[I talked about analysing reader habits at the Sandal Press blog this week. If you have a hankering to put in your two cents, please feel free to comment.]
A couple of weeks ago, we decided to splurge and have a short break somewhere nice. The heatwave was in full swing, there was no rain and it hardly dropped below 31 degrees Celsius at night. After a bit of research, I stumbled across the Golden Palm Tree Resort, owned by Swiss-Belhotel International. On its website, Swiss-Belhotel describes Golden Palm Tree as:
A five-star sea resort, the our [sic] villas stretch out nearly a kilometer [sic] into the sea facing the sheltered waters of the straits [sic] of Malacca. Blending Polynesian-Maldivian style and décor with local kelong-style stilts, we offer you a choice of nearly 400 villas in five distinctive types.
Perfectly balanced between accessibility and seclusion, our tucked-away stretch of beach is still pristine, a paradise on earth for holidaymakers. Diving, water sports, excursions, snorkeling are just some of the activities you can look forward to. And within the villas themselves, there is a recreation centre with fitness room and library, TV room, choice of restaurants and bars, boutiques, and a spa. Everything you could ever want from a perfect beach vacation is here.
Sounds good, right? We stayed for three days and two nights. But remember that phrase, “five star resort”, and let’s parse that in view of what our family of four actually experienced.
The Swiss-Belhotel says that the Golden Palm is “[o]nly 25-minutes away from the doorsteps of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport”. WRONG. Even with our kamikaze taxi driver, it took us over an hour to get there.
Gorgeous. The villas actually do stretch out along “fronds” of walkways, into the water (or at least the mudflats at low tide). The breezes are refreshing and our villa was a wonderful 25 degrees every night. We didn’t even use the air-conditioning.
Atrocious. Swiss-Belhotel really scraped the bottom of the barrel in this department.
Bila-Bila. The furniture looks knocked around and not very well-maintained. A curry I ordered (you know, in the land of curries!) was tasteless, dusty and made with old curry powder. The Wast’s fish and chips were made from supermarket oven fries and a piece of cod that had been in storage for too long and had freezer burn. J’s beef burger was made with a mass-produced beef patty. Only Little Dinosaur liked her chicken sandwich, but she said the chips “tasted funny” and didn’t eat them. We paid about RM26 for each dish.
We also had our breakfasts at Bila-Bila. While the cutlery was spotless, every piece of crockery was dirty. Another guest went through an entire row of glasses and eventually asked one of the wait staff to wash a so-called clean glass for her as it was covered in grease marks.
A popular breakfast item here is nasi lemak, which is rice cooked in coconut milk. There are various accompaniments (sliced cucumber, sambal, fried anchovies, fried peanuts, hard-boiled eggs) and, at Golden Palm, they were all in individual segmented dishes within a larger metal dish, covered with a lid. One of the guests dropped the lid on the pebble aggregate floor. “Fizzy”, one of the restaurant managers, picked up the lid…and put it straight back on the metal dish! No wiping, no nothing! Yep, this is truly “five star” service, isn’t it?
And, from feeding our animals a raw food diet, I also recognised the cuts of meat that were used in the breakfast chicken curry. Yep, it was the technicolour mix that you only get from Tesco! But with the added feature of being completely tasteless.
In desperation, J had to walk the chefs through how to cook an omelette because he was starving and the cooks didn’t know how to do it!
The kids wish to add that the electric buggy drivers (ferrying everything from food to people) around the resort did not put their lights on at night. (Our kids are very safety conscious.)
Sepoi-Sepoi. If you’re after greasy food served lukewarm, you can’t do worse than Sepoi-Sepoi, another of the resort’s restaurants. Here is where you’ll find “traditional” dishes, yet not one laksa in sight! As with Bila-Bila, the prices are outrageous while the serving sizes are small.
While we were having a late lunch (around 4pm), a retired couple stopped by and ordered the crab and mayonnaise sandwiches. They were packaged just as you’d find them on supermarket shelves and presented the same way…but for four times the price. Now, it could just be me, but in an open-air restaurant with no air-conditioning and temperatures in the mid-thirties (Celsius), I would baulk at ordering mayonnaise-based anything made earlier that morning. Then again, the couple (who clearly appeared to enjoy their sandwiches) were British, so QED.
Perahu. We dropped RM300 at Perahu. The service was unforgiveable for a restaurant set on the beach. There were only maybe sixteen or eighteen tables in total, most of them for couples, and the restaurant was not full. So of course you can expect a “five star” resort to forget to bring condiments you’ve ordered or even to fill up your wine glasses. We told the server (while she was delivering the iced lemon tea to our table) to only pour it for the two kids so, of course, she began pouring glasses for everyone.
Stimbot. This was the steamboat restaurant and, in hindsight, was probably the best of the lot we tried, even though they had to keep going back to the kitchen to fetch things they’d forgotten…like bowls. And cutlery. And drinks. And accompaniments. And they sat us directly beneath a wooden beam that was directly beneath a light, so there was a huge bar of shadow running right across the table. I couldn’t even see the food in my bowl. Of course, we stood up and moved the table ourselves.
The rules of what you can, and can’t, bring to the swimming area varies by the hour. (Actually, this is a Malaysia-wide trait…no rules are ever consistently applied.) We found shards of broken glass by the loungers, there were twigs underfoot in the pool and one of the lights had its cover hanging off beneath water level, exposing the bulb casing! Shades of Syriana.
The villas are very nicely decorated, there’s no doubt about that. Until you find that you’re missing some furniture. You know it should be there because you can look across the water and see another villa with a nice armchair on one of the balconies. But not in our villa. The hot water in the second bathroom didn’t work but, by the time we found out, we had already unpacked everything, so we just told the kids to use our bathroom for the duration.
The “safety equipment” is a joke. Yes, we had life preservers at both balconies and a ladder BUT, the ropes attached to the life preservers were tangled to buggery (we took ten minutes to sit down, untangle them, loop them nicely and put them back on the hooks, just in case anybody needed them for an emergency sometime in the future) and the ladder is too short to reach even the high-tide water mark.
A previous guest had obviously thought it a wonderful joke to lock the room’s safe before leaving. It took us three phone calls and more than an hour before someone turned up to unlock it for us.
We were supposed to have tea- and coffee-making facilities but all we got were two sachets of instant coffee and two of green tea. They were never replenished during our stay.
Also during our first night at Golden Palm, someone in one of the maintenance buggies had an accident and ripped a hole in the wooden railing along one of the “fronds” of villas. The hole was big enough for a toddler (and there were a few around) to slip through and fall into the sea. It was never repaired, or even taped over, during our stay.
There is no doubt whatsoever that most of the staff are merely marking time until their work day is over. The young men at the laughably-titled “Extreme Park” were probably the best example of this. You got the impression you were interrupting their social life by wanting to buy time at the Paintball practice range.
There’s also no doubt that the staff do everything possible to keep you in the dark about what you’re entitled to. We had opted for the Family Package that supposedly included some “adventures” at the “Extreme Park” and also a half-day mangrove tour. I had to drill the receptionist twice about how to go about redeeming the “Extreme Park” “adventures”, before she finally — reluctantly — handed over vouchers worth a princely RM80. And neither of the staff I spoke to said boo about the mangrove tour, even though it was quite clearly stated that we were entitled to it.
THE ECO ANGLE
Golden Palm likes to label itself as an “eco resort”:
With minimum impact to the environment and touted to be the first eco-friendly sea-hotel in the world, Golden Palm Tree Iconic Resort & Spa is a 5 star haven of peace, perfect for eco adventure, non-motorized water sports, family-friendly fun or to just relax and unwind.
Yeah. Nah, I don’t think so. It’s not very eco-friendly to have plastic toothbrushes in the bathrooms. And neither is it very eco-friendly, to my mind, to look to the near horizon and see three fully operational drilling platforms, in front of a waiting line of cargo container ships. There’s another heavy-industry processing plant just beside the beach of this “eco resort”, so you’re well catered for if you’re into commodities and fuel exploration.
(All the dots in the background? Except for the rectangles over to the left? Yep, they’re drilling platforms. Very eco-friendly!)
I was furious by the time we left Golden Palm, for one reason. I was totally ignored by most of the staff. Okay, I get that I’m not white-skinned. I get that I’m a small Asian woman. I get that my husband is both (a) tall, and (b) as pale as cream. But, dammit!, if I walk up to you, and say, “Good morning, I was wondering whether–” I do NOT expect you to look through me, cut me off, and say to the man behind me, “Good morning, sir, what can I do for you?”.
This didn’t happen once or twice or even five times. Without fail, it happened every single fucking day that we were there. Yes, there may have been Middle Eastern guests also milling around, with women done up in burqas thick enough to act as personal suffocation tents, but I. Was. Not. One. Of. Those. Women.
Maybe it’s different if you’re a white woman at Golden Palm but if you’re not, you’ll find yourself as invisible as the women who sat by the swimming pool in full sun, fully gowned in black with black veils, watching while their obnoxious, bare-chested menfolk cavorted in the water.
But we haven’t come to the good part. Two nights’ stay at the Golden Palm cost us RM2,600 (about US$800). So what were we billed for? RM3,000! In fact, we were billed for RM3,000 before we’d even cleared Reception upon our arrival. When I queried this, I was told that this was done to “check” the validity of the credit card. Yep sure, check my card by overcharging me!! You pricks.
As you can rightly imagine, such shenanigans are the sort of stuff you expect from shady establishments and Golden Palm Tree Resort is as close to a lie as you can get. It’s essentially a two-star budget and mindset, masquerading as a five-star resort.
Can I tell you how desperate we were to leave Golden Palm Tree? We could have still hung around and walked by the silty beaches littered with rubbish (as all the best beaches are in Malaysia), but we decided that it would be more fun to spend four hours at the airport!
And, actually, if I have to give a thumbs up to any part of this short holiday, it would have to be to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. We ordered decent coffee, had decent food, browsed a well-stocked bookstore. I ambled through the Body Shop, we caught highlights of the Euro Cup matches on a giant screen, watched planes take off and land, and had a relaxing time before it was time to head for Domestic (a barren dive compared to the airport’s foyer/International section) and our flight back down to Johor.
Golden Palm Tree Resort: Setting = superb; “Eco” Surroundings = yeah, right! ; Service = poor; Food = inedible (and we stayed at Sibu Island Cabanas one year, so that’s really saying something!); Expense and Bullshit Factor = exceedingly high.
Avoid like the plague!
POSTSCRIPT We’ve stayed at Australian motels that had better service (and food) than Golden Palm Tree. In fact, three-star Australian motels ( (RACQ/RACV guides) are the benchmark by which we judge other establishments. The fact that the Golden Palm Tree Resort didn’t even meet Australian three-star standards really tells you something about the resort.