Malaysia’s languorous Desaru Coast has been brought to life with luxury hotels, championship golf courses and an adventure waterpark. Carolynne Dear flew in for a look.
Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas boasts two expansive pools.
Gliding through the waterways, dappled sunlight slanting through the mangrove trees, birds chatter all around us.
But this is no faraway island. I’m bobbing around in a small boat just around the corner from the Straits of Johor, a bustling deep-water shipping lane with a causeway linking the nearby city of Johor, the state capital, with Singapore.
The waterways of the protected Belungkor Forest couldn’t be more of a contrast. I’m here on a morning ‘Mangrove Cruising’ experience courtesy of the brand new Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas that has opened in nearby Desaru.
The hotel is in the throes of engaging with locals to initiate a menu of activities in the area. Along with the cruise, a walking foodie tour of Johor Bahru’s Old Town is already up and running.
Our guide hails from Langkawi and is an expert on Malaysian flora and fauna. Our boat driver deftly navigates under trailing branches and through an altogether otherworldly landscape before mooring up at a local village. Here we are invited to help plant mangrove saplings as part of the wetlands regeneration programme and are rewarded with a cup of mangrove tea and some delicious donuts made with ground mangrove leaf flour, courtesy of the village ladies. Around 80% of the local communities living here depend on the mangrove ecosystem for their daily livelihood and it was a feel-good moment to be lending some support.
Gliding through the waterways of Belungkor Forest.
The opening of the five-star Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas property in the sleepy backwater of nearby Desaru is part of a planned regeneration of the area.
Desaru Coast, with its 17kms of sweeping sandy beach, has long been a favourite sandy hang-out for local Malays, and even the odd Singaporean looking to relax and recharge.
The surrounding 3,700-acre coastal area was launched in 2017 as the country’s first, ‘premium integrated destination’. What that has meant is the arrival of a raft of big-name five- and six-star hotels, two championship golf courses, a retail village and a waterpark.
Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas opened in November last year and is an impressive, two-resort pool, 90-room, low-rise, beachside property overlooking lush gardens and the ocean. If I could sum the resort up in a word, it would be generous. Generous gardens, generous pools, generous rooms, generous beach - everything is comfortably scaled.
The resort also offers standalone one- and two-bedroom pool villas which have been designed in the style of traditional ‘kampong’ (village) houses, as well as a collection of schmick three- and four-bedroom residences with private pool, direct beach access, full kitchen and chef and butler service. If you’re a larger family or group, there’s plenty of accommodation to suit.
My hotel room is well-sized with a huge balcony and daybed - to be honest it’s more of a terrace - with all the luxury touches you would expect from an Anantara property. The bathroom is equally spacious, with plenty of eco-friendly amenities, including bars of soap and refillable pump shower gels and shampoos. The free-standing bath is an added treat as I’ve flown into Malaysia and Johor on the back of a trip to London.
Kampong-style family villas come with private pools.
The property was quiet when I visited during its soft-opening phase. I enjoyed a completely deserted pool one morning and managed to tuck away a handful of meditative lengths before breakfast. It was also nice to see an a la carte brekkie served to the table rather than a free-for-all buffet. The menu has been carefully thought out and designed to please the most health-conscious of guests.
The resort is family-friendly - the bikes provided for getting around are available with child seats and there is also a kids club on-site. My own children were green-eyed when I told them about the huge water-park just next door to the hotel. A return trip en famille is already being eagerly planned…
For Singaporeans, Desaru Coast is an easy weekend getaway, at just an hour-and-a-half by road from the Lion City. There are also direct, one-hour sailings to Desaru’s brand new ferry terminal, with a free shuttle service linking the terminal with the Desaru Coast complex.
For Hong Kongers, it's recommended to fly to Kuala Lumpur and transfer onto a domestic, 25-minute shuttle flight to Johor. It's then a 45-minute transfer to the hotel. Or fly to Singaore and catch the ferry.
Asia Family Traveller was a guest of Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas in Spring 2020.