Off the east coast of Kuala Lumpur lies an endless crescent-shaped stretch of golden sand beach, a complete contrast to the bustling city. It is one of our favourite coastal destinations in Malaysia, and arguably, one of the best resorts we have been to for the whole family. Call it a step back in time, if you will, since the villas’ design was inspired by the 17th century Malay palaces. Furnished elegantly with luxurious fabrics and sheets, and a commanding view of the South China Sea, it is one of those places here in Malaysia that truly inspires us to slow down a little, bask in the tranquillity and enjoy nature in all its glorious simplicity.
Once a year, a group of us, up to eight families depending on who can make it, makes this exodus towards the eastern coastal town of Dungun where the resort lies. We keep going back to Tanjong Jara because its setting offers the guests a chance to discover their preferred coastal pastime. Whether it is lazing with a book in one of the dreamy cabanas or beach combing with the kids at sunset, rock pooling and waking up to one of the most amazing sunrises – there is a feast for all the senses, not in a sensory overdrive kind of way, but in a slow, beautiful hum only a seaside holiday can bring.
With its traditional Malay architecture, but styled with contemporary furnishings and modern fixtures, there are three room types to choose from. The Bumbung and Serambi have a room size of 55 square meters and can fit two adults and two kids under 12. Both rooms come with a daybed that is easily converted to an extra bed. The Bumbung room is situated on the top floor of a duplex unit, and does not have an outdoor veranda like the Serambi room. You can choose between a sea view or a garden view for both room types.
The Anjung Room at 88 square meters is the most lavishly fitted out, with a large en-suite bathroom and oversized bathtub, separate showers and vanity units, an outdoor veranda and a view of the South China Sea.
All rooms are fully featured with the usual five star amenities like your own wi-fi dongle upon check in, tea and coffee making facilities, flat screen television, minibar and safe.
The resort offers different packages all year round, whether Local Residents’ Rate that includes meals or Book Direct Benefit Rates. Check their website to see what is available or latest prices without packages at Booking.com.
Things to do in Tanjong Jara
TJ, as we fondly call it, is basically all about snorkeling, diving, wining and dining – and a bucket- and-spade kind of a holiday.
For the kids it is one of the annual holiday trips they actually look forward to. Forget iPads and other forms of electronic entertainment, they entertain themselves all day cavorting with the waves and playing on the shore, catching jelly fishes, building sandcastles, digging wells, or just swimming and running around, making cartwheels on the sand – weaving happy childhood memories.
The swimming pool is not massive, but between the main pool, kids’ pool and a shallow nook in the former, the kids can spend hours in it.
Rock pooling in the afternoons
One of their absolute favourite things to do is rock pooling at sundown, when the tide turn low and they get to discover starfishes and crawling shells of varying kinds. They find so much glee in the crabs scurrying across the sand, burrowing from one hole to the other. They hunt for shells and unusual-looking rocks, hunched, they compare notes and show each other their finds. It is probably one of the most beautiful things to see: the children enjoying this, the kind that leaves a beautiful etch in one’s memory.
On late Saturday afternoons, Tanjong Jara shows us a glimpse to the local Malay or kampong way of life on the resort’s seafront gardens. Guests are treated to the local traditions of music and dance of the Terengganu area. At a mini pasar malam you can have an insight to the kampong or local community’s lifestyle, including a local dance and live music presentation, cooking demos and sample the local delicacies made on the spot. There are many booths to move about and you can watch how teh tarik or pulled tea is made. If you are lucky, you will get to witness one of the highlights, the resident coconut-tree climbing monkey plucking a coconut fruit and offering it for consumption to the guests.
Abundance of wildlife
Following the monitor lizards in varying sizes, shapes and colours fascinates kids and grown-ups alike. Loads of monkeys swinging from the trees are a common sight so be sure not to leave your doors open, nor leave any kind of monkey feast outside your balconies, that will lure them to set up camp and make it their own playground. They are pretty harmless and you will spot them usually in the mornings, playfully hanging and swinging from the many high branches of the tall trees all over the resort. Young kids also enjoy feeding the tortoises by the restaurant.
Diving and snorkeling in Pulau Tenggol
If you are an avid diver or fan of the undersea, the resort dive shop offers snorkeling and diving day trips to Tenggol Island, the southernmost island of Terangganu lying off the coast of Dungun. Its reefs are teeming with pristine coral growths and formations, and snorkelers can easily spot baby sharks, rays and other forms of marine life. The kids in our group, aged 7-10, thoroughly enjoyed snorkeling there with a designated guide.
The children can go on the snorkeling boat while the parents go diving. The dive shop provides a staff member who minds and accompanies all the kids who are snorkeling. Just make sure that communication between the two boats is clear, and ensure your kids are handed over to an adult or a parent who will supervise them upon arrival at the resort, in case the dive boat with the parents on board will be delayed.
Divers were treated to a choice of black tip sharks and blue spotted ray sightings, schools of different kinds of fishes, nudi branches and amazing coral formations. March to May would be the best time to dive as the visibility is good and the currents are not that strong, based on my personal experience. Temperatures range around 32ºC to 35ºC in these months.
The seas can be a bit rough around the monsoon months June to August, and currents and visibility may not be as good.
For the ultimate and complete Tanjong Jara experience, the spa village is one you must simply not miss and I would highly recommend. As if the resort’s surroundings are not relaxing enough, entering the spa village takes you to another level of soul-soothing, body-rejuvenating and a totally reinvigorating experience. From its tranquil surroundings, flower baths, soothing massages to choose from and herbal teas, you will walk away feeling weightless and ready to take on the world once more.
The Resort has two main outlets, Di Atas Sungei, the main restaurant which opens for breakfast and dinner. The resort’s packages usually comes with breakfast, where an array of local Malay fare as well as Western breakfast varieties are offered buffet style.
At dinner time, the restaurant serves authentic Malaysian cuisine. The restaurant has no menu, and the resident chefs will ask you what you feel like having, whether fish, prawn or vegetables depending on the availability of the freshest produce of the day. They will ask you what accompanying sauce you would like to go with it; whether you prefer spicy or not, and they will whip it up for you. The food does not disappoint. You must not miss to order the butter prawns, and the fish of the day cooked to your preference. If you are in a big group however, take care to be there ahead of time as the service can get a bit slow and challenging for the staff.
Nelayan, meaning “fisherman” in Malay, is the seaside restaurant strategically situated next to the pool. It offers Asian and Western food for lunch and all day al fresco and á la carte dining. Seafood grill and barbecue-themed dinners are often on offer. On our latest visit, we got the impression that the resort was a bit understaffed and food orders took a bit longer. We did send our feedback by e-mail and the resort was quite receptive and apologetic so we hope there will be improvements to the F&B service on our next visit.
The third food and beverage outlet is the Teratai Terrace, which serves grilled items and rice dishes for lunch. One of its main attractions is dining with the open-air movie screenings under the stars.
Although we have never explored it ourselves, a few minutes’ drive out of the resort takes you to the small town centre of Dungun, where a few local restaurants are situated, as well as a popular burger and chicken fast food chain.
Getting to Tanjung Jara
You can drive from Kuala Lumpur to Dungun via the Karak-Kuantan highway. Off season, it is a breezy and relaxed, approximately 4-hour drive. If you travel during the peak Malaysian holidays, be prepared for up to 8 or even 12 hours of frenzy on the road. We learned this the hard way two years ago when we decided to go there during the Labour Day weekend. It seemed like the rest of Malaysia was on the road with us. You can also choose to fly to Kuala Terangganu (70 km) or Kerteh (47 km), but the transfers are pricey and you’ll save very little time so if you have a car, driving is the way to go.