Extra Photo Gallery: Room | Pool | F&B Outlets | Heritage Spa | Heritage Village
This boutique resort is located some 30 minutes north of Kuala Terengganu or 20 minutes from the airport. The access to the resort is quite straightforward - just follow the main route north towards Merang, Permaisuri or Kota Bharu. It is just a few minutes away from Merang Jetty which is the main departure point for Pulau Redang and Pulau Lang Tengah.
If you are coming from Kuala Terengganu, just a few minutes after entering the District of Setiu, there should be a well-marked sign post that points to the resort to your right. For better sense of direction, just be on the lookout for a Petronas gas station which is located opposite the resort main entrance.
From the junction, you will pass through a narrow paved road for about 5 minutes before getting into the resort compound.
To me, I have been aiming to stay at this resort for a quite a while. I have heard so much about this resort which was designed and owned by the famed Raja Bahrin (or Raja Datuk Kamarul Bahrin Shah) whose impressive portfolio includes the Tengku Tengah Zaharah Mosque (or the "floating mosque" in Kuala Ibai), the upcoming new terminal of Kuala Terengganu Airport and Laguna Redang Beach Resort. In a sense, The Aryani is very special as the resort is designed and managed by himself, as opposed to bearing his signature touches for construction projects owned by others.
First thing first: the word "Aryani" means "the origin" in Sanskrit. Therefore, the resort aims to portray the classical (or "original") Malay settlement from the days of yore. The main feature of the old settlement is the Grand Central Courtyard resembling an ancient village centre square. Around the square are water pools and pavilions (or "wakaf") which function as the main activity centre for the community. Each of these features bear some meaning, either practically or spiritually. I strongly recommend the guests to read the comprehensive narration of the resort from a booklet called Hikayat Aryani which is available at the reception counter in the lobby.
There are only 20 rooms in tastefully designed villas of various sizes. The room types are Superior, Deluxe, Modern Suite and Heritage Suite. Oddly, after all the commendable efforts to annunciate such ideas of ancient Malay civilisation, I felt that the naming of the rooms in plain English terms like "Superior" or "Deluxe" was unoriginal. Perhaps the resort should follow the step of Tanjung Jara Resort which uses exquisite names like "Bumbung", "Serambi" and "Anjung" to differentiate its product offering.
At the lobby, if you think the peculiar-looking wood-carved gateway door that opens down to the staircase to be distracting or out-of-place, think again. It is actually a century-old artifact rescued from a dilapidated Malay house somewhere in Terengganu. Normally fabricated from either cengal or meranti woods, such craftsmanship can surely withstand another hundred years without any problem (and that should explain why building a house or a fishing boat from these types of hard wood can burn a hole in your wallet).
I stayed in a Superior room located somewhere in the middle of the 8-acre resort compound. The villa, which actually consists of two separate room units, is architecturally aesthetic. I was very happy with the overall layout with small steps onto the open-air verandah where the Malays customarily take off their shoes (well, here, you do not need to), to the relaxing white-leather chairs to soak up to the green landscapes, and to the sliding door that opens into the room. I did feel that, internally, the room was quite average in terms of design and fitting. Make no mistake though, all the expected boutique-resort paraphernalia such as fresh potpourri, wood-carved dressing mirror, rattan chairs, and tiled flooring can be found inside the room. Only that I reckon some rearrangement can be made for the extra wow factor (though I must admit that I can be really fastidious when it comes to room design ideas).
The bathroom is well-appointed with a separate dressing area, nicely-designed wash basins, as well as separate water closet and shower. Yes, that sounds quite a given in any boutique resorts, but how about an outdoor bath tub in every room in the resort? Indeed, The Aryani offer a small open-air tub which can comfortably (or uncomfortably) fits two persons. This bathing area is only accessible from inside the room where a door leads down into a walled 6-foot enclosure. The high wall will ensure your privacy from passersby when you are enjoying the relaxing mixture of hot and cold water inside the tub.
Let's move on to the swimming pool. The overall design is rather basic, with a perfect rectangular-shaped pool with featured wakaf (elevated pavilion or bale) that has the unfortunate resemblance of those of Balinese ones. Just a typical misconception actually, as the original settlers in this area were indeed professing the religion of Hinduism for several centuries before Islam stamped its influence. Hence, in reality, there should be little to differentiate with the Balinese Hindus and the ancients Malays. The pool area also features two smaller huts on the opposite ends should you feel like shielding yourself away from the sun. Otherwise, there are plenty of pool chairs arranged around it.
The Aryani hosts three F&B outlets within its compound. The Serai Restaurant is the main outlet inside the reception building which has an open-air theme overlooking the swimming pool and the garden. This outlet serves all-day dining options from 0700 hrs to 2300 hrs. During my stay, I was entitled for the morning breakfast and I thought the meals served were acceptably good and authentic. Of course, there were choices of western fares like toasts with butter or marmalade, but I opted for the local delicacies such as steamed rice (nasi kukus) wrapped in fresh leaves that came with spicy gravy (sambal cili), fried fish crackers (keropok goreng) and pickled cucumber strings (acar timun). There were choices of meat floss (serunding daging) to go with the wholesome rice instead of the spicy sambal which might be too overpowering for a morning breakfast. Unique breakfast selection I must say.
Other than that, The Aryani also hosts the Hikayat Fine-Dining restaurant on the ground floor for a more private and intimate atmosphere away from the wandering eyes of the other patrons at the reception counter. This restaurant is only available for dinner from 1900 hrs to 2300 hrs. For light snacks and cocktails overlooking the ocean, one can opt for the Pulau Beach Club with is just metres away from the beach. The open-air bar offers a number of beach chairs overlooking the South China Sea where you can whisk away your worldly matters for a great couple of hours.
The resort also offers traditional body treatments at the Heritage Spa. The spa centre is placed inside a timber house in a secluded section of the resort which was acclaimed to be at least a century old. As part of the overall cultural experience offered at The Aryani, the Heritage Spa provides just that; herbal treatments with natural healing properties, soothing green atmosphere and adequately ventilated fresh-air from the breezy ocean nearby. Among the body-pampering treatments on the list the Heritage Spa are Mayang Mengurai (hair treatment), Puteri Wangi and Puteri Nona (both are facial treatments), Sri Panji (traditional massage, body scrub and body masque), Raja Kuning (manicure and pedicure) and Puteri Duyong (milk bath in an open-air tub filled with scented oils and flowers).
The last but not least, an important feature of The Aryani is the Heritage Village (or Kampung Warisan). Inside the village complex, there a showcase of preserved Malay houses that mark Raja Bahrin's relentless efforts to (re)-introduce the century-old traditional homes of Terengganu. There are a lot of unique characteristics attached to the art of constructing these old houses. For example, no nails were used for their construction. How is that possible, one might ask? The answer lies in the grooves at both ends of the supporting beams which can be fitted onto each others which eventually form the skeletal structure of the houses. Just think of it as Lego tiles that were invented hundreds of years ago. Additionally, most if not all of the buildings in the resort utilised a unique type of roof tiles which cannot be found anywhere else. These are singhorra tiles which closely resemble that of fish scale motif. These clay-made roof tiles are as exquisite as they are useful in keeping the buildings cool due to their unique ventilation-friendly design. The whole complex may seem to be only half completed, what more with Raja Bahrin himself being entirely swarmed with his other design projects throughout the country, yet the effort put forth to rebuild such an interesting conceptual village is highly creditable and praiseworthy.
To me, a visit to The Aryani was truly a visit to our very own "origin" as its name intended. In fact, I am intrigued by a saying from Raja Bahrin himself that I saw in an article, which I quote, "Why can't we look within instead of copying what's outside?".
In short, The Aryani is not just a resort, it is a wholesome cultural experience not to be missed by anyone.
A truly fascinating resort with a great traditional concept. Modern amenities intertwined within century-old architectural ideas and exquisite cultural experience. Highly recommended!