The hotel (we refuse to call this a resort, because there are no all-inclusive wristbands or ghastly evening entertainment here) is divided into two wings: the Garden Wing for entry level rooms, and the Rasa, which is technically posher.
If you stay in the Rasa Wing, you get access to a separate pool, filled with salt water, as well as the main hotel pool (this is important, as the water on the beach is too full of jellyfish, jetskiers and general grubbiness to dip into) and you have two choices of a breakfast restaurant, instead of just the one for the Garden Wing.
The Rasa pool is pretty gorgeous, but it’s not as big as the main one; and although the smarter breakfast in the Feringgi Grill restaurant feels more VIP than the buffet in the Garden Wing’s Spice Market Café, we’d plump for that one every time. It is amazing – they cook the food in front of you, and there are literally hundreds of combos to choose from, whether it’s Chinese, Indian, Malay food or just your bog-standard toast and cereal breakfast.
We were given a Premier room in the Rasa Wing*. It was pretty big, and felt like a mini suite – it was divided up by a clever arrangement of furniture into the bedroom space, a living room bit, and a hallway. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked over the massive resort gardens, and out to the sea, with a huge balcony stretching the full length of the room.
That was also divided into two – a table by the living room window, and a chaise longue by the bedroom – by a big outdoor bath, which can be filled with rose petals, lavender or ginger for 60RM ($16.50). There’s a blind you can pull down, if you don’t fancy airing your, um, petals to the other inhabitants.
The bathroom was a good size, with some funky crocodiles posing as door handles. It was glass-fronted onto the room, with a Venetian blind if you don’t fancy putting your business on display to the other inhabitant. There’s a glass door to the bathroom, too, so uninhibited souls can gaze at the sea as they tinkle. The shower had four heads, no less, so we felt exceptionally clean during our stay, despite the weather, which was well hot.
What we liked
The balcony – not a cramped add-on, but enough space to do whatever we wanted, whether it was taking an open air bath, slumping on the chaise longue, or airing our laundry on the table. Not that we needed to do that, really, because there was a washing line installed in the shower. It’s nice not to feel you’re not being judged for declining laundry service.
The entire hotel has been done pretty beautifully (it was refurbished in 2006). And although we will never feel that turned on by big blocks of rooms, as they have here, our attention was thoroughly grabbed by the vast gardens which run along the beach – they’re gorgeous, with giant ‘rain trees’ and lots of flowers.
There are chairs spaced out along the grass, vending points for drinks and books and even a team of reflexologists who wander around the gardens. On our arrival, we wondered why everyone was sat in the garden rather than on the beach. Then we realised you don’t really notice the beach when you’ve got this.
The spa, Chi, has individual villas rather than treatment rooms, and superb therapists - we woke ourselves snoring no less than three times during a massage. Be warned, though, it is very pricey – 330RM ($90) for their 75 minute signature Malay massage.
Because we don’t like sitting on our behinds all day when on holiday, we loved the free shuttle for the 40 minute journey into Penang’s capital, Georgetown. Don’t miss a trip into town.
Finally, we really rated the staff. This was our first Shangri La, and we were overjoyed how helpful everyone was – most of them even knew our name. We hate having people bring our luggage to our room, but as we told the guy at the door we were fine doing ourselves for the third time, he gave us a grin and said “please, it’s my job to take it to your room, it’s fine”, which was cute. We tried not to get used to this treatment, though, seeing as we had to get back to London reality.
What we didn’t like
We don’t quite understand why in all the rave reviews which have been written about Rasa Sayang, there’s never been a mention of the fact that the beach which it sits on (and a beach is the point of a “resort”, no?) is really pretty crap.
We realized we might not want to swim in the sea when we saw the gunk in the water on the flight down to Penang, but we were majorly disappointed to find that the famed Batu Feringgi beach is a pretty shallow (15-ish ft) affair, and guests are advised not to go in the water because it is full of jellyfish and jetskis about 2ft from the water’s edge.
We thought sod it, and went and sat on the sand anyway, and were promptly accosted by about six men asking us to come ride their jetskis/parachutes/horses with them, which was a bit trying. We soon realized why everyone else stayed in the garden. We only really liked it when everyone disappeared at sunset:
And although we loved working on our balcony, we were not so impressed by the wifi. Free though it was, it kept cutting out – our attempts to email a video were thwarted for three days solid. On the third day, we had a letter from the management saying that the connection would be cut for an hour for repairs. We don’t know what those repairs were, but our internet was just as shoddy that night.
And on a personal note, we are tired of these fancy schmancy bathrooms. No matter how good the view, or how attuned you are with your cohabitor’s bodily rhythms, surely you want to keep some things sacred? Yes, it’s nice looking at the Andaman sea from the throne, but not so nice thinking about the shock those people in their deckchairs would get if they happened to look up.
Best hotel in the world ever? Nah, we’ve had nicer; but we're fussy people, and it really is very good indeed. We are more run around, see the sights types than lie down and soak up the resort people, but on the last day we cracked, lounged for a good hour and went for a dip in the Rasa Wing pool, and God it was good. We might actually stop blanching when we hear the word “resort” now. Although we could do with a better beach next time.
Rooms start at $223 for the Garden Wing, or $287 for the Rasa Wing.
*Disclaimer: juliab stayed as a guest of the hotel while on assignment for The London Paper.