An easy drive and boat trip from Singapore, Rawa Island offers a spectacular beach, kid-friendly features like waterslides and a trampoline, yummy food, and a sensationally relaxed vibe
My family decided to take a different sort of holiday: instead of flying halfway around the world to visit family members, a relative came to visit us on our sunny island. My partner’s 16-year-old nephew came for two weeks and we were on a mission to find a short getaway during his stay, with an important stipulation: He had to be able to do his PADI Open Water Certification there. I came across Rawa Island Resort in Malaysia while I was doing research for another article (Easy Island Breaks That Don’t Require Flights from Singapore) and I thought: This is perfect!
I kept looking at the pictures of the beach and water and thought, It can’t be true, it’s got to be photoshopped. We’re probably going to be disappointed when we actually got in the water. Seeing fish swimming right there on the beach? Yeah sure….
Boy, was I pleasantly surprised! Rawa Island is every bit as amazing as the photos. Stunning! I think I can easily say this was one of my top 10 favourite vacations of all time. And honestly, we didn’t need much besides the beautiful clear sea, the gorgeous beach and the wonderful company of our little blended family.
Rawa is a small island about 16 km off the east coast of Malaysia. To get there, travel to the south-eastern coastal town of Mersing (3-4 hours from Singapore, depending on traffic) and then take a 30-minute boat ride right to the island. You can easily arrange a coach bus, car, or van service to get to Rawa Island from Singapore, or you can drive yourself and park overnight at the resort’s secure parking facility in Mersing (the cost is RM18 per night). The island is part of Sultan Iskandar Marine Park, where all coral and marine life have a protected status. Therefore activities such as fishing and jet skiing are strictly forbidden. But there are so many other things to do on the island, you won’t be missing any of that at all.
According to the resort’s FAQs, Rawa Island weather is best from March to October (i.e. it’s the perfect time to book your visit!).
- The beach, of course! We spent hours and hours on the beach. Along with the teenage nephew, my 6-year-old daughter, Surina also came along. So be sure to pack toys for playing in the sand — your standard sand castle set will do just fine.
- The water! There are no pools here. You read that right — not a single swimming pool. I usually detest seawater. I get itchy almost instantly and the feeling of seaweed under my feet is just so ick. But not at Rawa. The sand was pristine and the water was clear the moment we stepped into it. So why would you need a pool, really? At waist deep, you could already see many little fishies swimming about. Endless giggles from my little one!
- Snorkelling: We didn’t even have to get onto a boat to go snorkelling. We did it right there off the beach! Surina couldn’t stop pointing to all the Nemos and Dorys we saw. I would constantly hear her muffled little voice squealing through the water and snorkel set as a little finger pointed so that mummy wouldn’t miss yet another “rainbow fish” sighting!
- Diving: If you’re certified or would like to get certified, this is the place to do it, as Rawa Island Resort’s Dive Center is a PADI Five Star Scuba Diving Instructor Development Center. ORCA Nation, run by run by a group of professional, very friendly dive instructors that deliver high quality and safe diving courses, is also located on the island itself. Lucas is now a PADI-certified diver after our 4-day trip. Yay!
- The waterslides! Rawa Island Resort has two waterslides that send you shooting right into the seawater. Way too scary for me but the other three went crazy on them.
- Kayaking: It was the only way to get me further out in the water because I didn’t want to swim when it got too deep. Really good exercise, too, for the shoulders, arms and core!
We also filled our time with jungle walks (no animal sightings except for friendly peacocks all over the island), jumping on the trampoline, playing table tennis & pool, getting massages at the spa and sometimes just sitting on our balcony overlooking the beach and reading our books (especially after the kiddos were in bed!).
They do have a kids’ play room, but to be honest, it’s quite basic. Surina wasn’t too interested. But at the entrance of the room there was a tall bookshelf filled with books so if you happen to forget yours, you’ll be sorted! Note that Rawa Island Resort does not provide babysitting, however.
All three meals are served buffet-style every day. The food was simple and straightforward, but also delicious! There’s really a huge variety to please everyone’s tastebuds.
Our little kindergartener enjoyed the fact that there were always two types of pasta to choose from, and various veggie dishes so she could reject at least one. Then there were also more adventurous local options (some spicy ones, too!) to delight the tongues of the grown-ups! Saturday night was BBQ night and and the smell of preparations alone got me impatient to dig in. Satay, fresh fish, prawns, lamb … they had it all!
Since we were a party of four, we opted for a 2-bedroom villa. We considered a waterfront villa with stilts over the water, but in the end went for a Beachfront Chalet (pictured above). No regrets at all and I would recommend it to everyone. With a beachfront villa, you don’t have to pack all your beach stuff and then trudge to the beach only to find the best spots are taken. Nope. All you have to do is walk out of your villa and set up. Done. If you’re after a bit more luxury, go for the Frangipani Villa, which has its own beach and pretty amaaaazing outdoor bathrooms.
Do note that the rooms and villas are fairly basic (but also clean and modern!). Just don’t expect any form of luxe here (they are air-conditioned though, phew!). All you’re going to get in terms of toiletries is a bath gel that doubles as shampoo (gasp!) and no conditioner (double gasp!). So bring your own if that might bother you. Also, to some extent you do have to expect that your villa will constantly be full of sand & seawater. C’est comme ça – beach living!
- Snorkel set for little ones: You can rent sets for teenagers or for yourselves, but if the kids want to see Nemo and Dory, then you might want to bring your own. Tip: Get them at Decathlon!
- Foldable beach tent: AMAZING weather but the sun can get pretty harsh sometimes. So besides slathering on enough sunblock, maybe bring a little foldable tent so you can chill in there with a book while your kiddo plays in the sand.
- Beach mat: Pretty obvious but thought I should mention it.
- Beach toys / Frisbees / Beach balls: You can also buy some of these at the resort if you forget them.
- Rashies: If you’re planning to snorkel or will just be in and out of the water a lot, better to wear rashies to protect your skin!
- Beach sandals / shoes: You know the sort you can go into the water with? Those. Very handy.
- A kite: There’s a looovely breeze!
Rates for 2020 start from MYR 2498 (about S$838) for two adults for two nights, including full board and return boat transfers. We love that kids under 3 stay free; children 4 to 12 cost from MYR 450 (S$150) per child for two nights with full board and transfers. Baby cots can be provided free of charge.
Sold, mama? Book your beach vacation at Rawa Island Resort here!