It is a perfect island getaway for travellers who want to experience traditional Malaysian hospitality
By SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH
IT IS one of the oldest premium resorts in Langkawi, Kedah, and has remained one of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers from all over the world.
While many other hotels are abandoning the wooden and rustic architecture for more modern and sleek designs, Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa in Langkawi has retained its Asian roots with its original Oriental charm.
Built to showcase Malaysia’s vernacular architecture at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to foreign delegates in 1989, the Meritus Pelangi’s design was modelled on traditional Malay dwellings.
Being the first luxury resort in Langkawi, Meritus Pelangi went through quite a facelift about six years ago to keep the property at its best state that would ensure its position as one of the gems and top attractions on the island.
Langkawi is visited by four million foreign and domestic tourists each year, and Meritus Pelangi is certainly poised to serve the crème de la crème of visitors, while representing the mixture of different cultures in Malaysia, depicting every corner of the country’s tradition.
Nestled between the bustling markets and the white sands of Pantai Cenang, it draws inspiration from the local culture.
It is a perfect island getaway for travellers who want to experience traditional Malaysian hospitality.
The Lobby — The Heart of Meritus
Guests are welcomed with roselle drink and hot towels as soon as they arrive at the resort.
While lobbies of world-renowned hotels are floored with marble tiles and roundwide columns, Meritus Pelangi keeps its lobby close to resemble the living room of a traditional Malay house with high ceiling and triangular-shaped roof.
The heart of Meritus Pelangi truly lies at the lobby. As soon as one is checked in, the guest could head straight to the Spice Market Restaurant — one of the two restaurants available at the resort, located next to the lobby.
As you enter Spice Market, one would notice a ship replica at the centre of the restaurant, which depicts the story of how Malaysia’s footing as a hub of different cultures led to a collection of spices brought into this country.
The Meritus Pelangi team has certainly put careful thoughts into redesigning the decorations of the restaurant. Some of the tables are decorated with bird cage-shaped furnishing, resembling the elements of Malay traditional living.
Spice Market serves buffet for breakfast and dinner and does limit the food selection to Malay cuisines. You would occasionally find roti canai and dim sum for breakfast as well as pizza and spaghetti for dinner.
While dining at the restaurant, guests would occasionally find Chef Jamil Ahmad going back and forth between the seating areas and the kitchen to supervise the actions behind the stoves, while entertaining the diners’ questions on the menus that are being served.
To spot Jamil, look for the commanding personality in his either black or blue chef attire. Just start a conversation with him and he will tell you about his experience working at the resort.
Apparently, the Penang-born chef’s career began at the resort from the very beginning.
His experience and work there had earned him the title of “talking chef”, as he is also considered “ambassador” of the restaurant.
His tasks nowadays are mostly entertaining foreign guests’ questions on the food that is served at the resort. Many are still curious about the symphony of flavours in Malay cuisine.
Jamil also often conducts cooking classes for those who are interested in traditional Malay cuisines.
The menus at Spice Market are specifically curated with recipes that revolve mostly around the ingredients found in traditional cooking.
Jamil said the à la carte menu at Spice Market is changed every six months while the buffet menus are alternated between several different sets.
Keeping to the theme, the restaurant’s cooks and chefs also use traditional cooking tools to prepare the food while maintaining the taste.
Jamil said his team still uses pestle and mortar to grind herbs and spices. No modern blender is allowed.
For those who don’t prefer the Oriental taste, there is a modern option at Cba Beach Front Restaurant where Chef Hashiron Hussin would cook your favourite pasta and seafood dishes.
As its name suggests, Cba Beach Front Restaurant offers that romantic dining experience along the Cenang Beach. The delicious food and warm sea breeze could easily help anyone to relax and unwind.
The restaurant is also the perfect spot for guests who want to enjoy the gradient rays of the sun that would disappear into the horizon as they sip their favourite drinks.
At night, the view of couples taking a romantic stroll along the beach and children taking brave dip in the sea gives Cba Beach Front Restaurant a subtle energetic ambience, with a two-piece band performing sway jazz music in the background.
While the menu at Cba Beach Front Restaurant leans more towards Continental selections, Pelangi Meritus definitely does not compromise on its interior design.
A closer look will bring your attention to the decorations on the ceiling, which is covered with a Tetris-like arrangement of window panes at a typical traditional Malay home. Most of the woodwork and detail were salvaged from the original structure of the resort.
The Beach and Garden Option
With 355 rooms housed in 51 chalets across the property, guests have the option to stay within the beach vicinity or the garden area for that much needed privacy and tranquillity.
The chalets are all equipped with modern amenities to give the guests the ultimate comfort.
All of the chalets are built on stilts, as how a Malay traditional home would, to give the guests an elevated view of the ground.
If you opt for the beachfront chalets, you probably do not need an alarm as the sun would beam through the window to greet you as a natural wake-up call in the morning.
The garden terrace or lakefront chalets, which are situated in the planted jungle that is teeming with wildlife, will give one a sense of serenity with the sounds of birds chirping, or the frogs croaking like a lullaby before a cleansing deep sleep. Best of all, no matter where your room is at the property, you are just one minute away from the beach.
That Extra Charm
If you are staying at the resort over the weekend, try to catch one of those complimentary guided nature walks with naturalist Selva Raja Manickam, scheduled every Saturday morning from 8am to 9am.
The resort is also a domain for different types of plants and trees that one might have taken for granted, some of which might just be in our everyday surroundings.
Selva would patiently impart his knowledge on the different types of plants, shrubs and herbs as well as the use and benefits that could be derived from each species.
Selva, who is also an enthusiast in herbal medicine, would take the participants on an hour-long tour around the resort’s property and will stop every time he comes across a certain plant that possesses certain curative properties.
One must not mistake the tour for leisure activity as Selva would often ask the participants to pick up the pace while explaining how the tectonic plates had changed the characteristics of plants in Malaysia.
If you are planning to have a heavier morning workout, head to Meritus Pelangi’s fitness centre for a complete gymnasium experience.
Anyone who prefers an outdoor workout could just head to the beach which also has a 2km track for running.
You might just bump into a French woman, a regular at the resort, lounging at one of the chairs at the beach enjoying her book.
Apparently, Miche (as she prefers to be known) would fly to Langkawi to specifically stay at Meritus Pelangi at least four times a year. According to her, the friendliness and genuine smiles of the staff had kept her coming back to the resort.