Sunday, 13 June 2010

Living Batik

Out of a love for travel and batik, an enterprising woman in Kuching has opened a boutique hotel that pays homage to the art. The Land of the Hornbills makes me smile every time as Sarawak is one of my favourite states. Why? Because the people here are friendly, the culture diverse and its natural treasures amazing. But one thing about this city bugs me, though — there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to lodging. Accommodation here is either an impersonal five-star hotel or a cheaper alternative that lacks character. So naturally I was thrilled to hear of Kuching’s latest addition: a boutique hotel with 15 rooms, right in the heart of Kuching. Batik Boutique Hotel opened just two months ago in April, but already it is attracting both local and international travellers via smart online marketing — a customer-friendly website and links to social networking sites.

The Batik Boutique Hotel stands proud in Jalan Padungan. “Response has been picking up. I’ve had enquiries from locals, Singaporeans, Australians and Europeans, all via the Internet. A German even booked the entire place for a weekend for his wedding party to stay,” reveals Jacqueline Fong, the mistress of the hotel. An avid traveller herself, this bubbly 34-year-old decided to open her own hotel after a particularly memorable stay in a hotel abroad. “I stayed in Kybele Hotel in the old city of Istanbul, and it was such a fun experience. Most of the guests there were returnees who would gather every night to share stories on their travels,” Fong recalls.

So enjoyable was the experience that Fong, who was supposed to backpack around Turkey, ended up staying in the hotel for a week. “That’s the atmosphere I want to recreate here — a social hotel where people can meet and exchange stories about life and anything at all. I want to create a destination, rather than an accommodation within a destination,” she explains. Batik Boutique Hotel has the feel of an upmarket guesthouse and targets the growing number of flashpackers (wealthier backpackers), families, independent and business travellers who want comfort and character. Just don’t expect the amenities of a five-star resort.

The batik theme is everywhere. The first thing you might notice is that the hotel does not have a proper reception desk outside. The lobby opens out to a lounge bed with comfortable pillows where guests are served welcome drinks, and a bar next to this is where you will find the staff. Beyond the bar is the courtyard where guests lounge under the open skies or immerse in a Jacuzzi with cocktail in hand. The ground floor toilets catch the eye because large batik-garbed male and female figurines beckon you towards them. The toilet doors were created using haphazardly pieced-together wood strips. Fong says they made it out of leftover parquet material. Awesome! What a way to recycle!

Even the round dining table in the adjoining Japanese restaurant was specially designed using discarded wood. As you may have guessed from its name, the hotel has batik as its theme. “I just love batik and so have invested a lot in the design (of the hotel). It would be easy to expand the hotel into a chain around South-East Asia in the future as batik is synonymous with the region,” grins Fong. You can find the batik motif everywhere, from the hotel’s frontage to the foot stools, walls and lights. Even the bathroom floor has a beautiful batik design.

However, the lobby leading to the rooms has an industrial look. It seems unfinished somehow because of the bare concrete floors and ceilings with piping adorning them, but the 15 rooms are cosy. I like the vibrant colours in each with LED lights lining the floor. My room is solid red. All rooms are stylishly designed with distinct configurations. My city-facing suite is decked with a king bed and bathroom that integrates seamlessly when you slide the glass doors open. It’s great idea for those who want to surf TV channels while soaking in their gorgeous terrazzo bathtub. To compensate for the lack of scenery, they have made the middle suites the sexiest rooms in the property with a “floating” four-poster bed, an illusion achieved by the way the beds are designed. These suites have adjoining rooms equipped with a king bed and a balcony overlooking the courtyard — perfect for families or groups.

The rooms that overlook the courtyard are furnished with two single beds. Each has a day-bed that can accommodate a small child quite comfortably. These too are adjoining rooms. “There’s much to be done still and we are constantly improving and upgrading our facilities based on guest feedback. I would like to add more personal touches to the rooms, such as designer coffee plungers, custom-made furniture and funky robes which will arrive very soon,” says Fong.

Batik Boutique Hotel
38, Jalan Padungan
Kuching, Sarawak
Tel: +6082-4BATIK (+6082 422845 )

o A night’s stay costs RM250 with breakfast for two at Tarot Salmon, the adjoining Japanese restaurant, included.

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