Spell of the trop­ics

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - KA­T­RINA LOB­LEY

Long be­fore en­ter­ing Gaya Is­land Re­sort’s Spa Vil­lage, I hear about its welcome drink. For­get herbal teas and le­mon-scented wa­ter. Guests who roll up to this re­sort spa in Malaysia’s east­ern­most state of Sabah are pre­sented with an “elixir” of pineap­ple, guava and lime juices spiked with chilli and star anise. Those who have tried it rave so much that I turn up well ahead of my ap­point­ment so that I can savour this cool con­coc­tion “with a hit of heat”. To my de­light, a carafe of elixir ar­rives bal­anced on a ce­ramic banana leaf.

The Spa Vil­lage is tucked away from the re­sort’s 120 vil­las, which cling to a jun­gle-car­peted hill­side of­fer­ing dis­tant views of Mount Kinabalu. Man­groves and palms en­cir­cle the stand-alone com­plex; ci­cadas pro­vide the sound­track. The re­sort be­longs to YTL Ho­tels, which takes its spa brand very se­ri­ously. YTL has opened Spa Vil­lages through­out Malaysia, from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca and the Cameron High­lands, and in China’s Yangtze River delta.

Its latest Spa Vil­lage opened this month in one of the world’s old­est spa towns. The Gains­bor­ough Bath Spa is billed as Bri­tain’s only ho­tel with a nat­u­ral ther­mal spa (it taps into the same warm wa­ters the Ro­mans en­joyed in Bath). The spa brand’s phi­los­o­phy is to hon­our the heal­ing tra­di­tions of re­spec­tive re­gions. I’m sam­pling one of the “dis­tinc­tive jour­neys”, the three-hour Un­duk Ngadau treat­ment for women. If a cou­ple wants to hang out in the spa to­gether there’s an equiv­a­lent three-hour men’s treat­ment. Both are de­signed as a cel­e­bra­tion of rice — a sta­ple for Sabah’s largest in­dige­nous group, the Kadazan­Dusun. The com­mu­nity’s big­gest cul­tural event is the month-long harvest fes­ti­val that cul­mi­nates in a beauty pageant and the crown­ing of a harvest queen. My treat­ment is named af­ter that pageant.

Af­ter my feet are bathed on a deck over­look­ing the man­groves, I head in­side to be slathered with a por­ridge of red rice, corn, av­o­cado and cin­na­mon. All of my mari­nades sound good enough to eat (my hair is basted with av­o­cado and co­conut, my face with honey and av­o­cado seed).

Af­ter leav­ing a Hansel and Gre­tel-like trail of crumbs as I head to the shower, I re­turn for the uru­tan pribumi mas­sage, which draws upon tra­di­tions from sev­eral in­dige­nous tribes.

It’s said that these tech­niques re­store mo­bil­ity and

Treat­ment room at Gaya Is­land Re­sort’s Spa Vil­lage; spa in­gre­di­ents in­clude rice and av­o­cado

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