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Traditional sauna in Malaysia

Mandi wap in Jalan Baharu


I can see you thinking ... traditional sauna in Malaysia is called Mandi wap? Jalan Baharu? Not far from Pulau Penang, 45 km south, lies the village Jalan Bahari.It is located in between Parit Buntar and Kuala Kurau, about 40 km south of Penang.

I know, not many travelers ever visit this area. Tourist who travel by public transport pass it without even know these towns even exist. Cyclist in Malaysia leave it usually on their left side for what it is.

Mandi Wap or Traditional Sauna
One of the two pools at the Mandi Wap or Traditional Sauna in Malaysia

It is a shame because Kuala Kurau is nice enough to give it a short visit. Unfortunately Malaysia does not have a good name with the travelers. People see Malaysia as expensive, not much to see and even lousy food! The truth is actually very different.

They are wrong about all these things. There is enough, more then enough to experience here in Malaysia. You have to dig a little to find the gems. And sometimes you need the help of locals.

I found this traditional sauna in Malaysia or Mandi Wap. I left Penang in the early morning with the idea to cycle as far as i could. Usually I do that without thinking much. This time however, I wanted to visit the Mandi Wap.

What is a Mandi Wap?

In between Parit Buntar and Kuala Kurau lies the little village Jalan Baharu. It's no more then a bunch of houses along the road. To come there, you have to take the junction at Road 1 to Kuala Kurau in Simpang Lima, 45 km out of Butterworth.

One of the two pools at the Mandi Wap or Traditional Sauna
One of the two pools at the Mandi Wap or Traditional Sauna

It's a much nicer road to cycle then Road 1. The road leads to Kuala Kurau. At the far end of  Kuala Kurau you can cross the river delta and follow your way to Taiping. But just after Jalan Baharu is a bridge. At the bridge there is a little note board saying: Mandi Wap Balik Kampung.

I took the left turn on a dirt path following the canal for a few kilometers. Another little (and easy to miss board) showed me the Mandi Wap.

Mandi wap, sauna near Kuala Kurau
It doesn't look much but it's very nice and VERY clean

Mandi Wap is a traditional Malaysian steam bath or sauna. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Saw are your hosts here. It's a lovely couple who immediately make you feel welcome with a cup of ginger tea.

Mandi wap, sauna near Kuala Kurau
Mr. Saw, owner of the traditional
sauna in Kuala Kurau

The bath is a small building of concrete. There are 3 cabins and behind the cabins is the burning area. To heat up the cabins, a mix of coconuts, wood and a mix of special herbs is used. Inside the cabin the temperature goes quick up an in no time you will be sweating as you have never done.

No need to bring clothes or towels, Mr. and Mrs. Saw have some available and you need them. The steam bath is something really refreshing. It sounds maybe strange to have a steam bath in a tropical country like Malaysia but it IS refreshing.

Around the sauna Mr. and Mrs. Saw have build a few little pavilions and two little ponds. Benches and chairs are around the ponds in the shadow. The scenery is beautiful. You look out over the padi fields, partly owned by Mr. and Mrs. Saw.

The best time to come is late in the day towards the evening. The outside temperature is then nice, there's usually a little breeze. And you will most likely be alone.

More and more the locals in the area find out about this traditional sauna and come regular. At daytime it's therefore a great way to meet some of the local people. You can use the sauna as long as you like. The price is anyway RM 5,including ginger tea and, if you're lucky some nice sweet potatoes or corn.

Mandi Wap or Traditional Sauna
Preparing some snacks in front of the cabins

When you are finished, have a cool shower and find your way back to the main road and continue to Kuala Kurau. Or you can follow the dirt path south which will lead you to Bagan Serai. The mandi wap is highly recommended. Beware, there is no hotel in Kuala Kurau but you will find some good and cheap hotels in Parit Buntar and Taiping.

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