It's not something you expect to see, but on the walls of one of the limestone caves deep in Tambun, Perak, are some markings that might be dismissed as careless graffiti at first. A closer examination reveals that they are actually Japanese characters that link to Tambun's past. Apparently, the messages, mostly names in Japanese and expressions of homesickness, are believed to have been written by the Japanese soldiers who were in Ipoh in the 1940s.
Though Ipoh was a town made rich by tin and smelting activities since the 1880s, it wasn't until the 1940s that it became Perak's administrative capital, thus relinquishing Taiping of its governmental importance. And it was the Japanese, during their occupation of Malaya, who affected this shift in power.
Some have suggested that the Japanese made the move due to political reasons while others, citing the above-mentioned cave writings as proof, contend that it was for far more indulgent reasons than that. Their argument is that Ipoh, being just about 10 km away from Tambun, put the Japanese near enough to the hot springs they so missed in Japan.
Indeed, Tambun, besides being famous for its pomelos and towering limestone hills, is also hot springs country. And the Japanese, known for their long-standing love for onsens, probably couldn't deny their need for this very typical Japanese social tradition. Submerging themselves in these mineral-rich pools dissolved their aches, tensions and, possibly, some of their longing for their homeland. In fact, the cave where the Japanese writings were found sits on top of some natural geothermal hot springs that are a common feature of Tambun.
In those days, one would probably have to cut through thick jungle and suffer a trek for miles before getting to enjoy the therapeutic properties of a dip in these hot pools. These days, however, the experience is made much easier...and more luxurious, in fact, with the recent opening of The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, a wellness and spa retreat that takes full advantage of the hot spring pools in the area.
Here, guests are breezed through the check-in process in the comforts of their private villas - a charming thatched cottage that simply exudes jungle luxe. Each of the 25 units comes with a private plunge pool, large open-air terrace, a huge king-sized bed, his-and hers vanity corners and both indoor and outdoor showers. An outdoor sunken Jacuzzi gives you the option of hot, cold or hot springs water piped directly from its natural source. The resort's great customer service is also extended beyond the walls of the villa - all of its staff, including the pool boys and gardeners, are knowledgeable about the resort and helpful in assisting to guests' needs.
The five-star retreat sits on a 16.59 acre valley nestled within a cluster of towering limestone hills, surrounded by bodies of geothermal hot springs. As you walk around the property, it's common to feel breezes of comforting, warm air circling around your feet. One expects such conditions to create a stiflingly hot environment, but that is not the case at The Banjaran.
One of the best ways to enjoy the experience is with an early morning dip at the geothermal hot springs dipping pools where the waters range from 40 to 70 degrees Celsius. Rise early enough and you can enjoy it all quietly, save for the soothing morning greetings of the birds.
It's just as therapeutic to swim lazily around the nearby freeform swimming pool, built on top of some underwater hot springs streams. Or try the reflexology pool, where shallow hot spring waters are flooded over a pebbled walkway -- the combination of the warm waters swirling at your ankles and the gentle pressure of the smooth river stones on the soles of your feet is said to promote the flow of blood back up to the body. However, those not used to this type of treatment, will find it both a pleasure and a pain!
A rather delightful feature of the resort is the Garra Rufa Dr. Fish pool. The treatment, believed to have originated in Turkey, involves dipping one's legs into a pool filled with tiny Garra Rufa fish (also known as Dr. Fish). Within seconds of immersion, a few hundreds of these fish will be clamouring at your feet - it's meal-time for them! - nibbling away at your dead skin cells! It's a ticklish sensation, but is said to alleviate psoriasis and those who have tried it say that their feet come out smooth as a baby's bottom!
By 10 am, the sun would have started to rise over the top of the surrounding limestone hills, flooding the resort valley with a warm and gentle glow. Now would be a good time to escape into the dark interiors of the thermal steam cave - a huge cave chamber that traps the hot springs steam rising from below. Unlike typical steam rooms found in gyms, the heat here doesn't suffocate. Once you think about it, you'll really be awed by the experience of being in a sauna that is, in fact, a million year old cave!
For more quiet time with your own thoughts, head over to the meditation cave behind a curtain of silvery waterfall that flows into a clear pool. The huge chambers, multi-level meditation platforms and cool, cathedral-like atmosphere are ideal for silent contemplation.
Nights at The Banjaran are well spent lounging away at Jeff's Cellar, a huge cave hidden away in a secluded corner of the resort. For years, it was Perak's best-kept secret because long before the idea of The Banjaran was even conceived, Jeff's Cellar was built for the personal use of Tan Sri Dato' Seri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah, chairman of the Sunway Group, the company that develops The Banjaran.
Since the launch of The Banjaran, Jeff's Cellar is open to resort guests. Imagine lounging around within huge limestone chambers landscaped by natural stalagmites and stalactites from millions of years ago. The mood is enhanced by soft lighting and soothing music, which must be said, benefits from the great acoustics of the cave. Several private corners of the chambers are furnished with beautiful leather sofas and here, one can admire the natural rockscapes of the cave while sipping a glass of wine. Along the walls is Tan Sri Jeffrey's personal collection of vintage wine bottles, some dating back to several decades ago.
If it seems like The Banjaran is one huge (but quiet) playground for adults, well, that's because it is! For one, it's an adults-only resort, open to those aged 16 years and above. But it's also serious in helping guests achieve their goals for optimum health with holistic tailor-made programmes and pre-planned packages for as short as 2 nights or as long as three weeks. Besides the geothermal hot springs treatments, guests can request for weight-loss management and detox programmes, colon hydrotherapy, and antioxidant restoration therapy, among others.
With its extensive eco-friendly and green policies resort-wide ("No Bleach" policy, on-site composting, electrical buggies, etc.), it is clear that The Banjaran isn't only focused on the well-being of its guests but is also greatly concerned over the health of Mother Earth!
For more information, go to www.thebanjaran.com