By June RamliTweet
I recently visited my home country Malaysia after a three year hiatus. I normally go back every year but couldn’t do so in the last three years due to COVID-19.
I no longer own a home in Malaysia nor was I ready to call on my relatives and friends to give me a roof over my head for 21 days cause the COVID-19 pandemic was still rife in Malaysia with many of my friends and family still down with the virus.
And so, I decided to stay at several hotels throughout the country and here is what I think of them in no particular order.
Strategically located, room 522 that I stayed in was old and needed refurbishment. The overall look of the hotel looked tired and not glamorous anymore. When I first visited it for its opening in 2013 as a New Straits Times journalist it looked grand.
Tan Sri Francis Yeoh had invited me for the opening of the hotel. I remember attending the event feeling absolutely in awe but didn’t feel that same way almost 10 years on when I stayed there!
The hotel services were great though.
I accidentally left my AUD1000 vlogging camera at the hotel when I checked out to visit their sister hotel in Pangkor Laut. They found it and returned it when I came back after a few days. I tried their breakfast buffet, it was just okay. I met an old DJ – Lil Kev from Hitz FM that I used to listen to in my younger days.
I greeted him and we had a short conversation which ended with an odd statement from him, “send money.” Wonder what he meant!
Having a meal at the Colonial cafe which had fancy Hi Tea sets was a disappointment.
The chicken chop was too salty and cost an exorbitant RM85.00. The place was very dusty and unkept. There were too many foreign workers who did not understand Malaysian lingo, like when I asked for a glass of “air suam” they had a blank look.
Of course there is positive feedback too, as a solo traveller I felt absolutely safe while staying at the hotel. I rented a car for a couple of days and had to access the car park and it was very safe and monitored at all times. You don’t really have to worry about any eventualities once you are there.
I would like to say a special thank you to Eriq and Rufus for helping with a myriad of things including helping me book accommodation at Pangkor Laut.
My rating for this hotel is four out of five.
My top tip: Pay via debit card so you will not be charged a deposit which normally takes two weeks to be returned after you check-out.
I had always wanted to visit Pangkor Laut Resort, so when I returned to Malaysia after a three year hiatus I made it a point to fulfil this pipe dream of mine so that I could cancel it off my bucket list and thankfully I managed to do that.
I checked out and headed to Pangkor Laut on Nov 21 this year for a three days two nights package. I drove my rental car there which I had booked on Klook.
I had a hard time getting out of Kuala Lumpur owing to roadblocks because of the 15th General Election. Being a very determined person I managed to find a way to the highway and on to Lumut. I reached the marina, the meeting point to sign up before you take a ferry to go to the island about 4.00pm.
I was initially booked to stay in the Garden Residence which is close to the Pavarotti suite. If you follow their history, you’d know that the property was loved by the late singer. The property might have looked good then but not so anymore. I felt the property was old and tired looking and in need of a refurbishment – similar to its sister property the Majestic Hotel.
I met a couple who had been visiting Pangkor Laut frequently for the past 10 years and they agreed with me.
They told me that back in the day they were peacocks at the breakfast buffet area but it had to be removed because the birds had turned aggressive.
Despite the disappearance of the peacocks, I still reassure you that Pangkor Laut Resort is filled with an abundance of wildlife.
At the resort, I saw jellyfish, wildboars, hornbills, loads of monkeys and iguanas. I travelled to Pangkor Laut as a solo female traveller and stayed at the Spa Village on my own for two nights. I can safely say that the island is safe for solo female travellers but not ideal for remote work since internet connection is not good.
I also noticed that the island was quite dirty since there were no rubbish bins readily available. So visitors would just throw empty bottles around. When I was there, the Spa Village was literally empty. It was a tad bit pricer than the Garden Residence but I was fine with it since I wanted to relive my Bora Bora holidays!
The only problem staying at the Spa Village is a mad number of aggressive monkeys that hangs out at the entrance of the Spa Village next to the big tree which can sometimes be very scary. I was pre-warned about locking my doors and windows for fear of the monkeys coming in and attacking.
I was almost attacked at one point but manage to fend them of and because of that I am not sure if I will ever revisit the Spa Village again.
My rating for this hotel is a three out of five.
Pro Tip: The Emerald Bay was an awesome hangout spot but their seaside cafe wasn’t that great.
I spent one night here before I started work on my assignment at Sabah. On arrival at the Kota Kinabalu Airport, I headed straight to KFC for a takeaway.
Malaysian KFC has been known for its superior taste and all outlets only sell Halal meat.
Returning to Sabah after a 10 year gap I felt that the airport looked much bigger. My Grab ride arrived within minutes of calling.
I chose the ‘quiet ride’ and reached my destination after an hour. The hotel was rather far from the city. I checked in and went to my room. On my way, I saw some wild monkeys hanging out on the coconut trees. That brought back some unpleasant memories of my Pangkor Laut Resort stay!
The reception told me that my room was new, but I realised it wasn’t. The furniture was pretty old and my room had a balcony with a warning about the wild monkeys coming in and causing a ruckus.
I ate my KFC, and then left my room and headed to the beach for a nice sunset walk. The beach was littered with heaps of plastic mineral bottles and other rubbish. After the walk I went back for a good sleep.
The next morning, I went to the cafe for breakfast. The breakfast was okay and I noticed that 99 per cent of the guests were locals. There were hardly any foreigners, I reckon that was why the standards of the hotels were on a subpar level, since they were only catering to the locals.
Since I was checking out at noon, I went for a walkabout at the beach. I realised that the rubbish had gone, and the beach looked clean. There were a few foreigners filming at the property at that time and I suspect could be the reason why the beach had been cleaned. While walking on the beach I saw a wounded bird struggling. I helped as much as I could but had to leave when my taxi arrived. Getting a Grab from Nexus is next to impossible and so I booked a private taxi from the hotel. The one way drive cost RM70 with no option for a ‘quiet ride.’ The taxi driver was a chatty guy who couldn’t stop talking.
My mind was only on the little bird I left behind on the beach. I wish I could have done more. Here see the video.
My rating for this hotel is a two out of five.
Pro Tip: Their beach was awesome once it was cleaned up and free of plastic bottles.
I arrived at this hotel just in time for my 3pm check in. This was a beautiful and brand new hotel and I scored a really nice room on the 20th floor.
Strategically located in the city centre and opposite two shopping malls and only a stone throw away from the Sabah Convention Centre. If you are in town for business, this is probably the best hotel to book your stay, as it’s still new and everything is in crisp condition.
My rating for this hotel is a five out of five.
Pro Tip: Great breakfast on the 22nd floor with awesome views.
Bilit Rainforest Lodge
This was a rather back to nature stay, a lodge that was located at the opposite end of the Kinabatangan river and the only way to access it was by one of those long boats. This lodge is nothing like the five star hotels that I have been used to staying at, but it offered the basics in terms of having hot showers and a comfortable bed to sleep in.
I was given a room with two single beds and the toilet came separately, one for you to do your business and the other one for shower and stuff.
There were no other restaurants apart from the one in the lodge. The food was good, it was buffet style and the staff were friendly and accommodating too.
Staying in this resort means you live life back to the basics and the only entertainment is the animal sightings around the Kinabatangan river.
We arrived rather late at the lodge, we had limited time to go around and check the wildlife in the area as it was getting dark. So all we could do was to look at where proboscis monkeys live in their natural habitats.
Our guide John took us out on a boat ride and we spotted a beautiful Kingfisher bird in electric blue. We learned a lot about proboscis monkeys which are a species that is unique to Borneo.
These monkeys normally park themselves on high branches when they are about to retire for the night and never return to the same spot the next day.
And mind you the spots that they pick are normally high up as the trees in Kinabatangan area are normally tall standing trees.
Earlier in the day, we saw a wild crocodile chilling on the shores of the Kinabatangan river.
That was a surreal experience as I did not expect to encounter a crocodile during my trip. In fact, I found out later that there were heaps of crocodiles in the Kinabatangan river. Ranging to the hundreds and it is a very smart animal that often feeds on human flesh. I spoke to a lady who lost her husband to a crocodile attack in 2015. I heard that a nine-year-old boy and a 30-year-old woman had lost their lives after being attacked by crocodiles recently. The boy was attacked while he was swimming and the lady was attacked while fishing with her mum. There are suggestions to allow locals access to guns to help protect themselves and their families during a crocodile attack. This discussion is still in the early stages and I am not sure if it will ever be approved. Also, this incident happened while I was there. After the river tour, we returned back for some yummy dinner and retired to our respective rooms for a well deserved sleep. The wifi at this resort is absolutely hopeless and the rooms come with no televisions. So at the most, this place is only suitable for a one night stay unless you are a wildlife junkie!
My rating for this hotel is a five out of five.
Pro Tip: Great dinner and breakfast but beware of the mosquitoes and the wildlife roaming around the area.
Sabah Hotel, Sandakan
This was a rather old hotel, but it was the best one that the city could offer to business people travelling to Sandakan for work. But the hotel rooms were clean however the amenities like the hair dryer were old and looked like they had been there since the 1970s. I don’t have a photo of the hair dryer but I was amazed that it still worked. The breakfast buffet was okay and the swimming pool looked inviting but I didn’t have time for a swim.
My rating for this hotel is a three out of five.
Pro Tip: Only book this hotel as a last resort because it is situated in the middle of nowhere and getting in and out of the area would require transportation like taxi or Grab.
Pan Pacific Suites
I received a media release announcing the commencement of this hotel earlier in the year and was intrigued to check it out when I return to KL. I was told the official opening was on Dec 1. I booked my stay from Dec 3 till Dec 6.
This hotel is a self-contained apartment that comes with its own kitchen, laundry and drying services, a basic toilet with no bathtubs, a living room and a huge double bed.
On checking in the service apartments two days after its official opening, I was surprised that the room had already been occupied earlier by another tourist as I could see the bin had already been in use.
This hotel is aptly located next to Lot 10 and guests can go and check out the Bukit Bintang area or Pavillion by foot.
An annoying fact about this hotel is that Grab drivers are not allowed to wait in front of the lobby for too long. So if you decide to take a Grab, you will need to be at their doorstep before your Grab arrives.
There are amenities such as a swimming pool and a gym which I didn’t have time to check out owing to my busy schedule. I hope to be able to do so the next time I return to Kuala Lumpur.
This hotel is more suited for long term stay as the hotel rooms are built more like an apartment. The price of the hotel room reduces when a guest opts for a longer stay.
My rating for this hotel is a five out of five.
Pro Tip: Book months in advance to avoid disappointment as the hotel tends to be booked out pretty quickly.
About the author: June Ramli is the editor of DailyStraits.com. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.
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June Ramli is the editor of DailyStraits.com. To stay in touch with June, look her up on Twitter @junesairaramli