Imagine stepping back in time to indulge in the beauty secrets of one of the most intriguing cultures of Malaysia’s history. I did just that at Spa Village Malacca, the world’s only spa to base its therapies on the healing heritage of the Peranakan, a unique combination of Chinese and Malay influences.
Spa Village Malacca is a one-of-a- kind wellness center in a glorious classic hotel setting, The Majestic Malacca, quaintly positioned along the Straits of Malacca less than two hours south of Kuala Lumpur. Originally built in 1929 as the mansion of a prominent businessman, The Majestic reopened in 2008 to great acclaim as Malacca’s only 5-star boutique hotel and destination spa.
The Peranakan Chinese-Malay culture flourished in southwest Malaysia from the 17th century to its peak at the turn of the 20th. The Peranakan culture, also known as Baba-Nyonya — men were called babas, women were nyonyas — incorporated Dutch, English, Portuguese and Indian influences. The Peranakan were aficionados of Victorian fashion, as reflected in the elaborate architecture and fine design found in both the hotel and in-house spa.
After check-in and a nap, followed by a fabulous soak in my room’s ultra-deep, four-pedestal tub, I sauntered downstairs to the Spa Village. Cheerful hosts greeted me with a pot of tea and a luscious orange wrapped in bright-red ribbon, for prosperity. Next, I was led into the lounge — a spacious, sun-dappled room with a row of resplendent Chinese daybeds, colorful Portuguese-style tile work, and floor-to-ceiling windows with a view to a crystalline-blue pool.
I emerged from the changing room in lush terry robe and spa slippers, and my therapist escorted me through ornamental saloon-style doors into one of the hair treatment cubicles. Every signature treatment at Spa Village Malacca commences with a simple yet strikingly moving ritual taken from the 12-day Peranakan wedding ceremony: the Hair Combing Experience.
The ritual is intended to eliminate impurities and bestow good luck upon the betrothed. Although I’m nowhere near an altar, the ceremony began with my attendant pouring fresh water with tropical flower blossoms through my tresses to remove negativity. Following a fruit shampoo, her magic fingers applied acupressure in a stimulating scalp massage that swiftly found me drifting off to another time and place.
I reveled in my daydream of a Peranakan bride-to-be in Malacca’s golden era. My therapist poured rich olive oil through my long locks as she worked with a wooden comb and careful caress, tending to each and every strand. A refreshing rinse of fresh lime juice and banana conditioner topped off the treatment. Expertly, my mane was swept up into a 1940s twist. “For luck,” the therapist declared, as she pinned a fragrant sprig of white jasmine into my hair comb. And this was only the prelude to the Peranakan Experience.
The Peranakan pull their remedies and treatments from a mix of Traditional Chinese Medicine, tribal Malay wisdom and Indonesian influences. TCM considers a healthy person to have balanced yin (dark, or cold) and yang (light, or warm) energies. Upon check-in, I’d completed a survey with a series of questions concerning digestion and dreaming, skin type and sleep, to determine my body type. It turned out that I was a bit too yin and needed a warm-up. For me, it would be the Suam-Suam Panas Experience, or warming heat treatment.
All Peranakan treatments can be found in a typical Chinese-Malay mother’s cupboard. My practitioner presented a tray of totally fresh ingredients including gula sugar and honey, ground pandan leaves and coconut milk, toasted rice and nutmeg, tapioca and — surely a rarity in any kitchen and the crème-de-la-crème of skincare indulgences — bird’s nest saliva.
My body’s culinary indulgence began with an invigorating, all-over gula scrub, a sweet solution of grainy palm sugar and honey — chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals. The curious concoction, with a scent of crème brulée, was worked into every limb. Since I was supposed to be “getting warmed up,” I wondered if I might also be set to flambé. As the syrup was left to soak into my skin, the therapist treated me with the Pandan-Coconut Hair Mask, to moisturize and remove headaches in us “cold” types.
Nudged awake after another hypnotizing scalp massage — my body cast with a sugar-candy glaze, my hair frosted with coconut-flavored icing — my therapist coaxed me into the treatment room’s private shower to rinse all those calories away.
Next came the Nutmeg and Rice Rolling Massage, focused on removing my excess wind.
In TCM, it is believed that joint stiffness and poor digestion result from “wind” stored in the body. This blocked energy, or chi, is eliminated by vigorously rolling hot sachets of toasted nutmeg and rice mixture along the muscles.
Afterward, I felt warmed up and wind-balanced, ready for the peak of Peranakan pampering: the Bird’s Nest Facial. Dried bird’s nest saliva, found in the spittle of cave-dwelling swifts of Southeast Asia, is considered the “caviar of the East.” Chinese culture holds that bird’s nest soup, a delicacy, is an excellent restorative tonic; hence, the same ingredient is used in Spa Village Malacca’s signature facial. Blended with tapioca, the saliva’s mysterious properties made for an intensive skin-softening experience, bringing sweet hydration to my dry complexion. To cool me off a bit, as well as to tighten and soothe the skin, my therapist delicately maneuvered a pair of chilled jade rollers over my face.
Refreshed from a final shower, hair swept again into a vintage twist, I relaxed in the private parlor corner of my treatment room. At the settee, a fresh pot of tea awaited, alongside a small dish of acar — a spring vegetable pickle used for relaxation in Baba-Nyonya cuisine. Quite unlike the post-spa scone I usually like with my tea, but I was pleased to find the spicy concoction delicious and refreshing.
After tea, I glided back up to my chambers at the Majestic — a perfect blend of class, charm and modernity. Peering out toward the Straits, with a mesmerizing view of the meandering Malacca River and a sunset exploding with orange, pink and blue hues, I felt like nothing less than a true Peranakan princess.
Spa Village Malacca
The Majestic Malacca
188 Jalan Bunga Raya
75100 Melaka, Malaysia
tel 60 6 289 8000
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