Ascent of the Valley City, Kuala Lumpur

The bustling Malaysian cosmopolitan capital of Kuala Lumpur is amongst the fastest growing metropolises in the region, but it used to be overshadowed and outdone as a choice travel destination by most tourists to South East Asia. Vacationers with limited annual leave from work would often choose to skip this valley city altogether in favour of the glitzier neighbouring competitors such as Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong, or simply opt to head directly straight to the idyllic beaches of Langkawi instead.

In the current post pandemic travel era, much has fortunately changed and evolved in favour of the capital city of Malaysia which has since emerged from under the radar to stake its place amongst the Asian giants. No longer is Kuala Lumpur (KL) thought of as just merely a quick stop over for work meetings and business conferences. This underrated gem of a burgeoning urban landscape has now grown to become a chic, cool, and happening place for people to visit, play, and dine.

During my most recent trip to KL, we were being recommended by our associates who work in the hospitality industry to check out and stay at the swanky Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur, as well as the stylishly decorated The RuMa hotel.

Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur

Three strikingly elegant giant white oriental lanterns greet all who arrive at the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur’s grand driveway foyer entrance. Upon disembarking from our comfortably luxurious chauffeured ride direct from KL International Airport, we caught the discernible aromatic whiff of freshly baked viennoiseries and brewed coffee from the ground floor Bake cafe, which is located just to the left of the hotel entrance.

We envied the hotel guests and service residents who were enjoying their afternoon high tea comprising of a colourful array of pretty pastries and pastel-hued macarons at the cafe that is strategically situated right next to the discreet elevator that takes guests and residents to the connecting bridge to conveniently cross over to the Pavilion shopping mall for some retail therapy.  

After a seamless and warm hospitable hotel check-in, we walked past the reception desk and the famous Banyan Tree spa to get to the sleek Altitude restaurant which serves up a unique Peruvian-Japanese fusion lunch menu of bespoke contemporary fare that showcases the rich and diverse flavours of Peruvian Nikkei cuisine.

Altitude’s interiors and ambience accords guests an opulent and comfortable dining setting with unsurpassed mesmerising views of the cityscapes down below. The chef’s special – Peruvian Ceviche comprising of uni, hamachi, and crispy squid, as well as his personally recommended Picarones -deep fired sweet potato with honeydew ice-cream, and Arrroz Con Leche rice pudding with pecans and coconut; all received a nod of approval from my discerning mother who is herself an accomplished award-winning chef. 

Located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle, which is the city’s prime location for business, entertainment and shopping, the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur is a sanctuary for the senses that offers 55 spacious and intimate suites with modern furnishings and exquisite designer interiors that I would best describe as “understated luxury”. Little wonder that the hotel was voted number 1 on the list of “Top 10 most Instagramable hotels in KL” by the users of international travel booking website Trip.com.

The high tech smart features, light switches and Japanese bidet toilet bowl in our room are all so intelligent and cutting edge that it took us a while to figure them all out. The floor-to-ceiling windows enables each room to boast spectacular and breathtaking views of the city skyline. We particularly enjoyed the spacious shower room with different water modes and coloured lights, as well as the beautiful standalone bathtub that overlooks a stupendous view of downtown KL. The breathtaking sweeping views alone gave us a very good first impression of the hotel, as well as an appreciation of the scale and magnitude of Kuala Lumpur as a dynamic mega city. The Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur’s high staff-to-guest ratio also ensures that their service is impeccable and attentive. What more can one ask for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The aptly named Vertigo and their new expansion Vertigo Too which are both located on the top floors are sister rooftop terrace bars with equal 360° panoramic views of the city’s monuments, hills and valleys. We enjoyed mixologist-crafted sundowners and bar snacks comprising of ocean catch tempura and seafood tacos as we soaked in the golden hours of twilight over at the outdoor roof terrace of Vertigo.

In my opinion, the clear and obvious best selling point about the hotel is without a doubt, the stunning and staggeringly epic views of the Klang Valley that you can see from practically every area, corner and floors of the hotel. The iconic landmarks and  skyscrapers that make up the glamorous urban skyline of KL such as the glistening Petronas Twin Towers, Merdeka 118 (second tallest building in the world), KL Tower, sparkling Pavilion Tower as well as the brand new Exchange 106 TRX building can all be clearly seen and savoured in all of their resplendent beauty. We could even see as far as the limestone cliffs of Batu Caves, and make out the cloud-shrouded Genting Highlands.

As the sun sets behind the horizon and night fell, we headed down the escalators one floor from Vertigo bar over to the modern art deco styled Horizon Grill restaurant to indulge in a specially curated gourmet set dinner menu which is an extravagant gastronomical affair of premium steaks and fresh seafood dishes. Particularly flavourful is their Chestnut and Mushroom creamy soup that has generous chunky morsels of a medley of exotic mushrooms such  as porcini, morel, portobello, hohohotake, shiitake, as well as discernible hints of black truffles. Other memorable worthy mentions are the torched Japanese Hamachi starter appetizer that comes with papaya, mango and yuzu kosho, as well as the Halibut and Asari Japanese Clams main course that is being accompanied by leeks, sweet potato, garlic and yuzu reduction.

 

The hotel’s new and charismatic Chef de Cuisine Francesco Fedrighi recommends, “Guests and diners should try out our premium beef selection and/or experience the flavours found in our grilled bone marrow dish that is served with beef tartare, salsa verde and harissa. These are some of the signature dishes offered by us here at Horizon Grill and which best represents the skilful innovations of  our passionate and hardworking culinary team.”

The next morning, after a hearty à la carte buffet breakfast over at Horizon Grill and a couple of laps at the open air swimming pool, we checked into the award winning Banyan Tree Spa. The Banyan Tree Group is world renowned for being an industry pioneer and leader in hotel spas. The group continues to inspire and innovate, through a structured holistic approach of their 8 pillars of wellbeing, namely; physical vitality, cultivate the mind, harmony with nature, sustainable practices, dietary awareness, bonding & connection, learning & development, and sleep & rest.

Our worn out feet was gently scrubbed with a pumice foot scrub and cleansed with epsom salt-infused water that was also additionally generously sprinkled with red rose petals. The  pair of courteous, experienced and well-trained massage therapists then proceeded to knead, rub and pummel our tired, sore and achy muscles with their therapeutic healing touch. Our one hour spa pampering was further enhanced with a finale of being served with a platter of criss cut seasonal fruits that was being washed down by a heartwarming herbal infusion tea concoction of chrysanthemum, lemongrass, ginger, goji berries, and Chinese red dates. Pure heavenly bliss! 

The Banyan Tree has made it a priority and enduring commitment to focus on creating and offering their in-house guests with organic and natural toiletries in all of their rooms and spas. The toiletries range are as natural as they get and are completely free of harmful synthetic and chemical substances, fillers, and additives such as parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), colouring agents, artificial fragrances, etc, and are also not tested on animals.

General Manager of the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur, Mr Rudi Orettia adds, “One unique feature at the hotel is our exclusive collection of essential oils and fragrant incense sticks that are sourced directly from the award winning Banyan Tree Spa. Upon check-in, guests are presented with a selection of these exquisite oils that is to be placed in their rooms. We have a daily rotation of essential oils and incense sticks, guaranteeing that each day offers a new scent and a distinct set of therapeutic benefits for our guests to experience and enjoy.”

The “Green Imperative Fund” as part of the Banyan Group’s global charity foundation started back in 2009 in aid of environmental sustainability and community development projects. For a voluntary contribution of just US$2 per night, hotel guests get to partake in green initiatives that safeguards the environment and uplifts impoverished communities with educational support and scholarships, as well as to build communal infrastructures such as schools and clinics so that these local communities may thrive. Ecological aid initiatives help to save endangered marine wild life such as sea turtles, as well as to preserve coral reefs, rainforests and mangrove wetlands. As a thank you for participating and donating to the initiative, hotel guests receive a green turtle stuffed toy as an adorable keepsake souvenir to take home. Furthermore, The Banyan Tree matches all donations, dollar-for-dollar. To read more about their sustainability reports online and to support the Green Imperative Fund, do visit www.banyantreeglobalfoundation.com and www.banyantree.com.

The RuMa

Nestled in Kuala Lumpur’s prestigious Golden Triangle precinct and just a mere stone’s throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers and KLCC, The RuMa Hotel is an intimate sanctuary and sophisticated designer haven that is situated along upscale Jalan Kia Peng. With 253 elegantly luxurious guest rooms and suites, The RuMa Hotel and Residences proudly displays the rich and colourful colonial heritage of Malaysia.

In collaboration with renowned Shanghai based interior design firm MQ-studio, The RuMa’s fashionably chic interiors weave local sensitivities with contemporary sensibilities to create an aesthetic cultural revival in the heart of KL’s hustle and bustle.

After dropping off at the hotel’s driveway entrance, guests walk through a discrete passageway that is framed by six wooden traditional pillars that were being salvaged from an old home in nearby historical Malacca. Past those wooden pillars lies an antechamber known as the “Birdcage”, which is a nod to the illustrious tin mining history of KL where canaries in birdcages were lowered into the tin mines in order to detect any toxic fumes in the air.

The “Birdcage” then opens up to a hallway comprising of duo spiral staircases that are reminiscent of the spiral stairways of British colonial style residential mansions. In between the two stairways stands a six foot tall statuesque golden Kebaya (see header image) that greets and welcomes all guests as The RuMa’s striking centrepiece that was designed by top Malaysian fashion designer Bernard Chandran who meticulously handcrafted the outfit using golden panels and butterflies.  

One cannot help but notice the glossy reflective flooring of the hotel lobby that was sourced from the same factory that produces the floor tiles that were supposedly also used for the sleeping chambers in the Forbidden City Palace in Beijing. Pewter tiles that are designed and crafted by Royal Selangor adorn the hotel’s reception desk. Batik print blocks and Peranakan-style wooden cabinets are strategically placed along the hotel’s lift lobbies. We also admired the intricate lattice artwork of the antique iron balusters that embellish the walls of the main floors. 

The RuMa’s namesake is a clever play on the Malay word “rumah” which means home. Rooted in the hotel’s trademarked hospitality culture of Malaysian “hostmanship”, the impeccable service rendered by the hotel staff, warm mood lighting, and overall earth-toned ambience made me feel right at home.

To create a homely look and feel, cute and distinctive looking fiscus bonsai plants that are native to South East Asia and Ikebana floral arrangements adorn many tabletops scattered around the hotel’s public spaces, as well as on top of every vanity table counter in each room. Woven rattan headboards and carved wooden balusters salvaged from traditional homes in Penang decorate the rooms that are also complete with a rotating ceiling fan that further adds to a sensation of being right at home. 

The SEVEN Lobby Bar offers an excellent selection of bar snacks and expertly crafted cocktails, but is most well known for their outstanding array of 77 different and individual types of curated classic gin selections that are sourced from around the world. The bar’s Assam Boi Gin cocktail is a must try!

Next to the SEVEN bar, lies the cozy LIBRARI which is designed as an all-day chillaxing place to sip and savour afternoon tea, pretty pastries, local inspired deli cakes and other Instagram worthy desserts while flipping through a coffee table book, or simply idling the hours away chatting with friends. 

The ATAS (literally meaning “upstairs” or “upperclass”) restaurant which is located up the duo spiral grand stairways on the 2nd floor, celebrates the unique fusion of Asian and European flavours in a modern contemporary setting and with an open kitchen concept.

Young but talented Chef de Cuisine Marcus Ooi helms a creative culinary team that painstakingly handcrafts and decorates each artisanal dish with edible flowers and micro-greens. The “Flavours of Home” dinner tasting menu is a gastronomical feast for the senses which blew our minds and titillated our palates by being both aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and scrumptiously delectable to the tongues. Worthy memorable mentions are the Blue Belly Shrimp Rojak with kauri, ginger flower, red apple and mango, as well as the Cekodok & Teh Tarik Cream dessert with chocolate, banana chantilly and honey caviar. 

The RuMa Hotel and Residences’ open air 6th floor represents an entirely new concept surrounding holistic wellness and fitness. Connected to the hotel’s gorgeous 25-meter outdoor swimming pool and a row of cool looking woven cocoon sundecks is the SANTAI pool bar & lounge where guests may order finger foods and refreshing drinks to savour after a relaxing dip in the cerulean blue pool. Adjacent to the swimming pool are changing rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness centre. 

The hotel’s UR SPA boasts unique kelarai weave patterned walls that are being handwoven by women from Terengganu. The concept of the UR SPA centres around intelligent, genderless, sustainable, and result-driven treatments that caters to the schedules of the hotel guests, and blends modern science together with traditional ancient healing arts from the region.

The UR SPA’s various tailor-made spa and massage treatments utilises the local indigenous techniques employed by various Malaysia tribes such as the Urut Melayu. The spa also uses bespoke and organic formulations that are made in Italy by Comfort Zone, which is one of the spa industry’s leading creators of wellness products. 

The front part of the spa consists of the welcome reception desk, a relaxation lounge, and a gentleman’s barber shop that is operated by the famed Truefitt & Hill, London. The barber shop is clearly very popular and in demand. We tried in vain to book an appointment for a haircut but were told that the barber already had a fully packed schedule for the day as well as on the day after. Since getting a haircut was not possible, we decided to enjoy the spa’s award winning “Dusun Inan” massage spa treatment, which is a type of deep tissue massage that is derived from an age-old traditional practice that was invented by a local tribe from Northern Borneo and passed down for many generations.

While wearing a traditional batik-printed sarong and lying on top of a heated therapy bed, the skilled masseurs applied their experienced hands to help ease our body aches and pains using the very same techniques that the Borneo tribe members use on each other after a backbreaking hard day’s work in the rice paddy fields.

The RuMa Hotel is proud to be recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for their ongoing efforts towards environmental sustainability and responsible tourism. Earning this international recognition and distinction has made The RuMa the very first hotel in Peninsular Malaysia to receive such an esteemed honour. From introducing novel eco solutions in order to reduce their carbon footprints to incorporating the preservation of Malaysian culture and heritage within the hotel’s design, as well as initiatives that support the local communities, The RuMa is totally committed to environmental stewardship, social responsibility, cultural preservation and sustainable hospitality management.

Mr Daniyal Ng who is the dapperly dressed hotel manager added, “The RuMa’s dedication to environmentally sustainable causes will continue beyond our momentous milestone of receiving the Global Sustainable Tourism Council certification. We have lots more sustainability initiatives in the pipeline for 2024 and beyond. These include the introduction of glass water bottles in every room, EV charging stations, as well as switching over to Balmain signature refillable bathroom amenities.”

To discover more about The RuMa and their eco-friendly initiatives, go to www.theruma.com.


Images: Luke Elijah 

Leave a Comment