Balinese-themed boutique resort villas in Raub

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CASABRINA, situated just an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur in Raub, Pahang, started out as a hideout for Felix Tee, who had purchased the 70-acre highland estate back in 1998. He bought the former rubber estate plantation land, he tells City & Country, as it was his dream to live surrounded by nature in his retirement years.

It took Tee, a former shareholder and director of Unisem (M) Bhd, and his Balinese architect Anak Agung Yoka Sara six years to build two beautiful villas on the estate — Villa Amertani and Villa Aranya.

Villa Amertani sits on 1.41 acres and has four bedrooms and an infinity pool. The two-bedroom Villa Aranya, which takes up 1.96 acres, is within walking distance to the other villa and yet tucked away, and comes with a swimming pool and jacuzzi.

When City & Country first met Tee in May 2008, he spoke of plans to build and sell 12 more Balinese-themed villas as he thought it would be great to have neighbours who share his love for nature.

Today, while much of his initial plan remains intact, he says he has made some changes, thanks to a suggestion by a visitor — the mother of a customer — to Villa Amertani.

"She actually came for a short stay but ended up here for a month as she loved the privacy and the place. As we were talking, she told me to consider turning Casabrina into a resort instead. That got me thinking ... and that is how it has been two years since we opened our doors as Casabrina Vacation Villas," says the 60-year-old Tee.

The resort and wellness centre is perfect for those looking for a private getaway as well as top management meetings and retreats, he says. Guests can opt to indulge in a spa or qigong sessions, go jungle trekking or just spend some quiet, private time in the villa.

As we sit down to chat with Tee, we notice that Villa Amertani has not changed since the last time we were here some years ago. Surrounded by lush plants and mature trees, a cool afternoon breeze blows through the open windows that overlook the verdant forest.

Tee says he will build on 28 acres, as he originally intended, and leave the remaining 42 acres untouched.

There are two fish ponds on the way up to the villa, one on each side of the winding road. We also saw the early stages of construction of what Tee says will be a reception complex and a 2-storey car park.

He says he decided to reposition the project as a luxury eco-resort and wellness centre as he wants to share the benefits of what he has experienced through adopting a more healthy diet and his newfound passion in practising qigong with a master from Bentong.

"I was experiencing stiffness and pains in my neck and ankle and after practising qigong daily for the past 3½ months, I am feeling great. I am healthier and feel better now in my sixties than when I was in my fifties. Our customers can also opt to try other alternative methods available in the resort or the nearby town, including acupuncture and Bioresonance Therapy or even learn some qigong moves from the master himself.

"I was talking to the locals and noticed that the older generation here look strong and healthy. There is an 85 year old who still picks durians and looks strong for his age. I asked these people what's their secret and they tell me that they live a simple life, eat simple food and follow the sun — wake up early and sleep early. I thought it was rather interesting," he says.

Tee remains passionate about nature. He talks about new experiences and sights at Casabrina that surprise him even though he has lived there for more than 14 years now. "This morning, I woke up at around 4am, and stepped out to practise my qigong moves while observing the mist moving and enjoying the fresh air. I guess I lost sense of time enjoying the beautiful views and the weather, birds and forest because the next thing I knew, it had been more than an hour," he says.

While we were exploring the estate, going uphill on a buggy to get more shots of the resort, we spotted four deer almost at the peak of the hill. This, Tee says, is a rare sight as he had only seen a couple of deer once before.

"We have only six rooms in total to offer our guests right now. So aside from our website, we have customers coming in via word of mouth or by recommendation. Our occupancy rate is 70% to 80% and comprise mainly local clients. Our inventory [rooms] will grow depending on the sales of the other villas," he says.

Distinguished guests include renowned shoemaker Jimmy Choo. Rack rates range from RM1,600 to RM3,500 per room per night, or RM4,100 for the 2-bedroom Villa Aranya and RM8,875 for the 4-bedroom Villa Amertani per night.

Tee reveals that Villa Amertani and Villa Aranya were sold at end-2012 for RM15 million in total on an investment plan basis. He has another nine other villas to sell and build to complete Casabrina Vacation Villas. The villas, which will have Balinese-inspired names — Atas Awan, Air, Agra, Ulun Thani, Plava, Mayomaya, Melayu, Kacapuri and Gita Giri — will each take about 30 months to build. They will be carefully designed to ensure that each is in harmony with the natural surroundings while offering absolute privacy.

Seven of the nine villas are offered as investment sales, priced from RM11 million to RM14.7 million. They come with a 15-year guaranteed rental plan or bank guaranteed rental return of 6.25% per year on the repurchase price upon completion. Tee plans to keep two villas for himself.

Take as an example, Villa Kacapuri, which will sit on 1.55 acres, with six suites planned. The price off the plan for the villa, or as what Tee refers to as mini hotels, is RM11 million. The buyer will enter into a sale, leaseback and repurchase agreement with the developer (Tee) at the time of the sale and purchase agreement. The repurchase price, upon completion of construction is RM14.646 million. During the construction period of 30 months, buyers get 14 days' free stay at the completed Villa Amertani and Villa Aranya.

Villa Air, situated closer to the main entrance to Casabrina at the foothills, is halfway completed. Tee says it will be completed once it is sold. So far, he has received about four to five enquiries and believes a deal will be closed soon.

He had initially planned to hire foreigners to maintain the resort but has since managed to get workers from the Orang Asli community living nearby. He has even started a small vegetable farm on a 10.5-acre parcel across Casabrina. The tract, on a temporary occupation licence, includes half a lake on which he plans to build a floating restaurant, an Orang Asli village and a camping ground. "We source our food ingredients locally as well. I also plan to build a school for the Orang Asli children. It is a social responsibility and I hope more corporate companies will join me in this effort," he says.

This story first appeared in The Edge weekly edition of Mar18-24, 2013.