Before K H Saw decided what to do with a plot of land he had acquired in Rawang, Selangor in 2015, the family used it as a park where they gathered with friends on special occasions. Surrounded by the Kanching rainforest reserve, and up a curved incline from their new home, the grounds were ideal for outdoor fun.
“My dad then built a shed so that if he quarrelled with mum, he could come here and sleep,” jokes Han Jian, the eldest of Saw’s three sons, who goes by Han. “But they didn’t quarrel.”
So, when his Internet-savvy sibling suggested putting the three-acre property up on Airbnb — by then, Templer Park Rainforest Retreat had two bedrooms, a kitchen-cum-dining area and an outdoor toilet — they agreed to give it a go.
TPRR, a 30-minute drive from the Kuala Lumpur city centre, has expanded over the years. The bedrooms became part of a four-room concrete villa clad in wood, with a viewing deck fronting Bukit Takun and a golf course, a fully equipped kitchen and barbeque pit, and nooks to chill out. When guests asked about a pool, it was added, followed by a stand-alone sauna. Then came the question: Why not more rooms?
“We decided to build these container rooms,” Han continues, with a sweeping glance around TPRR. “The concept was new to dad, but he’s always thinking of how to add more stuff here.”
The Container is on the same sprawling plot as the Villa, with greenery ensuring privacy between them. It has five bedrooms and an enclosed family hall built using eight 40ft-long, high-cube repurposed containers sourced from Port Klang. At 9.5ft, they are taller than the usual cubes and afford good ceiling height — ideal for the hall, actually two containers stacked together, with the middle wall removed. Each bedroom can fit up to seven persons and has its own shower and air-conditioning.
The rooms are foam-insulated and clad with metal-framed wood panels to regulate heat. Erected on concrete footings, they face south and are shaded by trees.
A viewing deck on the Container looks out to one side of Bukit Takun, and down to a pond beside which sits Saw’s shed, now used to store supplies. Hammocks invite guests to kick off their shoes and trust the woven meshes of rope to soothe their tired body and limbs. A swing on a roof platform is bound to keep the kids happily occupied. They may not be all agog over the view, but will surely enjoy having the wind in their hair with every push.
The Villa and Container, considered two houses on the property, are available for rent separately, or together if you are holidaying with a big group. Guests share the infinity pool with jet spa and splash pool, sauna, a huge trampoline and rolling lawn, which has ample room for ambling and parking. The kitchen has utensils to whip up full meals. Alternatively, guests can order in or take a quick drive to the restaurants and cafés nearby, which offer lots of variety.
Saw senior designed the Container and supervised its construction. He had experience building another property from scratch — the Serendah River Retreat, which has a Brickhouse and Woodhouse and private access to a river that runs behind it.
“We built things we think people can enjoy amid nature,” says Han, who studied architecture in Aberdeen, Scotland, and worked in Edinburgh before returning to Malaysia.
What guests can look forward to at TPRR are all the modern comforts that make a holiday cosy, plus nature in abundance at their doorstep. Birds, squirrels, monitor lizards, insects, frogs, fishes and a resident duck have made the place home. On weekends, it is not uncommon to see rock climbers scaling the crags of Bukit Takun. Some nights after the rain, you may even catch fireflies flitting in the dark. Han has seen a deer, musang (civet cat) and wild boar digging for worms on the field.
An unwelcome sight is monkeys, which pose a big challenge. To deter these deft creatures from stealing anything and everything, Han monkey-proofed the cupboards, refrigerators and dustbins. The last have specially fashioned lids that require heavy lifting to deter the simians from creating a mess with the rubbish. He used to give guests firecrackers and laser pointers to scare them away. These no longer work; neither do plastic snakes or life-sized plush tigers. Now, it’s water guns.
With TPRR on a firm footing, Han has morphed from architect to facility manager in charge of maintenance. What he has observed is that “Malaysians are not demanding as long as the lightbulbs are changed”. People who come on holiday don’t fuss; all they want is a nice, clean place to gather, socialise, relax and bond with family and friends.
Being on the ground has also given Han a clearer idea of the Airbnb market, which is growing. Even without guests coming in from overseas, local demand keeps him busy, a situation he attributes to being early on the scene and maintaining good ratings on the online booking platform.
Running Airbnb operations is likely to be a permanent occupation, says Han. The challenge is how to run their properties such that he has time to do other things. “Maybe have more places like this because we know there’s a market. It is very important to listen to what people want.”
This article first appeared on Aug 15, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.