Marvellous Malay Spa

Here I am once again counting my Blessings sitting in Paradise.

For the first time, I’m visiting Tanjong Jara Resort in the state of Terengganu on the East Coast of Malaysia. It’s about 4 hours from K.L.

I’m writing this whilst facing the South China Sea after an interesting morning in the Spa, reflecting on the Resort’s theme of wholesomeness, purity of spirit, health and well-being.

‘Wholesome’ seems to be one of my favourite words. It implies to me the ultimate alignment of body, mind and spirit. It’s quite nice to think a resort would use it as its strap line, even though it doesn’t advertise itself as a ‘Spa’ or ‘wellness retreat’.

The whole place is a complex of structures, gardens and pools. Apparently, the architectural design was replicated from the grand and beautiful 17th Century wooden palaces of Malay sultans. Having lived in Malaysia for many years, the lush greenery, bird sounds and vegetation have me feeling as though I’m coming home to somewhere familiar and comforting, even though I’ve no desire to live here again.

An entirely ‘Malay’ Spa experience is something quite new to me. I love the fact that the resort and the spa are not trying to be anything other than a “Malay experience”. So many Malaysian Spas are trying to blend many cultures, Indian, Chinese, and my pet hate…….Western!! Can’t we keep English Aromatherapy in the west and enjoy the herbs and plants of the East in situ?

For two consecutive mornings, I’ve found myself in the Spa. A lovely arched entrance separates the Spa from the pool area. Sadly, there are no water lilies present in the lovely ornamental pool. It was such a thrill to me last Summer when I saw a newly acquired plant blossom in my pond, especially since I still feel such a novice at water gardening!

The arrival ritual is an offering of Ginger and Honey tea and a change into a sarong.

I’m asked to sit on a stone bench to experience a ‘flower blessing’. The water vat is full of fresh flowers and using a coconut shell, 6 scoops of water and flowers are chucked over my head, whilst repeating a mantra, “for your good Health” – splash, “for your beauty’ – splosh, “for your wisdom” – splash, “for your abundance’ – splosh, “for your prosperity”- splash, and the last one is for me to choose my own blessing. I feel as though I’m being baptised and once again reminded of all the things I am grateful for.

Yesterday I just had a traditional Malay massage. The technique consisted of long kneading strokes that focused on the muscles using an oil made of local ingredients such as turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, onion and citronella which is supposed to invigorate the circulation. I can’t say I found it invigorating, I was in a coma for most of the day. The therapist was about 4’ tall and had hands like a bread maker, kneading away all the knots and tension accumulated over the past few months. Low couches in the Far East are designed so that the therapist can get on the bed and use her full body weight to get the pressure right.

Today I opted for ‘Sesegar Bayu’, a full body Rejuvenating treatment. This too started with a full body massage using long rhythmical strokes and thumb rolling techniques, meant to soothe every nerve and lull the soul. Despite it being early morning, I found myself drifting off to sleep again as though I’d had my beach run never mind just rolled out of bed!! Next came a ‘Ukup Wangi’, scented body steaming. Apparently, this ritual was a popular practice in the Malay court houses where princesses and court ladies prepared for their wedding night. Warm oil mixed with exotic fragrance is applied to the body and then I was zipped into a steamer. The heat and moisture is supposed to awaken and stimulate the senses whilst dispelling negative energy and any blockages to the female energy centres. It seems that Malay women regard the wellness of their genital organs and the firmness of the vaginal muscles as they age of utmost importance. Can’t help but do good in that case I think!

Next comes a full body scrub made from rice, turmeric, galangal and ginger. These ingredients I usually use for cooking curry so this is all new to me. Being scrubbed by another person is such a great treatment. They are so thorough and it feels as though there isn’t a square inch of skin which hasn’t been exfoliated and renewed. The scrub had to be left on for 10 minutes to work even deeper so the next phase of the treatment was ‘Ikal-Ikal’, a Malay scalp treatment.

A herbal paste of selected leaves such as hibiscus and betel mixed with coconut oil was used in a 10 minute head and shoulder massage. This traditional Malay hair treatment is said to be effective for hair loss, scalp irritation and migraine. Thankfully I don’t suffer from any of that but I’ll be interested to see what effect it has on my wind and sea stressed hair by the weekend.

Finally, the morning concluded with the most heavenly herbal outdoor bath. Fresh flowers, kaffir lime slices and pandan leaves were floating on the water and I was left for 10 minutes to relax in the open air, listening to the sounds of the tropical birds and the sea breaking waves in the background.

One of the flowers floating in the bath I couldn’t identify although I knew its aroma. The therapist told me it was indeed Ylang-Ylang and showed me the tree on my departure. Another of my favourite aromas, used with such natural grace in this setting with all its therapeutic benefits.


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