KUANTAN: When Datuk Franky Chua Goon Eng first looked at building a home to spend his sunset years in, he had no idea it would eventually lead to the development of an upscale resort.
"I was initially just looking for a serene place to build a house to live in after my retirement. It never crossed my mind to build a resort, what more one of a five-star ranking.
"I invited several friends over to discuss the house plan but they ended up suggesting that I build a resort instead,” the 63-year-old recounted.
He mulled the idea over while surveying potential sites and evaluating the processes required before eventually deciding to take up the challenge.
Guided by his motto of ‘only the best as a benchmark’, Chua started drawing out plans for what was to become the Mangala Resort and Spa.
A 16-year labour of love
He selected an abandoned mining land spanning 26 hectares as the site to build his resort on in 2002. The land was a tin mine from the 1930s to 1970s and was then used for sand mining from the late 1970s to the 2000s.
It took Chua 15 years and RM70 million to transform what was once a clay-covered land with unsightly gullies and ponds into a luxurious tropical retreat with rehabilitated lakes and lush landscapes.
“The figure, of course, did not include the cost of acquiring the land. Financial issues were indeed the biggest challenge in creating the Mangala.
“I was having doubts of whether or not this project would come through because of the lack of capital but I eventually managed to secure a loan from a bank that was confident enough to invest in the resort,” he said.
There are 65 villas at the site, each with its own attraction. Jana Villas, for example, were built on a rehabilitated lake.
Chua said the lake was one of the four mining lakes at the site that have been rehabilitated.
“I wanted to retain as much of the original landscape as possible. There is a way to carry out development without damaging the environment. We just need to plan carefully.
“I am lucky because my background in construction have helped a lot with the process. In addition to that, I have also sought the help of experts on ways to rejuvenate a barren abandoned mining land,” he said.
Mangala means “auspicious” in Sanskrit, and the resort has indeed lived up to its name.
Chua’s conversations with ‘repeat guests’ revealed that it was the warm and hospitable staff and unique experiences offered by the resort that kept enticing them to return.
Guests are greeted with a wide smile and friendly “selamat datang” (welcome) upon arrival and served ‘kedondong’ juice or coconut water from fruits that are picked fresh daily.
The resort is located within an oil palm plantation, not far from the Gambang toll plaza and off the East Coast Expressway.
Chua said that the lush landscape of the Mangala has attracted over 80 species of birds including migratory species, some of which are the White-throated Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Zebra Dove and Pacific Swallow.
"A guest has told me that there was no need to set an alarm when staying at the Mangala because he would be woken up at about 7am by the chirping of the birds,” he said.
The resort is home to more 100 species of flora and fauna and as such has strict conservation policies that include the prohibition of hunting and fishing.
This is why it won the World Gold Winner of Environment Category award at the FIABCI World Prix d'Excellence 2018 in Dubai, last May.
Chua admitted that when he submitted an entry for the award, he harboured little hope of winning as he was cognisant of the stiff competition.
“We did not even know that the jury panel had signed up as regular guests and stayed over at the Mangala. We only knew who they were after they checked out,” he recounted.
Fruit and herb garden
Raised by parents who earned a living as farmers, Chua developed an affinity for farming and gardening and was always keen to engage in the activity.
It was therefore unsurprising to find a kedondong farm at the Mangala, the fruits of which were juiced to serve to guests. 'Pandan coconut’ trees are also grown along the buggy path, its fruits also ever ready to be plucked and served to guests.
Other fruit plants that can be found around the Mangala are the ‘mata kucing’, mango and papaya. Musang King trees have also recently been planted in front of several villas and are expected to fruit within five years.
“We also current have a garden where a variety of herbs used for cooking can be found and they are of course, grown pesticide-free,” he said. - Bernama