A sustainable resort driven by passion

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 5, 2018 - November 11, 2018.

Sprawled on a 60-acre site within 400 acres of former mining land, Mangala Resort comprises 65 villas and one bungalow Pictures by Franky Group

Chua: I treated this project as a hobby and an opportunity to experiment with different solutions to revive the land Haris Hassan

The resort is home to a variety of flora and fauna including 80 bird species, according to Bird Group Taman Negara in 2016 Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam/The Edge

Franky Land representative Gizelle Chua (second from left), with (from left) The Edge Media Group publisher and CEO Ho Kay Tat, City & Country editor Rosalynn Poh and EdgeProp.my managing director and editor-in-chief Au Foong Yee Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam/The Edge

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Special Mention |  Mangala Resort & Spa | Franky Land Sdn Bhd (a subsidiary of Franky Group)

The Mangala Resort & Spa by Franky Land Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Franky Group emerges like a hidden utopia in the middle of industrial Gambang, Pahang, about two hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Surrounded by plantations, lakes and fruit orchards, the Mangala Resort & Spa is home to a variety of flora and fauna. It is hard to believe that the resort is situated on what was once a barren landscape. From the 1930s until the late 1970s tin-mining was the main activity, which made way for sand mining until the 2000s.

Sprawled on a 60-acre site within 400 acres of former mining land, Mangala Resort comprises 65 villas and one bungalow. Phase 1 — designed by Nagata Architect and comprising the Mangala Bungalow and 15 villas — was completed in 2011.

Phases 1B and 2 were designed by ZDR Sdn Bhd. Phase 1B has 16 villas, a club house and a spa complex, which were completed in 2015, while Phase 2 features 34 villas that were completed in August this year. The resort has a  total development area of 148 acres.

In terms of development costs, the villas range from RM340,000 to RM502,000 per unit. The resort is accessible via the East Coast Highway and Leburaya Tun Razak.

“It started with the first bungalow as a private family getaway. It was never our intention to turn it into a resort. But after a while, family and friends started to visit more often and we saw an opportunity and thought why not?” says Franky Group managing director Datuk Franky Chua Goon Eng.

The name “Mangala” is Sanskrit and embodies the eco-themed resort. “It means auspicious well-being, emphasing the purity of the spirit and the state of being happy and healthy,” says Chua.

“When we first acquired the land in 2002, it was in such a poor state. About 80% was covered in clay, with no topsoil, little sand and hardly any vegetation. It has been a long process to restore the land — it took us 10 to 15 years to finally see the transformation,” says the affable Chua.

Due to the noteworthy transformation of the land and the sustainability of the design, the Mangala Resort & Spa has been chosen as a recipient of The Edge Malaysia PAM Green Excellence Award (Special Mention).


Low-tech, high touch in reviving the land

It was an uphill task to bring vegetation back to the land, according to Chua. “The previous activities had caused heavy degradation of the land and we faced challenges such as soil erosion, a low water level and potential flooding during the monsoon,” says Chua.

It was difficult to rehabilitate the land. “We started the process by introducing topsoil (2m to 3m) to fertilise the land and planting palm trees. We brought in empty fruit bunches from nearby palm oil mills to decay into a thin layer of topsoil and organic fertilisers to reduce the acidity of the soil. Over the years, we planted several species of trees that began to attract birds and other wildlife. There are also no mosquitoes in the vicinity,” says Chua.

“Growing up, I had exposure to farming and I am passionate about it. So, I treated this project as a hobby and an opportunity to experiment with different solutions to revive the land. For example, we use a lot of sea salt to enhance the growth of the trees,” says Chua, as he points to bags of sea salt attached to the branches of the Musang King durian trees nearby.

A quick buggy tour around the resort reveals that Chua has used a number of natural techniques.

“For the lakes and wetlands, we placed gates to control the water level. It is a well-like structure that acts as a water reserve tank, and water is only channelled into the lakes when water levels are low,” he says, pointing to an old-school timber water gate at one of the lakes. “We also use water traps to prevent pests and animals from entering the resort. For us, it is about low-tech but high touch,” he says. According to him, the low-tech, high touch method has helped them reduce the construction cost.

Activities available at the resort include eco tour, archery, cycling, kayaking, horse riding and birdwatching. The resort offers private spa suites and wellness programmes.

He says the feedback on the resort has been excellent. “We receive a lot of visitors — Malaysian and foreign — particularly from Europe. Many are retirees and honeymooners who stay for a long stretch. We have hosted corporate events and team building for companies such as Mercedes-Benz. In fact, Nat Geo Traveler magazine visited us last year,” says Chua.


Sustainable design and approach

In terms of design, the language of simple luxury and sustainability is consistent throughout Mangala Resort. Its spacious and light-filled villas have a modern, tropical aesthetic.  The sizes of the villas range between 61.8 sq m to 300 sq m.

The villas, clubhouse and spa complex feature large uninterrupted openings, full-height windows and skylights. Other features — large verandas and colonnades — are used to reduce the glare from outside. LED lights are used for 90% of the lighting.

“We used materials such as brick infill walls, aluminium windows, timber, paint and plaster to achieve our signature look. We also used recycled materials for our timber decking and so on,” Chua says as he points out the wooden door latches on the villas.

Green energy equipment and systems are used throughout the resort to reduce energy consumption. These include timers for the lights, a key card cut-off system for power to the room and energy-saving air-conditioner compressors.  

Mangala Resort has also been good for the community nearby. “We believe the resort has put Gambang on the map. It has created new business opportunities for the local community — opening doors for commercial outlets along Lebuhraya Tun Razak. We also actively recruit locals for training programmes in the service industry,” he adds.

Franky Land plans to expand the resort. “We hope Mangala Resort & Spa will continue to grow. We plan to carry on with our conservation efforts and would like to build more developments like Mangala Resort & Spa in the future,” says Chua.