on June 4, 2012
No superlatives can really describe how great this place is. Located on the small island of Tiomen on the east coast of Malaysia, Japamala is one of the select 'budget' luxury boutique resorts there and is part of the Samadhi Retreats chain. I say resort but don't let that mislead you. It's a boutique resort with only 20 or so beach or jungle accommodations. At roughly £280 per night (due to booking late we could only get a more expensive room and going in May which is peak season - a smaller room off season would cost around £100) it's not cheap but actually excellent value for what you are getting. The best way to get to Japamala is by plane. It's also possible by boat but this tends to be very unreliable. There is one airline that flies there and it operates a shuttle service between Kuala Lumpur, Tiomen Island and Singapore. We flew in from Kuala Lumpur and the flight time was approx 1 hour. The aircraft was rickety and ancient (still had ashtrays in the arm rest) but got us there and back in one piece and was fairly efficient.Upon touchdown in Tiomen, we were greeted at the airport by a Japamala representative and transported by boat to the resort. The boat journey was about 20 minutes and we were offered a refreshing freshly made juice as a welcome for the journey. The boat ride was smooth and relatively comfortable with some excellent scenary to take in along the way.Upon reaching Japamala you are greeted by sumptuous white sand, turquoise water and a general air of peace and tranquillity. First impressions are that this place is truly an island paradise and this feeling doesn’t fade throughout your stay. The resort consists of a private beach for residence use only, a mix of luxury huts set back into the hillside, some overlooking the sea, whilst others are more hidden away within the jungle. None are every more than 100 meters from the beach. There are 2 restaurants, a bar and a treatment area for therapies (although we never visited).The focal point of the resort is a long jetty out into the sea from the main reception area. This is the bar and one of 2 restaurants. The views are breathtaking and ambience calm. It's a fantastic place to watch the sun set but be careful, because as soon as it does a swarm of flies invades, drawn to the lights. The restaurant serves Italian food (the owner of Japamala is Italian) ranging from pasta to pizza to meat dishes. The food isn't exceptionally good but certainly good enough and at a fair price with a pizza at around £8. The selection of wine on offer, again mostly Italian, is very impressive and although comparatively not cheap, in general to dine and drink here won't cost the earth. Champagne on the other hand will with half bottles at around £25 odd pounds if memory serves.The resorts second restaurant is located just back from the beach in a covered area. This is also where breakfast is served. This restaurant is their Chinese restaurant and serves a surprisingly large array of Chinese dishes. Similarly, the food is not exceptional but is good quality. The ingredients were fresh and GSM was very absent from anything. Seating is undercover but you can also sit on the beachfront. Each couple is reserved a night to dine in style on the beach by candlelight which I thought was a nice touch.The accomodations themselves are all set overlooking the sea or nestled in the jungle just back from the beachfront. We stayed in 2 different 'Sarangs' - the Jungle Luxe Sarang and Hillside Sarang. These are basically large individual wooden cabins that are self-contained and can be reached from the main entrance by an elevated wooden slatted walkway.Both were essentially quite basic in their fabric and minimal in design, but exceptional in quality. Both had enormous king size beds with pocket sprung mattresses and soft cotton linen. In each were large bathrooms with two sinks and then separate toilet and shower rooms. The design was simple but classic and elegant - dark wood walls, floor and cabinets with marble tops and Green glass basins. All came equip with robes, slippers, etc... of the finest quality. Equally marvellous was the Japamala brand of Toiletries that were lightly scented, elegant and refreshing.Furnishings in the rooms were simple but with elegant flourishes. All floors were dark wood but the rooms were light, airy and had colourful flourishes by way of soft furnishes and lighting. Each Sarang had additional seating areas and the jungle Luxe was on 2 floors with a seating area below the bedroom and bathroom. All rooms are equip with 32" flat screen TV's with international channels plus mini bar, coffee making facilities and the usual extras you would expect from a place of this quality. They even had a DVD library with 100’s of films that you could watch in your room if you wished.Both Sarangs also had balcony areas with sun loungers and either a plunge pool and outdoor shower or Jacuzzi. In both instances they offered glorious views of the jungle and the glimmering sheen of the sea beyond. A priceless addition was also the close proximity at which monkeys would visit. All guests are urged not to feed the monkeys and we abided by this. As such they are thankfully not so tame as to come and steal food but inquisitive enough to come on the balcony for a quick nosey. They were harmless and entertaining to watch in the trees or on the ground… or on our balcony!The service at Japamala was impeccable. Every night as you leave your room for dinner they have a turndown service. To my wife's delight, this included a chocolate on your pillow every night. Walking around the resort all staff bar none would greet you with a smile and a hello. Those that you may have seen more often would also offer a how are you and pleasantries. Everyone was incredibly accommodating and helpful. We needed to go to town to visit the small bank on the island and they were more than happy to let us ride along in the boat for the next airport pick-up. While we waited for the delayed plane so we could hitch a ride back they even paid for our refreshments. It seemed there was little they wouldn't do to help make your stay more pleasurable.So, onto the beach itself. It was as idyllic as you could hope. Roughly 100 meters in length in total and it was only available for guests staying. The sand was White and immaculate and the South China Sea turquoise and clean. Beach towels and mats were available to pick up from reception but also available were 5 or 6 pairs of sun loungers under umbrellas for shade. If I would have one small grumble it is that more of these weren't provided as it was sometimes a bit of a scrap to get them. This often involved getting up very early to beat everyone else to it. It's a small gripe though in the scheme of things. As you while away your day in your peaceful beach paradise, the ever attentive staff are on hand to ensure you are refreshed with a constant supply of water and fresh fruit.Included within the price was also a complimentary breakfast. This consisted of coffee or tea, a freshly made Lassi, which is a fresh juice/ smoothy drink, a buffet of fruit, cereals and pastries and a hot breakfast. For the latter the choice was limited but included pancakes with bananas through to beef bacon and eggs. Of it all, probably the cooked part was the most disappointing as the choice was limited but the quality was good. More successful was the buffet with delicate granola, fresh fruit and sweet pastries. The biggest success, however, were the Lassis. The list of flavours was seemingly endless and all incredibly fresh and tasty and consisting of imaginative combinations (and on the whole ginger and/or mint). They are designed as a perfect way to start a day and really served their purpose.We stayed 6 nights and it wasn’t long enough. The Japamala lifestyle is one you could get used to! The place has an overall feeling of elegance and quality but without being stuffy or over the top. It’s a very down to earth place. They thrive on treating their guests well but never in an imposing or awkward way. It’s really difficult to fault Japamala and it’s staff. For a honeymoon destination, or a luxury treat, you can’t go wrong. It ticked all the right boxes for us and we would go back in a heartbeat.
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