06 July 2012

A Break of Cat Naps

By Azalia

“And then here’s Angel,” chirped Amir when I immediately knew the weekend was going to be the perfect gift for my husband. Or make that the perfect time to convince him he was having the best birthday of his life.

I was pretty sure of the trouble I was in two weeks earlier, with me still sweating over the ideal birthday gift for Asrif. Things couldn’t get harder than planning a surprise for the person whom you live under the same roof with, could it? I listed some of his favourite things on a paper to get things going. So there was “football”, but what do I know of it other than the idea of men screaming at two in the morning? (Not complaining. I admire your passion, I do.) And then there was “music”. And as much as I loved music myself, looking for a music-related gift didn’t seem like such a bright thing to do considering that one time I couldn’t even differentiate between a ukulele and a toy guitar. That, plus the only concert tickets available that time around were in Google’s words, “Rain: Live in Sepang” and “Justin Bieber Live in Kuala Lumpur”.

As I spent the entire week secretly writing love letters and poems in hope that they would compensate for the birthday gift I had failed to find, I realized I was doing exactly what we both loved doing – writing. And at the time when we were both busy scratching our heads over ideas to name this little travel blog of ours, which I reckoned was the result of our undying, deep passion for traveling, I soon had a light bulb moment. Some Google clicks here and there, several phone calls harassing Asrif’s mates to not invite him anywhere on his birthday weekend, a few skipped heartbeats in anticipation of the best Air Asia deal I might have scored, some writing pads, a pen, and voila!

We were off on a travel writing assignment I had made up for the then unnamed travel blog.

Choosing an island was a given. The beach bums in us were often itching for the next revelation on the tan we never quite needed. I chose Langkawi to surprise Asrif, but not exactly for the beach this time around. Hidden in Langkawi as I earlier discovered from a lucky Google click was a place of accommodation so full of character, it didn’t need bellboys in uniforms to blindly nod at you upon entering. And why would you need them when you’ve got a good-looking Angel to purr at you?

Bon Ton, which means “simple yet stylish” in French, is made up of only eight villas set up beautifully on a garden overlooking some scenic mountain ranges and tranquil lotus-filled wetlands. And I kid you not on the tranquility bit. It sure is guaranteed at almost any given time, not only for the resort’s setting by the trees and the mountains; but for the way you’d have only a maximum of eight families holidaying at any one time. The place is perfect if you’re not into crowds of tourists or places where everyone else is going.

Being just ten minutes away from the airport, we were quickly woken up from our groggy selves whom trudged out of that deep slumber we earlier had on Air Asia’s comfortable seats. I was intrigued enough when I read the description of the resort on its website the week before. And when I came upon reviews explaining how the Bon Ton team had been highly promoting animal rights and also the love of arts, I had no further questions; I had to get a room there! And soon as we finally set foot on the secluded resort, I knew I could pass off as one of those kids who went on tour at Willy Wonka’s factory. I was agog and simply in love with the place.

Australian owner Narelle McMurtrie did a great job creating a unique, warm ambience of an “escape” true to its name – simple yet stylish. The eight villas on the garden were refurbished from actual antique, traditional Malay kampung wooden houses of Kedah and converted into stylish villas decorated not lavishly, but artistically. Now what was interesting was the passion of Narelle and her team at improving the lives of unwanted animals that they also run the Langkawi Island Animal Clinic seconds away from the resort. What was even more interesting was the fact that the resort itself was somewhat a cat sanctuary!

We were warmly welcomed by Amir, a good-humoured gentleman who made us feel at home quite immediately (except that I was of course, still in Willy Wonka’s factory). With a refreshing welcome drink of minty coconut punch, we had our minty breaths taken away by the view of the mountains and the serenity that surrounded the wooden chairs of the open-aired Nam Restaurant. Seated comfortably with the cool wind blowing against our unkempt hair, Amir began explaining and introducing us to the beauty that was Bon Ton. Asrif and him chatted away, sounding like they’ve known each other for the past ten years. But noticing my giddiness, Amir soon knew he had to introduce me to the (not so) little fellow I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off.

“This shall be Snowy,” went Amir, as I soon got myself a cat who covered half of my body and a smile that covered half of my face.

And then there was Hitler, Angel, Chicken Thief, Mr. Talkative, and the list went on. Each cat had a story of its own; most of them either once neglected, abused or stray from around the island. But they were all saved under the Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary (LASSie) Foundation, and were then able to call Bon Ton their home. It was barely fifteen minutes since we arrived at the resort, but I was already a giddy teenage girl. Its beauty was one, but having lovable cats at each sunlit corner? I was over the moon! Fret not though if you’re not a fan of cats, as they’d be minding their own businesses so long as you do not try to play Dr Dolittle on them.

My giddiness certainly did not end there as we found out while approaching the villa I had booked, Yellow Orchid. We were placing our flip flops on the staircase leading to the wooden cottage, and then there he was, the charming Skippy, whom Amir joked as the owner of the house. What a fun way to begin our getaway, knowing that we rented our place from a handsome young cat!

Our adventure continued, as we then entered a dream little cottage filled with fun, summery colours. Its walls were decorated with cheerful paintings of bright coloured animals, its tables with colourful weaved baskets and its bed with yet more psychadelic, fun-coloured cushions. As we happily explored our little cottage, we then decided to check out what hid behind the locked wooden door at the back. And there, in front of our eyes, was a secluded open-aired wooden bathroom with tall, magnificent trees over it. By then, I was pretty sure that none of everything that day was real. In case you should know, being the nature lover and the dreamer that I am, I had always dreamt to have a cooling shower in a sunlit jungle among beautiful trees, somewhat like a hippy, or Jane, as in Tarzan’s Jane, I don’t know.

When I realized that I had spent the entire afternoon speaking in enough hyperboles any afternoon could need, and just in that cottage alone, we were then all set to begin our holiday adventure – to do nothing.

Asrif and I had our favourite books as we headed to the main garden where the pool was situated. Surrounded by coconut trees and comfortable sun decks, overlooking the sun setting behind a range of mountains; the main garden sure was the place to be if you’re after nature and serenity. Or as we often call it nowadays; zen. With such amount of peacefulness, you would want to strike a yoga pose or two quite immediately. (Which of course, you could. The resort would even provide you with yoga mats!) Nobody at the time was swimming as I reckoned we were all only after the peace to cater for our lazy selves. Each and every one of us at the garden was lying down around the pool with either a book, or some reasonably deep snores.

And for our case, some rumbling tummies to accompany the books we brought. As if understanding our longing for food, perfectly by the pool was an open-aired dining corner on wooden decks facing the breezy wetlands. We settled down there, comfortably losing ourselves in the interesting East-meets-West selection in Nam Restaurant’s menu. Lunch for our Malay appetite was Nyonya Style Fried Rice with Chicken Satay, Chilli Prawns, Beef Rendang, Acar, Omelette, Green Vegetables and Crackers. As fancy as the dish sounded and tasted, I had to admit that it was a little pricey. But with its generous serving, its creative presentation on antique wares and the breathtakingly beautiful ambience the place offered, we were as happy as a snoring Snowy.

Perfectly stuffed, we thought we could use a little exercise. As much as we’d love to pull off what we thought might be yoga poses, we believed it was best not to scare the other guests away. With a pace slower than the traffic back in Kuala Lumpur, we then wandered around the garden brimmed with fascination over the beauty of the resort. The seven other villas there were known as Blue Ginger, Black Coral, White Frangipani, Palm, Laguna, Silk and Cahaya; all unique in their own beautifully intricate designs from the ancient Malay kampung style. The wooden houses were all about a hundred years old, being formerly fisherman’s houses or Malay Noblemen’s houses. Cahaya, the largest villa in Bon Ton, was once a head of the village residence, having its own spacious living room. It was interesting seeing each villa having its own identity; with their architecture, designs and carvings from the olden days still preserved, while also having some modern touches added artistically here and there in catchy colours.

Guided by Skippy and Angel, we then walked down the main garden towards the other end finding yet another attractive little cottage. A refurbished old Chinese shop this time, the wooden hut was named the Chin Chin Lounge Bar. Again, I began speaking in hyperboles, and just in that hut alone. It was decorated just the way I had always imagined of my dream cottage. The wooden furniture, the exotic cushions, the colourful fabrics and the smell of old books from the bookshelf.

Unlike most of our previous trips, Asrif did not bring his own guitar this time around in hope to travel light on air. But what do we know, leaning perfectly against a wooden cabinet in the Chin Chin Lounge Bar was an acoustic guitar waiting for Asrif to do his thing, I believed. As nonchalantly as possible, we had the best time of our lives just lying down and chilling at the balcony of Chin Chin facing the wetlands. We sang, read, talked to the cats and simply enjoyed the wind until the skies began to get dark.

Night came and we were both freshened up from an aromatic wood rice bran oil soap provided in the cottage’s open-aired bathroom I so loved. The whole place had such casual and friendly vibes that when dinner time came, it felt as if we were personally invited for a warm dinner get-together at a relative’s place. The dinner menu at Nam Restaurant was even more varied and fancier that the amount of time we took deciding our dish was fairly longer than the time I took in the shower. We finally went for the Fillet of Snapper with Mashed Potatoes, Coriander Salad & Tomato Coconut Sauce. And an amazing dish it was! With a candle between us, a constellation of stars in the night sky and some cats walking around the garden whom we were able to talk to; we were as happy as wanting to act out that romantic dinner scene from Lady and the Tramp.

We did not end up at Nam Restaurant again for a buffet of breakfast the next morning. Not because we did not want to and not because we woke up in the afternoon (which was actually quite possible by the way, considering how comfortable and quiet the place was). Bon Ton was clever enough to create a unique breakfast experience by offering continental breakfast, whereby a set of light breakfast was placed in the fridge of our cottage the night before. So in the morning, I was happily playing pretend, dancing about the cottage, singing to the birds and the cats while preparing breakfast for the husband and myself. With some fluffy croissants, toasted breads, jam and butter, cakes and yoghurts, I was all smiles setting up our humble breakfast at the balcony with Asrif strumming the guitar and Angel looking ahead.

It was the second afternoon when we just only realized that we did not hit the beach throughout. And that’s how amazing Bon Ton was for the lazy, carefree souls in us – we could wander around the place barefooted aimlessly with our books and the borrowed guitar, marveling at nature’s beauty without realizing the time.

The main beach of Pantai Cenang would be about five minutes driving distance away. Quite alright a distance to walk but safer to drive to, as you’d have to go through quite some quiet, sandy tracks. As the both of us were only aiming to do nothing around Bon Ton that weekend, we had no rented cars whatsoever to get to the beach. But of course, help was at hand. Bon Ton offers beach drop-off services to guests without transport. We spent the lovely afternoon at the sunny beach getting yet more food and some tan we did not need.

Our flight back to the city was not until later that night, thankfully. We sure could not have enough hours of lazing around a field of grass singing with a clowder of cats. Understanding this, the kind Amir of Bon Ton did not hesitate to let us check out much later. As there was another guest coming in to Yellow Orchid, the warm team of Bon Ton had let us put our bags and settle down in another villa before leaving for the airport.

When we thought we had seen enough beauty around the resort, we were proven wrong as we placed our bags in a villa at Temple Tree, a more recent extension of Bon Ton. With the same concept, Temple Tree had vibes just as warm and was made up of several beautiful antique buildings. It portrayed a more eclectic mix of cultures though as the houses were not only of Malay, but also of Chinese, Indian and Eurasian origin.

We spent our final precious hours at the resort on the Sunset Deck of Bon Ton, marveled by the selection of Tapas offered on the menu. Tapas are served in Bon Ton each day between 5pm to 7pm, and we did not miss out the fun as we ordered the Tangy Tuna on Bruschetta with Melted Cheddar. We could not ask for a better ending, having Hitler and Snowy by our sides waiting to steal the tuna from our plate of Bruschetta, and the sun setting gracefully behind the mountains ahead of us.

Bon Ton is a hidden gem indeed. A place to be if you’re after a unique laid back experience, or if you’re a lover of nature, animals, tranquility and the arts. And if anything else, it certainly is the place to be if you’re after the thrill of going to places known to everyone else as “Where?”

This article was also published in our travel blog, Busking Barefoot.