I was visiting family in Malaysia earlier this year and decided to sneak away alone for a quiet weekend at the newly opened 5-star Mangala Resort & Spa in Pahang. I took a domestic flight from Penang to Kuantan on Fireflyz’s turboprop aircraft which offered me an amazing view of the lush greenery of Peninsula Malaysia throughout the hour-and-a-half journey. Upon arrival at Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah airport, I was greeted by the hotel staff and whizzed off in the hotel vehicle in no time.
Mangala Resort & Spa is idyllically situated within Gambang plantation and is a short 20-minute-drive away from the airport. As I entered the grounds of the resort which seemed like an adventurous drive into the sprawling wild, I was struck with an overwhelming urge to hop out the car and roam everywhere barefoot. Even though I knew I was going to a secluded resort, I was somehow joyously delighted to find myself in the midst of a peaceful sanctuary. I later found out that Mangala is an ancient Pali word, defined as that which is conducive to happiness and prosperity. In fact, in the Maha-Mangala Sutta or Discourses on Blessings, Buddha set forth a guide on ethics leading towards a happy, blissful life. The thirty-eight blessings start with avoidance of bad company and end with an unshakable, serene mind. Little was I aware at the time that these blessings would shape the next few days of my stay at Mangala.
While waiting to check-in at the 24-hour-lobby, I was served with a chilled pandan coconut (coconut with a twist of pandan flavor, simply the best!) plucked right from the plantation. After an effortless check-in, I was driven to my room in a buggy. I particularly like the fact that the female staff drivers were just as good and confident behind the wheels. I stayed in Jala Villa, one of the ten overwater villas perched on stilts over a calm lake. The exterior of the villa looked misleadingly simplistic to reveal a spacious and contemporary interior with natural wood-decks. To my surprise, I received mini macaroons as a welcome gift and every day after housekeeping, I would continue to be pampered with colourful macaroons.
There are few other villa options to choose from according to individual preferences, such as the eleven Vana Villas, which are built on elevated lands, offering a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. One distinctive feature of the Vana Villas is the open air bathtub. There are also four luxurious Sara Cottages, four Vana Villas with private pool as well as one Jala Suite and one Vana Suite. The villas are all named in Pali with Jala meaning connection to water, Vana to wood and Sara to lake. With all the Pali names floating around, it was especially interesting to me because I have just completed a two-week intensive Pali online course with Professor Gombrich of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies.
It took the owner of Mangala Resort fifteen years to turn the once barren land into a plantation of oil palms and coconuts. Then in 2012 up until 2016, construction of the villas was carried out one by one with careful planning not to disrupt the ecosystem of the area. One feels the perfect harmony of the place naturally as it resonates in the air. It came as no surprise when I found out that the owner had also donated a portion of the land to the Malaysia Vipassana Meditation Society on which they built their meditation centre, known as Dhamma Malaya.
There are many recreational on-site activities to choose from at Mangala Resort such as archery, cycling, kayaking, birdwatching, horse riding, just to name a few. The resort also offers half-day or full-day excursions to tourist attractions around the area. The first day I arrived, I went cycling to explore the grounds and check out the other villas. I cycled to the carefree and melodious chirping of the birds. There had been a drizzle; the grounds were wet and the air was fresh. The relentless tropical sun was ever-shining against the clear blue sky which would sometimes be replaced by a dense canopy of oil palm trees. If one is yearning for something else other than trees, the resort is a 30-minute drive away from the city centre of Kuantan and an additional 10-minute-drive to the coastal beaches.
A friend from Kuantan came to join me for dinner at the resort’s Lakeside Restaurant. It is also where the complimentary buffet breakfast is served every morning. We let the Chef decide our menus and he came up with baked cod fish (oven-baked with miso and mirin reduction with soy-simmered vegetables) and lamb shank rendang (braised lamb shank with local spices and herb and grilled vegetables). We had Miso “KAISEKI” (Japanese soy bean based soup with seafood, cubed tofu, wakame and chopped green onion) and cream of chunky wild mushroom (with brie cheese and infused with white Truffle oil) as our soups. Just as the saying goes, “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”, so we complemented our sumptuous cuisine with sauvignon blanc.
After dinner, we sat out on the private veranda of my villa overlooking the manmade lake which was once used for mining. The reflection of the moon and trees on the lake was simply magical. Never have I seen such a wide and calm surface of contained water. It happened to be a very clear night too. To my surprise, there were no mosquitoes so we could sit out all night under the moonlight without being eaten alive in a tropical climate. We talked and laughed over wine till the wee hours of the morning. It was the perfect night and the perfect setting for a heartfelt moment between friends.
The next day, I went for an early morning swim in the pool and then to visit the beautiful horses at the stable. I even got the chance to ride one of them with the full-time trainer on-site. It was a pity that the Mangala Spa was not up and running yet when I was there. I managed only to peak into the spa menu which boasts an impressive range of treatments and therapies drawing from the bountiful Southeast Asian herbs and spices. Now that the spa is fully operational, it is luring me back for a second visit to Mangala Resort and Spa.
28 April 2016