A 16km drive from historic George Town on Penang Island, Batu Ferringhi used to be a haven for backpackers. Not any more. Now, with a collection of low-rise brand-name resorts and a profusion of smart high rise condos, discerning travellers can enjoy a new level of luxe particularly at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa. From the welcome glass of freshly squeezed juice and chilled aromatic towel offered in the lobby of the spacious Rasa Wing, you know you’re in for a dose of very special hospitality.
Originally established in 1973, for over three decades Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang’s reputation grew along with Penang’s popularity which sky-rocketed when the historic streets of Penang’s George Town were named a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site in 2008. Re-opened in 2006 after an exhaustive bout of reconstructive surgery estimated at $30 million, the property is setting new benchmarks as the island’s premier luxury resort and spa.
The resort’s art trail leads past an impressive collection of traditional Malaysian art and sculpture that was commissioned for the resort. Forming narratives of Malaysia’s majestic forests and dramatic ocean, traditional leitmotifs have been used throughout the hotel’s vast spaces. Large ceramic vases inspired by the pomegranate, a universal symbol of fertility, decorate the Rasa Wing Lounge where guests, bathed in late afternoon light, sip tea and nibble scones and tiny cakes from tiered cake stands.
LESS IS MORE
Slick, chic with seamless service and friendly faces, the number of rooms has been reduced from 512 to 304 to provide space and comfort. Rasa Wing rooms boast neutral interiors colour accented with warm orange and offset by burnished dark timbers. Two distinct areas – Relax and Repose – are divided by a console desk. A generous king sized bed dominates one end while at the other, there’s comfortable seating, an espresso machine and tasty local morsels that appear under a colourful conical hat. Through floor to ceiling sliding glass doors, a bath menu is propped on the side of a deep marble bath on the broad verandah that overlooks lush tropical gardens, an endless Andaman Sea and heart-stopping sunsets.
The resort’s two wings, Garden and Rasa, have a subtle delineation, a bit like business and first class on planes. The Rasa Wing pool is exclusively for Rasa Wing guests (no children under 16) and special privileges include afternoon tea and cocktails. Things are far from shabby for Garden Wing guests however with pools, a 3-par golf course and plenty of entertainment options and aquatic toys along the exclusive beach frontage.
With its unique heritage as a trading port and key position overlooking the fabled Straits of Malacca, for more than 400 years Penang was a safe haven for boats plying the spice trade route between India and China. The Spice Market Café overlooking Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang’s luxuriant gardens is a restaurant cum spice boutique that not only serves up grandma’s secret recipes but also displays her cooking implements. Ceramic agar agar moulds and tiffin carriers together with kopi tiam coffee cups evoke memories of long conversations at sultry sidewalk cafes while the rich aroma of more than twenty spices comes with the promise of lively food inside.
FEELING THE LOVE
But Rasa Sayang’s guests can enjoy a journey of another kind through the welcoming doorway of CHI The Spa. A cluster of rustic villas bear the imprint of Tibetan-inspired architecture with a garden sanctum and eleven treatment rooms. Its spacious temple-like setting bathed in earthy amber tones evoke the mysticism and aura of the Himalayan mountains and valleys and while there, I reflect on James Hilton’s famous 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, in which he describes Shangri-La as a place of peace and happiness, far from the stresses of the material world. At Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang, I think I’ve found it!
Where is it? Penang lies off the northwestern coast of Malaysia and is a accessible by air, road and rail. The island is linked to mainland Malaysia by the Penang Bridge.
2onthewing flew from Kuala Lumpur’s Subang Airport to Penang on Firefly, Malaysia Airlines’ low cost subsidiary. Firefly flies the one-hour KL-Penang route 75 times a week. www.fireflyz.com.my
Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa is located at Batu Ferringgi, 11100 Penang, Malaysia
For general tourism information visit Tourism Malaysia’s website www.malaysia.travel or www.visitpenang.gov.my
Tags: Chi Spa, Firefly Airlines, malaysia airlines, Penang Street Art, Penang Tourism, Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Shangri-La Resorts, Spice Trade Penang, Tourism Malaysia, Tropical Spice Garden, UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site Penang