It’s only the reception area, but we are already open-jawed and wide-eyed with the sheer scale of the PARKROYAL Penang Resort. The elevated ceiling in the open-air pavilion allows the cool sea breeze to flow through, hitting our humid skin.
We catch a glimpse of Batu Ferringhi beach through the palm trees, just past the pool, as we are ushered to take a seat in the Javana Lounge bar area.
With a refreshing mocktail rolling around (yes, rolling – they have these special glasses) on the table in front of us we try to take in our surroundings as we are being checked in.
The five-star beach resort (the only one in the PARKROYAL group as all the other properties are hotels) has just undergone a MYR55 million (A$18 million) refurbishment and no expense has been spared on the public areas.
The most striking feature in this vast space, with reception at one end and bar at the other, is the soaring light timber Pinang screens.
The Pinang design resembles the betel nut to reflect Penang’s local name, Pulau Pinang, which literally means Isle of Betel Nut. Having experienced betul nut in its less enticing form – when it is chewed like tobacco in parts of Asia and the Pacific – I am surprised to find how appealing I find the design.
The Pinang screens can also be found in our suite, used to great effect to create rooms within the open space. All 308 rooms and suites (there are 10 categories) have been completely renovated with light timbers, and quality materials.
A plate of chocolate strawberries is waiting on our marble-top dining table, just off our lounge room with large day bed. Of course, it’s when we step onto our sizeable corner balcony, with a view of a purple sunset setting over the ocean, that we really appreciate the room’s advantages.
The resort has two pools, one with waterslides, and a very large kids’ club that caters for kids from four years to 12, so there are plenty of families already poolside when we arrive to claim our sun lounger the next morning. But there are plenty of couples and groups of young travellers too – the resort aims to have something for everyone (the main pool is open until 11pm).
We spot the activity hut where you can rent jet skies and go windsurfing (not operated by the hotel, but local operators recommended by management); the restaurant, Uncle Zack by the Beach that offers candlelight dinners by the ocean; and the on-beach massage house.
But, we are here for uninterrupted cocktails, beach views and pool time, and the resort has that in spades. Staff are very friendly and attentive, seeking you out for your drink order under the red beach umbrellas.
That night we dine at Cinnamon Asian Kitchen, an all-day casual restaurant that has had the new, bright timber treatment. It’s a bit too late to enjoy the views of the gardens and shoreline, so we sit in inside in the air-conditioning and watch the live cooking. Fresh ingredients bounce up high from sizzling woks, and we are excited to tuck in.
We choose to order from the local, Asian menu rather than jump into the buffet, and my companion is pleased to find some of the spicier elements have been toned down for western tastes. The most striking part of the restaurant is the long, communal dining table outside that sits atop vibrant Peranakan-inspired tiles, hinting at Penang’s wonderful heritage 45 minutes drive up the road in George Town.
We spend the next morning in the historic centre of George Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, exploring the beautifully restored Chinese shophouses and colonial mansions. If we hadn’t wanted to venture too far from the resort, the national park is only 5km away with an abundance of nature trails, and Penang Hill is just down the road.
Weary after all our walking, we head back to the resort to indulge at the award-winning St Gregory spa. Some parts of the resort were still under refurbishment when we visited (April 2018), including the gym and spa areas, but a temporary St Gregory was still providing pampering facials, and coma-inducing, relaxing massages.
In February, Qatar Airways began offering direct flights from Doha to Penang, bypassing a stop in Kuala Lumpur. With more families and travellers wanting to complement their visit to historic George Town with some solid beach time, the popularity of PARKROYAL Penang Resort is only going to grow. Claim your sun lounger now.