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Category: Malaysia

Preserving Fading Cultures & Trades

If you’re exploring Peninsular Malaysia and nearby stopovers destinations while transiting in the capital Kuala Lumpur, then put Malacca (Melaka) on the list. It’s only a two-hour drive from Kuala…

If you’re exploring Peninsular Malaysia and nearby stopovers destinations while transiting in the capital Kuala Lumpur, then put Malacca (Melaka) on the list. It’s only a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and is brimming with culture, rich heritage and an abundance of good food. Since young, Malacca has been one of the places I frequented for short family getaways, aside from the equally charming state of Penang and nature-rich Pahang.

Malacca’s history holds great intrigue, a city once ruled by Portuguese, Dutch and British leaders. The Straits of Malacca was a strategic waterway and as a result, the city played host to Chinese, Indian and European merchants who brought with them spices, silks, ornamental carvings, porcelains – and of course, cultural influences to the local people. The traces of Malacca’s rich history can today be seen in the design of the shophouses, its cuisine, existing (but slowly fading) businesses and religious centres.

z2The best way to explore the city is by foot – so I joined the free walk tour hosted by the Majestic Malacca for her guests. We meandered through tiny lanes exploring small shophouses, some dating back 100 years and lasting through four generations. We watched tinsmiths, prints-men, barbers, goldsmith, Chinese tea sellers and tailors busy at work, unperturbed at the speed of the day, but drumming to their own carefree rhythm.

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We stopped at a century-old bar where the owner is thought to have extraordinary knowledge in concocting healing medicine laced with alcohol. We stopped by a wood carvers workstation, thought to be the only wood carver in Malacca that made Chinese signboards by hand. I revelled in the skill and patience of the carver – attentively chiselling away from the wooden plank.

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Then we stopped at a shophouse where skilful shoemakers with perfect vision sat attentively stitching small micro-beads to make beautiful beaded shoes for ladies. It takes up to a month to complete a pair of shoes and they retail for a few hundred ringgits, but every cent spent on a masterpiece like this is worth it, because these skills are slowly fading, one generation at a time.

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The gruesome foot binding practice which originated in China was also introduced to Malacca during the fusion merchants boom. Apparently, there were several shoe makers who specialised in foot binding, but only one remains today in Malacca. The practice, however, has been put to a stop due to the inhuman implications on young ladies who failed to walk or even perform day-to-day activities without falling over or aided with a walking stick. I held a shoe in my palm and was baffled at a how a foot can fit in – it was smaller than the pair of shoes my almost three-year-old wore. The shop still makes these minute shoes for keepsakes.

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Beelining past busy Jonker Street where activity is abuzz, we stepped into Masjid Kampung Kling. The mosque, built in 1872 resembles a Chinese temple at first glance, with the minaret resembling a pagoda instead of a dome. The interiors of the temple are decked with wooden wall carvings and hanging chandeliers, with its structure held up by Roman pillars.

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When the mosque was restored in 2013, craftsmen replaced old and missing tiles by replicating the design of old tiles. Our guide told us to look closely at the tiles to spot the difference. The new tiles were stamped with the year ‘2013’ while the old tiles remained as is. This interesting observation applies for many other restored shophouses and buildings within Malacca.

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The refurbishment of these old buildings, shophouses and religious centres have much to be celebrated. I returned from my three-hour walk tour and stood in awe of Majestic Malacca, once an old mansion owned by a wealthy businessman with four wives who tragically died from tuberculosis and whose sons squandered his fortune leaving the beautiful structure to waste. Many years on, the mansion was bought over by a hotelier who found the house too big for his family and so he converted the first floor to a simple hotel with single bedrooms and shared toilets. On the ground floor, his family lived in four spacious rooms and he built bar and reception which still remains today in the modern-heritage Majestic Malacca.

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The hotel survived 20 dark years of abandonment after it failed to fly with the rise of larger hotel chains. It also faced the threat of being torn down – but hope arose when YTL Hotels bought it over and delicately restored it to its former beauty. Today, the unsuspecting mansion still stands, sandwiched between a towering hospital and some shophouses while overlooking the glistening Malacca River.

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Seven Terraces, Penang: The Best Of Peranakan Living

Penang has fast gained popular attention. Since its inscription in 2008 as one of five Unesco World Heritage Sites in Malaysia, local and foreign entrepreneurs have rushed in to painstakingly…

Penang has fast gained popular attention. Since its inscription in 2008 as one of five Unesco World Heritage Sites in Malaysia, local and foreign entrepreneurs have rushed in to painstakingly restore and preserve the untouched inner city bringing back a vibrant heartbeat to George Town, a once-almost-forgotten heart of Penang.

I’ve featured a number of hotels in Penang with the same vision of preservation but my recent stay at the Seven Terraces topped it all. Located on Stewart Lane adjacent to the Goddess of Mercy Temple, this hidden jewel is a celebration of the Peranakan culture, a mix of Chinese and Malay heritage, one that is unique to island city.

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Backstory of Seven Terraces

A row of seven shophouses built by wealthy Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s was once a business hub for traders and merchants. Unfortunately calamity struck and a raging fire engulfed the structure leaving it in shambles. The building was forgotten and forsaken as nature took over allowing creepers and tree roots to hold anchor. A glimmer of hope struck in 2009 when award-winning conservators and designers, Karl Steinberg and Penang-born Christopher Ong took on the mammoth task of restoring and re-building the dilapidated shophouses.

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During the reconstruction period, the original features of the building have been retained where possible and salvaged timber have been used to reduce the footprint and antique granite blocks from China were used for the central courtyard.

A celebration of the finest Peranakan living

Seven Terraces sets itself apart from other heritage boutique hotels in Penang because of its exclusivity and authenticity. The floor-to-ceiling gilded doors at its entrance opens up to the hotel’s lobby, an airy space with three mother-of-pearl Chinese opium beds, ornate antiques and blackwood furniture.

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The lobby is the only public space before guests step into the private open courtyard with the highly acclaimed Kebaya restaurant and Baba Bar running the length of the shophouse on one side and a lap pool, lounge and library on the other side of the ground floor. Walking along the open courtyard, I begin to take in the grandeur and wealth of the rich Peranakan culture. Gilded doors, intricate wooden carvings, elaborate furnishings and polished reflected the wealth of that era. I climb up the wooden spiral staircase at the end of the courtyard into the sunlit verandahs leading to the hotel suites.

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Arriving at Argus 5, the doors to my terraced duplex suite swung open as I entered into a tastefully curated contemporary-heritage suite with a homely living space on the ground floor and the bedroom on the mezzanine floor. The living space featured two plush arm chairs, a blackwood bench, rustic gilded cupboards, delicate antiques and framed embroidered costumes.

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At the end of the living room, a floor-to-ceiling wooden partition folds back to reveal the large bathroom and toilet with chic black-and-white mosaic tiles, a seamless rain shower lodged in the ceiling, marble basin and wooden shuttered windows opening to the street below.

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Above the living space is an intimate bedroom with a king-size four poster bed decked with fluffy feather pillows and a set of framed baba nyonya embroidered costumes as wall decor. Beyond the bed, a couple of wooden shuttered doors open to a small toilet for convenience and a private balcony that overlooks St. George’s church.

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The suite lacked nothing in terms of modern amenities, with a flat screen tv, powerful air-conditioning for the entire suite, dainty teapot and cups set on colourful tiled trays for coffee and tea and free internet access.

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At every turn of the hotel, a piece of antique beckons, from jade vases to wooden carvings, from blackwood furniture to memorable collectibles. The hotel’s Antiques shop, conveniently tucked at the corner of the ground floor is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir item or piece of furniture on the way out. The shop also features some of Ong’s personal collection that are now up for sale.

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Still, a trip to Penang is incomplete without a rave on the city’s food. Lauded as food haven by local Malaysians, Penang is bursting from it seams with an endless array of country’s tastiest dishes. The hotel’s award-winning Kebaya restaurant offers a delectable menu of traditional Peranakan flavours using modern and French dining techniques. If you choose to explore some of the favourite local joints on foot, grab a copy of Christopher Ong’s personal food guide from the reception, with a list of recommended coffee shops and cafes.

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Magic Fingers: Dusun Massage

Sabah, on the magical island of Borneo east of Malaysia’s peninsular is clouded with magnificent experiences such as rainforest escapades, underwater marvels and rich biodiversity. Still, the most intriguing are…

Sabah, on the magical island of Borneo east of Malaysia’s peninsular is clouded with magnificent experiences such as rainforest escapades, underwater marvels and rich biodiversity. Still, the most intriguing are the 39 ethnic indigenous groups that are still thriving and of these, some minority groups are still unknown to the outside world.

The Dusun tribe is largely spread across Sabah, once a hunter gatherer group and many were farmers. The Lotud Dusun group is especially distinct as they were mostly rice farmers from Tuaran, a district blessed with plenty of rain flow for paddy planting. The women from this tribe learned very early on massage techniques to ease back and shoulder pains from hours of strenuous work in the field. These strong, resilient women passed down the unspoken techniques from generation to generation. Today, these hidden secrets make ethnic massages not only magical, but exotic and distinctive from the otherwise run-of-the-mill spas.

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At Jari Jari Spa, I was ushered in through thick wooden carved doors and into a cozy lounge with comfy arm chairs lined on both sides. The soothing sounds of running water formed the centrepiece as gentle flute music played in the background. I had just returned from a trip to Danum Valley and was in need of a massage from hours of travel and trekking. I dozed off as my feet soaked in floral infused water but was gently awakened shortly after by the aroma of decadent coffee. Ocie, my masseur lathered on a thick, almost scrumptious coffee foot scrub and gave me one of the best reflexology experiences focusing on pressure points laced with firm strokes.

The award winning Borneo Dusun Lotud Inan Massage is followed by a 75 minute full body massage as Ocie worked on body, magically releasing the tension on my back and eliminating the knots on my shoulders. You know a good masseur when you experience one because all her movements were intentional, bringing relieve to my tired body. From the distinctive thumb movements to the consistent pressure, from the calming “Inan” oil to the luxurious drapings that kept me warm, the entire experience was seamless.

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What Makes It So Special?

It must be the people I thought. As a spa goer, I have tried numerous spa treatments ranging from mid-range middling centers to world class luxury havens in Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Maldives, Thailand, Australia, Greece and Budapest. Still, the ones that remain a great memory even though the knots have long returned on my shoulders are those that have left an indelible experience in body, mind and soul. And I conclude that it is probably authenticity that makes all the difference.

I later found out that Ocie (pronounced as O-Chee) is a local Dusun lady. She was introduced to the Jari Jari Spa Academy in 2012 by her neighbour and at that time, she was unemployed and was busy mothering seven children on her own. She lived on whatever little savings she had and was pining for a stable job. After her training, she got her first job at Jari Jari Spa but had to move to Kota Kinabalu to earn a living. She tells me that she doesn’t mind as she sees this job as part of her personal development and she now feels secure that her children’s living expenses and school fees are taken care of.

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Stories like Ocie’s are a great testament of empowerment, where women are often left to fend for their families not just to cook, clean and care but to earn a living enough to support the family. Ocie is fortunate to have stumbled on the spa academy, a school started by Datin Jeanette and Jennifer Chan.

The Borneo Massage Rediscovered

As modern day distractions continue to chip away rich traditions and cultures, the challenge of reviving the art of ethnic massage is a real feat. Not only did the dynamic duo, Datin Jeanette Tambakau and Jennifer Chan successfully reintroduced this dying tradition, they through Jari Jari Spa have breathed new life and is retelling the story to the world around at international trade shows and workshops.

Jennifer is from a Dusun descent and Datin Jeanette married a Murud-Dusun man before settling down in Sabah. In mid-2000, they both realized the rising trend in health and wellness but massage centers were unheard of. It was the weary of society where hanky panky activities took place behind closed doors. Venturing into this industry meant having to pioneer the route while clearing the image that have long tarnished it.

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They took the plunge learning from massage therapists in Bali and attending workshops. What was to become the start of a Balinese themed spa center soon took a turn. Datin Jeanette had an ‘aha! moment’ while listening to wellness leaders speak at a conference and realized that authenticity is prime for this business.

After returning from the conference, they both set out to trace the roots of their own tribe, the Dusun people. They visited rural indigenous families, spoke to grandmothers and home makers and watched how they massaged with care and precision. The journey in itself was a discovery of pride, joy and belonging.

They hired four local Dusun ladies to join them and there on Jari Jari Spa was birthed. Today, the signature Borneo massage is on the world chart as Jennifer is a certified, accredited trainer from the Federation of Holistic Therapists Association (FHT) in the United Kingdom. The organization is not only profit making, but is also empowering local Dusun ladies with a specialized skill to gain employment. The Jari Jari Academy has trained masseurs that have gone on to work at internationally acclaimed spas such as YTL’s Spa Village and is continuing to grow within Sabah.

Still the best treasure that Jari Jari Spa has given to the Dusun ladies and community is the value and uniqueness of one’s trade. Each masseuse has her own special way of working on the body and so, in that sense, every massage is unique and every masseur is unique. It is this uniqueness that perpetuates the tradition.

Sabah has many stories to uncover, and it’s not just about her verdant landscapes, azure blue seas or teeming wildlife – but her people, their traditions and culture.

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Coffin Cliff At Danum Valley

Climbing up the trail amidst towering rainforest trees with fig twines and epiphytes snaking on branches forming beautiful stringy sculptures, the dense canopy providing shade from the blazing heat and…

Climbing up the trail amidst towering rainforest trees with fig twines and epiphytes snaking on branches forming beautiful stringy sculptures, the dense canopy providing shade from the blazing heat and the gentle chirping of birds make an ideal jungle hike. My guide, Muhammad Salehuddin Jais, better known as Dean stopped dead in his tracks. He motioned us look up as we caught the sight of rustling leafs as the sun illuminated the red-orangey coat of a male orang utan. He was busy snacking on some young shoots and unperturbed with our presence. Next to us, we saw bushy giant squirrels hopping from one tree to another.

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This is the Danum Valley – 43,800 hectares of endless rainforest dating back 130 million years ago. Ironically, not many, not even Malaysians know about. One of only three virgin forest lands in Sabah, Malaysia, Danum Valley is home to over 300 bird species, 110 mammals, 72 reptiles, 56 amphibians and 57 fish. My second visit here has rendered me speechless (again!) as I marvelled at the serenity and beauty of how the rainforest ecosystem works – untouched of course, nature as is.

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I was on an upward trail to Coffin Cliff, where remains of an ancient burial ground is found and the highlight of this gradual climb. I arrived at an enormous limestone boulder ridden with holes on one of its surfaces and a trail leading around it overlooking the forest. This ancient burial site was discovered some 20 years ago before the only commercial accommodation was built in 1994. Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) was set up as part of a commitment from the Sabah state government to protect and conserve this forest while promoting it as a nature-based haven for education and research. Although the masses know little about Danum Valley or BRL, the lodge continues to attracts the likes of National Geographic scientists and professors, well-known wildlife researchers, Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge and even Martha Stewart.

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Staring at the hole-ridden limestone wall, I saw planks of broken wood covered with moss on a flat stone surface. I thought nothing of it until Dean pointed out that these were the remains of an ancient coffin. Several meters away from the coffin were some bones and a skeletal jaw with several teeth intact. Indeed, the Sugpan tribe that once traversed this forest considered this elevated ground a sacred place.

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The Sugpan group is a sub-ethnic Dusunic group that are nomadic in nature. They depended on the forest for food and cover and would later trade with Chinese from mainland China along the Segama and Kinabatangan River. Today, the tribe has evolved from their way of life and is intermarrying, but many still hold on to their animistic roots. Today, descendants of the tribe are living along the Kinabatangan River and are known as Orang Sungai.

“It is thought that the higher you bury your loved ones, the closer you are to heaven. The Sugpan people would carry the deceased in coffins made of Belian (ironwood) and they would find holes in limestone caves to lodge the coffins,” Dean explains. This was a baffling story of strength, tenacity and grit.

“Berlian wood is so dense that it doesn’t float in water – it sinks. It is termite free too and is known to be indestructible. I can’t imagine how they brought it up here and even lowered it into the limestone crevices,” Dean adds.

I examined the skeletal remains and Dean tells me that according to carbon samples, the remains were at least 250 years old. “So do you know if this is a male or a female?,” I asked. “This is definitely a male. It is told that within the Sugpan tribe, male hunters would pull out their two front teeth to gain more force and precision when using the blowpipe to hunt. ” Dean explains. “Apparently, the Sugpan ladies find it very masculine when men lose their front teeth,” Dean supressed a laugh as I chuckled at the thought of a tooth-less hunter.

DSC_5932DSC_5922More was promised on this trail. We walked around the boulder and on a narrow trail along the ridge. There lying on the sandy ground were huge blocks of wood, one as a base and the other a cover. The wood was in better condition than the first plank we saw on the limestone platform. Its grains were so defined and its patterns so intricate. Perhaps this chunk of wood was strategically positioned to receive sunlight thereby preventing rotting moss. It also commanded unobstructed views of Danum Valley.

DSC_5972DSC_5962I was told that the coffin was that of the chieftain’s. His family carried his coffin up to the ridge and placed it there together with his blowpipe which is still seen inside the coffin. They later removed his body and sat him on top of the coffin so he can oversee his village below the cliff, where the lodge is.

DSC_5892Suspended coffins are not unusual as people continue to discover and visit hanging coffins in Philippines, China and Indonesia. The coffins in Danum Valley was only discovered some 20 years ago and it proves to show that this natural haven is not just for environmental and wildlife protection, but to preserve a culture and heritage that otherwise would not have been told.

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Photo Journal: Gunung Mulu National Park

Gunung Mulu National Park is remote, and is typically accessed by only one commercial flight, MAS Wings on a small twin otter airplane. The flight is quite frightful and rather…

Gunung Mulu National Park is remote, and is typically accessed by only one commercial flight, MAS Wings on a small twin otter airplane. The flight is quite frightful and rather different for those of us who are used to flying Boeing airplanes. This nature hideout holds much to discover and I’m glad it’s not flocked by mass tourists.

Located in east Malaysia’s Sarawak state, Gunung Mulu National Park, a World Heritage Site holds the world’s largest natural cave chamber, the Sarawak Chamber. Sprawling an enormous 700 meters in length, it is massive enough to fit an airplane. Another highlight of the park is the Pinnacles, a series of razor-sharp limestone peaks rising from the earth, a view unlike any other. Unfortunately when I visited Mulu a couple of years back, I wasn’t able to do any of the overnight hikes since I was in my first trimester.

Even then, I was able to glimpse at the wonderous beauty that Mulu has to offer in her rich biodiversity tucked in primary rainforest and nearby caves. My photo journal will tell a better story in the images captured this pristine natural wonderland.

Arriving at Mulu in a twin otter airplane. So glad the journey wasn’t long as I was getting antsy!
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Savouring wild bananas and was surprised to find crusty black seeds in them! The park was teeming with all sorts of native plants and some were devoured by insects leaving them hole ridden.

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Traveling upstream to the indigenous Penan community. Here they sold handmade handicraft and told stories of long gone.
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Trekking to Deer Cave and Lang Cave was a lovely stroll, walking on well-maintained boardwalks under a dense canopy of rainforest trees. The trek to these caves would not be complete without bat sightings that take place every evening. Thousands of tiny Wrinkled-Lipped Bats rush out of the cave’s chambers in search for their night-time meals. The sight is nothing short of spectacular as they circle and form snaky-lines in the sky before dispersing into the forest.

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Night hikes are not to be missed! Upon nightfall, creepy critters come out to hunt for food. Within a 100 meter radius of the campsite, a variety of insects can be found. A word of caution, it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you’re afraid of insects and reptiles (like I am), stay in the middle of the group and carry a torchlight to light your path.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Colonial Cafe 3

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.

Majestic Spa

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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