From Coast to Coast

Sister resorts woo clients to Malaysia

By: Andréa R. Vaucher

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 was untouched.

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 textiles.

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.

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 exoticism.

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 squawked.

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.

The Details

Pangkor Laut Resort
Rates: $243-639
Commission: 10 percent
800-9899-9999; 877-851-3144

Tanjong Jara Resort
Rates: $213-$608
Commission: 10 percent