Northern Stars

by Dolly E. Bourne

01st October 2011

Awarded the UNESCO historic city status in July 2008, Penang is upbeat about the future. It certainly has pulled out all the stops in hotel offerings around the island. Whether they are part of the new trend for boutique hotels, or upmarket chains, you can be assured of fabulous designs and their attention to detail. Dolly E Bourne checks into two hotels that offer two distinctly different experiences in Batu Ferringi.

After an arduous 19-hour flight from Los Angeles, arriving in Penang was a tremendous relief. However, relief was not meant to be...our second piece of luggage was missing!

We waited till there was nothing left on the luggage carousel before we lodged a report with the airline official, and then it was time to visit Hard Rock Hotel at Batu Feringgi. In spite of fatigue from the long journey and frustrations over the missing luggage, I was really bubbling with anticipation over what the next few days might hold for us. It has been a long while since I last visited the island and Batu Ferringi. For my husband Greg, it was his first, and so we were both looking forward to some fantastic times on the beach and Georgetown. Of course, as the taxi drove up to the Hard Rock Hotel entrance we couldn't miss the more than lifelike sculpture of the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, seated at the entrance of the adjacent Hard Rock Cafe, as if to greet all the guests of the hotel.

After the disappointment with the luggage and the time we spent lodging the report, the Marketing Communications Manager, Ms. Elisa Saw was like a breath of fresh air as she came to greet us. Effervescent in her personality, very sympathetic, and professional at the same time, Ms. Saw assured us that the concierge would take care of the missing luggage for us. As we chatted over sodas in the lobby lounge, which consists of a unique reception and bar concept, we felt really cool and comfortable. It opens out onto the largest free-form swimming pool in Penang, with 26,000 sq feet of crystal blue waters which snake around the hotel rooms on the ground floor and beyond to the beach and the sea, while letting in all the sea breezes.

The most imaginative rooms on offer must be the Lagoon Deluxe, located on the ground floor as you can jump right into the pool from the room's deck. That's how imaginative they are in fulfilling your desire for a rockin' vacation. We were delighted with our Seaview Deluxe room nonetheless. Centrally located in the building with the balcony directly facing the beach, it featured opening bath room walls that are as cheeky as the rock 'n' roll archives that adorn the room. Another strongly defining feature is their branded 'Sleep like a Rock' bedding which was perfectly positioned to give us an unsurpassed panoramic view of the Andaman Sea. It was more than we had hoped for, and so we spent the next few days not just people- and  kid-watching, but also absorbing the beautiful scenery around us. Completing the modish interiors of the rooms are high end, in-room facilities like iPod docking stations, interactive LCD TVs and all day long Wi-Fi . Something unique I noticed was that the sun did not set till 10 minutes before eight every evening, and it made the stay even more special.

This brings to mind the quality of service at Hard Rock Hotel. Everywhere we went, whether it was breakfast buffet at Starz Diner or just plain old service from the bellboys and concierge, the level of service was nothing short of excellent. The lavish display of breakfast delectables for both local and Western palates that is created in their main show kitchen leaves no room for gripes or complaints.

As Ms. Saw explained earlier, this time of year (early June) families take time off for midyear school holidays and that accounted for the fact why the lobby and the pool were teeming with families and their children.  Everywhere I turned there were kids here there and everywhere, screaming and whooping in delight as they swam, paddled and slid down the chutes. And that's not all, there were recreational organizers who made sure that there were games for the adults, too. Hard Rock hotel certainly is a family-oriented hotel by providing entertainment and recreation for both kids and their parents.

No wonder I couldn't get to stay a fourth night as Hard Rock Hotel was fully booked up for the season. And that spoke for itself.

"…He felt an extraordinary sense of physical and mental settlement. It was perfectly true; he just rather liked being at Shangri-La" from the book Lost Horizon

For travellers looking for a piece of paradise, I would suggest looking no further than the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang hotel on beautiful Ferringi Beach in Penang, Malaysia.  Shangri-La, as its name implies, is a haven for those who seek quiet times as well as the good times. Situated along the northern shoreline facing the Andaman Sea, Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa sits within a 30-acre tropical landscaped garden. The iconic 33-year-old resort completed its massive redevelopment programme in 2006, and has since won numerous accolades and industry awards world-wide, reaffirming its position as one of Malaysia's premier resorts.

My husband and I arrived on June 4, 2011 and upon arrival, we were met by the Director of Communications, Mr. Suleiman Tuanku Abdul Rahman. We felt so honoured that we should be greeted with such a warm welcome, but we soon found out that that was the trademark of Shangri-la - meticulous in its attention (for) to hospitality. Mr. Suleiman, in spite of his elevated position, was so "down to earth", professional, yet affable and courteous, just the kind of guy you would want to have at your next barbecue or garden party. Indeed it was Mr. Suleiman that I called when my husband came down with a touch of the flu. It turned out that the hotel housed a clinic that was able to dispense some medication. A lucky convenience, I might add.

We were allocated the Rasa Premier room in the Rasa Wing, which featured exclusive amenities and services such as express check-in-and check-out service, shoeshine service, complimentary a la carte breakfast at the legendary Feringgi Grill or a sumptuous buffet breakfast spread at the Spice Market Cafe, all-day refreshments, afternoon high tea and evening cocktails with canapes at the Rasa Wing Lounge. We were pleasantly surprised when we got into our room as we thought we had a suite. It was certainly large enough. There were two sliding doors, one from the bedroom and the other from the sitting room, both leading out to the balcony. The one feature of the room that I found easy and convenient was that any time we wanted to stop the air-conditioning, all we had to do was leave a crack in the sliding doorway and the a/c would stop. Leaving the door open also allowed sea breezes to come in.  Speaking for myself, I could say that listening to the waves beating on the shore at bed-time was like a lullaby to me - pure relaxation.  And, in the morning, waking up to a symphony of bird songs I felt like I was still in a dream. I could not believe that I was actually enjoying the luxuries of one of the best hotels in Penang. Certainly, when I looked down from my balcony at the expansive lush tropical foliage below: a profusion of colourful blooms, shrubs, trees and palms, I understood why the song birds abound and why they so readily sang all through the day.

And that's not all. The room, 'our room' was resplendent with decor that truly reflected Malaysia's multi-culture. As a matter of fact, from its iconic architectural roof forms to its renowned Malaysian hospitality, the resort has always been an embodiment of Malay and local culture. Similarly, the art and artifacts that were present throughout the hotel were not merely decorative, but were put together as a narratives of a time when culture, art and tradition were a way of life. I was certainly thrilled to discover that there was even a booklet that served as a guide on the art collection available to any guest at the resort.

For spa-buffs, CHI, The Spa is arguably the most stunning addition to the resort. The concept of CHI, Shangri-La's signature spa brand, is to provide a sanctuary of tranquility inspired by the legend of Shangri-La. Its blend of Asian healing rituals and therapies is further enhanced by traditional Malay well-being practices. This first CHI in Malaysia with its Asian inspired structure and rustic wooden roofscape is one of the country's most spacious spas complete with a garden sanctum, yoga pavillion and 11 private treatment villas. Also within (these) the hotel's grounds are three swimming pools, an executive golf course and floodlit tennis courts, while at the Water Sports Centre, one (could) can indulge in various water sports including windsurfing and deep-sea fishing.

When I talked about meticulous attention to details and hospitality, I meant this in just about everything I saw and experienced at Rasa Sayang Resort: the ambiance, decor, the service and professionalism of staff. My husband and I both loved the Spice Market Cafe and had breakfast buffet there every morning. It wasn't just about the vast selection of breakfast and local foods; it was also knowing that the chef at the 'roti-canai' station would care enough to make us 'roti-canai' even when it wasn't on the menu for the day.

Even though our stay was a very brief sojourn, we left with quite a lasting impression. So much so, that after saying our goodbyes to Mr. Suleiman and the staff at Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort, and we were in the taxi heading for the airport, I was already 'plotting' our future visit, whenever that might be. So for now, I bid farewell to my Shangri-La, until the next time.

Hard Rock Hotel Penang
Batu Feringgi Beach, 11100 Penang
T: (604) 8811711

Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa
Batu Ferinngi Beach, 11100 Penang
T: (604) 888 8888

Other hot addresses in Penang

E&O Hotel – The original hotel opened by the Sarkis brothers before opening their famous Raffles outpost in Singapore, the E&O Hotel is the grand dame of Penang. You're guaranteed a glam nostalgia trip.

G Hotel – The most fashionable address in Penang, G hotel is a bold, beautiful creation in homage to modern, contemporary design that fuses cool modernity with stylish comfort.

Straits Collection – Located in the heart of Georgetown, Straits Collection comprises of an eclectic mix of retail, restaurants and residences that boast one of the best edits of interiors on the island.

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