For decades now, U.S. travel agents have sent hordes of clients
to Southeast Asian destinations such as Thailand and Bali but, not
counting a Kuala Lumpur business trip or stopover, when was the
last time you booked a trip to Malaysia?
That soon could change.
Tourism to the country, which shares a peninsula with Thailand,
has significantly risen since the 2004 tsunami. Though it lies 500
miles south of Phuket, which was affected by the disaster, Malaysia
Plus, Malaysia’s top resort Pangkor Laut has recently added
world-class spa facilities that are attracting both those in need
of pampering and those seeking serious healing therapies.
After recuperating in Kuala Lumpur from the 19-hour flight, we
first visited Pangkor Laut’s sister property, Tanjong Jara Resort,
on Malaysia’s less developed east coast. Driving from the airport,
we passed schoolgirls in Muslim head scarves on bicycles and
crossed the mangrove-lined Terengganu River.
Wild monkeys greeted us at the resort entrance. Flora as dense
as the tropical rainforests that cover the majority of Malaysia
slowly revealed striking wooden structures that were inspired by
17th-century sultans’ palaces, with soaring ceilings and open
reception and dining areas.
Several majestic guest villas face the South China Sea, with
terraces overlooking an endless pink-sand beach. These spacious
accommodations have opulent lounging areas and separate bath
pavilions with an outdoor tub in a private courtyard. All 100 rooms
are decorated with polished tropical woods and muted, luxurious
Three restaurants offer fine Malaysian cuisine and guests can
accompany the hotel chef to the local wet market to buy ingredients
for that night’s dinner. There’s top-notch diving at nearby Tenggol
Island and a resident naturalist for guided jungle treks or bike
rides to local villages. Also, the spa here was a terrific prelude
to the one at Pangkor Laut.
It’s a three-hour drive north along the west coast and an hour’s
ferry ride to Pangkor Laut from KL but it’s worth it.
The dark-wood villas, dramatically rising out of an emerald
green sea on stilts, exuded mystery, and every detail a deeply
pitched roof, woven shades threaded with gold, an old wooden
cowbell transformed into a sconce underscored the destination’s
From the overwater boardwalk connecting the villas and the six
resort restaurants, we glimpsed a five-foot-long monitor lizard
sleeping on a bleached rock. Wild peacocks strutted by as though
they owned the place. Monkeys squealed. Colorful birds swooped and
Though the accommodations here are not as grand as those at
Tanjong Jara, all 148 rooms have a particular charm. The overwater
villas feature large, deep bathtubs with floor-to-ceiling windows
that open onto the sea; to stand under the rainforest showerhead
and watch the sunset is unadulterated bliss.
The heart of Pangkor Laut is its Spa Village, a lush oasis of
natural and architectural beauty, which is probably one of the best
spas in the world.
What distinguishes this spa is its unparalleled array of
international treatments. Drawn from Indian, Chinese, Japanese,
Thai, Balinese and Malaysian healing cultures, programs which can
be as short as a massage or as intense as a two-week cure focus on
rejuvenation and longevity, relaxation and stress reduction and
detoxification. Ayurvedic, Chinese and Malaysian doctors consult
with guests in seaside “healing huts” and recommend remedies as
common as reflexology or as esoteric as cupping, body smoking or
scented body steaming.
All treatments begin at the Japanese bathhouse. There’s a wrap
house, cozy nap gazebos, a 50-meter spa pool and daily yoga and tai
chi classes. Twenty-two new spa villas, built over water, afford
direct access to the Spa Village.
The resort also offers tennis, watersports, fishing, jungle
trekking and more. But frankly, once the spa treatments take
effect, the most your clients will be able to do is lie on the
white-sand beach and dream.