The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Affordable staycation jollies minutes away from the Johor Bahru Checkpoint.
The must-dos (if any): Weekend dinner buffet at Amaya Food Gallery, cafe hop around the buzzy cafe cluster nearby, have a Mood Massage at Breeze Spa.
Intro: I recently had my virgin Johor Bahru staycation experience at Amari Johor Bahru, a fairly new four-star standard hotel situated just minutes away from the Johor Bahru Checkpoint and conveniently near both Johor Bahru City Square and Komtar JBCC as well as popular Johor Bahru cafes such as Flowers in the Window, Bev C, Shakespeare Milkshakes, The Replacement Lodge and Kitchen and Faculty of Caffeine. Thailand-trotting Singaporeans may generally only be familiar with the Thai-based Amari brand from the famous Amari Watergate Bangkok, but the Amari brand looks set to grow in Asia, with regional expansion plans in the pipeline. Amari Johor Bahru is the first of many to be launched in Malaysia.
The Executive Club King Room comes with access to club benefits at the Executive Lounge. The view from my high-floor room overlooks the causeway (which would be mighty helpful on Sundays). Purple accents remind you of the hotel’s Thai origins, while power points and USB ports are conveniently situated at your bedside. Elsewhere, the shower does not come with a bathtub (the kids can have their wet frolics at the pool instead) and the refrigerator is one of those which you have to remove the various shelves in order to store a bottle of wine.
The obligatory Larvitar shot.
It was a gloomy, rainy day when I checked in…
…Which explains the bluesy vibes of the photos.
Being a Thai-based brand, the Thai influences are readily apparent in the design of the hotel, with many an elephant greeting you throughout the premises. The lobby floor comprises of the Amaya Cafe (the hotel’s lounge cafe, which also serves afternoon high tea featuring TWG tea), Amaya Food Gallery (the hotel’s restaurant), the Breeze Spa, banquet rooms, a study/work room as well as connected meeting rooms that are available for booking.
The Executive Lounge is situated on the highest floor, and serves breakfast in the morning, all-day refreshments, and light food and cocktails in the evening.
The lobby lounge gets crowded during check-in and check-out timings.
A nicely-furnished and quiet reading/work area on the lobby floor.
A very Instagrammable alley that leads you to the Breeze Spa. I have literally seen photos of bloggers posing “seductively” with their mammary glands pressed against the lovely green wall.
The Amaya Cafe is the hotel’s lobby lounge cafe, serving beverages, cakes and afternoon high tea.
Afternoon high tea at Amaya Cafe.
The lounge area.
“Colours and Rhythms of Modern Asia”.
Some light food, sweet sake and a Gin & Tonic at the Executive Lounge.
The Executive Lounge.
AMAYA FOOD GALLERY
The Amaya Food Gallery was one of the highlights of the stay. I managed to try the weekend dinner buffet, and it was an enjoyable dinner experience for the variety at the price payable. There was a live noodles station, a sashimi/sushi station, a range of very culturally diverse Asian dishes with a strong Thai emphasis, as well as a selection of seafood and beef dishes. The Thai dishes in particular, such as the Tom Yum Seafood Soup, Stir-fried Prawns with Hot Basil Sauce, and Thai-style Half Shell Mussel with Chilli Paste, were memorable highlights (which might be a reflection of Amaya’s Thai origins), with the distinctive and feistiness of Thai flavours penetrating deep into the flesh of the seafood as opposed to being mere superficial flavour rubs.
Amaya Food Gallery is the in-hotel dining concept found across all Amari properties.
Live noodle station at Amari Food Gallery.
Butter grilled prawns.
A cheese contraption to make pasta cheesier.
A fairly humble sashimi counter, with the slices often being as thin as the white blouse of a Circular Road bar temptress.
Thai Style Curry Crab.
Stir-fried Prawns with Hot Basil Sauce.
Thai-style Half Shell Mussel with Chilli Paste.
Tom Yum Seafood Soup.
A platter of seafood greatest hits.
It is a very multi-cultural dinner buffet with Chinese dim sum, chicken tikka, Nasi Briyani etc.
Breakfast is available at both the Amari Food Gallery as well as the Executive Lounge. Whilst the Amari Food Gallery has a fairly extensive breakfast buffet spread, including big breakfast offerings (beef streaky bacon replaces the porcine usuals) and a range of self-serve local delights such as congee and nasi lemak, the Executive Lounge is more modest and limited in its offerings. It must be said, however, that the latter is significantly more private and quiet as a breakfast destination, and a meal there can serve as a quiet pick-me-up before your visits to the nearby buzzy cafes and Hiap Joo banana cake indulgences.
Big Western breakfast from the breakfast buffet at Amaya Food Gallery.
Nasi Lemak from the breakfast buffet at Amaya Food Gallery.
Morning cakes and pastries from the breakfast buffet at Amaya Food Gallery.
Made-to-order soup noodles from the all-day noodle station at Amaya Food Gallery.
Smoked Salmon and Eggs at the Executive Lounge, which is made-to-order.
Nasi Lemak from the breakfast buffet at the Executive Lounge.
THE POOL AND DELUXE POOL ACCESS ROOMS
One of Amari Johor Bahru’s greatest draws is their Deluxe Pool Access Rooms, which directly open to the swimming pool. I observed that the pool is primarily utilised by families with children, but there are pockets of time throughout the day where the pool is empty enough to be conducive for couple sexytimes (or as sexy as is possible when the pool is directly outside guest rooms).
The swimming pool at night.
A fairly SAFRA-esque morning situation at the swimming pool in the morning.
THE BREEZE SPA
The Breeze Spa offers spas, treatments and massages to guests, and features three single rooms, a double room with a Jacuzzi for couples, as well as a dedicated manicure and pedicure area. The signature feature of the Breeze Spa is their suggestively-named Mood Massage, which purports to bring you to your desired feeling – Dreamy, Serene, Rejuvenated, Invigorated or Energised – through a deep body massage.
I opted for the 60-minute “Rejuvenated” Mood Massage. This was my first ever body massage – I do not particularly fancy strangers rubbing oils over my precious parts – so I went in there being fairly cautious and skeptical. The fact that I was instructed to put on nothing but what could charitably be described as a transparent, black hair-net over my family jewels did not start things on a good note.
“Do I only wear this? Not my underwear as well?” I asked incredulously.
“No, Sir, only this,” my massage therapist, Alex, responded.
I was stubborn, and wore the flimsy black net over my boxer briefs.
So I laid there on the massage bed with the towel over my body, with my head rested in the head hole. Alex approached the massage table, and peeled off half of the towel such that only my legs were covered. He then matter-of-factly rolled back my underwear/black net combo such that half my orbs of Luna were exposed, and squirted cold mandarin oil over my back before climbing on top of me and starting a very professional massage of my back.
As my experience with massages were limited to watching episodes of Monica on Friends, I was half expecting extreme sensitive discomfort and lip-biting to stop myself from screaming in tickled pleasure. However, the massage was professional – he steered clear of the nippular area – and very comfortable indeed. For that hour, it did feel that the world melts into the darkness (I had a coffee-scented eye cloth over my eyes when I was lying face-up) and nothing else mattered apart from the hands applying a most Midas touch on my body. I did not even feel particularly shy during the moment where the sides of my Goodwood Park mooncakes were pressed with such might that I felt bones that I never felt before. The fatty bits on my fatback and rolls on my torso were kneaded and compressed with gusto, the ends of my fingers and toes were snapped efficiently, and the beating of my back as I sat upright were like Chun Li-esque kicks in their succession and vigour.
The only moments where I did squirm and try not to cry for Mummy was when the base of my feet was being rubbed – it was the equivalent having your foot core stabbed with a bony doorknob spear – and when my inner thighs were being massaged (y’know).
Before the end of the massage, Alex switched to a peppermint oil and started massaging my shoulders and scalp, which gave a most glacial Vicks-esque feel to the proceedings. I must say by the end of it all, I genuinely felt both relaxed and rejuvenated.
You get to choose from various moods – Dreamy, Serene, Rejuvenated, Invigorated or Energised.
The Couple’s room…
…which comes with an attached Jacuzzi, if you enjoy being naked with a loved one while staring at a mall through a window as sunlight streams in and caresses your naked forms.
The Single room for a private massage.
While I concluded that the average profile of an Amari Johor Bahru guest appears to be “Singaporean member of a family which includes young children” (and the crowds suggest that word appears to have already gotten out to families that the hotel makes for a great weekend getaway that is fairly child-friendly), there are aspects of the hotel which make it appealing as a staycation destination for friends and couples alike, such as the good food at the Amaya Food Gallery (in particular, the weekend dinner buffet), the proximity to the Johor Bahru checkpoint, the availability of club benefits such as cocktail hour at the Executive Lounge for a higher degree of privacy from the normal guests, the couple packages at the Breeze Spa, as well as the proximity of the hotel to the buzzy Johor Bahru cafe enclave nearby. The newness of the hotel also make it more appealing as a Johor Bahru staycation destination than DoubleTree by Hilton. Definitely worth considering if you need a quick escape (and an equally quick return).
Amari Johor Bahru
No.82C Jalan Trus
80000 Johor Bahru
This was a hosted stay.