Malaysia’s Best Boutique Hotels
From shiny skyscrapers to untouched stretches of sand, Malaysia offers a great combination of city and countryside. In all of that, there are a few must-visit destinations worth checking off your list. Here’s where to stay when in town, and why.
Seamlessly blending heritage features with modern creature comforts across all three levels, this imposing white building dominates a street corner in the middle of historic George Town – an atmospheric tangle of streets, temples and decades-old shop houses that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It might look like one of the larger hotels in the pocket-sized city centre, but inside it’s intimate and inviting – the 11 individually styled bedrooms have evocative names that hint at the décor, for example Rose, Calligraphy and Peacock. True to Penang’s reputation for great food, the downstairs Il Bacaro is a Venetian-style wine bar and eatery. Sure, you might not be expecting Italian in the middle of Malaysia, but it’s just one example of Campbell House’s many incarnations. Originally built as a hotel in 1903, it has been through a few unsavoury phases (it sits in the middle of George Town’s former red-light district) but that only adds to its colourful history.
Make like lord and lady of the manor at this beautifully restored colonial-style hotel in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. Take afternoon tea in the lounge room – think scones and clotted cream, a characterful pianist tinkling the ivories, swirling ceiling fans, palms and plantation chairs. Every space exudes a different atmosphere, from the men’s club cigar smoke and classic cocktails of The Smoke House to the flower-filled Orchid Room. All suites in the original building – which have views over a stunning white-domed mosque and the spiral staircases of an old train station – come with a butler and driver, which means you can do rock star things like leave someone else to do your unpacking, or run you a bath, or fix you a cocktail while you dress for dinner. But if the formality of putting on clothes is too much to bear, keep your dressing gown on and enjoy breakfast in your private living room. If you do manage to lift a finger, you will find the bountiful (and complementary) mini bar is replenished daily.
For a welcome respite from the heat and the humidity of Malaysia’s major cities, make a break for the undulating green hills and plateaus of the Cameron Highlands. Roughly 1500 metres above sea level, it is the highest area on the mainland and is famed for lush tea plantations and strawberry farms, as well as its Tudor-style cottages that add to the highland’s little slice of England appeal. It’s a stunning location for a couple of rounds of golf or a ramble along one of the region’s many walking trails, which pass waterfalls, rose gardens and wild orchids. Alternatively, you could take advantage of the cooler temperatures and curl up in front of a roaring fire with, what else, a reviving cuppa.
Having played host to a myriad cultures over the centuries, and at one point been the focal point for Southeast Asia’s affluent trade routes, Malacca has several historic buildings that are worth checking out. But when you want to put down your guidebook and swap sightseeing for spa treatments, it’s worth booking into this relaxing eco-retreat on the outskirts of the city. Pine logs and railway sleepers are the building materials of choice, and there are three levels of pitch-roofed wooden villas to choose from, not that will spend much time in your room with the on-site spa operating from 11am to 11pm. Herbal baths and aromatherapy massages are guaranteed to rest and revive tired muscles, while the two-hour reflexology session promises to test your ticklishness. Surrounded by greenery, having a pedicure turns into a bird-watching session at this stunning rustic retreat.
With the sparkling Andaman Sea on one side and a lagoon on the other, Tanjung Rhu is an (almost) undiscovered narrow stretch of land located in the northeast corner of Langkawi. The island is home to hundreds of beaches, but only a handful of resorts can lay claim to offering private access, meaning you can set up camp under one of the large white parasols and enjoy this peaceful strip of golden sand and blue-green water (almost) all to yourself. When you’re done sunbathing, cool off with a cocktail in the 60 metre freshwater Sunset Pool. Or, if you’re feeling active, hop on a boat and explore ancient mangroves or visit the nearby Gua Cerita (Cave of Legends).
Get up close to the native flora and fauna of Borneo – the wild and untamed counterpart to the skyscrapers and shopping malls of Peninsula Malaysia. As if views of the towering Mt Kinabalu and Pantai Dalit Beach from your room weren’t enough, the resort is surrounded by 400 acres of tropical forest and there are plenty of opportunities to explore. Join a forest ranger tour to learn about the island’s medicinal plants, meet Sabah’s beloved ginger-haired primate at the on-site Orangutan Education Centre or spot colourful native birds from the canopy walkway. Once the sun has set, discover rare nocturnal wildlife, such as the teeny-tiny mouse deer, civet cat and sleepy slow loris, on a night safari.
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