How about this for a view? This is what you see, emerging from any one of the 25 identical thatched villas at the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Perak – yes, the gal is still in Malaysia, but she has got out of the city and driven, or been driven, 90 minutes north of Kuala Lumpur to one of Asia’s most splendid and sensual luxury resorts, a few miles from Ipoh. It is owned and run by Sunway, Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah’s vast conglomerate, and although we love his main Sunway hotels near the Kuala Lumpur airport, this one is, well, almost out of this world, truly one of nature’s secrets. Best benchmark is probably Vivanta by Taj – Madikeri, Coorg.
John Nielsen, Danish-English-Aussie food connoisseur and man of the world, drove me there, and we were greeted by the gorgeous Lybanor Godio, a Filipina who worked for Aman for years. She is now the big boss of this six-acre resort, nestled as it is within the arms of lush tropical rainforested mini-mountains, all Paleozoic limestone.. Each of the villas is totally secluded (some overlook the water and are not enclosed on all sides). Villa 16 was entirely enclosed, which make moving around inside the compound completely private. I had a bedroom, about 12 by 12 feet, rising to a wicker-lined thatched cathedral ceiling from which a leaf-shaped fan hung; this room, like the adjoining inside bathroom, was air-conditioned.
Come out to the open-sided terrace, with minibar and dining. And to the open-air pool, about 25 feet long and deep enough for a good swim, any time day or night and no bikini needed. The only sound was of water gushing out of the end wall. Apparently the former Champney’s duo, Allan and Tanya Wheway, had a hand in conceptualizing this whole thing before its 2010 opening – judging by this villa, they certainly picked the villa locations well.
Because of the constant hot thermal waters underground, each villa has an ordinary pool AND an outdoor tub – or is it a natural jacuzzi? Anyway, it fits into the natural rock and is the temperature of a hot bath. Oh how sexy is that! This is indeed such a sensual place it would be ideal for honeymoons, or a romantic whatever – and they do not take kids under 12. That evening we watched flowers and candles being laid to decorate the deck around a dinner table for two being set up on the banks of one of many of the natural mini-lakes on the property. You could dine up the mountain-jungle-path or in so many of the secluded spots around. I climbed the mountain path before breakfast: like the entire resort, it is well signposted. There is a jungle walk to the Lost World of Tambun to take, or a Meditation Cave merely to sit in.
Head for the really SERIOUS spa, with cabins seemingly floating on a lake. You have your choice of Ayurvedic through to Thai, with Chinese, colonic and Malay along the alphabetical way. There is yoga here, a Garra Rufa Dr Fish pool there (for you to put your legs in, for those little ‘ole fish to exfoliate you in their peculiar way). There is a gym, and an ice bar, and a juice bar, and thermal steam caves. Yes, you can be seriously busy here – there is even a meeting room for small get-togethers, and a library, in case you left your book at home. In between, of course, you are going to be eating. The chef is from Alsace (try his tomato gazpacho with wholegrain mustard icecream).
But I have left the real highlight of this entire gorgeous place until last. A cave, about 10,000 sq ft in floor space were it flat, reaches up to 75 feet in places, with stalactites that drop only about 0.005 inches a year, hanging from ceilings and diagonal walls. The floor has been somewhat levelled with wood sections, and lighting is brilliant. Dine here, as a twosome or as a big party – or have a drink in the café’s bar, Jeff’s Cellar, for the Tan Sri. You might even just be able to get a guided tour of his personal cellar below the cave: the hundreds of bottles here include flights of Haut-Brion and Pétrus, and Mercurey Dme du Meix with his own name on the label. WOW is this one unique and memorable luxury resort, says the gal!