For a tranquil getaway without having to travel far, these eco-retreats offer a unique and rustic holiday experience right in Malaysia. You can stay inside a concrete cylinder pipe in a jungle at Time Capsule Retreat, a shipment container set within a vast paddy field at Padi Box or even get up close with orangutans in East Malaysia at Sepilok Forest Edge Resort.
A 40-minute drive out of KL is Janda Baik, a place once reserved for government retirees that has now become a popular retreat for those looking to disconnect from city life – the spotty data coverage here is a feature, not a bug.
Among the better places to stay is Rest. Pause. Rainforest Retreat, a private four-bedroom retreat located on an acre-large plot that you have free reign on during your stay, except for the caretakers’ quarters. Within the retreat, you’ll find everything you need to make it a memorable smartphone-free group outing, including a barbecue pit and steamboat facilities (temperatures get down to about 16C, making it the perfect weather for barbecue and steamboat). There are also board games and a DVD player with over 100 DVDs – it’s no Netflix catalogue, but hey, you didn’t come up here to watch TV. During the day, it’s all about exploring nature with ease – you don’t need heavy duty hiking gear to explore the nearby walking trails, while the kids can dip their toes in the shallow river within the compound or feed the fish in the pond.
Lot A293, Jalan Tanarimba Sum Sum, Tanarimba, Kampung Janda Baik, Pahang (rest-pause.com). From RM950 per night.
Located near the town of Sungai Lembing, Time Capsule Retreat is a family-run hideaway built within a patch of relatively untouched jungle area. There are three accommodation options – the White Cottage (a single-storey wooden cottage with several rooms and a living area), the Capsule (seven by ten-feet concrete cylinder pipes that have been fitted with white plaster walls, an airconditioner, a bed, door and drapes) and the Parallel (shipment containers refurbished to fit two bedrooms, a bathroom and air-conditioning). Communal bathrooms are provided for Capsule and White Cottage guests.
There’s not much to do around the compound, but head into the nearby Sungai Lembing town for food. Go for the silky white tofu sold at Ah Fong’s stall near the market; locals say the mountain water used in making the tofu makes it much better than anywhere else. If you’re feeling adventurous, hike up Panorama Hill at dawn to watch the sunrise, or trek to Sungai Lembing’s famed Rainbow Waterfall and bathe in the cool waters. Time Capsule’s management can arrange for guided tours for these.
Sungai Lembing, Pahang (013 963 8888/timecapsuleretreat.com). White Cottage, from RM118 for groups of two; Capsule, from RM139 for groups of two; Parallel, from RM298 for groups of four.
For a unique close-to-nature getaway experience, Padi Box is a homestay built mostly of shipment containers located in the paddy fields of Sekinchan. The homestay consists of two-tiered decks fitted with brightly-painted containers that house the lobby, rooms and dorms. The storage containers are surprisingly well-furnished for such a small space, and come with air-conditioning, LED TVs, free WiFi and ensuite bathrooms. Laze around and enjoy the view of the vast paddy field on the patio, or spend evenings at Padi Box’s soap-making workshops.
For a little sightseeing, rent bicycles from the homestay to ride around the paddy fields or into the nearby town, where you can eat your fill at the many seafood restaurants like Chan Po Tian, Loong Hua and Restoran Bagan at bargain prices – here, RM50 will go a long way; more if you skip the beers to wash down those greasy plates of oh chien and mantis prawns. You can also venture towards the outskirts of town to Pantai Redang Beach and snack on fruits and freshly shucked oysters.
Lot 11126, Jalan Tali Air 4, Sekinchan, Selangor (019 320 5688/padibox. com). Dormitory, RM30 per bed; rooms, from RM118 per night.
Located right at the edge of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sandakan, Sepilok Forest Edge Resort offers guests a mix of rustic and upscale hospitality. Accommodation comes by way of kampung-style chalets made from recycled wood, and the raised architecture ensures the interior is well-ventilated and stays cool throughout the day. If you’re looking for something on a tight budget, the resort’s Labuk B&B longhouse acts as a dormitory complete with segregatedand mixed-gender rooms.
A 15-minute walk will lead you to the real attraction of this place: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where for a nominal RM5 fee, you can watch orang utans from a viewing gallery – it’s best to come at 10am and 3pm, when the apes are fed by rangers. Also close by is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, which takes care of 43 sun bears. You can visit the place for just RM5 per day, or opt to join the 14- or 28-day volunteer programme (you might want to stay somewhere more affordable if so). For a more comprehensive environmental education, the Rainforest Discovery Centre, an environmental education centre is just a 30-minute drive away.
Jalan Rambutan, Sepilok Mile 14, Sandakan, Sabah (08 953 3190/sepilokforestedgeresort.com). Labuk B&B, RM42.40 per night; chalet rooms, from RM243.80 per night.
This extensive eco-resort is built on the shores of Pulau Banding near the Banding Lake, surrounded by the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest. The resort’s accommodation and facilities are great for those who are less adventurous – all rooms are furnished with air-conditioning, WiFi, a mini bar and more. Wander around the resort and you’ll find plenty to do such as going for spa sessions at the in-house Puteri Dewi Spa, swimming in the resort’s infinity pool and dining in at the resort’s eateries.
If you have a bit of cash to spend, you can also opt to stay in a houseboat, which will take you around the lake where you can do some fishing or cruise to nearby shores where you’ll carry out activities such as hiking, wildlife spotting, waterfall dipping and more. Other activities that you can do nearby include Rafflesia spotting in the Belum-Temengor forest, bamboo rafting, archery and more.
Pulau Banding, Gerik, Perak (05 791 6800/belumrainforestresort. com). Rooms, from RM380 for two adults; houseboat, from RM6,400.