This mama returns to the same resort her parents took her to as a child with her own toddler in tow. Nearly three decades later, it’s still the amazing family-friendly escape she remembers
There are some trips you took when you were a child that you remember for life. Mine didn’t involve rollercoasters, or oversized versions of my favourite cartoons marching down Main Street. Twenty-seven years ago, my parents took my then-1-year-old brother and I to Tanjong Jara Beach Resort in Terengganu, Malaysia. I remember the glee of waking up to find billy goats roaming the lawn outside our kampong-style villa, sticky popsicles by the pool, and my absolute favourite part — watching turtle hatchlings being released into the sea as part of conservation efforts.
Nearly three decades later, I now have a 1-year-old myself, and it was only obligatory to treat my family to a luxurious vacation to celebrate his birthday. Tanjong Jara Resort has since been taken over by YTL Hotels, and is part of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World group.
There are a few different ways to get to Terengganu. You can brave Malaysian coach buses if you’re not travelling with a toddler, or take a long road trip, but we chose to fly. There’s a direct one-hour flight with Scoot or Firefly from Singapore to Kuantan Airport, which is 90 minutes from the resort. You can also get there flying through Kuala Lumpur. Trust me when I tell you — it’s worth it.
The Resort, Unraveled
The east coast of Malaysia is often overlooked by holidaymakers, but it’s a beautifully rustic area, rich with rainforests, long beaches and brimming with traditional Malay culture. The resort sits in the sleepy beach town of Dungun, and nothing much surrounds the resort, save for palm trees and the sound of crashing waves. If it’s seclusion you’re seeking — it’s what you’ll get (but with very strong Wi-Fi signals, don’t worry).
With architecture that pays homage to 17th century Istanas, the timber palaces of Malay sultans, I found myself wishing I’d brought a yoga mat for sun salutations on the deck of our room, which faced the sea. I needn’t have worried about closing my Apple Watch rings of course — I have a chipper one-year-old, always eager to run head first into danger.
Good thing he can swim and loves water, because there are two pools in the resort. One, the beachside option, is perfect for families and sunseekers, and the other adults-only pool surrounded by lush ferns, ideal for honeymooners who want quiet time, or those who want time out with a stiff one in hand.
For accommodation, we were in the Bumbung Rooms, with views of the South China Sea. These sit on the top floor of a two-storey unit and I found myself carrying my baby in one arm, and our Babyzen Yoyo stroller in another. Guns of steel, here comes Faz! The bathroom is spacious with double vanities and an oversized tub, perfect for bub’s bubble time.
You can’t go to Malaysia without raving about its food and Tanjong Jara’s dining offerings leave you thinking about your next meal before you even finish your plate. Di Atas Sungei, which literally translates to On the River, is a dining space for your breakfast buffet where you’ll be greeted with a plethora of local dishes (Hello, nasi lemak with sambal I inhaled by the bucket!), as well as your usual eggs and baked goods. Dinner though, is atypical at Di Atas Sungei, as it’s a no-menu affair. The chef takes you through whatever the fresh catch is for the day, understands your palette and suggests authentic Malay dishes that deliver maximum taste. I kept going back for their buttermilk prawns — which my 1-year-old enjoyed as well.
The beach-facing Nelayan Restaurant offers a more seafood-skewed menu but they actually dish up very good burgers, too. Perfect post-beach grub.
You can’t step into the Kuala Terangganu state without the talk of turtles. Rantau Abang, an area on the same stretch of beach that Tanjong Jara sits on, is in fact, one of the few areas in the world where giant leatherback turtles nest. Unfortunately, nesting turtle numbers continue to decline due to a variety of factors, which include gross misconduct and abuse on the poor creatures by the locals and tourists, pollution lingering around, and unfortunately until today, the nests are continually pillaged and collected by locals to sell in the markets, claiming that these eggs have aphrodisiac and beautifying properties.
Tanjong Jara Resort has an exclusive partnership with Lang Tengah Turtle Watch, a not-for-profit organization, and has launched a turtle hatchery by the Nelayan restaurant. The hatchery’s simple wooden trellis structure provides views of the nests, while keeping predators at bay.
At 10pm on our second evening there, I was one of the lucky guests who witnessed the emergence of hatchlings by night, and their release into the sea. Guests were not allowed to touch the baby turtles – which is a good thing – and no light or flashes were allowed, as it would disorientate them from heading into the sea. There’s so much spiritual significance isn’t there? Watching a little army of waddling turtles making their way into the great ocean and hoping that they’d live to be the grand, majestic creatures they’re meant to grow into.
Don’t Forget the Spa
Book yourselves a babysitter because you’d want to spend some luxurious hours in the spa — and I promise, it’s good. It starts with your therapist expertly fashioning a batik-printed cloth around you for a mandi bunga ritual, an outdoor bath that’s meant to dispel bad fortune and confer blessings. I was treated to a Roselle Body Treatment, a massage, scrub, and tea, which sent me off in a state of bliss. They utilise the scarlet Roselle flower, which contains vitamin C, fruit acids, calcium, iron, potassium as well as antosianin, and has long been used in traditional medicine and local delicacies.
One of my favourite parts about our stay at Tanjong Jara was how everybody was always happy to lend a hand, and go a little bit extra to make sure we were comfortable, living up to the quintessential Malay hospitality that you’d experience if you visit someone’s home. It also helped that someone was always happy to hold my son’s hand to watch a passing peacock so I could have my virgin mojito in peace, even if only for a hot minute.