Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur: Mandarin Oriental redefines the club lounge

Perhaps I'm an innocent abroad, or more likely a grumpy old traveller, but I've long puzzled over the purpose of club lounges. And then one day I'm on the road to Damascus – which strangely runs through the centre of Kuala Lumpur, under the shadow of Petronas Twin Towers – and revelation hits me like a thunderclap. Now I get it! This is what club lounges are all about.

Sorry it has taken so long. I've been in many a club lounge which has rubbed the edge off my eagerness for bad wine, printers with paper jams and evenings amid jet-lagged businesspeople in crumpled suits. I'm not really desperate for a limp canape that has been coughed over by every passer-by, or a breakfast that's just the same as the one in the buffet restaurant downstairs, except with a third of the choices.

Not in the club lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, though. This is what every club lounge ought to be. It takes up a fair chunk of the 24th floor of this hotel, with outlooks on three sides and the sort of views that club lounges always promise but seldom provide. The twin rockets of Petronas Towers loom. Office blocks mushroom all the way to a blue smudge of hills. Occasionally, helicopters flit like dragonflies amid the high-tech high-rises of this booming city.

If you look down, you can see a patchwork of solar panels on the rooftops of the Suria KLCC shopping mall and a luxuriant park where ant-sized couples smooch on benches. You can check out the swimming pools of surrounding hotels in this luxury district, and be smugly satisfied that the Mandarin Oriental's is the biggest and the best. It belongs more to a resort than an urban hotel, expansive beneath palm trees with white lounge chairs gazing over park treetops.

The club lounge's windows are vast, leaving you hanging in the urban landscape. At night, you feel as if you're in a snowdome of glittering lights. No wonder this isn't just a lounge for businesspeople. There are Iranians in gold rings and Arabs in white robes, and red-cheeked Canadian sightseers, and Aussies being nice to staff. Couples come here for drinks as sunset provides the hills with a cocktail-orange rim, and neon flares in this most glamorous of Kuala Lumpur districts.

The Mandarin Oriental's restaurants are hugely popular with locals but the club lounge doesn't force you into them by offering half-hearted snacks and a warm white wine. For lunch, you can have excellent lamb and mash, or salad with hummus and babaganoush. For dinner, you can try local dishes such as curried stingray with okra and sweet chicken from Malaysia's Timur region, or a fancier version of the mee goreng (fried noodles) you get in Chinatown's street stalls. You should eat at street stalls of course, but sometimes you just want comfort and airconditioning and quality ingredients.

Kuala Lumpur is humidity, concrete and crowds and in such places you should ensure a good hotel because it will be your retreat from the hot tumult. The Mandarin Oriental's club lounge is cool, it's suave in shades of grey and purple, roomy and arranged so you can find a quiet corner. It's all plus with no fuss.

Now I know what a club lounge is all about. You get that arriving-home feeling of relief, only better, because home doesn't have plush carpet and artworks and waiters gliding about offering to mix you a gin and tonic. Chin-chin, and here's to happy holidays.

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FLY

Malaysia Airlines flies from Adelaide, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to Kuala Lumpur. See malaysiaairlines.com

STAY

Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur has excellent restaurants, tennis courts, a pool and a spa. Club Rooms, from $309 a night, include access to the club lounge, which offers breakfast, weekday lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails and other benefits. See mandarinoriental.com

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

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