Great Escapes to Asia
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Sights and Sounds of Malaysia
Gala Tours offers a seven-day package to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu Island. The Kuala Lumpur city tour stops at the capital’s most popular visitor attractions, including the King’s Palace, Karyaneka Handicrafts Centre, the War Memorial, the National Museum, the National Mosque, and Independence Square. In Kota Kinabalu, visitors will enjoy the Poring Hot Spring and Canopy Walkway, an ideal location for bird watching. For rates as low as $199, Gala Tours can also extend clients’ stays in Asia with add-on stays in either Tokyo; Hong Kong; Singapore; or Taipei, Taiwan. This air-inclusive package starts at $1,399 and is valid through March 31, 2009.
Jetabout Asia Vacations provides a 10-day look into Malaysia’s famed outdoor attractions. After a half-day Kuala Lumpur tour, guests will enjoy a wildlife cruise along the Kinabatangan River, as well as a stop at the renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The experience is rounded out by a Lemanak River Cruise and Longhouse excursion. At the Longhouse, clients will visit an entire village that resides under a single roof and witness a demonstration in blowpipe shooting. Rates start at $1,395 per person, land only, and the offer is valid until Dec. 31.
Sabah, located in Malaysian Borneo, has a rich geography that calls out to adventure travelers. AsiaLuxe Holidays takes guests through the area’s lush tropical islands, pristine beaches, dense rainforests, quaint villages and the legendary Mount Kinabalu. The five-night package includes airfare, daily breakfast and a full-day Coral Island tour. Rates start from $2,260 per person. The offer is valid through March 31, 2009.
New & Noteworthy
The Next Eco-Tourism Haven
Set to become Malaysia’s next big eco-tourism haven, the $184.4 million Pulau Banding project will be rolled out over the next 10-15 years. Kumpulan Emkay, the company that owns Pulau Banding, will minimize cutting of trees in this natural area by extensive planning and construction that works in concert with the natural ground terrain. Pulau Banding is situated on Temengor Lake at the heart of the 130-million-year-old Belum Temengor rainforest complex. It is the largest area under forest cover in Peninsular Malaysia after Taman Negara National Park.
Melaka and George Town Make UNESCO World Heritage List
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed Melaka and George Town, Penang, into the UNESCO World Heritage List on July 7. The two Malaysian cities now join the ranks of other iconic landscapes and monuments such as China’s Great Wall, India’s Taj Mahal, the U.S.’ Grand Canyon and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The UNESCO Web site describes Melaka and George Town as "a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia."
The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur
Celebrating 10 years of service, The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur invites guests to join in the festivities with its Perfect 10 package. The anniversary package includes a daily breakfast for two, a butler-drawn revitalization bath and a one-hour spa treatment at Spa Village, Kuala Lumpur. Upon arrival, guests are provided with a welcome drink and they receive a personalized in-room check in. Rates start at $316 per night, and the offer is valid through Dec. 1.
Tanjong Jara Resort, Terengganu
Dedicated to the philosophy of purity of spirit and wholesome living, the Syurga Tujuh Seven Steps to Heaven package creates a holistic lifestyle program that helps balance the human body’s seven chakras. Following a consultation with a therapist, each guest receives a personalized seven-day program, with each day focusing on an individual chakra. Rates start at $500 per person, and airport transfers, meals, yoga classes, daily spa treatments per person and a nightly turndown bath are included.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur will play host to the Showdown of Tennis Champions in November, which stars tennis greats Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Roger Federer. On Nov. 18, tennis fans can enjoy an experience of the hotel’s personalized service and plush accommodations while getting up close and personal with their favorite tennis stars. This offer is only valid on Nov. 18 and package rates start at $879, double occupancy.
Petronas Twin Towers
The crown symbol of Malaysia, the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers (also known as KLCC) are the world’s tallest twin structures. Consisting of office buildings, conference halls and an upscale shopping center, the towers are on every visitor’s must-do list. Next door, the KLCC Park offers plenty of visitor attractions, including Petronas Philharmonic Hall, Petrosains Science Discovery Centre, Petronas Art Gallery, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the Aquaria Oceanarium. Most popular, however, is the observation deck located on the sky bridge that connects the two buildings. The deck is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, but is extremely popular with both visitors and locals. Early arrivals are recommended.
Taman Negara National Park
Taman Negara is home to some of the oldest rainforests in the world, some estimated at 130 million years old. This is Malaysia’s first officially protected area and oldest national park. Today, the park offers river cruising, jungle trekking and cave exploring. A canopy walk offering a close-up view of the rainforest tree cover is also a must-see attraction. Observation decks, known as hides, are located through the park. Visitors may stay in the hides overnight in order to watch the animals in their natural habitats.
Oct. 17-19: Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix. The adrenaline-pumping Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix features one of the fastest and most challenging tracks in motor-racing. Many of the world’s greatest competitors participate in this thrilling annual motorcycle race.
Oct. 26-Nov. 2: Heart of Borneo 4x4 Safari. Here, visitors enjoy an extreme adventure deep in the heart of the Sabah rainforest. Borneo’s distinct landscape offers some of the world’s most extreme 4x4 terrain, and specially modified four-wheel-drive vehicles challenge the toughest off-road trails.
Nov. 1-2: Eco Film Fest 2008. Kuala Lumpur’s first, free, green festival brings people together to help fight against climate change. Foreign eco films will be screened, while eco bazaars display the latest green products. More than 20 local artists and celebrities will perform.
Nov. 1-30: Malaysia International Gourmet Festival. This award-winning festival spotlights some of the world’s best chefs, all of whom make their home in Malaysia. Restaurants offer exclusive menus, promotions and events in a month-long celebration designed to take foodies on an exquisite culinary adventure.
Nov. 14-16: Paintball World Cup Series Asia 2008. This world-class paintball championship is endorsed by key paintball organizations from the U.S. and Europe, as well as teams from throughout Asia.
It’s raining in Kuala Lumpur and I’m enjoying what could easily become a new rainy day ritual for me — relaxing outdoors in a milk and rose petal bath as rain drops pelt the protective canopy above me. Blissed out from the Traditional Royal Malay massage treatment I’ve just received, I soak lazily as I watch the city in the distance.
What a great way to start my trip to Malaysia.
I’m staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s first all-butler hotel. The property’s list of accolades is long, including such awards from Travel + Leisure as one of the Top 20 Hotels for Overall Value (2006) and one of the 500 Best Hotels in the World (2007).
The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur, Spa Village
I barely notice my butler when I check in, although the sandwich waiting in my room (because I’ve arrived between meal services) was certainly welcome. However, I only have half a day in Kuala Lumpur, and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. My mission is to check out the property’s Spa Village, a 12,000-square-foot facility with a laundry list of specialized treatments on the property.
Spa Village is actually a series of luxury spa facilities throughout Malaysia and Bali, known for its dedication to personalized service and their commitment to keeping alive the traditional massage arts of the cultures that make up Malaysia: Malay, Chinese and Indian. Each Spa Village is attached to a five-star hotel or resort, many of which are Malaysia’s most renowned properties, including Pangkor Laut Resort, Tanjong Jara Resort, Cameron Highlands and a brand-new property on the Straits of Malacca.
The morning after my treatment at The Ritz-Carlton, I set off for Malaysia’s much heralded Pangkor Laut Resort. Here, I find levels of luxury I never yet experienced. Pangkor Laut is a privately owned island located three miles off the West Coast of Malaysia.
I’m staying in a Spa Villa, a huge bungalow with lots of open windows that’s set on stilts above the ocean. The room’s giant balconies and stunning sea vistas are almost enough to make me want to never leave my room. But then I’d never have seen Spa Village, which is stunningly integrated into the resort. The spa’s reception area is located outdoors, so there’s a sea view from nearly every vantage point.
Here, I am offered the choice of visiting one of three Healing Huts to meet with a treatment specialist — either a Chinese herbal medicine doctor, an Ayurvedic specialist from India or a doctor trained in the Malay healing arts. Because I’d already enjoyed the Malay treatment in Kuala Lumpur, I decide to meet with the Chinese doctor, who recommends a therapeutic course for me. Over the next two days, I’ll be experiencing a Camphor Camphor herbal scrub treatment, a yoga-like Chinese massage and moxibustion (the practice of burning an herbal cigar near the skin to stimulate circulation).
Before I start my designated program, I’m escorted to the resort’s signature bathhouse. This 45-minute pre-treatment ritual is included with all spa programs that last longer than 20 minutes, and it is nothing short of heavenly.
First, I indulge in a foot massage in one of the outdoor pavilions. With my legs and feet feeling tingly from all the attention, I’m escorted to a Japanese bathhouse, where I trade my street clothes for a resort sarong. Next, I enjoy a hot soak in a bath made of stone, and then walk through a Malaysian pool that looks like something the Greek gods might have designed. The final step in the bathhouse experience is a Singapore scrub which leaves my skin refreshed and ready for more attention.
As I wait for my massage treatment, I sit in the spa reception area, mesmerized by the small pleasure craft that ply the water just beyond the resort’s boundaries. I’m not quite sleeping, but I don’t hear my therapist as she arrives to take me to the treatment room.
Two hours later, I’ve been massaged and also well polished by the two Camphor Camphor herb balls, which are filled with cloves and other exotic spices. The spices have elevated my skin temperature considerably. The experience is unusual but not unpleasant.
After a long afternoon of self-indulgence, I return to my villa to enjoy a leisurely hour on my overwater patio.
The sun is shining. A couple walks along the water holding hands. Somewhere in a villa next to me I think I hear someone singing, and I’m starting to wonder whether Malaysia is the happiest place on earth.