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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.

Old barber

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.

Chinese caligraphy

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.


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.

Shoe bindsTour guide

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Maori Culture: Surviving Another Generation

New Zealand is not only blessed with breath taking landscapes, the country’s rich history is deeply embedded in the lives of indigenous communities, who till date still practice traditional rituals…

New Zealand is not only blessed with breath taking landscapes, the country’s rich history is deeply embedded in the lives of indigenous communities, who till date still practice traditional rituals passed on from generations. Shrouded with mystery and often times represented as ghastly warriors made famous by the Hakka, the Maori culture is one of honour, love and respect for Mother Nature. It’s no wonder New Zealand is ranked one of the best eco destinations as it is largely untouched and tourism operates within the boundaries of environmental respect.

I had a chance to spend a morning with a Maori family and was deeply touched by their hospitality and fierce love for their people and the country. Maurice Manawatu, is from the hapu and iwi tribe, a people group living and thriving in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Maurice together with little Miharo journeyed with me through Kaikoura showing me sights and telling me stories of bygone years – stories of civil wars, traditions of the Maori people, gods and warriors at sea, and stories entrenched in the deep island forest.Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (3)Dating back 450 years, the Maori people had largely inhabited the South Island and it was not until then that they first made the move to the North Island. The great migration sparked tribal wars as people fought to claim land in the North Island.

I was ushered to a wide open plan overlooking the great sea and Maurice told me stories of how the warriors build trenches and fortresses to protect their people. Miharo chanted us in, a spiritual act to clear the pathway before we entered the sacred plain. We then introduced ourselves verbally as an acknowledgement to the spirits and nature that surrounded us. I was given a Maori name, Wha (pronounced as “fah”) which means four.
Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (2)
A huge part of the Maori culture involves establishing relationships. The warmth of the people is demonstrated in an act called the ‘hongi’. Liken to handshakes or kisses, the hongi is performed as an act of sharing life and a symbol of peace. Standing face-to-face, eyes closed, they touch nose-to-nose, forehead to forehead, the two embrace in a traditional greeting. Having perform the hongi, although initially a bit intimidating, I was deeply touched at how a simple act of peculiar embrace immediately established a connection and I understood how the hongi represents a symbol of peace and community.
Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (1)
We continued to explore Kaikoura where Maurice brought me to the Puhi Puhi Forest Reserve, a dense forest with a fairy-tale vibe. I was told to be careful of my steps and to avoid stepping on the roots of trees as a sign of respect to the guardians of the forest. Maurice pointed out the New Zealand flax plant that was traditionally harvested to make clothes, ropes and bags. Almost every plant in the forest had an intrinsic value, either used as medicine, deodorant, food or shelter. We stood beneath the towering 900 year old Rimu tree, its bark peeling away and sang Maori songs as praise to nature. The act was deeply spiritual and refreshing to the soul. Maurice explained that many of the stories and knowledge about his tribe would not have survived if his grandmother had not written them in manuscript. In those days, stories were passed down verbally and the written word was uncommon.
Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (6)Maori Kaikoura_Ardent Traveler (5)
At the end of our journey, Maurice brought me back to his family home where we shared food and drink together and sang more songs in his cosy living room. I’m deeply touched and enchanted at the survival of the Maori culture. We, as a modern society have a lot to learn from these tribe of people. Their values I would gladly pass on to my children; to honour people and relationships, to care and respect the environment and to take pride of tradition and culture lest it ebbs away with modern day distractions.

Watch this heartwarming video of Maurice & his family singing.

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Secret Sanctuary A Stone’s Throw Away From KL

Janda Baik is known to be one of the more popular natural getaways for local KL and PJ urbanites. With umpteen crisscrossing streams flowing through the area, it is a…

Janda Baik is known to be one of the more popular natural getaways for local KL and PJ urbanites. With umpteen crisscrossing streams flowing through the area, it is a popular site for weekend picnickers and small corporate group meetings. Over the recent years, Janda Baik has soared in popularity with new signposts emerging along the winding road leading into the area. From kampung style homestays to conference-type resorts, Janda Baik offers a variety of lodging options.

However, the option of private estates is rare, especially if you are looking for pure exclusivity and excellent hospitality. Aman Rimba was an excellent find. Situated within Kampung Janda Baik, this three acre private estate houses six villas, four of which embodies the Malay kampung (village) style built up. The six villas, Sireh (betel), Serai (lemongrass), Kantan (ginger flower), Halia (Ginger) and Kunyit (Tumeric) named after Malaysian typical well-loved herbs is able to comfortably accommodate up to 25 people, ideal for small corporate groups or large family retreats.

Aman Rimba

I made my way to Aman Rimba on a weekday afternoon in time for lunch. Ashari Shuib, the resort manager greeted me as the sturdy wooden picket door opened into the estate. Cobbled staircase led up to Selasih, an open air pavilion where I was offered a glass of cucumber and lemon house blend. I was immediately drawn to the surrounding garden, an amalgamation of manicured landscaping and rugged kampung lawn. Heliconias, hibiscus, wild orchids, Ixoras and lilies are just a few of the many blooms speckled around the estate.

Aman Rimba_Exterior_Ardent Traveler_2013

I ventured further into Sireh, the first kampung house built on the estate, as Ashari unravelled the story of how Aman Rimba came about. Owned by Sabri Rahman and his wife Wati, Aman Rimba initially started off as a family weekend getaway hideout. “It literally started off with a park table, some chairs and a platform next to the river in front of the resort,” says Ashari. Then Sireh was built and that was the weekend home for Sabri and Wati. Years went by and the couple received many requests for the place to be rented out and eventually, another kampung house came into being, and then another, and finally in 2009, Aman Rimba was open to the public.

The organic growth of Aman Rimba is one of the secret ingredients of why it has retained its homey feel. Leading up to Sireh, the family home, is a large living room area with comfy plush sofas, a selection of good reads, a coffee table and hand-picked furniture and fixtures dating all the way back to the 1950s. One can imagine the spacious living room used as a family space for tea time chats and children playing congkak, a traditional Malaysian game using marbles. Sireh has only one bedroom with a massive four poster bed drabbed with silky linen cloth and a sizable bathroom with a glass ceiling above the shower area.

Aman Rimba Villa Interior_Aman Rimba_Ardent Traveler_2013Bathroom_Aman Rimba_Ardent traveler_2013

Halia, Kunyit and Serai are slightly modern kampung houses with beautifully crafted wooden door frames leading into the house. There is so much attention to detail when it comes to the interior and exterior design of these houses. Every tile, sculpture, bed frame and lamp is hand-picked and each kampung house is different aesthetically, although the layout may be similar.

Villa_Aman Rimba_Ardent traveler_2013

A particular highlight in the estate are the newest units; Kantan I and II, a modern and lux dash to kampung living. Kantan features a grand sense of space with a high timber ceiling living area overlooking a pond with bobbing ducks and black swans. The unit offers modern day comforts such as high definition flat screen tv, air condition, power jet Jacuzzi, semi-open air shower area, a massive four-poster bed, unlimited supply of coffee, tea and milo, and a small day-bed cushioned with plush embroidered pillows ideal for daytime lounging. It does get better… as the tall wooden vertical glass windows open up to an outdoor verandah overlooking the entire estate.

Aman  Rimba Villa Aman Rimba Villa Daybed_Aman Rimba_Ardent Traveler_2013

However, at Aman Rimba, the most utilized space is D’Pandan, the common dining area. This is where all the chatter happens and delightful meals are served. Breakfast is thrown in if you stay a night at Aman Rimba, but one will not be satisfied with just breakfast given the selection of local dishes to choose from. From a variety of grilled meats marinated with Malaysian spices to slow cooked curries, from Chinese steamboat options to a blend of western-fusion offerings to soothe your palate, nothing is too difficult for a whip up at Aman Rimba. Ashari jokes, “Sometimes our guest jovially ‘blames’ us for the extra kilos they put on after a stay here.”

D Pandan

I was treated to a generous spread of nasi campur (mix rice) with choice of grilled ikan keli (fresh water fish), ayam goreng berempah (fried spiced chicken), ulam (local herbs), sup tulang (peppery meat soup) and pajeri (slow cooked brinjal) to pick from. Ashari explains that some dishes are cooked in their small in-house kitchen, while other local favourites are bought from the local stalls in Kampung Janda Baik. “We have a select few vendors that we often patronize. It’s our way of giving back to the community,” says Ashari. He adds that some “fresh herbs are plucked from our small herb garden.”

Food_Aman Rimba_Ardent Traveler_a2013

A mere mention of durian after lunch sent Ashari hunting for the king of fruits. Lo and behold, durian pulut (durian served with glutinous rice) was served for tea. Swimming in a bed of creamy durian santan gravy is block of puffy pulut and golden plump durian. The dish gave new meaning to the king of fruits as the flavours of sweet, salty and decadently pungent merged into a perfect dessert blend.

Durian Pulut

As if there was not enough feasting! Dinner was a huge platter of fresh meats and veggies over a steaming pot of clear broth. After tea, we made our way to the local farmers market in Bukit Tinggi to shop for fresh veggies that will be consumed for dinner. Much to my amazement, the selection was aplenty, with uncommon fresh herbs, veggies and edible flowers to choose from.


Aman Rimba is designed for families in mind; however it is also ideally suited for corporate groups. With facilities such as a swimming pool, games room, small gazebos sprawled over the estate for small group discussions or quiet contemplation and bicycles for bee lining around the estate, both children and adults will appreciate this place with the exclusivity it promises.

Before I bid farewell, Ashari and I took a walk to Kampung Janda Baik, taking in all that this destination had to offer. Meandering into small gravel dirt lanes, Ashari introduced me to Kampung Janda Baik where wild farms grow uninhibited and cattle roam free. Janda Baik is after all a haven to weekend urbanites, but really, at the heart of it, it is home to local kampung folks – and it is best kept that way.

Chilli Farm - Janda Baik - Ardent Traveler

And so, I left Aman Rimba with a lingering memory that will one day lure me back. Its authenticity of culture and sincerity in service has left an indelible mark of what a top-class Malaysian retreat can be. And what’s not to like? With such good food (that’s the Malaysian in me speaking), I dived into a hearty bowl of mee rebus before bidding farewell.

Food_Aman Rimba_Ardent traveler_2013


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Tug Of War Between Tourism And Tradition

Treasure trove of all things mystical – that is Ubud. I was initially skeptical about visiting Ubud as I’m not a fan of competing with throngs of tourists, especially when…

Treasure trove of all things mystical – that is Ubud. I was initially skeptical about visiting Ubud as I’m not a fan of competing with throngs of tourists, especially when I’m on a holiday. But Ubud proved me wrong, despite the busy traffic at certain times of the day and the never ending shops along the Main Street, Monkey Forest road, Hanoman Street, and Dewi Sita Street are the hidden back lanes that lead to vast green paddy fields that make a ready escape.Bali_Ubud

This little town holds dear to its traditions and so I observed. One afternoon we biked around and found ourselves stuck in traffic of people along Monkey Forest road. A good long line of nearly 1km of cars, bikes and people were sardine on the streets in gridlock. We waited patiently for it to pass and found out that a funeral procession was taking place. Family and friends of the deceased were walking the final march into Monkey Forest for the burial. Evidently, despite Ubud being a tourist hotspot, locals still went about their necessary traditions – even if it means causing a mad traffic jam.

Laid back as it is, I found old and young men sitting together with their fighter chickens chatting the afternoon away. While their wives watch over the children, men gather in the way they know best, chats and cock fights.


Religion also defines their culture, steep in religious beliefs, offerings are presented to their gods daily and scents of burning incense lingers in the air. Good luck charms are places at shops entrances, walkways and byways.


And in the midst of all this authenticity are hotels, cozy cafes, massage spas, cooking schools, clothing shops and art galleries polka dotted along uneven pathways. It is a mix of pleasant chaos where every Balinese supports one another to get an extra buck or two from the foreigner. Yours truly.

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