Pangkor Laut and the YTL Spa Village, off Lamut, Malaysia, is best reached by a stunning under-hour helicopter ride north-west from Kuala Lumpur.
After jungle and hills, we came low over the sea, and landed on a platform off Pangkor Laut island, 300 acres of marvellous forested terrain. Less than 15% of the island has been developed, and roads are cantilevered on to the hills to prevent harming even a single tree. We were met by a bright apple green Toyota Rav4s that was for exclusive use of Estate One guests during a stay.
We did a brief tour, looking at Emerald Bay, with its crescent sand, green water, and the Spa Village, tennis courts, communal pool, discreet multi-storey blocks that somehow hold 156 bedrooms. A road marked Private to the Estates, which are villas with two to four bedrooms. Estate One was reached via a door in a solid dry-stone wall. Inside, stepping stone footpaths skirted trees and the 45-foot private infinity pool, with the beach immediately below. The villa has two separate wood-tiled bedrooms, each self-contained, plus as well, an indoor air-conditioned dining room with attendants' room behind (this estate comes with a butler, a butlerette and a chef). There is also an octagonal outdoor dining sala. Designer of this gorgeous complex is Lech Bunnag.
My wood-floored bedroom, with high cream walls rising to an open-eaved wood ceiling with fan, is dominated by the four-poster bed, made up with a selection of international and local linens and set in a metre-high, 50cm wide horizontal wood frame. The front and sides of the room look straight out, if you open heavy wooden shutters or wall blinds, to pool and greenery, and beach and horizon. At the back of the room all floors are smooth stone. There is a work area, with sensible desk/dressing table, and your own Airport for wireless. Here there is also a fridge with soft drinks, tea and coffee. Further back is the indoor bath area, with twin basin areas (big circular mirrors over units holding white ceramic hemispherical Kohler bowls, with wall-set magnifyers, hand-held mirrors, washcloths folded as conical sculptures). I have a safe, satin-wrapped hangers and a brown wicker beach basket. A central table holds a medieval-looking pot with yellow crysanthemums.
There are big glass-fronted toilet and shower rooms, the latter with side, handheld and rainforest outlets, and neatly set hotel-label toiletries (banana shampoo, zest conditioner, duneberry shower gel, peach lotion). Rear windows look into jungle. A side door leads to a private terrace with the really-hot outdoor tub, a marriage of permanently-warmed garden-set bathtub and stone jacuzzi with lying areas for 2 and a selection of potions to hand. All locks are simply pull-across wood bars, on both inside and outside of door or window shutter.
The YTL Spa Village - named for the resort's owners, YTL Corporation Berhad - is just that, with nine treatment villas in lovely gardens. I had a consultation with the Chinese doctor (he also has Indian and Malay colleagues). He told me I needed more water, and red wine. He then did a Chinese massage, 50 minutes of pummelling and yanking through a towel.
Right now you can dine internationally in Fisherman's Cove, or at specific Chinese or Malay outlets, all inside or outside-deck outlets overlooking the water - next month sushi, in the spa, and a Jim Thompson Thai restaurant will be added. Fisherman's Cove has Johann Later as a consultant but the menu is international. A caprese salad here is a patty of cubes of skinless tomato flesh topped by a dollop of goat cheese, drizzling of balsamico around. I followed this with home-made spaghetti and big mushrooms, and addictive mango sorbet. Back in my villa I found a home-made journal, with some leaves giving resort history, others plain for my own notes.
Before the sun came up gardeners were meticulous raking the beach, and scooping leaves from the pool. Out exercising, I pass a family of crab-eating monkeys (there are no crabs left so they have changed their diet). Back home, I plunge down into the sea for a quick swim, emerge, wash my feat with a half coconut shell in an urn of water - and turn to note four seals swimming exactly where I was. I plunge again, into my pool, watching 'em. Showered, I am driven in green Rav4 down to breakfast, memorable for a pair of peacock noisily courting, and the make-your-own toast, home made bread over a real charcoal grill. That toast, together with mango juice, papaya with sweet lime, Bridel salted or unsalted butters, and waiter Jerome courteously asking if I needed anything more - this is what all breakfasts should be like.
Daily at 1030 Uncle, a renowned retired horticulturalist, leads a two-hour heritage walk along the cross-island jungle path, explaining why trees that did not survive over the last 140 million (sic) years did not survive (we see a fig about to strangle an acacia, as an example). I checked out the air-conditioned gym, but not the squash courts. I liked the way the open-sided reception area flowed into library, with two computers, and on into one pool area, where apparently there are complimentary sorbet and fruits service at 3pm, 4pm. Despite the fact there must have been nearly 200 guests on site, you seldom saw anyone twice, or, except at meal times, anyone at all.
There was just time to say hello to YTL hotels' guru and co-owner, Dato' Mark Yeoh Seok Kah (see photo), visiting to see how everything was going, and then, sadly, it was time to switch into travel gear and little green Rav4 took me back to the landing pad. General Manager is Jeff Mong.