls.

For more than 50 years, the hotel thrived as one of the leading hotels in Kuala Lumpur, a prime social venue for the country’s elites, highflying international travellers and government officials. The well-worn building collected many memories and if the walls could speak, they would tell of fancy dance parties and banquets, important political and business meetings and grand weddings.

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As with all good things, the old Majestic Hotel had to close its doors in December 1983 to give way to other newer hotels that sprung up in the city. Somehow, in the pages of the hotel’s history, a complete shutdown was never in mind. YTL Hotels took up the challenge to rebuild, restore and refurbish this heritage building that was and still is a much loved venue for those that have experienced its former glory.

“The restoration of The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is a project that is close to our hearts. It was a venue that was tremendously popular back in the days. YTL Hotels aims to bring this hotel back to its former glory; to share the heritage, popularity and success of its predecessor,” Dato Mark Yeoh

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Designed by Dutch Architect Van Leangeanderg, the original hotel accentuated a mix of neo-Renaissance and Art Deco design, where simple lines are married with Roman columns and intricate cornices. The façade is simple, yet classy. The refurbishment of the Majestic Hotel included a new adjoining building, the Tower Wing to accommodate larger capacity without compromising or taking away from the original main building, now called the Majestic Wing.

”There were many challenges in designing the hotel, mainly with regard to the Majestic Wing, which falls under the Antiquities Act 1976. We had to be very sensitive to its original design architecturally and structurally, and could only do minimal changes to the interior space and ensure we maintained the architectural elevation of the original design” said Zaidan Tahir, distinguished architect who has taken on projects of similar nature such as the refurbishment of Cameron Highlands Resort in Pahang and The Majestic Malacca.

Entering the lobby of the Majestic Wing, a doorman dressed in white safari-style jacket, khaki Bermuda shorts, pith helmets and boots greet me with a warm hello. The atmosphere transforms quickly whisking me back into the golden era of colonial days. Rich wooden furniture lined with rich leather coverings, timber floorings and thick tufted carpets tastefully make up the lobby. I was told that guests staying in the Majestic Wing suites have their check-in procedures done in the comforts of their suite.

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The Majestic Wing has three different suites to choose from and each delicately designed to the tee to resemble the glamorous days of old. No rooms were added to this building and the configurations were not altered, hence some of the suites are not massive, but still spacious. However, despite the given space, furniture has been chosen to maximize the space, for example long lounge chairs perfect for an afternoon read while looking out KL’s city scape.

Majestic SuiteKuala Lumpur City Scape

The bathrooms are a stunning recluse, with luxurious clawfoot bathtubs, separate rain shower and toilets and glossy black and white checkerboard tiled floors. The suites are lavishly styled with timber floorings, chandeliers, day beds, plush lounge chairs and embroidered pillows. The suites in this wing also come with personalised service such as a personal butler and car enhancing the experience of a luxury holiday. Even if you do not sleep in this wing, do venture into the lures of the charming and old-fashioned heart of the hotel.

Majestic Suite

The hotel brims with flourishing extras that keep its history alive such as the Orchid Conservatory, a glass atrium lined with hundreds of colourful orchids creating a captivating venue for special events, photo shoots and intimate afternoon tea sessions.

Orchid Conservatory

The hotel’s Colonial Café is the heart of the old building where delectable afternoon tea is served daily from 3pm – 6pm. The grand golden dome ceiling is the centrepiece of the café where magical tunes fill the air upon nightfall as the Soliano family, the only family whose musical tradition dates back into the nation’s history, entertain with classic renditions. The café offers a delightful menu marrying Hainanese favourites and western flavours. The Hainanese have always been known for their delicious meals and were very skilful in the kitchen delivering well-loved favourites like chicken chop, Hailam Mee, steaks and Swiss rolls. Back in the day, Bristish expats would gladly welcome Hainanese cooks into their kitchens and trusted them with their meals.

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I stayed in the Tower Wing, the new adjoining building where modern meets old. My Junior Suite was extremely spacious with a separate living room and lounge. The Art Deco design followed through from the old building with a modern touch of luxury and simplicity. The suite had many mirrors, polished chrome, stainless steel and dark ebony veneer and its furnishings minimalistic in design. The bathroom was a sanctuary and a getaway on its own, with glass doors separating it from the bedroom and a sexy bathtub its centrepiece with separate basin and toilet and rain shower. The hotel’s line of toiletries is a rich selection of Malaysian fruit scents like the mangosteen, watermelon and pomelo.

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Staying at the Majestic definitely heightened my appreciation for Malaysia’s rich history. The hotel’s nostalgic ambiance and sense of history denotes a great sense of respect for bygone years. A building so magnificently lined with history has once again been restored and the pages in its book continue to churn many memories for travelers and generations to come.

* Fancy some afternoon tea and blissful pampering in Kuala Lumpur? Got the perfect place
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Afternoon Tea, What’s The Fuss?

I’m sure women around the world would nod to an invitation for afternoon tea. The coming together around a beautifully laid table filled with delightful nibbles is one of the…

I’m sure women around the world would nod to an invitation for afternoon tea. The coming together around a beautifully laid table filled with delightful nibbles is one of the most sociable, relaxing and enjoyable events. Whether it is around local fare or the classic English afternoon tea stacked with scones, pastries and a pot of Earl Grey, women simply enjoy the company of friends along with a good nibble.

Regrettably, afternoon tea is not a daily ritual for most, especially for busy professionals and modern day moms with hectic schedules. Back in the day, afternoon tea was associated with the genteel society, expatriates and the affluent. After all, who could afford more than an hour during the day sipping on tea, nibbling on fine tarts and warm scones and superfluous chatting? Today, it is still an indulgence when we have the luxury of time.

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Much to my delight, I had some time to spare while on a short holiday in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and I had just the perfect place to savour afternoon tea. The iconic Majestic Hotel is a well-worn building dating back to the 1930s where it was a home away from home for international travelers and the perfect place for fancy government events and social gatherings. Recently, the hotel underwent a major facelift reflecting its glory days and the building’s symbol as a national heritage treasure.

DSC_3004Afternoon tea at the Majestic starts at 3pm through to 6pm where the hotel’s Colonial Café and tea lounge transforms into a stage of tables covered with crisp starched table cloth, laid with fine bone china plates, tea cups and tea pots. The actors are pleasantly poised waiters decked in perfectly white uniforms and aprons dancing from table to table pouring tea and serving fine delectable on multi-tiered china.

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The hall echoes with soothing instrumental music played on the grand piano just beneath the magnificent gold dome ceiling. Light chitter chatter and laughter join the ambiance as I nibble on fine pastries, cucumber sandwiches, and warm scones with clotted cream while enjoying a cup of soothing Earl Grey.

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My thoughts traverse to bygone years where the history of tea drinking was very much of the nation’s history. During the British rule, tea was introduced from China and Europe, both the Chinese and Europeans had a knack for picking and brewing tea leaves. As inquisitive travelers and the affluent society traveled the world, they brought with them small quantities of what was then known as costly and unusual herbs. This ‘herb’ was an exotic and rare commodity and became a luxurious indulgence only for the rich.

Today, with mass agriculture, tea has become a daily beverage known for its health benefits. It is the perfect alternative to coffee and carbonated drinks. I particularly love green tea and will always have a sachet tucked somewhere in my bag.

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The creation of afternoon tea as a ritual was the idea Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Dutchess of Bedford. She set it at 4 o’clock between a full breakfast and supper (dinner). It was the perfect time for ladies to come together to share stories and would sometimes include indulgent gossips.

Subsequently, afternoon tea permeated society and since Malaysia was once under British rule, afternoon tea was woven into its social tapestry. Carried out with thoughtful attention to detail and consideration of style, the sharing of a cup of tea reminds us of our links with the past, of the olden cultures and of the importance of recognising and appreciating the innate beauty to be found in such simple actions.

Extravagant Bliss

At the Majestic Hotel, where all things from yonder are celebrated, afternoon tea can be accompanied with an extravagant massage aptly dubbed “English Afternoon Tea” to mark a truly memorable experience. I was whisked to the Majestic Spa, a separate building from the hotel with its own infinity pool overlooking the Moorish-style railway station and the buzzing city scape. The cosy interiors of the spa breaths refreshing colourful tones against the stark white walls, tall whimsical arm chairs on glossy black flooring. This distinctive minimalistic art nouveau style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s famous Tearoom of Scotland is reflective of the era where tearooms were a place for businessmen to meet and read the paper and where ladies gathered to socialize and play cards. To sum it, it was a place to lounge and relax.

Majestic Spa

My 2-hour spa treatment started with a refreshing citrusy mocktail before being ushered to the lounge area above the reception. Once here, everything feels secluded and private. My masseur, a fine young lady proceeded to give me a foot scrub. The signature ‘Gift from the Garden’ scrub which is a mix of lavender petals, rice husks and other beautiful handpicked herbs from the English garden. The warm lavender scented water is poured into a beautiful foot wash basin where my feet are left to soak. She proceeded to give me a head and scalp massage, a prelude to the bliss that was to come.

Majestic Spa

The rest of the spa was in a treatment room that is exceptionally spacious. With a standalone clawfoot bathtub, separate shower and toilet and two massage beds, the room was more than welcoming. Pampering continued with a decadent body scrub that looked and smelled good enough to eat – a mix of milk, honey, rice husks and berries. By this time, I was already feeling luscious but it did not stop there. A spa experience would be incomplete without a massage. The long, firm strokes repelled any tension left in my body and finally it capped off with a fragrant English rose facial and some relaxing breathing exercises.

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The treatment was seamless and being a spa addict, I was utterly contented. Despite it being a 2-hour treatment, the hours seemed to have drifted by. As I sip on my camomile tea and savour the homemade oatmeal biscuit at the spa’s reception, I can’t help but wish time stood still.

*Go behind the scenes and peel over the layers of history of the enchanting Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.
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Family Beach Getaway at Nexus Karambunai

The Karambunai coast in Malaysia’s eastern state, Sabah is rich in history with strong ties from her neighbour Brunei. History tells of an ill-fated journey along the coast of Karambunai…

The Karambunai coast in Malaysia’s eastern state, Sabah is rich in history with strong ties from her neighbour Brunei. History tells of an ill-fated journey along the coast of Karambunai resulting in a ship wreck and later an unrecovered ship at the bed of the sea, hence its name ‘Karam’ which means sinking ship and ‘Bunai’ referring to Brunei.

nexus karambunai 1Today Karambunai is home to two local villages and a few notable island resorts, one of which is the massive Nexus Karambunai with an 18-hole perfectly manicured golf course. Situated 45 minutes from Kota Kinabalu’s (KK) airport, the resort has a range of accommodation options suitable for honeymooners, families, groups of friends and even big corporate groups. Away from the KK buzz, Nexus offers the idyllic snappy beach holiday with loads to do around the resort such as water skiing, kayaking and trekking or simply settle into one of the many beach chairs and laze the day away. The beach is private for the resort’s guests’ and my 18-month old son absolutely enjoyed sinking into the sand while the waves lapped on him. Private beaches are quite a luxury for resorts nowadays, especially when it is somewhat of a quiet coast with a backdrop of palm forest and rolling hills.

nexus karambunainexus karambunai 2The hotel’s nature guide, Leroy tells us that there used to be a trail at the end of the beach climbing up the hill, swinging round the jagged cliffs leading up to a vantage point with unobstructed views of the great South China Sea. However, for safety reasons, the trail is no longer accessible. Instead we headed off on another trail into the palm forest just behind the resort. As we entered in, Leroy warned us of mosquitoes. Those blood suckers came in all directions, and the warning was a good caution for preparation. We went in covered with a layer of repellent and was mosquito free. The quiet under grove had plenty of diversity from pitcher plants to the local traditional aphrodisiac, tongkat ali. The trail continued to climb up until we reached Pangiran lookout point. The view was spectacular with nothing but ocean and forest to behold. We descended after 40-mins and returned to the resort by van.

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Arriving back at the entrance of Nexus, I get a sense that the resort’s interior is a reflection of the Malay traditional kampong grandeur. Furnished with dark wood, the high A-framed entrance etched with floral carvings opens to a spacious lobby with a spiral staircase at the end leading to the pool and beach. The rooms have the same rustic Malay traditional design with a minimalist approach.

nexus karambunai  entrance

Imprinted with the 80’s glory days of big resorts, the Nexus Karambunai has a choice of eight eateries to choose from. Unfortunately, during my visit, two of the main restaurants were closed for refurbishment. Noble House, the resort’s only Chinese restaurant is as Chinese as you can get, with its interiors lined with intricate embroidered-designed wallpaper, hanging lanterns and tall slender wooden furniture with circular marble top tables. Food at the Noble House is uncompromised, with the freshest seafood coming from the coasts, the menu offers a range of famous Chinese dishes such as herbal soups accompanied with fresh seafood, Peking Duck wrapped in rice paper rolls and dim sum.

Perhaps what I appreciated most about the resort was the friendly staff. They were at our service anytime of the day with a big smile and a hand across their chest as a gesture of welcome and respect. Stepping into Nexie Club, their indoor kids recreation area, I get a sense that many little people have stepped into the room busying their hands with arts and craft, watching cartoons and listening to stories. The murals on the wall suggests that the resort has had at least two decades of visitors streaming in – donald duck, lion king and mickey mouse.

nexus karambunai 3

Back in the room, our retreat continued. Our Ocean View Room boasts of spanning sea views along the coast lined with swaying pine and coconut trees. The spacious room with wood panelled flooring has undergone some maintenance but still manage to maintain its simplistic charm with every bit of modern facility needed for a comfortable stay. Vacationing at the Nexus reminded me of days when my family retreated on beach holidays to Penang and Port Dickson, the kind of family friendly resort with expansive ground to explore.

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Grandis, Kota Kinabalu: A City Hotel With A Grand View

With a weekend in Kota Kinabalu (KK) city, I was looking for a hotel that’s close to the city buzz without compromising on KK’s coastal beauty. Grandis Hotel was the…

With a weekend in Kota Kinabalu (KK) city, I was looking for a hotel that’s close to the city buzz without compromising on KK’s coastal beauty. Grandis Hotel was the perfect find and it also happened to be the new kid on the block. Perched along the harbour front, Grandis boasts of sweeping views of the vast South China Sea with the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park Islands dotted in the horizon.tunku abdul rahman islandSince I had just travelled from Battambang, Cambodia’s countryside, I was still recovering from city shock and KK was the perfect place to acclimatize. The hotel is conveniently linked to Suria Sabah, a shopping mall and within walking distance to KK’s famous tourist strip, Gaya Street. On Sunday morning, Gaya Street comes to life with stalls lined up from the front of Jesselton Hotel to the city’s municipal building. Join in the festive atmosphere and shop till you drop. I found vendors selling everything under the sun, from local drinks and food to pets to traditional herbal aphrodisiac! The morning market is also a great place to buy local souvenirs, antique china and all sorts of collectibles.

Gaya street morning market

I explored KK for a day and retired back in the hotel in time for the anticipated sunset. I had gotten word from some local friends that hotel Grandis is the place to watch the sun go down. The swimming pool with an open deck offers unobstructed views of the ocean and the comfortable circular pool beds are ideal for lounging. The sundown show was nothing less than spectacular as the sky turned amber and slowly merged into the grey seas.

amber skies

Breakfast the next morning was at hotel’s Rosea Café with ceiling to floor windows overlooking the ocean. The modern interior of the café is made more contemporary with a centrepiece of hanging bulbs atop a wooden bench table and boxed stools around. The breakfast spread boasts of local and international flavours and the food offered was exceptionally fresh.

pool grandis

I meandered to the Piano Lounge for some quiet contemplation after a heavy brekkie and found the lounge to be the ideal solitude. Decked with classy embroidered arm chairs and dainty coffee tables, plush sofas and sleek modern lamps, the lounge felt just like the kind of living room you can stay all day in. I imagined dawdling over tea with some friends while the pianist played at the grand piano.

piano lounge grandis hotel piano lounge hotel grandis

The weekend in KK was sublime bliss, with a tinge of city life and a whole lot of comfort, thanks to finding the right hotel in the heart of the city.

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