Text Alfonso Gomez
Sek San’s series of retreats under the Sekeping brand has revolutionised the concept of a boutique hotel in Malaysia. It hasn’t only made the idea of retreating to a warm, architecturally-pleasing getaway a feasible activity within our own backyards on a macrocosmic scale (just on the fringes of Klang Valley!), but microcosmic as well – your neighbourhood might just have a house converted into an urban retreat for all you know (see: Bangsar). For too long though, it might seem like they have no competitor in sight. Well, maybe that would hold water in KL – in Ipoh though, the Happy 8 Retreat franchise includes two locations within the city (Old Town, Pasir Puteh) and one outside of it (Kuala Sepetang) while Sekeping is only holding down fort above Restaurant Kong Heng in Old Town Ipoh.
Not fond of the idea of retreating within the city itself but still needing to be nearby it, JUICE chose Pasir Puteh, which is located not too far from city centre. Little did we know that it was literally in the middle of an Ipoh suburb, and right next to a vernacular primary school to boot. Seeming to serve as the neighbourhood’s sole beacon of gentrification – it was the only house that looked like it could easily cost you more than two mil – the contrast was jarring; here was a terrace house with an island resort-esque façade at the end of a row of lower-tier neighbours, whose exteriors were about as well-maintained as decades-old homes are wont to be.
Stepping foot into the venue had an immediate cognitive dissonance impact upon us. One would only need to turn around and look at what lies outside the gate to recognise that yes, you’re really about to stay in a nondescript neighbourhood for a vacation. Still, even being cognisant of that fact didn’t deter the illusion set by this Happy 8 Retreat – their interior designer crafted a convincing facsimile of what we would imagine a tropical boutique hotel would look like, sans the flora and fauna surrounding it. Wood is the primary material used – be it in the artisanal furniture and bedroom décor or floor and wall panelling. Greens are aplenty, maintaining the kampong, nature vibe they’re aiming for.
We were given two rooms to try out – The Lotus, just within the main house, and The Plum Blossom, one of the two mini chalets within the property. With a king-sized bed plus a hanging single bed (would make for a kinky stay), the former was the biggest room there. – heck, even its open-air bathroom was spacious enough to be a room in on its own. Rather unconventionally, the tub was a slab of concrete covered with moss thanks to the open air. This helped with the nature vérité that they probably intended, but the JUICE team was too much of a sissy city-folk to attempt submerging ourselves in moss water.
The second room, being separate from the main building, did an even better job at maintaining the resort illusion. While much smaller, featuring just one queen-sized bed, it had a mini veranda overlooking, well, the property’s brick gate (lest guests are reminded that they are staying in the suburbs) and a small Koi pond. The disconnect helped a great deal, the privacy felt real as opposed to being part of the illusion. Plus, it had a closed bathroom – so no moss-covered tub.
Run by a single affable caretaker (whose only flaw was his language prowess; he was fluent in neither English nor Bahasa) who also cooks breakfast for guests – standand English breakfast (but no real ham) – Happy 8 Retreat in Pasir Puteh is an interesting, albeit disjointed, experience. If anything, go for the novelty of staying in the suburbs without the soul-crushing ennui of living in the suburbs.
NO 8, JALAN SHAH BANDAR Jalan Shah Bandar
T: 05 243 8388
The Happy 8 Retreat Pasir Puteh has a ‘Very Good’ review rating of 7.9/10, and is available on Agoda.com from RM247 and up. Prices are updated regularly according to season and availability, so be sure to check often for frequent deals and book in advance. Travellers can also browse the Agoda app, where app-exclusive deals can be found regularly on selected hotels.