There are countless ways to connect to a destination. For the foodie, local flavors reflect the diversity of a country’s culinary culture. Art and design lovers will most likely visit museums, architectural landmarks and art galleries to enrich their travel experience. Adventure seekers will head for less beaten paths, all looking for an adrenaline rush. For the beauty and wellness advocate, a region’s healing traditions are the biggest draws to packing a bag and hopping on a plane.
It was in May this year that Malaysia finally opened its borders to foreign visitors. More than a decade had passed since my last visit to the magnificent federal country of Southeast Asia. A full spa tour itinerary provided an opportunity to return and learn more about the Malay Peninsula. The thermal village of YTL hotels was an irresistible concept that inspired me to finally book my ticket and make room reservations after two years of being locked up.
A new experience in each thermal village
Envisioned and developed by YTL Hotels, the Spa Village “honors the healing traditions and cultures of the region in which we reside so that these practices are not lost and can be passed on to future generations”. There is a spa village at various YTL Hotels properties, each distinct and unique to the traditions of its location. The team continues: “When we thoroughly research the traditions and cultures of the regions where we develop our spas. We talk to elders and seek out healers if they are available.
Led by VYTL Hotels Vice President of Spa Division, Chik Lai Ping, the team works closely with local communities – naturalists, healers, farmers, elders to name a few – to develop wellness treatments and experiences. At the Spa Village at Tanjong Jara Resort in Terengganu, for example, Malay healing traditions live on. And the experiences that await at this seaside destination allow guests to rekindle strong connections with nature and the higher self.
Tanjong Jara: a universe of Malaysian treatments
Tanjong Jara is a beautiful tropical paradise on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It borders a crescent-shaped expanse of light powdery shores that embrace the cool waters of the China Sea. The sprawling complex was built in the style of 17th-century Malay palaces along the coastline. Besides the beautiful and intricate architecture, it is the tranquil ambience and healing energy that surrounds the space that makes a weekend at Tanjong Jara a gem of an experience.
While seaside pleasures were part of the itinerary, Malay healing, inspired by the region’s mosaic culture and lush rainforests, was high on the priority list. The wellness experience at Tanjong Jara is inspired by the Malay healing philosophy called Sucumurni. This approach to wellness believes that purity of mind, health and well-being are principles of recovery and transformation. ramuanor potent blends of rainforest plants and herbs according to ancient traditions, are often used in the region as nature’s healing gifts.
After a scenic six-hour drive from the city’s capital, the hotel’s care service pulled up outside the main entrance to Tanjong Jara’s cul-de-sac. I was greeted upon arrival by the wonderful Sairani Mohd Sa’ad, a certified trainer and expert in Malay healing treatments. His vast expertise and experience have contributed to the development of wellness experiences in the spa villages of YTL hotels. Puan Sairani has also worked on structuring the Ministry of Health Malaysian Medicine Bachelor Course in the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Division.
Malay healing traditions fit for royalty
After smooth check-ins and refreshing welcome drinks, the early afternoon was spent exploring the lavish grounds of the seaside property. “You are here simply to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy. Take your time and I will see you later at the Spa Village for your consultation and your first treatment,” promised Puan Sairani.
Sunset was the perfect time to step out of my beachfront villa and take a leisurely stroll to the Spa Village. The entrance to the healing shrine was marked by a stone arch that framed the calm of a pond, reflecting the cerulean sky. Puan Sairani was there to warmly welcome me and sit down with me for an individual counseling session.
“Today’s treatment will begin with an aromatic floral bath,” she explained. Also known in Malay as Mandi Bunga, the bathing ritual harnesses the power of seven flowers. Each flush of this sacred cleansing rang in gifts of purity, sincerity, health, beauty, happiness, prosperity and longevity.
Wrapped in a colorful batik sarong, I was led by the therapist to the treatment villa’s outdoor swimming yard. I sat on a stone bench, grinning from ear to ear like a child on Christmas Eve. With my eyes closed, I heard the therapist pronounce the first of the seven gifts: “I wish you purity.” As the words rang in my ears, cool water mixed with soft petals fell from the top of my head, cascading down my shoulders and then onto the bodice. At that point, all the worries, fatigue and stress induced by pushy work emails were washed away. ..
Feminine intimate care according to ancient Malay traditions
Puan Sairani explained during the consultation that the treatment of the day will highlight the ancient traditions of feminine intimate care. This afternoon’s diet has been practiced for centuries by Malay women, but has unfortunately been replaced by Western formulations that promise a quick fix. “In modern or Western culture, women usually use vaginal cleansers or douches for their intimate care,” observed Puan Sairani. “Rendam Rendam does more than clean up. The healing properties of natural antiseptics like piper betel and black seed relieve and soothe irritation caused by fungal infections. The Malaysian feminine care treatment is also known to support vaginal muscle firmness. After childbirth or menstruation, Rendam Redam is often given to help strengthen the uterus.
A natural antiseptic formula of piper betel and black seed oil was first applied to the treatment area. It left a feeling of freshness, which can be compared to that distinct feeling of cleanliness and purity you get after a dental cleaning. A herbal sitz bath followed, allowing the perineum to soak up the healing benefits of natural remedies. Once out of the warm and soothing outdoor tub, I was then taken back inside my treatment villa for a warm steam and massage. If it hadn’t been for the promise of a remarkable dinner above the river with Puan Sairani, I would have gone straight to slumberland. Dinner at Di Atas Sungai in Tanjong Jara, as expected, did not disappoint.
Dandan Puteri Tujuh: a treatment for a radiant bride
Popular among Spa Village guests as the ultimate bridal treatment, Danda Puteri Tujuh is a Malay ritual that rings in that special glow that emanates when love is in the air. I was by no means about to say my “I do” when I finished my Zoom meetings that day and headed to the Spa Village for my three-hour treatment.
As with all spa experiences at Tanjong Jara, the ritual began with an energizing Mandi Bunga. This was followed by a traditional Puteri massage, using an aromatic blend of native flowers. The therapist intuitively kneaded tense muscles and a back tired from too much screen time. It was preceded by a deep, transformative sleep on the massage table. I was gently brought back to reality just in time for a bath of hair cream. My itinerary and treatment record read, “This is a favorite of Malay princesses of the past.” The appearance of shiny, smooth locks that day confirmed why. I hadn’t had a hair treatment in years that brought crowning glory until this afternoon at the Spa Village.
A face and body scrub polished the skin until it was as radiant and smooth as a baby’s bottom. A fragrant milk bath, sprinkled with rose petals and other colorful flowers, punctuated an afternoon that felt like a married princess. The finishing touch came in the form of a rosewater and jasmine scented steam bath. It was to experience what it could be like to be, literally, enveloped in fragrant flowers.
Dinner by the sea and under the stars
There was no actual wedding that day, not mine at least. A dinner under the stars, by the sea and with new friends, including Puan Sairani, seemed an equally perfect reason to indulge in an afternoon of absolute pampering. The ocean breeze was pleasant on silky soft skin. Hair that seemed to have regained its youthful bounce, dancing with tropical orients. An unforgettable display of grilled seafood under the sand warmed the stomach. But it was the lessons of healing, self-love, and reconnecting with nature that filled my heart as I prepared to return to the big bad city.