Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Penang is one of the premier hotels not only in Penang, but in Malaysia as well. It is the first hotel along the famous Batu Feringghi stretch if you happen to drive up from Georgetown. Divided into two wings – the Garden Wing and Rasa Wing, the former offers comfort of home, while the latter thrusts you into an utopian world of unrivalled luxury – even if but for a fleeting moment across the span of time. Once you pull up at the resort’s entrance, you will find yourself transported to a totally different world. The hustle and bustle of the city is immediately forgotten, and well-dressed ground staff politely greet you, treating you like a treasured guest at all times. Granted, times are very different now due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and can you really enjoy a luxurious resort retreat with all the proper SOPs in pace? Let’s find out.
Home away from home
The Garden Wing offers a room with a view of either the lush hills or an open sea, being cosy enough to retire at the end of the day, making you feel as though you are living in a home away from home. Inside, stock amenities are provided, including a flat screen TV to keep up with the times, relevant entertainment, news and sports channels (in addition to soothing radio stations), the standard fare of coffee and tea making facilities, and luxury toiletries from L’Occitane. Perfect for a couple or small family to retreat and recharge without a care in the world. Those staying at the Garden Wing can always treat themselves to scrumptious buffet breakfast at the Spice Market Cafe to begin the day.
I decided to go for broke and release my pent up pandemic fustrations in a Premier Room at the Rasa Wing. I was not disappointed, as I experienced an elevation in both class and comfort. The room itself is as large as most studio apartments, being luxuriously appointed, although there is no kitchenette for obvious reasons. An adjoining living room area makes entertaining guests easy, while the sliding glass doors open up to a large balcony with a soaking tub right in the middle which splits the balcony into half. You can ask one of the resort staff and he/she will gladly help you set up a salt bath for a token sum, or you can take the DIY route. On one side of the balcony lies a small, cushioned bench for you to admire the garden while overlooking the sea, while on the opposite end would be a table and some chairs, perfect for capping off an eventful day with a little chit chat over a cuppa.
Inside, you have a king-sized bed with enough pillows to start a four-way pillow fight. Either side of the bed lies a small table for you to place some of your portable items such as a smartphone or spectacles, and just in case Murphy strikes and there is a blackout, a torchlight is handily available (it works, I tested it out). An elongated working desk separates the bedroom area from the living room, where all the necessary power outlets and connectivity options are made available in a hidden console on the desk itself to keep things neat and tidy. Of course, you need not be tethered by a LAN cable if you want to access the Internet, since the entire Rasa Sayang resort has Wi-Fi. An LCD TV is mounted against the wall, where a swiveling arm will allow you to watch your favorite TV shows from the bed or from the living room sofa, depending on which way you want it to face.
As for the bathroom area, it is well-stocked with L’Occitane amenities, where two sinks offer enough space for a couple to get their pearly whites cleaned without jostling for elbow space. The shower area can fit two comfortably, where you can opt for either a raindrop shower or the more traditional shower head. Go ahead and enjoy both!
The wardrobe is large enough to store clothes to last you longer than a three-day break, so fret not about this area unless you are a diva who absolutely needs three changes of dresses alone each day. There is a complimentary shoe shine service if you require your pair of leather shoes to look their very best for the evening, all you need to do is pick up the phone and make a request.
When you wake up in the mornings, do spend a few minutes on the balcony as you watch the landscape transform from being dimly lighted to one that bustles with nature – flocks of birds flit from tree to tree occasionally, while each of them carry a signature tune that are literally music to your ears. If you are interrupted by your tummy’s rumbling, then it is time to head downstairs for breakfast. Rasa Wing guests have a choice of dining at the Spice Market Cafe, or they can make their way to the exclusive Feringghi Grill, where you can enjoy a semi-buffet continental breakfast in a fine dining setting.
When it comes to true lap of luxury that you can just sink into in the Pearl of the Orient, you cannot go wrong with Rasa Sayang Penang that deserves all five stars heaped upon it.
In order to pamper you even more, Rasa Wing guests have access to the Rasa Lounge, where there is a free flow of coffee and other non-alcoholic beverages served throughout the day, in addition to snacks and finger food. Avail yourself from 3pm to 4pm, as that is when a complimentary Afternoon Tea set for two is served, and the menu is rotated every single day so that guests staying for a longer stretch will always have something different to look forward to throughout the week. When the evening sun begins to dip into the horizon, you can always lounge around the area with your friends and mingle with other guests. 6pm to 7pm is when you are treated to a serving of canapes each (again, the menu is changed each day) as well as complimentary alcoholic beverages (except for champagne). Bored? There are daily newspapers, magazines and novels carefully arranged for your reading pleasure.
Another privilege of staying at the Rasa Wing would be exclusive use of the Rasa Wing pool – where you can have complimentary fruit juices, coffee or tea served during the day as you while your time away without a care in the world. This pool has an adjoining jacuzzi for a soothing dip after you have done a few laps. The water in the Rasa Wing pool comprises of treated seawater, so do expect an invigorating experience after your swim compared to the chlorine-treated water that is used in pools at other hotels.
Rasa Wing guests also enjoy a personalised check in and check out service, so throughout my stay there, there was no queue at all – making the entire experience a breeze.
Gastronomic delights are aplenty at Rasa Sayang – as mentioned earlier, the Spice Market Cafe offers breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets in addition to a la carte orders, depending on just how much appetite you have. Whether you are seated inside to enjoy some air-conditioned comfort, or prefer having your meal at the verandah area, they both have their merits. The outside is well shaded and ventilated, so even during noon time, you will not find yourself breaking out in sweat (unless you are tucking into one of the curry dishes, of course). There are special promotions at Spice Market Cafe from time to time, so do give the resort a call or drop by their website to find out more. Here’s a hat tip – if you love desserts, then surely Spice Market Cafe is the place for you, as there is a delectable spread of desserts at any time of the day, and how many other hotels or resorts do you know that feature a chocolate fountain – for breakfast?
The more discerning diner who prefers elegance and privacy might want to make his or her way towards the Feringghi Grill which is situated right above the Rasa Wing lobby. At night, the place is transformed to a truly romantic restaurant, making it the ideal place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and basically any other joyous occasion. Of course, the menu offers fare that cannot be found anywhere else on the island, albeit at a premium price.
Other places where you can get a quick snack or drink would be the Lobby Lounge and Tepi Laut bar, where the former seats you inside a comfortable lounge area near the Garden Wing reception area, while the Tepi Laut bar is tucked away on the resort’s garden. Of course, I observed that proper SOPs were always practiced throughout my dining experience, which allowed me to dine in peace.
I did make an attempt on the treadmill to burn some calories that I amassed during breakfast, and there is an adequate amount of machines to go around. If you prefer, a gym instructor is there to assist you in your workout should you have any questions. Right across the gym would be the gender separated sauna, jacuzzi and steam bath area. I had given all three a go, and boy, did the experience do wonders to melt away all the stress accumulated over the week at the office. Just make sure you are not in a hurry, and it is truly an experience to savour.
A 3-par executive golf course is nestled along the resort’s grounds, where guests from the sister hotel, the Golden Sands Resort, are able to meet up to putt a few holes. During pre-pandemic times, there was a weekly putting competition (fee required), so perhaps things might change as our country moves into a different phase in the National Recovery Plan. As for me, everything I learned about golf was from the Nintendo Wii years ago, and it remained that way throughout my stay.
If you want to unwind and relax even more after spending the entire day working out at the gym and hitting the pool, make your way towards the Chi Spa. The prices are definitely on the high side when compared to other massage packages, but Shangri-La prides itself in this exclusive experience, where trained hands and intimate knowledge about how a total spa experience should be like is in store for you. Tucked away in its very own exclusive enclave, Chi Spa has private alcoves for each client for a more relaxing experience as you need not share a room with another stranger. No room calls will be entertained for massages, so do keep that in mind. In order to maintain a consistent standard and quality at all Chi Spa branches worldwide, Shangri-La will send all Chi staff for a three month training stint at the very least to pick up all the relevant skills required to begin their journey as part of the Chi Spa family. Of course, once again, these are all what one can expect before the pandemic struck, so do expect to look forward to a bespoke spa experience when Chi is ready to welcome guests again.
The sprawling, verdant gardens of the Rasa Sayang Penang are worth taking your time to walk without any hurry. Regardless of the time of the day, centuries old raintrees ensure there is enough shade to keep most of the areas cool from the scorching sun, and different species of birds do take refuge in the numerous branches, serenading guests with their very own tune. Waking up early in the morning with the rest of nature is truly a refreshing experience, although you might want to take precaution by slapping on some anti-mosquito repellent during dawn or dusk.
There are enough staff to man the vast grounds, ensuring that your needs are taken care of be it an afternoon snack or drink order, or fresh towels. If you so desire to venture out to the public beach, expect to be approached by independent vendors. I still remember scenes from a decade ago when I stayed here, as I chose from a wide range of water-based sports and activities such as parasailing or being in a banana boat, and even a foot reflexology massage to tide me over during the day. Unfortunately, all those memories can no longer be realised, as most, if not all, water sports operators have gone out of business. In the event where they become operational again, bear in mind that these water sports operators are not part of the Rasa Sayang group, so participate at your own risk. Generally, the waves at Batu Feringghi are mild, so you can forget about bringing your surfboard here. Enough signs have been erected to warn you of the dangers of jellyfish in the sea, so for those who want to go for a swim, you are better off spending time at the resort’s very own pools – not only is it more hygienic, it is also far safer.
In line with what most organisations are aligned to these days, Rasa Sayang Penang places a heavy emphasis on customer service responsibility and eco-friendliness. The resort does not serve up sharks’ fin soup on the menu, and endangered fish species are taken off the menu and replaced by sustainable fishing species. Fret not about the food quality and taste though, as the resort’s chefs do know their stuff and are full well capable of turning the mundane and ordinary into a lip-smacking gastronomic experience.
There is a small shed set up right beside the 3-par executive golf course that highlights a turtle conservation program. In the past, children from different schools do make a trip up here, where they given a presentation on turtle conservation efforts as well as the life cycle of a turtle. Educating the next generation is truly our responsibility in ensuring the world ends up as a better place. After all, this saying holds true, “We do not hand down the earth to our kids; we inherit the earth from them instead.”
Going the extra mile
One thing that must be commended about Rasa Sayang Penang would be this – you will not find yourself short on Internet connectivity regardless of where you are on the resort. The hotel has invested a huge amount of money to make sure there is Wi-Fi connectivity wherever you decide to park yourself and check your email inbox, update your Facebook or Twitter account, or simply just go through YouTube videos for some light hearted entertainment.
To add to that, I do know that you can opt to charter a limousine service from the airport (as well as to) if you’re flying in from outside Penang, but due to the current travel restrictions, this service is unavailable. The limousine itself has built-in Internet connectivity to help you get connected to your loved ones and friends from the moment you arrive in Penang. Tourists in the future would definitely appreciate such a service when our borders repoen. This is certainly one of the first end-to-end service of its kind on the island, and it is definitely a standard that other hotels and resorts would strive to meet. You can be sure that even if you are staying at Rasa Sayang while you are on a business trip in the future, you should not find yourself coming up short where Internet connectivity is concerned.
When it comes to true lap of luxury that you can just sink into in the Pearl of the Orient, you cannot go wrong with Rasa Sayang Penang that deserves all five stars heaped upon it. Truly, there is no competitor in this niche on Penang Island even after all these years, making this a memorable experience even for a quick weekend getaway. The level of service and overall ambience is on a level of its own. Do try to stretch your stay for more than a weekend and just soak in the whole Shangri-La experience without making a trip out of the resort – it is an experience that you will carry with you for a long, long time. While you can always earn money, sometimes, splurging on your loved one (or pampering yourself) on such a holiday would be a memory worth investing in. Manatau, if only this resort had its own private beach, then life would be perfect. Just.
Disclaimer: While I fully paid for my stay there, my otak udang-ness made me lose my photos and hence, I had to obtain stock photos for illustration purposes.