An eclectic and eccentric home away from home, Lost Paradise Resort offers an escape from the bustle of downtown Penang. But what makes this resort extraordinary is that owners Dr Chew Yu Gee and Melody Chew run an inclusive school right in the middle of it, where children with special needs learn alongside their mainstream peers.
MEET THE CHEWS
Their love is palpable. Not just for each other, their children and grandchildren, and long-time friends who work at Lost Paradise. But also for the people they help in their community. From the less fortunate to the marginalised, the young and the elderly.
A shared passion for making a difference, among other reasons, has united them for more than 30 years. And it is clear they are a match made in heaven — they finish one another’s sentences and tease each other with ease and charm. More significantly, they support one another unquestionably: Melody with her school, Dr Chew with the resort and his medical practice.
Together, they have nurtured a partnership doing good, at home and at work — a fine line, in this couple’s case.
ECLECTIC STYLE, WITH HEART
If it feels like you are experiencing a psychedelic epiphany when you arrive at the resort, do not panic. Lost Paradise is a rainbow-draped sensory overload; a long-lost, Southeast Asian cousin of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Without the candy.
You might spy influences from Minangkabau and Balinese architecture; an enthusiastic flourish of batik furnishings; technicolour wallpaper, tiles and flowerpots; heavy, Majapahit-period wood furniture; intricately carved doors shipped in from Bali; collectors’ pieces from India and China; and art made from recycled materials.
After giving your senses time to acclimatise to the explosion of colour and the hodgepodge of designs from various cultures, you will likely be in the right frame of mind to appreciate how idyllic Lost Paradise is.
The Chews built the seafront property as a home for their family of five children, who have since left the roost. The confluence of colours, textures, materials and cultures reflects Dr Chew’s effervescent personality.
Most people cannot understand the theme. It doesn’t fit a pattern, but it’s very interesting.
Co-founder, Lost Paradise Resort
“It’s quirky, the colours don’t match. There’s cloth, stone and wood,” says Dr Chew, the design mastermind behind the property.
“A piece of art is appreciated in its own way by a person. To somebody it’s horrible, but hey, it looks good to me,” he explains, with a laugh.
THE “RELUCTANT” HOTEL
Dr Chew calls the resort a“reluctant hotel”. Their home was never meant to welcome strangers to enjoy its peaceful grounds and unobstructed views of the Malacca Strait.
But health issues forced Dr Chew to find another source of income, besides his medical practice. This was so Melody and he could continue to fund the school, Lighthouse Academy, in the resort.
They opened their doors to paying guests in 2014.
“We didn’t have to stay in such a big place, we could rent (the house) out, and it could be sustainable. So we vacated our house,” explains Dr Chew. “We stayed above the school. It was noisy, we didn’t have any privacy, but it was okay. The hotel took off.
“I know now if anything happened to me, it can support the school.”
A SPECIAL SCHOOL, FOR SPECIAL STUDENTS
It’s 8.30am, and the resort’s quiet is broken by the squeals and laughter of the Academy’s pupils splashing in the pool.
For those who baulk at the idea of sharing a holiday with excitable children for about 30 minutes every weekday morning, the Chews suggest choosing another hotel. Mind you, they are not being rude, just honest, as you will not find a couple with bigger hearts this side of Batu Ferringhi.
Says Dr Chew, “To us it’s happy laughter, but for the rare few, who don’t like it, we have refunded their money.”
If you like the notion of contributing to the education of children with learning and developmental challenges, and from marginalised communities, then consider unpacking your suitcases and unwinding at Lost Paradise.
Melody, a former teacher from Singapore, says some guests, who warmed to the idea of the school, have even helped out in classes.
Dr Chew also operates a free children’s clinic in his home, for patients who mostly come from less fortunate backgrounds - often the children of fishermen from Batu Ferringhi and nearby suburb, Telok Bahang.
Still, you’re at Lost Paradise to relax and put your feet up. And there are plenty of ways to do this.
Beautiful landscaping, including a wide variety of flora and fauna, a particular source of pride for Dr Chew, creates a perfect setting for this to happen.
The rooms and suites are spacious, and most have fantastic views. You’ll be sure to sleep like a baby in the comfortable beds. And if you don't mind a few mosquitoes sharing your space, let the sea breeze envelop your room, and awake to the sound of lapping waves.
During the day, spend a leisurely afternoon lazing by the pool. Or reserve a spa treatment in advance, to relieve those tense muscles in the comfort of your room.
For the more active, there are kayaks to take out and other sea activities, such as windsurfing and sailing. Dr Chew says otters sometimes visit at dawn.
A taxi will bring you into the centre of town in 20 to 30 minutes. If you prefer to stay in, you can order delivery, or you could ask to use the kitchen to whip up a meal — one of the perks of being a guest, albeit a paying one, in someone’s home.
Dr Chew says one Dutch couple, who were long-term guests, grew so comfortable they used the main kitchen to cook for staff. “They will help clean the pool, cut the grass. They treated Lost Paradise like their own home.”
A HAPPY HOME IS A HAPPY PLACE
Set against the shifting tones of the open sea, and framed by coconut and palm trees, sand between your toes and tinkling wind chimes, this ‘home away from home’ does have the makings of a lost paradise.
Granted, it might not be to everyone’s taste. But while the characters of this tropical stage keep changing, what remains constant, is the warmth of family and friends from all corners of the world. And that, in this traveller’s books, is paradise.
Text: Tsen-Waye Tay
THE DIFFERENCE YOU MAKE
A BEACON OF HOPE FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Guests who stay at Lost Paradise support Lighthouse Academy, a school that brings together special needs and mainstream students.
The Chews use a curriculum that caters to each pupil’s learning needs. Student to teacher ratios are low, hence each pupil receives more one-on-one attention than usual.
The couple’s second eldest son, Art, is autistic. Despite only starting to talk at five years old, Art blossomed in a mainstream school and is now a doctor.
“I think my son would not have become what he is if we didn’t provide him the opportunities and support. Parents need to have that hope. If they don’t accept their kids, they’re in denial, then their child will have no help. It is not the end to learn your child has autism.”
Aligned with their belief in inclusivity, the Chews try not to turn anyone away, even if they cannot afford to pay the school fees. Dr Chew says some children study for free, while others’ have parents who only pay what they can, or work at the resort as a form of barter.
Penang International Airport welcomes flights from many countries. But if you cannot find a direct flight to the island, there are many daily, domestic flights from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. It only takes one hour.
From the airport, grab a cab for a 45-minute drive to Batu Ferringhi, where Lost Paradise Resort is located. We recommend paying for a ride at one of the official taxi counters in the arrival hall first.