Malaysia might not be the friendliest to international travellers right now, given that the government implemented a RM10 per room per night tourism tax since September this year. That said, there are some experiences for which we’re more than willing to fork out the tax, including an exciting (though somewhat adolescent) bar scene in Kuala Lumpur and a stay at one of the best heritage hotels in the region – say hello to The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
Taking 3.2 acres on the historic mile of Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and opposite the city’s old Moorish-styled railway station, the property is part of the highly lauded, Malaysia-based YTL Hotels since 2012 – these folks also run their own hotel management college so their staff are always well trained. You get the best of both worlds here, with a modern Tower Wing complete with 13 meeting rooms, a pillar-less ballroom, and daily brekkie spot Contango and the Majestic Wing. Built in the 1930s and fully restored, the latter echoes the art deco nuances and the old world colonial charm of the original interiors.
All stays at the Majestic Wing come with Majestic Club benefits, which include checking in at the private lounge where you can enjoy an array of refreshments and snacks while waiting for your butler to complete the nitty gritty. Open 7am – 11pm daily, the club lounge also offers afternoon tea 3pm-5pm and free flow cocktails 5-7pm. On the way to the room, it’s easy to wonder at the architecture of the stairwell, which has remained unchanged since 1932. The muted beige walls, patterned carpet running down the length of the corridors, and old-fashioned ceiling lamps are more evident throwbacks.
The 47 rooms and suites in this wing are spread over four room categories and if you’re in a mood for an upgrade from the standard room (though their Straits Room is mighty pretty too) treat yourself, go for the Colonial Suite. It might not be super huge at 40 square metres (430 square feet) but there’s still space for a separate living room with a maxi bar, the bedroom, and a spacious enough bathroom with a pretty, free-standing claw-footed tub. The rooms continue the art deco inflections like white wooded closets with slatted doors, dark wooden flooring, more patterned carpets and monochrome tiles in the toilet.
Quality in terms of bedding is undeniable but if you’re a light sleeper, do request for accommodation further away from the large National Mosque of Malaysia down the road. It’s possible you might get woken up by the imams’ call to prayer at the break of dawn. That said, the religious building is worth a visit for some tranquility in the vibrant city while appreciating its uncommon architecture and gardened grounds.
Colonial Café and Tea Lounge in the Majestic Wing are where one supposedly finds one of the most iconic dining experiences in Kuala Lumpur. A lovely three-tiered afternoon tea set (RM48++ per person) served in a setting of pristine white tablecloths, plush leather and dark wood furniture, and chandeliers with piano music in the background – we have to agree, what’s not to love?
We stayed over the weekend so they were operating at full capacity for afternoon tea, which created a buzzy atmosphere that you’re more likely to find at brunch in Singapore. As for the food, the scones (both plain and raisin) were on point and rightly served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The rest of the sweets were delicate but well-balanced; highlights include the honey lemon meringue tart and the strawberry cheesecake. The savouries, on the other hand, were not as consistent.
The egg roll and smoked duck sandwiches were tasty (and the bread is actually fresh), but an overcooked scotch egg and lackluster fish cake mars the experience slightly. Those used to free-flowing tea when going to high tea should note that the price includes a one-time refill per person; thereafter, each pot of their signature tea (it’s also the only variety available for the set) is available at RM30.
As you can probably tell, The Majestic KL has all the trappings of a romantic getaway with the advantage of being less than an hour’s flight from Singapore. And lovebirds planning an extra special trip can book a pampering sesh at The Majestic Spa located by the Majestic Wing’s pool. The white wood panels of the reception area sported hues of blue and green, which was slightly incongruous with the rest of the property in our opinion, but at least we were quickly soothed by a cup of chamomile tea and a cocktail of Pimm’s and lemonade. Upon registration, we were ushered into the changing rooms to get ready for one of their signature treatments, the Malaya Golden Chersonese.
Priced at RM1,750++ for two people, the name of the treatment and its various steps are inspired by Englishwoman Isabella Lucy Bird’s adventures in British Malaya, which have been published in an evocative narrative titled “The Golden Chersonese”, an old name for the Malayan peninsula. Her account explores the glorious flora and fauna of Malaya, and yes, all the ingredients used in the treatment are indigenous of current day Malaysia too. After the foot bath, we were escorted to the spacious treatment room for couples – it comes with a large vanity, separate toilet and shower facilities, as well as a free-standing tub.
The two and a half hour ritual starts with a banana honey hair masque; and when your hair is getting the pampering it so deserves, the therapist starts working on the body with a fragrant papaya and coconut scrub. The scrub was a good type of coarse – rough enough to truly exfoliate but also gentle such that it doesn’t feel like sandpaper against skin. After we rinse off, it’s into a relaxing lime blossom bath for her and the detoxifying herbal steam for him. Both therapists leave at this point so couples have a solid 20 minutes of ‘us’ time, since there’s no way you can use electronic devices in either situation. Comfortable silence, meaningful conversation, or just catching up on each other’s life – whatever works! Again, be mindful of prayer hours when booking treatments so you don’t get a bit of a shock during your session.
The last part is a massage featuring techniques used in traditional Malay massage – think long kneading strokes that focus on the muscles and pressure applied to various points on the body. Women get their signature Bunga Rampai oil – bunga rampai is a fresh flower potpourri used at Malay weddings – and men see invigorating spices in their massage oil.
Staying at the Majestic Kuala Lumpur makes quite an atypical experience, as compared to staying in the more populated neighbourhoods like Bukit Bintang or Damansara. Indeed, in a city with terrible traffic and circuitous roads, and where indoor smoking is allowed in most places (even in the cocktail bars), this beautiful hotel is an oasis of calm.
The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is located at 5, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, p. +60 32785 8000.