THE SECRETS OF MALAY ANCESTORS
By Kamila Delart
Having travelled the world, I love exploring new places. Not that there is anything wrong with lazing around the pool and enjoying one’s favorite dishes while on holidays. After an annual work marathon, it may be just what one needs. But to me, visiting a new country is all about discovery!
I love to walk along half hidden paths off the main tourist routs, sample traditional dishes in tiny local eateries, and being a Spa Professional – I’m fascinated by aboriginal healing and beauty rituals.
Getting ready for my trip to Malaysia, I ordered countless books about natural remedies from the Malay rainforest, indigenous healing ceremonies, and enchanting beauty rituals that have been passed from grandmothers to their daughters and granddaughters.
When I finally arrived in Langkawi two years ago, I couldn’t wait to experience the time-honored Ramuan tradition first-hand. But when I set out exploring the local Spas, I found my experience slightly confusing: Balinese décor and music, herbal massage oils imported from Thailand, treatment menus featuring Tibetan bathing ceremonies, Javanese Lulur, and Hot Stone Massage inspired by healing practices of Native Americans… It’s not as if I didn’t come across any indigenous Malay treatments at all. Most of the Spas do offer the traditional Urut Melayu Massage and body glow and body envelopment incorporating local ingredients. But hidden among all the other offerings, they just seem to provide a glimpse into the vast aboriginal tradition I was hoping to explore.
When I finally heard about the opening of a new Spa that claims to celebrate indigenous Malay Spa rituals, I got all excited, immediately reaching for my phone to book an appointment! And so, only a few days later, I find myself in front of the Ayer Spa Wellness Village…
Crossing a small bridge leading across a pond, I walk towards a traditional Malay wooden house on stilts, surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden. There is a rustic well made of boulders and a swing luring to daydreaming. I inhale the fragrance of local herbs typically grown in Malay Kampongs, and there is this feeling of entering a world of times gone by.
Greeted by a symbolic stroke of gong, I receive a tiny sachet with Bunga Ramapai – an exquisite blend made of pandan leaf, rose petals and the essence of the ylang-ylang flower. I look around, taking in the enchanting interior: elaborately carved wooden ornaments, woven timber walls, lampshades made of original fish traps, hand-painted batik from Terengganu, collection of antique vases… And on one of the shelves is a display with beautiful historical Malay wedding jewelry.
Organza drapes move gently in the afternoon breeze, the air is filled with the incense of pandan leaves, and from the speakers sounds Malay Gamelan music. A truly authentic Malay ambiance!
Enjoying a cup of hot ginger tea, I study the menu. I love the selection of ingredients incorporated in bath rituals and body scrubs! Hibiscus, rice, coconut…Time-honored local favourites! But it gets even more interesting! There is Gamat, a Sea Cucumber famous for having the ability to grow back together after being cut in half – demonstrating truly powerful healing properties. The hard Manjakani balls, produced as a result of a chemical reaction triggered as stinging wasps penetrate the leaves of a local Oak Tree, are famous for restoring the elasticity of skin. Kenanga, known in the West under the name Ylang Ylang, is a celebrated anti-depressant and aphrodisiac. And the myth enshrouded Tongkat Ali Root is considered for centuries the secret key to masculine power – boosting strength, energy and virility.
Clock-wise: Gamat, Manjakani, Kenanga, Tongkat Ali Root
I’m tempted to indulge in one of the beautiful Spa Rituals that last up to three hours. But after a quick look at my watch, I have to compromise – selecting a foot treatment followed by the Royal Malay Massage. Leaning back, I enjoy a refreshing lime foot soak, positively surprised to see that my Therapist is a man. It’s quite rare in Langkawi…
Sobri wipes my feet with a fluffy towel, applies a fragrant cream, and begins to massage my tired soles. He barely speaks, focused as if he was trying to ‘read’ my feet. He has beautiful hands with the long fingers of a concert pianist. And as he gently stretches and kneads my feet, melting away the painful knots, I feel as if he was indeed playing an instrument, attuning the distorted energy in my entire body.
Ready to enjoy my Royal Malay Massage, I stretch out on a massage table. I hear a whisper from the next treatment room and a distant echo of the outside world. But Sobri’s gentle touch brings me back to the here and now, releasing with focused thump stokes deeply seated tension in my shoulders and back, working his way deep into the sore spots along my spine. It doesn’t take long and I drift away, floating on cloud nine…
Determined to bring a little piece of the Malay healing tradition back home, I purchase a signature essential oil, blended during a prayer from 7 Malay flowers to capture the healing spirit of the medicinal plants. And as I hold the tiny bottle in my hand, for a brief moment, I believe to feel a connection to the local medicine men and midwifes of the past – tapping into the infinite wisdom of Malay ancestors…
To find out more about Ancient Malay Spa Rituals, visit www.ayerspa.com.my
For reservations, please contact Ayer Spa Wellness Village at +6 04 955 6776