Where is it? Just north of the fishing port of Dungun, on peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, Tanjong Jara Resort occupies 17 hectares of tree-shrouded grounds alongside a crescent of beach (above). Arrive by night and the impression is of infinite calm; in the morning stroll though the greenery to the beach, and you will see deserted sands curving away to distant headlands in both directions.
Sounds enticing. Tell us more. This coast is renowned for its beaches, backed by casuarina trees and palms. Terengganu state, in which Tanjong Jara Resort lies, is given to Muslim customs of modesty, its beaches hosting fishing boats rather than bathers. So even though the resort’s beautiful beach is public property, it’s little used by non-guests. Or even guests, come to that, most of them being Malaysian or Singaporean.
How does the resort fit in? Established in 1979 by the Malaysian government, Tanjong Jara Resort’s architecture was inspired by the wooden palaces of Malay sultans, and garlanded with the prestigious Aga Khan Award. Now part of Malaysia’s YTL Hotels group and fully renovated to the standards of a modern deluxe international resort, its original beauty has been well preserved, in line with the resort’s mission of providing an “Unmistakably Malay” experience.
What does that mean? Well, beyond the architecture and natural environment, it mostly means a level of gracious, warm-hearted service far beyond the norms of luxury resorts. You feel genuinely appreciated as a guest – and the staff are highly efficient, too. Report a problem or ask for a service, and somebody will be there in a trice.
OK, I get the general picture. what about the rooms and amenities? Rooms are housed in sizeable structures largely constructed from a dark hardwood called chengal, or “Malaysian teak”, with the most spacious, the Anjung rooms, filling their own villas. All except the upper-storey Bumbung rooms have verandas as well as large bathrooms and all the usual luxury appurtenances. Resort amenities include a high-end spa, a gym, tennis courts and two swimming pools.
Anything for open-water sports enthusiasts? Absolutely, from March to October, there is diving and snorkelling at Tenggol Island, lying 28km offshore from the resort. All the equipment is provided and guests can enjoy one of Southeast Asia’s most pristine coral reefs.
And when we get hungry? You’ll be well fed, with three restaurants to choose from. While the cuisine may not reach great heights and the prices are not low, the choice is wide, encompassing Malay, Chinese and international dishes, though pork is off the menu, of course. At Malay restaurant Di Atas Sungai, there’s no menu; instead, Chef Ann will help you design your meal using fresh, seasonal ingredients. For a different adventure, you can sit at a lantern-lit table perched on the rocks of the beach, dining on a five-course (meat-heavy) menu cooked by your own chef.
What about discovering the surroundings? So comprehensive and extensive is the resort, you may feel no urge to leave it, but if you do, there is a wide variety of organised excursions. For example, to the local fishing port; to the state capital, Kuala Terengganu, with its impressive mosques and charming Chinatown; up a leafy river creek lined by traditional villages; to a lakeside elephant camp; and on an energetic trek to a jungle waterfall.
Now I’m exhausted. So swing in a hammock, float in the pool, drift off in the spa, then try one of the easy-going on-site activities: the Malay-style stretching routine in the morning or a go at batik painting. The resort has a jungle-entangled hill through which the spritely septuagenarian Captain Mokh, the resident naturalist, will lead you on an eco tour. You might even catch sight of some macaques, wild boar or civet cats, or a hornbill winging above.
What’s the bottom line?The Idyllic Retreat package rates begin at 548 Malaysian ringgit (HK$960) per night and include a complimentary 50-minute couple’s massage at the spa.