Hubby says I have two buttons, “On” and “Off.” I wake at 5am every morning and start the day running (literally, I exercise as soon as I get up). I’m at work before 7am. I don’t take any breaks. I eat lunch over the computer or during a meeting. I stay until 5pm, race home, shower and then head out to a review or event for The Yum List. I usually return home around 10pm and mere minutes after my head hitting the pillow, I’m out like a light.
I plan ahead, do my best to optimize every minute and never waste a second just hanging out. All actions and thoughts are carried out with purpose. Truth be told, I find it hard to relax. I have no motivation to pause to smell the flowers, because I want to smell all the flowers, not just these ones here, but those ones over there, and the ones across the paddock too. I feel sincere pressure that life is short and I want to do, see and experience it all before my time is up. I admit it. I have a bona fide problem unwinding.
Even when I’m reviewing gorgeous 5 star spa resorts that are purposefully designed to create mental repose and slow breathing, I scurry around from morning to night: taking photos, not missing any angle; talking to the chefs, the management, the staff; researching online; taking copious notes of my impressions and small details I want to recall for my write up. I often leave a potentially magical place feeling just as exhausted as I did when I arrived, because I work my way through the entire experience.
Not this time though, through no effort of my own, I got “Banjaran-ed.”
Unbearable high temperatures and a few days without rain had caused the city to compress. Haze, heat and humidity threatened to cause the metropolis of Kuala Lumpur to implode. Added to a long week at work and a sore throat tormenting my health, the concrete, the roads, the traffic, the air – it all felt suffocating.
It was a Friday afternoon that we escaped the maelstrom. A straight, easy trip on an excellent highway had us at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in less than two hours. Entering Ipoh, already the air felt cleaner, the traffic lighter and the space less constricted.
A clearly marked exit and well-placed signboards made signage in Kuala Lumpur look non-existent. A smaller urban road soon led us to the lush entrance where we turned off the main strip and followed a jungle-lined path to The Banjaran.
|Sign from Main Road|
Dramatic 280 million year old Paleozoic limestone formations presented a striking backdrop to the retreat. Cascading waterfalls, geothermal hot springs, natural caves and an abundance of native flora and fauna are housed by these rainforest-covered hills. Already I had my camera out and had taken no less than 30 shots before reaching the reception.
Greeted by the general manager herself, (all guests are welcomed as if into one’s own home, even if arrival is at 3am) our first impression was of warm hospitality and genuine happiness that we had come for a visit. Relieved of our car keys and luggage we followed her to the reception where we were refreshed with a ginger, chamomile and pomelo beverage while our check-in was registered. Laptop out, I begun my notes on our ingress.
Scanning the lobby I noticed natural woods used both for furniture and decoration. Huge ceramic pots spilling liquid stood proudly as centerpieces for a water feature and, lily filled ponds bordered the walkways from the lobby to the rest of the resort. Small barrique shaped lampshades hung from the ceiling glowing warm golden light. Trickling water whispered in the background. Juggling computer and camera I continued to record my experience while hubby seemed oblivious to my scuffle as he banged a large gong in the foyer marking his arrival.
A butler patiently waited for hubby to strike the metal disk a few more times (ensuring the entire resort was aware of his presence) before ushering us into a buggy for transport to our villa. Recording devices readied, I took my seat and listened carefully to our guide’s orientation.
A reading room filled with books, newspapers, magazines, TV and lounges on our right was neighboured by two compact meeting rooms accommodating up to 20 guests. The one and only restaurant, Pomelo, on our left looked casual and breezy with its thatched roof and open walls. Paths led to private dining cabanas surrounded by water and I’d already noted them as possibilities for small celebrations or romantic interludes.
Chugging further along the path we discovered wild yet controlled gardens and water occupying every non man-made space. We rounded a bend and a dazzling scene stole our breaths. Even hubby halted his chatter, speechless at the beauty before us. I dashed off the buggy to capture it from every angle.
|Limestone Hill Backdrop|
The centerpiece of the retreat was a large emerald-shaded geothermic lake. Hemmed by a gushing waterfall on one side, natural caves on another and towering forest covered rock formations rising from the background, the heated waters were producing water vapour slowly rising from the surface and disappearing into the air about a metre above. This warm mist and stunning natural backdrop was nothing short of spellbinding.
|Geothermal Hot Springs|
Housing only 25 villas, water (the smaller size) or garden (slightly larger), meant the place appeared empty. We were still wondering however, why we had this paradise to ourselves, without any indication of another guest in our travels. Discovery of our room held the answer.
|Water Villa Living Area|
A dark wooden door opened up to a private ice blue plunge pool. Headed with two deck chairs and umbrellas at one end and a spurting fountain and bubble jets at the other, this luxurious feature was clearly one of the reasons guests were not leaving their villas.
|Plunge Pool Garden Villa|
A covered but open living area furnished with a dining table, low lounges and mini-bar was cooled by old fashioned ceiling fans and dotted with the latest magazines and coffee table books. A house CD of chillax music played in the music box. A traditional Perak water pitcher, labu sayong sat on the table offering refreshment that remained cool in the hour-glass shaped clay pot. Claims that liquid held in these gourds have healthful properties such as reduction of cough and chest ailments was an added advantage to the elimination of the use of plastic water bottles.
|Living Area – Garden Villa|
The bedroom, large and spacious, featured a pyramid thatched roof and glass sliding doors giving direct access to the pool deck. The LCD screen TV, while possibly a hit in many homes, I bet didn’t get much use at this retreat. An oversized king bed, with a 10cm thick feather bed topped mattress, feathered-down duvet, cotton linens and hypoallergenic pillows (I remembered from my research), looked inviting and more than enough room for my hyperactive hubby to wiggle about without disturbing me.
|Bedroom Garden Villa|
Wood paneled doors opened up to yet another space, the bathroom. Twin basins are always a good sign and environmentally friendly bath products earn a favourable review. Refillable ceramic pots of shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer and body wash reduce yet more plastic waste, and biodegradable cornstarch products for the disposables, such as toothbrushes and razors, are a better option than the polypropylene variety. More boxes were ticked on my checklist.
|Bathroom Garden Villa|
Earthy hues, natural stone, wood, glass and tropical furnishings transit the outdoor environment to the in. Abundant use of vegetation and running water bring the revitalizing characteristics of nature to the living space, creating both a calming and rejuvenating setting.
The glass windows and doors of the bathroom look over the villa’s most prized feature – an outdoor sunken Jacuzzi with a direct hook-up to the geothermal hot springs. Star filled skies can only be made better with a skinny dip in the bubbling bath allowing the healing properties of the water to do its magic.
|Jacuzzi filled with geothermal waters|
Overwhelmed with excitement I snapped away, bidding farewell to our butler and, dropping my bags ready to set out to explore the rest of the retreat on foot. Dragging hubby along before I lost the daylight hours, we were soon out the door again.
One extraordinary discovery after another followed, each surprising and further delighting us, as I carried on with my documentation of The Banjaran Hot Springs Retreat.
A sufficiently equipped fitness centre was the first stop on our path and I made a mental note of what my 5am workout would comprise. Beyond the gym was the jungle trail. A short, well-marked passage through the bush would be ideal for hubby, but merely a warm-up for me. I too made plans to conquer that one, in the morning.
Set at the base of the hills, the retreat is bordered on two sides by a connection of caves. Simple enhancements through subtle lighting and guide rails saw the conversion of the naturally forming limestone caves on the property into deluxe havens of peace and wellness.
The Meditation Cave, streaked with shades of grey from smoky to charcoal, polished sections as a result of a once flowing river, and lofty ceilings, at once served to diminish any worries I might have had at the time to minute importance. Appointed with simple cushions and seating, it seemed an awe-inspiring refuge for seclusion, to focus the mind in silence and, for complete relaxation and contemplation.
The Crystal Cave, a much smaller space, glittered with both naturally developing and man-installed amethyst and quartz crystals. Laid with floor cushions, it suggested a calm, but more energized grotto.
Hubby’s attention was soon drawn to the Thermal Steam Cave – a natural sauna made people friendly with the installation of a platform overlooking the pristine hot springs with temperatures floating between 65°C to 70°C. Directly above the sauna, a pathway led to The Balcony, another relaxed cave setting with a sweeping view of the entire retreat. Jaws gaping, we made haste to the final cave open to guests on the property.
|Thermal Steam Cave|
|View from The Balcony|
No words, or online research could have prepared for me though for what was next. The entrance to Jeffs’ Cellar was marked in medieval fashion with tall inky metal gates carrying double crests and coffee bean coloured wooden doors. Tilted oak barrels, an old horse-drawn buggy’s wheel and, timeworn wine bottles rested upon one another in a display of intrigue. We ascended the stone steps and drew open the entryway doors.
A tunnel lined with wine bottles and soft lighting led us further into the cave. The mouth opened into a grand chamber furnished with leather lounges and low tables. Further in, a 12-seater dining table was dressed in grand adornment and marked a contrast to the natural stone enclosure. On another level a bar and various seating dotted the rest of the enormous space. It seemed futile to try to capture the enchantment of the cavern in words. Remarkable, entrancing… they didn’t even come close.
Changing the battery in my camera, we left, hoping to chronicle the rest of the grounds before dark.
A Doctor Fish Pool containing the exotic Garrra Rufa fish known for their adoration of nibbling on the dead skin cells of people’s feet, essentially providing an organic exfoliation, and a foot reflexology pond, laid with hundreds of therapy inducing pebbles, were just other pleasant distractions leading to the star interest, the Hot Springs Dipping Pools.
Ideal for stressed muscles and aching joints, round tubs had been carefully constructed along the edge of the natural springs. Raw materials such as slim tree branches were used to support a rustic canopy sheltering bathers, while maintaining a homogenous blend with the natural surrounds. Water temperatures posted at each site showed a range from a very warm 37°C to a scorching 51°C. Hubby set himself a challenge to immerse in them all.
Returning to our villa I frantically took my notes. There was so much to report on I could have kept writing for hours, that is, until hubby arrived with a goblet of water from the labu sayong and a plea to join him in our private geothermal Jacuzzi.
By now, the sun had set and the stars had revealed themselves. The bubbling jets caused the water to steam even more and The Banjaran started soaking into my skin. Hubby quietly disconnected my devices, putting them out of view. With a soft bed to dream in and hot springs to heal in, my pace did slow. Perhaps not fully converting to five gears, but definitely more than just “off” and “on.” Waking the next morning and for the rest of the weekend too, work stayed aside, I bathed, I slept, I breathed. I had been, “Banjaran-ed.”
Reason to visit: exquisite luxury eco resort, natural hot springs, Jeff’s Cellar (!), healthy cuisine, first class spa
The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat
1 Persiaran Lagun Sunway 3
Perak Darul Ridsuan
+6 05 210 7777