Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nak Hotel – Interview with owners Anton Ngui and Linn Yong

Nak Hotel is a bit of new and a bit of old. It was over forty years old when the new owners of this generation, married couple Anton and Linn set out to give it a new lease of life. Located in the old port town of Sandakan in East Malaysia, this family owned hotel is brimming with stories and memories from its four decades of existence.

Read on for an insight into the becoming of Nak Hotel’s new facelift.

1.       Anton’s grandfather founded Nak Hotel in 1966. Tell us a little more about him and what was the style of the hotel back then?
I never had the opportunity of meeting my grandfather but what little I was told from the family was that he started out as a general clerk and rose to become the first Chinese Member of Parliament from Sabah.

He sadly passed away in Dec 1963 when NAK hotel had just begun construction. It opened officially in 1966.
As it was the tallest, grandest (with its infamous nightclub) hotel in the port town, it attracted a large majority of the wealthy locals and foreign expats. I’m not sure it had a distinctive style, save for the building architecture itself, but with rooms which cost over rm200/night in the 60s, it was definitely only for the well-heeled.
Old recption

2.       What ideas did you have for the hotel when you decided to refurbish it?
Design came second, practical solutions to the endless list of structural and management problems really came first…
The newly refurbished Nak Hotel

3. What challenges did you encounter while reconstructing the hotel and how did you overcome them?
The 2 main constraints we had to work to were time and money. When the whole idea of taking on NAK hotel as a renovation project was first pitched, a figure was agreed upon to give it a breath of fresh air. However it only managed to achieve a fraction of what was hoped; the more we went into redoing the place, the more problems cropped up. Hence the hotel has became a drawn-out, ‘work-in-progress’. What we generate in income, we put back into the list of to-do items for the building…in the hope that one day, we’ll get it looking the way we really want it.
Guests' bedroom and bathroom

4.       Anton and Linn are also owners of Panganakan Dii, a retreat with wooden stilt houses built along the hill slopes of tropical Sandakan. Tell us more about your experience in building this retreat.
Having spoken to various people before we started, we were given this impression that things would be simple and take only about 6+months. The project eventually took us 1 1/2yrs to complete!

I had this great idea to experience learning how something like this could be achieved by taking on the role of the contractor, working with a local team of carpenters and workers………

From the very first days of then-girlfriend (Linn) and I sorting (read lugging) belian logs we had just purchased, to endangered animals being discovered and swiftly sold off by our workers, the whole experience was going to be memorable. Hence we documented a lot of it on our blog…. 

Topping it off we even had one of the workers pimp Philipino girls to the other workers and then get subsequently kicked out by the gang for disrupting work…resulting in all the wives suddenly paying daily visits to the worksite….

Those were just a few of ‘incidents’ throughout that construction period…

5.       What’s a typical day at work like for you?
It was once chauffeuring (now we have a driver) guests, shopping for foodstuff (I still do), maintenance, interacting with guests and replying emails. 8am-12midnight shifts, 7 days a week.  

6.       What tips do you have for aspiring boutique accommodation owners?
Do serious business planning beforehand, be adequately capitalized, and then focus on a strong ‘idea’ – concept, design, whatever your emphasis might be on, and never waver from that ideal. That one detail will define how you are seen/perceived and how you grow the business down the road. I wouldn’t call us boutique accommodation; that term has connotations of trends….we hope to achieve something a bit more lasting….something memorable.
Rooftop of the old Nak Hotel
BaLin Roofgarden - overview
Balin Roofgarden - Restaurant and bar

7.       Who or what are you most inspired by?
Since coming back about 5yrs ago – I’ve really come to appreciate what an amazing place this place we call Earth really is and that there is a God who has created all of it.  Each and everyday that I head up to our retreat, for work, I take a moment out and just peer out at the trees and greenery – and I always take a deep breath and say ‘amazing’ – there’s a different detail out there for one to ponder on each time. That’s what inspires me endlessly. 

8.       What is it like working as a husband and wife team?
Interesting, for lack of a better word. We split our roles so as not to get in each other’s way. But we do throw issues back and forth so as to get the best opinion on a matter. It’s a bit like a relay race; we just keep passing the baton on to each other, yelling encouragement to each other, in a race that never ends. To borrow from a popular expression; it’s becoming a race where the destination is not important, it’s the journey that matters.

9.       What’s the best kept secret in Sandakan?
1. Doing the mangrove walk from Sepilok orang utan centre (about 30km from town) right through about 3-4km of virgin rainforest to the mangrove bay area, where you can hop on a boat and ride out to Sandakan bay (the big sea) and town.

2. Seafood meal at the Fishermen’s Association headquarters – booking needed, only 4-5 tables only. Quaint place above old shoplots.

10.   If you could do anything in the world, what would you do next?
Build a hotel in the sky!

P. O. Box 761
90708 Sandakan

+6 (0)89 272988 


* Images courtesy of Anton and Linn

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