Whenever someone has mentioned Rawa to me, “rustic” has always been used as an adjective. So I was quite curious when I set off before dawn with my husband and two children on the 2.5 hour drive north through the curving jungle roads of Malaysia to Mersing (a small town on the coast), where we parked the car at the ferry terminal, and took the 25 minute boat ride to the island. A scattering of green beach houses awaited, cocooned among turquoise waters, rocks, and white sand, and with an emerald mountain backdrop; Rawa is the epitome of an island paradise.
The small island is unexploited apart from two resorts — Rawa Island Resort being the larger. There is the choice of several types of villas: Beachfront villas have the advantage of letting children play in the sand while parents relax on their porch, Hillside villas are an option if you are a jungle lover, Frangipani villas are a bit secluded, and Waterfront bungalows are perched on stilts in the sea. We stayed in a two-bedroom Waterfront bungalow with stunning views of the South China Sea and an endless concert of rolling waves. It was spacious, boasted an outdoor shower, had surprisingly comfortable beds, and a large terrace with an abundance of colourful water creatures below. After dinner we would sit on our terrace looking at the night sky with the kids.
Rawa is not about luxury; it is a place where nature is revered. It’s not for those seeking design and swankiness; the couch was old, there were no closets (only hangers and knobs), the bathroom was a bit shabby, and TV and Wi-Fi were only available in the reception area. The slightly dilapidated and Spartan concept is what gives this resort its character. There is an ambiance to this place that I fell in love with immediately, an authenticity and dreaminess in the dark wooden floors and romantic windows overlooking the sea.
There is no pool at Rawa Island Resort, so everything happens on the beach. The sand is so soft it reminded me of cinnamon sprinkled flour. You can observe the vast marine life only a couple of metres out in the irresistible transparent waters. My 4-year-old spent hours every day face down looking at an array of fish through his goggles. One day we rented kayaks and I paddled with him around the island. There are tennis, badminton and volleyball courts, billiard tables, an indoor gym, an indoor kids’ playroom, and even a trampoline conveniently placed near the restaurant and bar. Two superb waterslides attract a lot of guests. The staff are friendly but not suffocating. Being a foot reflexology fan I tried the spa; it was clean and I was well taken care of.
The one restaurant serves a buffet at fixed hours: breakfast is from 8am to 10am, lunch from 12:30pm to 2pm, and dinner from 7pm to 9pm. On Saturdays there is a BBQ dinner from 7:30pm to 9pm. Outside of these hours you can only get a few snacks, so it’s a good idea to bring extra food for the kids. Breakfast consists of the classic juice, pancakes, and bacon and eggs, while lunch and dinner are a simple mix of European and Asian dishes — pasta, meat and fish choices, as well as nuggets and fries for the more picky eaters (kids!). For dessert there is plenty of fruit and cake, and there’s free flow ice water, coffee and tea all day. There are also plenty of high chairs for babies.
I highly recommend Rawa Island Resort for families with children above 2.5 years of age. The many edges and stairs do not make it ideal for strollers and some villas have sand as their only access path. If you do want to bring a toddler there are cots available. What made this resort stand out for me was the privacy and space; children played like it was their backyard, people relaxed individually away from their groups, and peacocks strutted around in their evening attire among the beach clad guests. The absence of strict rules creates a sense of profound freedom. There is also a constant breeze at Rawa, making this place ideal for a sea lover like myself and a refreshing change from the quivering heat of Singapore. And above all else, this place has what so many resorts are lacking — charm. What it lacks in luxury, it more than makes up for in natural beauty and personality.
From Stockholm, Sweden, Suzanne headed to London after university to work in marketing and communications, first within luxury goods, before switching to investment banking. In London she met her French husband whom she followed to Geneva, where she had two kids, before heading to Singapore in 2011. Suzanne loves travelling and interior design, and has a penchant for reading and writing.