Stuart Forster spends time at the upscale spa resort, set against a dramatic jungle backdrop with steep limestone hills, to discover subterranean attractions, stylishly presented cuisine and luxury wellness treatments.
Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is a luxury wellness resort located at Tambun, a 15-minute drive from Ipoh, in the Malaysian state of Perak. Geothermally heated water surges upwards through limestone to heat the resort’s dipping pools and steam room. The porous rock, formed 260 million years ago during the Paleozoic era, also shapes the steep mountains and expansive caves providing some of the mystique of this dramatic yet relaxing jungle getaway stretched across more than 16 acres.
The verdant hillsides create the impression that the Banjaran sits in a lost valley, isolated from the modern world. Traffic noise is excluded. Birds chatter and chirp up in the swaying foliage of the resort’s trees. All guests must be aged twelve or over. All of these are factors helping to create a laid-back ambiance in which adults can unwind from professional pressures and the incessant stresses of the digital age. Whether you utilise your stay for a digital detox is up to you. All of the 25 villas have Wi-Fi coverage, so too do public areas such as the lobby, swimming pool, Pomelo restaurant and the resort’s meeting room.
Since August 2014 the Banjaran has been under the management of a Swiss couple, Lucia and Felix Eppisser, whose goal is to have people recognise the resort as one of the world’s elite wellness retreats. Felix was a chef at the fine-dining, Michelin-starred Restaurant Spice in Zurich’s Hotel Rigiblick and is now Banjaran’s culinary director. The pair draw upon the skills of an Ayurvedic doctor to consult guests undertaking individually tailored wellness treatments lasting from anything between a couple of days to three weeks. They’ve put in place guided morning walks around the resort, so guests can learn about local flora and fauna. The Eppissers see that an instructor leads morning yoga sessions on the wooden decking by the naturally heated pool and have arranged for Qi Gong and Tai Chi sessions.
(The reception area at the resort)
(An illuminated geological formation provides a natural sculpture in Jeff’s Cellar)
(The resort’s meditation cave)
(Kamaruddin Kamin, the executive chef, and Felix Eppisser, the culinary director)
(Sea bass served the the Pomerol restaurant)
The verdant hillsides create the impression that the Banjaran sits in a lost valley, isolated from the modern world.
Candle-lit meditation sessions are an option in one of the resort’s multi-level caves. Individuals can spend time alone, looking inwards and seeking answers isolated from external distractions.
Healthy yet tasty fusion dishes featuring Asian and European elements are served in Pomelo, the Banjaran’s thatched, open-sided restaurant and three adjacent gazebos. The emphasis is on fresh, organic ingredients free from artificial flavouring. Dishes such as crispy giant prawns, tartar of marinaded salmon and citrus fruit salad are typical of the cuisine served in Pomelo. Freshly pressed juices are available and so too are organic wines.
A sizable wine collection belonging to Jeffrey Cheah, the chairman of the Sunway Group which owns the Banjaran, is stored in one of the resort’s limestone caves. They are locked in a cavern that doubles as the bar known as Jeff’s Cellar. The stalactites and stalagmites are subtly illuminated and music plays, creating a unique ambiance. This is an underground setting with a dash of elegance and a good place to unwind at the end of the day.
The resort has two classes of villa, those facing onto a waterway and the more secluded garden villas. The accommodation features wooden flooring plus king-sized beds with hypoallergenic pillows. The villas have walk-in showers with bottles of aromatherapy body care products. Outside they have plunge pools, covered seating areas and geothermally heated hot tubs.
Water is a major feature of the Banjaran’s charm. Loungers are arranged around the freeform swimming pool. Onsen-style dipping pools provide space to soak in water heated to around 40°C. During World War Two members of the Japanese armed forces recuperated here and left their mark as graffiti carved into rocks around the site.
A sign bearing the words ‘Doctor Fish’ points towards a cool, shallow pool in which a shoal of tiny Garra Rufa fish await guests. They nibble at skin, removing dead cells in a tingling action that is said to rejuvenate.
The skilled hands of massage therapists can also bring relaxation and rejuvenation. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic and Malay style Remuan treatments are offered alongside Reiki healing, facials, manicures and pedicures, plus colon hydrotherapy and reflexology. The treatments take place in individual huts. If the spa and wellness menu overwhelms, you could always opt for the 90-minute Banjaran Signature Massage, which works down from the head to a pressure point foot massage by way of a Malay Urut body massage.
The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is a unique location. The combination of high quality wellness treatments, healthy food, chic accommodation plus its array of activities makes this a special, soul-friendly destination where you-time can truly be savoured.
A villa for one night at the Banjaran, inclusive of breakfast, costs from MYR1,329. Value-added packages are also available. Thebanjaran.com