Putrajaya Shangri-La, Malaysia: A hilltop eerie filled with classic contemporary designs

Putrajaya, not a city that tumbles off your tongue or from your map, since this is the new vibrant Malaysian capital. A model garden city and new chapter in the history of modern city planning, this once huge forest area had it’s official launch in 1999.

Visionaries decided that it would have the best of the best. The large pink domed Putra Mosque which can accommodate 15,000, the green roofed Islamic-Mogul designed Perdana Putra, (government and administrative buildings) and the connected Putra Bridge are examples of innovative architecture in the biggest real estate development in Malaysia and probably in Asia..

Above on a green hilltop overlooking the city, is the Putrajaya Shangri-La Hotel conceived as ‘an hotel within a park’. That brand name is enough for savvy travellers to know that one can expect 5 star service. Unexpectedly in this country of great tradition and history, this Shangri-La is a futuristic oasis.

As I approached the building looks quite ordinary, almost like a 50s motel, but I soon see what a mistake in judgement this is. The border of small white orchids leads into the futuristic designed lobby. Seating areas in various colours from soft to hot, raspberry, mustard, cinnamon, plum, have odd shaped sofas. Dozens of white plastic bird-like mobiles hang and swing from the ceiling in front of floor to ceiling windows with the best city view. From the open mezzanine I looked down into the stylish circular restaurants. A wall of fake fruit bananas, apples etc, encased in various 10 foot high glass tubes divide one eatery from the other. Actually, a clever innovative idea that does what it should.

Although the rooms aren’t large, the design could be from a popular house and home publication. The ratio of room size to bathroom is off the scale since the bathrooms are large with all the amenities and space to stack your own lotions and potions along with the hotel’s treats. No matter where the room is located, the odds are that the view will be overlooking the spanking new city.

Try as I could, still no spa in sight. That is until I walked outside to the curved pool detailed with large sculptural concrete spouting fountains, did I discover the reception room. However, I was a bit taken aback since there were no treatment rooms.

Follow the narrow lake stone path around behind the area and suddenly a sanctuary appeared -The Health Club and Spa. So smart in with black wood, this modern space was cleverly divided for privacy with 7 semi alfresco villas and suites with separate facilities for women and men. Products for body massages are made in Malaysia while facial creams come from Indonesia. Essential aromatic oils are worked into each treatment and “we make sure they are safe for the skin”.

However, there’s a new twist here and with spas popping up everywhere in the world, something different is a necessity to separate the ordinary from the rare. “It’s written in the stars” and the Zodiac in accordance to 12 key constellations, is part of the personalized sessions. Each sign has its own traits said to influence our fortune and health therefore different ingredients are used depending on birth date. For instance, as a Capricorn, I’m an earth element. Willow, Yew, Quince, Rye, hemlock, lavender, pine and lemon are included in the products applied. Okay, there’s no resistance. I’m always up for new angles to old procedures.

Nana, my Indonesian therapist, starts my facial with lukewarm towels, pressing down on my temples and forehead area. That done three times before she starts the exfoliation which is rubbed gently with essential oils taken from my birthday sign.. A gentle suction tube is used to extract any blackheads and her knowledgeable hands massage the face, neck and shoulder, softer on the face and more pressure for the tight muscles of the other areas. After the finale, a mask is removed, a cold towel closes the pores. I shine from this Zodiac ritual.

The scalp treatment included in this session is worth the oily remnants, since it’s already been a bad hair day in this humid, sunny, hot atmosphere. I come out looking like an electrified Phyllis Diller.

Services include complimentary in-room Broadband Internet access via the desktop hub located on the writing desk. Complimentary scheduled transfers to Kuala Lumpu and the various top shopping centres

There’s a 24 hour gym also 24 hour in-room dining and 24 hour Busines Centre.

In Langkawi, an islands off a larger island of Penang and off the NW coast of the mainland Malaysia, is where the new and simply put, splendid Four Seasons Hotel has recently opened.

In this archipelago of 99 islands on the Andaman Sea, the voyage here is not for someone who wants to be able to hop on a plane and be there in a few hours. Are we there yet? That question is out of place since the trip is well into double digit hours from Vancouver and Toronto after a stop over in Kuala Lumpur or Penang. But once you’ve arrived, the agony of airport queues and plane transfers are soon forgotten in this breathtaking and very private hotel only 25 minutes from Langkawi International Airport..

What can one say about a hotel that has a driveway sided with red block walls that look like an ancient fort on an island that once was once a secret hideaway for pirates. Then there’s the blending of contemporary architecture with Malay and Mughal culture. There are so many décor innovations through out this white sand beachfront complex, an entire booklet is needed to describe the sumptuous, romantic hotel with 91 spacious rooms. Included are two story Melaleuca Pavillions, a residential Presidential Villa and my favourite, one of the 20 beachfront villas each featuring their own spa room massage beds and deep spa tub

It may situated on many hundreds of hectares and have 85% occupancy, but while I was there I saw few guests. It’s will definitely become the hideaway for rich and famous only rock formations and sea and not a pirate in sight. However, it’s a different story at their spa.

Away from the hub in the northern section of the hotel is a full service spa where they offer traditional Malaysian and Indonesian massages to India’s Ayurvedic and ancient Chinese treatments. Still water pools are everywhere and could be mistaken for black shiny marble. Six exquisitely appointed pavilions with Moorish touches have a calm, serene sensation. Having had my fill of body massages, I asked Crystal for feet reflexology as well as a scalp and hair treatment. Sitting on a small deck outside the treatment villa with my feet immersed in a copper tub, Crystal added ground mud which soon thickened to a jelly-like substance. After about 10 minutes, she then added salt which dissolved the mixture. Then the often excruciating reflexoloy began, much needed she advised me. We then moved into the substantial private treatment area with shower, sauna, locker and loo.

From toe now to head, Neem was massaged into my hair after which she massaged, with strong pressure, my neck and shoulders. The grand finale was the12 head shower which pointed to the various parts of the body with varying pressure.

Brunch at Serai (Lemongrass) restaurant with a backdrop of the Andaman Sea, was in an open sided area for the tables while the buffet of food from Southeast Asia, China and India was stylishly displayed in a room over a small walkway. But then, you can opt for all the spa services in the privacy of your own villa while listening to the soothing waves of the Andaman Sea.

From Toronto, I flew with Air Canada to Vancouver. After a layover in Vancouver, I flew to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific Airlines then transferred to Malaysia Airlines. However, there is a direct Cathay Pacific Airline flight from Toronto direct to Hong Kong shaving off several hours.