The problem with most spa treatments is that they don’t last long enough. You’re in the middle of reverting to big, pampered baby status, and it’s time to shuffle back to the change rooms again yearning for more.
Part of the indulgence of being on holiday is lounging about while people fuss over you, and Pangkor Laut do their best to ensure every guest can access a full complement of fussing by putting aside a designated area for just this: the Spa Village.
Many good things happen at Spa Village, and they tend to begin with the Bath House Ritual, which takes about 45 minutes, and incorporates bathing traditions from around Asia.
After a footbath, lucky Tikah gets to whack my feet with a small mallet. This is a Chinese Foot Pounding, once ‘only enjoyed by the concubines of feudal China’. It’s very pleasant, so being a feudal concubine may have had its plus points. At this point I get changed and Tikah swaddles me in a sarong which she ties over one shoulder in a rather fetching fashion (for one who has no fashion sense at all when it comes to any activity involving bathing).
Then it’s off to the ‘circulating bath’ with the ‘Malay waterfall’, a quick sniff of four herb mixes to ease, uplift and stimulate the mind, followed by a scrub with a slightly scratchy goshi-goshi cloth in the Japanese-style bath house.
I went to a bath house in Japan once, and it was nowhere near as elegant as this one. Back then a friend and I sat on plastic stools, panicked quietly about doing things in the wrong order and frightened all the Japanese away. This time I’m in there by myself and I know what I am supposed to be scrubbing, so no stress there, just rather effective and much-needed exfoliation for the ankles.
Now I’m nice and clean, I can sit in the heated Rotenburu pool amongst tastefully arranged rocks, until I am summoned for the next step. Yes, there’s more (and we still haven’t got to the treatment yet). As a veteran of about 1,000 spa procedures I’ve experienced a lot – hot stones, chakra balancing, reiki – but this is my first ‘wet massage’ room. Lying down on a vinyl mattress covered with a sheet, Tikah gives me the Shanghai Scrub, then washes me down with warm water.
So the Bath House segment is over. I feel like I’ve already had a spa treatment’s worth, but there is plenty to come via the Royal Secrets of Puteri Lindungan Bulan programme.
A new therapist chooses an oil blend for the traditional Malay massage, which is firm but relaxing. She kneads my hands, which I adore, and I told her I have stiff shoulders from working on a keyboard, so she gives them a bit of extra attention. Not enough, as Blair Waldorf’s stepfather would say on Gossip Girl, but then I am exceptionally greedy when it comes to neck and shoulder massage. There’s more joy for my trapezius muscle (which sits over the shoulder and part of the back) at the end when I sit up, then I have some herbal tea and a rest. I need to muster my energy to rise, walk back to the massage table and lie down again.
There is no one to carry me, though I am sure this could be arranged. Horizontal again, my hair receives Ikal Mayang, a cream bath used by royal princesses. The treatment is very cooling to the scalp while I am given a yoghurt and honey facial, that smells very appealing and makes me want to eat it.
Then my body is coated with a mixture containing galangal and turmeric and smells a little like eggy pastry and this smells a bit like part of someone’s dinner menu – now I know what it feels like to be the filling in a Beef Wellington. When this mixture dries, it is gently scrubbed off again, and it occurs to me that if the world ended right now, I would exit on a deliciously marinated high.
When this bout of scrubbing is finished (hand scrubbing – bliss!), there’s a big rinse under the shower before the Bersiram, or fragrant milk bath, which I find is full of lime slices, flowers and rose petals when I step down into it. I steep and sip more herbal tea while preparations for the steaming take place.
Ukup Wangi is a bit like a jasmine-scented sauna, except you are seated in a hot box insulated with towels while your head pokes out and the body is gently braised. If I look thirsty or sweaty, water or a towel appears to dab at my glistening brow and a bottle is raised to my lips. This really is the princess treatment – I can’t recall much brow mopping in my recent or even distant past.
Steam and sweat gently trickle down my boxed parts which feel increasingly, warmly detoxified. As my temperature rises, my face gets a bit red (no photographs of that, thank you) and my attendant is rather entertained by this. She obviously hasn’t had a lot to do with the Celtic complexion.
When she finally helps me out – I can’t be expected to do anything on my own anymore – there’s more herbal anti-ageing tea and a soothing lie down on a lounger watching the sun set as I recover and think about the lobster BBQ on the beach that I will consume shortly.
Yes, all afternoons should be put to such good use.
And to think I’ve barely exfoliated the surface of all the treatments on offer here – there’s a small magazine devoted to the many choices available and small pavilions by the sea with inviting pillows where some kind of soothing, rejuvenating action can take place.
Spa Village programmes draw on the traditions and herbs of the Malaysian rainforest, but the menu includes treatments from China, Bali, Thailand and other countries in the region. There’s even ‘healing huts’ aligned with Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and Malay rituals.
Needless to say, all the therapists are experts with towels and sarongs and balancing each side of the body, so you can just relax and let them get on with it. Which is a treat in itself.