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Sabah: Sun, Sea & Spas

If you’re a first-time traveler to beautiful Borneo, this is your quintessential tropical island. Beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and an endless supply of fresh coconuts. As with…

If you’re a first-time traveler to beautiful Borneo, this is your quintessential tropical island. Beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and an endless supply of fresh coconuts. As with all holidays, especially beach holidays, it isn’t quite complete without some pampering.

I visited Mandara Spa at Sutera Harbour Resort, a beautiful spa with sweeping views of the South China Sea. The spa’s lobby opens up to an airy lounge with cascading water pools and a spiral stairway leading up to individual spa suites. The wooden interior immediately brings on a cosy feeling.

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Warm ginger tea was served with a cold face towel scented with peppermint oil. A refreshing start to my pampering session. The spa’s signature massage is the Mandara Massage, four-hand massage. Despite being a spa addict, this was my first time having 20 fingers on my body at the same time.

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The four-hand massage is akin to ballroom dancing, if I may say. It requires a great deal of teamwork and practice. Both therapists massaged me with oil from my back to my feet with smooth and deep motions that are perfectly synchronised. I was quite amazed at how in-synced they were. The pressure was equal, the circular motions and long strokes were flawlessly choreographed.   

After doing my back, I was asked to turn over and then with the same technique, I was given the best head and foot massage. To have one highly-skilled therapist massaging my body is bliss, but to have two therapists doing so at the same time is extraordinarily special.

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The rainforest sounds continue to fill the air and I sip on a glass of water signaling the end of the session. I stare out the huge window overlooking the expansive seas with boats bobbing and thought – I can definitely stay here for hours – especially since the spa suite had a wonderful tub offering the grand view.

It was time to leave – but if you’re a spa lover like me – you wished the clock stopped ticking and the blissful surrender will continue. Fortunately, Mandara Spa is offering a special spa membership with “too good to be true” freebies. See the end of this article for more details.*

The pampering wasn’t quite over yet, I was ushered to the neighbouring Chavana Spa at the Pacific Sutera Hotel, the alternative mid-range stay with magnificent views of the sea and a huge family-friendly pool. Chavana’s bright and lively interior is quite different from Mandara. This day-spa is refreshing the moment you enter in with scents of lime and lemongrass infiltrating the air.

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Another first for me – I was about to indulge in their Elemis Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Facial, an anti-wrinkle facial using Elemis products. The British brand, Elemis is widely known as the leader in anti-ageing skin care products. Top worldwide spas use Elemis products because of its successive positive case studies. So I thought, why not give it a try! When it comes to beauty regimes, I’m very low maintenance. I enjoy the occasional facial but am mostly content with off-the-shelf products, cucumbers for puffy eyes and homemade scrubs.

For an hour and fifteen minutes, I was treated to delicate cleaning, cleansing and scrubbing with soothing movements on my forehead, cheeks and jawline. The lifting facial massage was most relaxing. Finally, a thin layer of mask was applied and then some serum, moisturiser with some essential oils completed the treatment. In between, my therapists gave me a relaxing shoulder and hand massage removing all the knots on my tense shoulders, often caused by bad posture and sitting at the desk for extended hours.

The Chavana Spa offers a range head-to-tow treatments for tired travellers, honeymooners or spa spa addicts like me. Their signature ‘Journey of the Senses’ is a two and a half hour session starting with a foot bath, body scrub, detox sauna, balinese massage and capping it off with an Elemis facial. 

* Mandara Spa membership: For RM399 the package includes 2 complimentary massages, 1 complimentary facial, a 50% discount voucher and a RM75 redemption voucher. Additionally, you receive a 20% discount on all treatments and other discounts throughout the year especially for spa members. Go to Mandara Spa for more details.

Note: The above treatment was offered to me complimentary courtesy of Mandara Spa and Chavana Spa. Thank you for a day of pampering!

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River Wild Along Kinabatangan

As the sun peaks over the horizon and the mighty Kinabatangan river catches the first rays of sunlight, my three-year old son, Seth keeps his gaze steady scanning the river…

As the sun peaks over the horizon and the mighty Kinabatangan river catches the first rays of sunlight, my three-year old son, Seth keeps his gaze steady scanning the river banks in a hunt to find the herd of Pygmy elephants that were last spotted a day ago grazing at the river banks. Our guide and spotter Jamil knew how much Seth wanted to see elephants and readily agreed to the elephant spotting hunt when we set off from Sukau Rainforest Lodge just before dawn that morning.

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The mist lifted from the face of the river and the riverine forest came to live. Egrets took flight in the air and the colourful stork-billed kingfisher awoke for a catch. The forest echoed a symphony of tunes from the low hum of the cicadas to the chatter of playful macaques. Then, we spotted the majestic hornbill flying overtop before perching on a faraway tree. Truly, this was the best wildlife playground for any three-year old – especially, for Seth who is crazy over animals!

The mighty Kinabatangan river stretches 560kms, starting from the Crocker Range in southwest Sabah and ending at the Sulu Sea southeast of Sandakan. It is the longest river in Sabah and is incredibly rich in biodiversity. It is perhaps the most sought after destination in Sabah to spot wildlife – more notably the Borneo Big 5; the orang utan, Pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey, crocodile, and hornbill.

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The best way to enjoy the river and her wild inhabitants is by boat. Every morning and evening we set out on safari trips in groups no bigger than 10 people. Small vessels with very quiet electric motors were used to explore the river as we snake into narrow waterways and into mangrove forests. We had cameras and binoculars ready at all times.

Our guide and boatman with laser-sharp eyes pointed to a dark speck on the big tree and through the binoculars, we saw a wild orang utan having his morning snack. Another time, our guide steadied the boat and pointed to the glistening eyes of a small crocodile. I caught a glimpse of it before it swiftly disappeared into the water.

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Traveling with a three-year old toddler and a three-month old baby was an adventure on its own. One time while on an evening safari, we felt a light drizzle starting. Within minutes, the drizzle turned into light showers and I found myself hiding under a raincoat with Seth at my side and Enya, my three-month old on my lap hiding from the rain. We waited patiently for the rain to pass and soon after we were rewarded with a scene of swinging proboscis monkeys and long-tail macaques who came out to play after the shower.

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Back at the lodge, we explored the jungle by foot on the 1,500 feet boardwalk in search of insects and small mammals. We waited for the resident orang utans to make an appearance and to our delight, we sighted two different orang utans during our stay. Our meals were served on an al fresco deck overlooking the river. It was also where new friendships were made as we exchanged notes with other guests on the day’s findings.

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In the dark of the night, after dinner, adventurous guests were given the option to go on another safari treat. It was too good to pass and Seth was eager as ever for another wildlife spotting hunt. The gentle motor boat sputtered on the shadowy river and our boatman scanned the jungle with his spotlight. We saw a kingfisher, a green paddy frog and a family of proboscis monkeys retired for the night. Yet, the most spectacular sight was when the boat came to a halt and the jungle stood still. The star-studded skies twinkled above as we trace our fingers across the milky way. I looked down and little Enya was fast asleep, lulled by the peaceful harmony of nature and the gentle rocking of the boat.

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After three days and two nights in this beautiful riverine jungle, we found it hard to say goodbye. Seth turned me as we were just about to leave and said, “Mom, I don’t want to go home. Can I stay?” There was good reason to stay as we did not see the elephants. In my effort to convince him, I told him – we will be back next time and hopefully, we will be able to see the mighty beast.

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Getting to Sukau Rainforest Lodge:

Treat yourself to a fine holiday at Sukau Rainforest Lodge, a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. Fly into Sandakan airport and you will be transferred to the jetty where you will take a two-hour boat ride to the Kinabatangan River. This boat ride is a prelude to the adventure that awaits you. Wildlife spotting starts the minute you reach the river mouth. You will pass through small village settlements, oil palm plantations, mangrove and palm forests. The sight of proboscis monkeys is almost a guarantee.

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Malaysia: What I hope others knew

As work takes me to the interiors of Sabah every week, I’m given the privilege to reflect and experience two worlds – the urban life in Kota Kinabalu and the…

As work takes me to the interiors of Sabah every week, I’m given the privilege to reflect and experience two worlds – the urban life in Kota Kinabalu and the rural life in Kota Marudu and Kudat, that’s the tip of Borneo if you were wondering. My family and I travel two to three hours to get to these places, bunk in a hostel with bare basic amenities (fan, cold shower and toilets that don’t flush properly) and spend a few days there building relationships and mentoring youth and children.

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Kota Marudu, the second ‘rice bowl’ of Sabah after Kota Belud. Paddy fields aplenty!

As a West Malaysian, I spent most of my life living in urban Petaling Jaya where houses are neatly lined, where cars rule the road and where shopping malls sprout like fresh shoots. I was driven to school by my parents and I barely had to use any public transport until I started working. I enjoyed eating out and trying new food joints and never had to worry about my next meal. As a child I enjoyed family holidays abroad, as a teenager I had the opportunity to study overseas and as a young adult, I had enough savings to feed my wanderlust occasionally.

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One of the many hidden beaches near Kudat

While I grew up in this environment, I was never sheltered from the world beyond mine. I was actively participating in community work in remote areas, going to places where the need is undeniable and where basic necessities are not commonly met. These short trips gave me a glimpse into the rural life – the life where many urbanites don’t even know of or have experienced. And because urbanites have not seen or experienced it, it’s hard to empathise or even tell others about it.

As I travel to the village every week with my husband, my almost-three-year-old son and a baby in my belly, I’m reminded of how great a privilege we have to see and experience Malaysia as a whole and not just Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya or the big cities. It helps me to appreciate our country for what she has to offer, not just the polished side and to connect with the very people that makes this nation a multi-cultural wonder. Did you know that Sabah has over 20 ethnic groups and Sarawak over 40 ethnic groups? What incredible diversity this country has!

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Pure joy! Playing with kampung children despite the sweltering evening heat.

So as we travel weekly into the interiors and sometimes off the beaten path to explore Sabah’s hidden treasures, I hope to pass these lessons on to my children:

  • That we are birthed in a country for a reason. We are Malaysians for a purpose, find out what it is and stop looking outward for a better life, a fatter paycheck or an easy way out.
  • There will be people that have it better than us, but there are a lot more people that have it worst of – learn to appreciate what is given to us and never complain until you have tried hard enough to find a solution.
  • There is beauty in the simple life. The greatest things in life are not things.
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Beauty in the interiors – you don’t have to look hard.

As embarrassing as it sounds, I feel that I know very little about East Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) – her different indigenous cultures, way of life, language and hidden paths. This has challenged my adventurous spirit to get on it and to see more. As an avid traveler, I hope to pass these thoughts on to other travelers:

  • Explore your own country at some point in life because the journey can be a real reflection of you as a citizen.
  • Where possible, travel independently – go off the beaten track into narrow alleys and dust roads. There you will see the places for what it is; exposed, as is and authentic.
  • If you’re only used to only traveling in luxury or five-star comforts, take up the challenge of going for a more rugged option. It will change your perspective on life and allow you a glimpse outside your bubble.
  • If you are traveling with children, it is your responsibility to give them the opportunity to peer into the lens of a bigger world out there. Take them on a volunteering trip or a community development program.
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Kampung children playing traditional gasing (tops)

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Peranakan Princess Pampering At Majestic Malacca’s Spa Village

In Malacca, the early Chinese community that settled in Malaya in the early 17th century were known as Peranakans or Baba (male) and Nyonya (female). They were mostly traders, merchants…

In Malacca, the early Chinese community that settled in Malaya in the early 17th century were known as Peranakans or Baba (male) and Nyonya (female). They were mostly traders, merchants or businessmen and were extremely successful, wealthy and influential. The Majestic Malacca was once a mansion owned by a Peranakan businessman and today, it has been restored to its former glory into The Majestic Malacca with an in-house luxurious spa, also known to be the only one to base its therapies around the healing culture of the Peranakan people.

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My three-hour pampering session began at the front desk where I filled out a questionnaire to determine the kind of treatment I needed; warm treatment for cooler body types and cold treatment for warmer body types. The range of treatments offered celebrates the incredible mix of Chinese and Malay ingredients that are often found in the Nyonya pantry but have been transformed to form a decadent concoction of spa treatments – ingredients such as eggs, palm sugar, ginger, birds nest, pandan, nutmeg and limau kasturi.

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After completing the questionnaire, I was whisked into a private changing room and asked to change into a plush robe. Then I was taken to an airy lounge with spacious Peranakan day beds overlooking the glistening lap pool. Purveyed with cold scented towels, hot Chinese tea and a Mandarin orange, my mind began to wander as my body started relaxing.

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My treatment started soon after as I followed my masseur, Redita upstairs into my private massage suite. Designed to please the eye, the wooden shuttered windows are drawn shut with the slightest hint of sun streaming in accenting the soothing light teal and creme colours of the wall. Two massage beds sat island in the room and the suite has its own toilet, shower and standalone clawfoot bath tub.

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Bliss began as my face was treated with to an exotic birds nest facial. Birds nest, a Chinese prized ingredient is lauded for its healing properties that are thought to boost immunity and bolster longevity. Jade rollers were used at the end of the massage to close the pores and tighten facial muscles. Almost lulled to sleep, my senses came to life as scents of sweet pandan infused the room. I was given a firm head massage before my hair was treated to a thick sweet coconut-pandan hair mask. The aroma almost made me salivate and crave for some good local dessert and I my mind drifted into pure bliss.

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Since I am pregnant, Redita proceeded to give me a pregnancy massage. Laying on my side, she massaged my back and shoulders giving utmost care to ensure my comfort. Her movements were seamless, with long firm strokes expelling all the knots on my stiff shoulders. She was also mindful not to massage my feet and kept the pressure light when massaging my lower back.

Just as I thought my treatment was over, I was treated with a special hair washing treatment, drawing on the twelve step Peranakan wedding preparation for brides. On each of twelve days leading up to the marriage ceremony, Nyonya brides are traditionally pampered and beautified which involves a different ritual every day. The hair washing ceremony ends with a hair combing ritual believed to eliminate impurities and negativity as the bride steps into a new chapter of life.

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After an ultimate three-hour pampering, I sank into the sprawling Chinese day bed and sipped on pot of soothing Chinese tea while savouring on some acar, pickled vegetables and wishfully hoped that the minutes stood still.

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Majestic Malacca: A Glimpse Of Old Opulence

Every building has a story, particularly heritage buildings that have weathered the storms and survived to bear the footprints of this generation. I entered the modest lobby of the Majestic…

Every building has a story, particularly heritage buildings that have weathered the storms and survived to bear the footprints of this generation. I entered the modest lobby of the Majestic Malacca and felt perfectly at home. The warm lighting from the porcelain umbrella lamps and the old-fashioned chandelier set the place aglow. Large leather-bound armchairs and wicker furniture beckoned me for a rest.

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As I looked around, I found a few glass containers filled with familiar childhood goodies – preserved sweet plums, peanut biscuits, tou chee phaeng – tiny plain biscuits topped with a swirl of colourful harden icing sugar (in English, it’s translated as belly button biscuits), green peas, salted peanuts and coconut candy. These munchies brought back many memories and are reminiscent of Malacca’s rich culinary heritage – especially the coconut candy that taste almost like Gula Melaka.

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The beautiful Spanish tiles and solid timber staircase, reception and bar counter evoke an air of opulence in the days of past. I learned that this building was once a mansion belonging to a wealthy rubber tycoon who had four wives and he lavishly designed his home with the best fittings and furnishings. The decadence continued even after he passed on when a hotelier bought over the mansion and transformed it into a hotel bearing the same name “Majestic”.

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The reception and bar counters have been kept intact since the 1920s. The Majestic played host to traveling merchants and British planters. It was then lauded for its grandiosity where big banquets and important meetings were held within its walls. But its glory soon faded and was converted into a simple guesthouse and soon after abandoned.

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Walking into the Library, a lounge and lunch area with a floor to ceiling bookshelf filled with historical reads, I get a sense that the mansion was painstakingly and delicately restored to keep its charm and history unflawed. The cosy Library with its large wooden shuttered windows with warm natural light streaming in and soft arm chairs makes for a cozy curl up and read. This space was formerly a bedroom space which now has been aptly converted into a relaxing lounge where lunch and tea is served.

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I spent an afternoon sipping on green tea and nibbling on fine local and European tea snacks served on a three-tier platter – scones with clotted cream and jam, creme brulee, cheese tarts, macarons, finger sandwiches, kuih lapis, blue glutinous rice cakes, ondeh-ondeh, spring rolls and samosas. Full and satisfied after tea, I settled in and buried my face into a book trying not to feel guilty for the calories I’ve piled on. But my conscience did not waver, so I visited the hotel’s gym and spent an hour sweating it out. The fully equipped gym is small, but has all the essential equipment for a good workout.

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Overlooking the gym is a lap pool and it connects to a tall building where all 54 guest rooms are housed. My room was just as homely as the lobby, elegantly designed in neo Asian-colonial style with timber floorings, a teakwood four-poster bed and a sprawling daybed overlooking the Malacca River. The open bathroom with wooden sliding doors offer a chic accent with black and white marble floor and a large clawfoot bathtub.

Bedroom4Bedroom3Yet, even with the most luxuriate furnishings, what stood out was the warm, friendly hospitality of the people who work behind the scenes. Upon check-in, a wicker basket with porcelain teacups and a teapot filled with soothing warm Chinese tea was served to me in my room. I later requested for some nibbles to munch on and it promptly delivered to my room without fuss.

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Dining at The Mansion just above the lobby area was pure delight. Tunes from the grand piano piped through the entire building filling it with a sense of nostalgia. The spacious windows draped with elegant curtains boast views of the glistening Malacca River and Kampung Morten with dancing night lights as the city comes to life in the evening. The menu is simple and uncomplicated, it celebrates the best of Malacca cuisine; the perfect blend of Portuguese, Dutch, English and Baba-Nyonya cultures.

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From the food, to the service, to the hotel’s fine furnishings – the Majestic Malacca triumphantly captured the opulence of its heyday. Not many hotels are successful in telling their story so well, still not many are able to preserve a history that spanned almost a century old and to this day dwell in its confines. A visit to Malacca would be shortchanged if you did not stop by the Majestic for a stay or even stop over for a cup of Chinese tea.

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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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