We were excited as the plane landed at the stroke of noon in Terengganu in north eastern Peninsular Malaysia. The sun beat down mercilessly on the tarmac as we walked hurriedly to the cool shade of the airport. We needed to get away from a hectic schedule and the past few weeks had been taxing .We had never been to this part of Malaysia before and hoped that a few days at Tanjong Jara Resort (TJR) would rejuvenate and soothe our tired nerves.
A pleasant smile and a warm welcome awaited us as we were picked up from the Sultan Mahmud Airport in Kuala Terengganu by Anuar, a charming man who has worked with TJR for close to 17 years. With a one hour fifteen minute journey ahead of us, he made for interesting conversation.
Driving through rustic villages and along coastal roads, there was something quite serene about our first impressions of Terengganu. There was tranquillity all around us. The air was fresh with a whiff of salty sea breeze from time to time. Villagers tended to their cows. A tribe of goats fed off the bushes by the roadside and a brood of hens kicked sand around to make a cosy spot to rest in.
With such an inspiringly rustic scenery around us, we were excited to see what TJR would be like. We sleepily gazed as the car sped through the villages. Occasionally we had some small chats with Anuar or with ourselves mostly marvelling at how clean the place was. After what seemed to be and hour and a half on a long straight road, we reached a bend and there it was the entrance to our much needed vacation. We drove through a canopy of greenery and soon reached the lobby.
A deep reverberating sound of a gong heralded our arrival as soon as we alighted from our vehicle. As one of man’s most powerful and oldest transformational and therapeutic instruments, the gong welcome was definitely unique.
Tanjong Jara Resort is a sanctuary of luxury and well-being steeped in age-old Malay traditions. With the coveted Aga Khan Award for Architecture under its belt, the resort is designed to reflect the elegance and grandeur of 17th century Malay palaces.
The place is beautifully and uniquely Malaysian. One look at the intricate designs of the lobby roof makes anyone realize that this resort is a reflection of Malaysian history, architecture and culture. The resort’s elegant wooden structures which are elevated above the ground to facilitate air circulation, steep pitched roofs with grilled gables, and a sea facing aspect to capture the coastal breeze, all reflect centuries of building knowledge to ensure perfect harmony with the environment in which it is set.
To further embrace the Malay heritage, local artisans and craftsmen were employed both for the construction using naturally finished local hardwood, as well as to create the intricately carved gables and fretwork. These detailed carvings which embellish every structure, add authenticity to the resort, keeping alive traditional values and aesthetics, and serve to enhance its inimitable charm.
We sat in the lobby on low wooden sofas sipping on a cold pink drink made from a flower called Roselle. We soon learned about its origins and attributes.
“Steeped in local tradition, the Roselle with its unique healing powers was introduced into Malaysia from India. Quickly adapting to the fertile soil and tropical climate, it now grows wild throughout Malaysia. The red Roselle flower has high vitamin content and has long been used in traditional medicine and local delicacies. This vibrant flower not only detoxifies and cleanses the body but also serves as an organic formulation for anti-aging. Roselle forms natural collagen and assists in vitamin absorption thus improving the vitality of the skin and helping to maintain that youthful glow.”
TJR had also just had a two-month long rejuvenation exercise that focused on the maintenance of its elaborate architecture. Rich culture was evident in every look at corner of the lobby. Somewhat of a teaser of what the whole resort is going to be like. We were just thrilled about what we would discover in the next three days.
The lobby has really fast wifi access too…
Day One – First Impressions
As our rooms were being prepared, we decided on lunch at Nelayan, a restaurant situated a few feet away from the crashing waves of the South China Sea. A strong eastern wind swayed the coconut trees that line up the pathways leading to Nelayan. Across the open gardens were various rooms and suites almost all of them made of wood and blending into the architectural splendour of the place we witnessed at the lobby. Our room was the Serambi Sea View room and it was right in the middle of the resort, peppered with beautiful flowering trees and facing the vast sea.
TJR is built to encompass Mother Nature. With a meandering river filled with wildlife and a troupe of macaques jumping from tree to tree, it was no surprise when we set our eyes on a large monitor lizard scampering in the distance. Another smaller sand lizard ran past us and disappeared into a tiny hole in the ground. Happily we trudged along the path listening to the surf and soon found the restaurant.
We had hardly been at the resort for more than ten minutes and we were already being greeted by our names. “Welcome to TJR Ms Rosemarie and Mr Joseph”, said Hisham the F&B Supervisor at Nelayan. We are used to personalise services in five star resorts, but it usually takes an hour or so to kick in before a hotel staff starts addressing us by our names. But in TJR, news of our arrival travelled really fast!
Delighting in a variety of western and Asian meals, our first meal at the resort was simply delicious.
The beautiful al fresco dining at Nelayan
My Nelayan Fried Rice – Malay-style prawn fried rice served with deep-fried chicken drumstick and acar, topped with a fried egg
Joseph’s Nelayan Burger – grilled 180gm beef patty, topped with beef bacon, caramelised onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and cheddar cheese, on a sesame seed bun
Dessert was Apple Pie – warm granny smith apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream
Full bellied and a short stroll to our room, we gasped at the spaciousness of our room. With only 99 rooms on the property, our 55 square metres Serambi Sea View room was housed in a double-storey long house-style structure with a partially covered veranda that had a cosy day bed with white curtains flying in graceful unison with the breeze. Apart from our king sized bed, we also had a day bed inside the room which made for a great reading spot!
The room was stunning. The deep brown timber flooring and wooden interior design were warm and inviting. Our spacious en-suite indoor bathroom had two vanity units, separate bath and shower facilities. Then there was the fruit scented toiletries from Mangosteen, a range of signature products, developed to introduce to the world the fresh and unique scents and fragrances of Southeast Asia. The pomelo shower gel was my favourite!
The amalgamation of rustic village charm and modern universal wall plugs made our stay even more stress free. No adapters were needed and there were plug points aplenty everywhere throughout the room.
Home for 3 sleeps
The large Serambi Sea View Room
Indoor day bed
Outdoor day bed in our veranda overlooking the sea
After lazing in our room for a while, we went down to one of the many gazebos on the beach to just watch the waves caress the shore before we headed out to a night market held every Thursday in Dungun, a township some 15 minutes away. Read about the night market here.
The evening was just splendid, witnessing the local culture and just exploring the markets worked up an appetite. Back at TJR, we headed back to Nelayan. In the Malay language Nelayan means ‘Fisherman’. Befitting the restaurant’s name, seafood is the speciality of this outlet. Situated by the sea, the atmosphere at Nelayan is relaxed and serene.
Appetiser, I chose Octopus Terrine – pressed octopus terrine with parsley and garlic, lightly pan-fried, with provençal tomatoes and tapenade
My main course was the catch of the day, a red snapper prepared in a Malay style grilled with chili paste, lemongrass and ginger, wrapped in banana leaves
For dessert I had a flour-less chocolate cake served with vanilla ice-cream
After dinner, we took a stroll on the soft sand before heading back to our room. There was something magical about a secluded resort with a breathtakingly large beach front. That night we went to sleep with the sounds of the lapping waves acting like a soothing lullaby.
Day Two – Rejuvenation
We awoke to the droplets of rainfall. Unknown to us it had rained heavily last night The rain seemed to have washed the skies and it did a great job for the skies were blue and clear . We lazed in bed again for another hour or so before we headed off for breakfast.
Breakfast is at the Di Atas Sungei restaurant. Di Atas Sungei is Malay for ‘Above the River’. The restaurant literally sits above a river that flows into the South China Sea. Surrounded by lush tropical greenery, and shaded by a huge Ketapang tree, we sat facing the sea as we dined on some delicious local cuisine.
There are many western dishes for breakfast too but my favourite was the Roti Canai station and the rich fried noodles!
Where we sat for breakfast at Di Atas Sungei
Freshly made Egg Roti Canai served with dhal and chicken curry
Yes I went for seconds… the delicious fried noodles at the breakfast buffet
The Mandi Bunga procession that takes place in the morning
It was 9.30am and we heard the beats of the kompang, a traditional Malaysian instrument similar to the tambourine but without the jingling metal discs. It was the Mandi Bunga procession, a form of blessing bestowed upon the resort and its guests.
“The procession includes seven men carrying water jars (or buyong in Malay) to draw water from seven jars at the Nelayan square. These symbolise the seven sources of fresh water: rain, well, river, spring, waterfall, lake and water from the stream. The procession also includes seven ladies carrying brass trays of seven colours of sweet smelling flowers. They proceed to the Badan-Badan Treatment Room, where the waters collected are transferred into 173-year-old jars recovered from the Desaru shipwreck. The seven colours of sweet smelling flowers are then added and imbued in the water jar.”
These waters are now ready for the Mandi Bunga. At the Spa Village, all treatments begin with a Mandi Bunga. Joseph who had his 100 minute traditional Malay massage scheduled at 11.15am was bathed from head to toe seven times, with the blessings of purity, sincerity, health, beauty, happiness, prosperity and longevity. Read about his spa experience here.
As Joseph had his invigorating and relaxing morning at the spa, I went out to take a dip in the sea. As the yellow flags were up, meaning the sea was a little rougher than usual, I didn’t stay long. I chose to continue my few hours of alone time by the pool just doing absolutely nothing but truly just relaxing and gazing out into the horizon.
There are two pools in the resort, a freeform Teratai pool that is 3 metres deep and a larger pool located strategically right in front of the sea next to Nelayan that is 1.6 metres deep. Most guests prefer the larger pool purely for the ocean backdrop. Who wouldn’t?
Off for a dip…
The larger pool with an ocean backdrop!
It was soon time for lunch and Chef Dolis, the junior sous chef for the resort made sure to give us a treat at Nelayan. I had studied the menu the previous day and already knew what I wanted to try.
Lunching with a gorgeous view at Nelayan
I had the Taste of Terengganu – a daily choice of Terengganu specialities, served with rice, vegetables pickles, chicken and crackers. That day, the chicken was a delicious Ayam Masak Merah served with a Vegetarian Dhal that tasted so good together! Chef Dolis was kind enough to give me the recipe too!
Joseph had a Club Sandwich – choice of beef or chicken breast with beef bacon layered on white bread with lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese
For dessert, I had a typical Malaysian sweet called Sago Gula Melaka – sago pearls in coconut milk with palm sugar, sweet corn and red beans
Back in the room, we showered and had a short nap to refresh ourselves before our cycling escapade. At 5pm we met with the resort’s naturalist Capt. Mokh and chose our bikes and geared up. We journeyed through the lives of those who live on the shores of the east coast, cycled through a local fishing village and sampled locally brewed coffee.
During our coffee break, Capt. Mokh entertained us with several local facts and stories but my favourite anecdote was that about the newspaper tradition. He said…
“You see this middle table in the coffee shop? The person who sits here has the responsibility to read the only newspaper the shop has out loud so everybody can hear. As he reads each story out, the other men at the other tables nod their heads either in agreement, disagreement or disbelief. Once the newspaper is read, everybody separates into groups based on topic of interests: sports, politics, social problems, etc. and they continue their discussion based on the day’s headlines.”
That pit stop at an old wooden coffee shop was the climax of our cycling tour. Read about our cycling adventure here.
The sun had set and it was time for dinner and this time we were in for a treat! The Di Atas Sungei restaurant serves authentic Malaysian cuisine and one of the highlights is the “walking menu” who comes in the form of a local named Chef Ann, the Menu Master who ensures that our every desire of the palate is met and fulfilled.
She gets a feel of what we like, our preference of spicy or non-spicy dishes and then suggests the types of dishes we may enjoy. And if you are like me who simply loves seafood, then try the buttermilk prawns which was easily the best dish we had that night.
Di Atas Sungei Restaurant façade at night
The amazing spread that night! Make sure to try the buttermilk prawns!
Chocolate Lava Cake – the only way to end a meal at Di Atas Sungei
It was nearly 11pm when we retired to our beautiful room and to our delight; our bath had already been drawn with rose petals floating on top of the foam. We added warm water and soaked our bodies before showering and calling it a day. The cycling tour was a real workout and we went to sleep discussing the mesmerising coastal scenery we saw that evening.
Day Three – Relaxation
It rained again that night and clues of its heavy downpour in form of large droplets of water were all over our veranda. We must have slept like a baby as we didn’t realise it had rained so hard. After breakfast we spent some time in the pool and chatting with a few friends we had made the previous day.
We decided to skip lunch as we had an interactive cooking class at 1.30pm with Chef Ann. It was another wonderful experience. The best part about the class was that we got to indulge in the dishes we made. So skipping lunch was a good idea. Read about our cooking class here.
This trip to TJR gave us an opportunity to experience a lot of firsts… our first cycling tour of a fishing village and also our first cooking class. These will remain special cherished moments we will always carry with us as we fondly remember our stay in Terengganu.
The philosophy of the resort is based on the Malay concept of Sucimurni, which emphasises purity of spirit, health and well-being. Tanjong Jara Resort encourages true rejuvenation of both body and spirit and we took the rest of the day to just immerse ourselves in serenity and beauty. We spent a lot of time relaxing in our room reading on the day bed, dozing off a couple of times and taking romantic walks down at the beach. It was a special time for both of us and we manage to put the stress of everyday life and work aside for three whole days.
At the far left corner of the beach
Taking a stroll…
Being a Saturday, we got to partake in a lovely concept that TJR conducts every Saturday at 5pm. It is called the Kampong Sucimurni Lifestyle where the resort reveals a personal insight into the traditional Malay way of life over delicious snacks, thick local coffee, games, music and dance. Read about Kampong Sucimurni here.
We spent the evening at the Anjung Gardens in merriment before heading off to explore the rock cliffs at the far right hand side of the beach. As the sun set, we walked down along the beach to Nelayan on the other end of the beach expanse to have our final dinner on the sandy shore.
The moon tonight was out in all her splendour as though providing light just for us. It made the sea look like silver. The sea itself seemed to sing for us in its baritone voice, cajoling and calming our spirits. The wonderful staff at the resort lit torches all around us and set a bonfire along the beach. The flames seemed to dance for us. We sat there in silence. The beauty of nature can never be described in words. It just needs to be felt and experienced.
The lovely table setting…
Scallops for starters
A combo of grilled prawns and fish – it was delish!
The next morning we bid farewell to this lovely place. This fabulous resort with its wonderful people who toil away to make its guests enjoy the grandeur of nature, those lovely villagers who smile warmly knowing that you are a visitor in these parts and you should be made welcome, the colourful night markets, the great food and the mighty sea, we shall miss them all. It is this that makes Tanjong Jara Resort special.
In its beauty and simplicity lies its mystery. One day we shall return again and it’s a promise we made sitting by the sea that night.
If you’re travelling by air, Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Firefly operate flights out of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, arriving at Kuala Terengganu Airport, Kerteh Airport and Kuantan Airport. Upon arrival at either airports, you may continue your journey to the resort via private car transfers. In 2014, AirAsia Singapore expands routes and here are the promotion details:
- Start Date : 22 Apr 2014
- End Date : 25 Oct 2014
- Frequency : Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
- SIN-TGG : ETD 0910hrs, ETA 1035hrs
- TGG-SIN : ETD 1135hrs, ETA 1300 hrs
Tanjong Jara Resort is located at Batu 8, Off Jalan Dungun 23000 Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia. The resort is also famous for its snorkelling and diving activities at Tenggol Island that operate usually after March each year. For more details on the other daily activities conducted by the resort, visit their official website. Our Serambi Seaview Room costs approximately US$263 per night but for best available rates and current packages click here.