Batu Batu, Malaysia: An island to call your own

The boutique island resort of Batu Batu ticks all the right boxes for Paul Chai and family.

It's all I can do to stop my four-year-old from leaping overboard, so keen is he to sample the turquoise-blue waters around Pulau Tengah (Middle Island in Malay), home to the private island resort of Batu Batu .

We have arrived after a short ferry ride from the coastal port of Mersing in the east of Malaysia. All the while, our youngest had his head lolling over the side like an excited puppy on a road trip. Now, as we bob next to the wharf, the wait to disembark is, for him, almost excruciating.

Tengah Island is in the Seribuat Archipelago, just off Malaysia's east coast, which includes other well-known tourist isles Rawa and Tioman. Batu Batu is the new, exclusive, kid on the block.

There is something rock-star comforting about arriving at your own private island - well, you and the other 22 villas that hug the coast of this mile-wide stretch of tropical perfection.

It's nice to know that you can roam without fences, dine without reservations and leave your snorkelling gear drying on your balcony ready for the next foray.

It's a palatial pad too, our villa on the beach, with a high-beamed ceiling, huge bathroom with a stone bath big enough for the whole family (although we never put this to the test), and a kids' annex, where we can put our two boys, four and seven, to bed without turning off all the lights .

My wife, previously a fan of another Singapore getaway, the more au naturel, open-plan Nikoi, is instantly converted or, as she puts it: "I have discovered I like my paradise to come with airconditioning." I concur. That night we will sleep under romantic mosquito netting, but if you are smart about not leaving the doors open, it's purely for show.

But for now the kids are desperate to get into that water, so we walk around to the dive hut, pick up our gear and flop our way down to Long Beach.

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As we hit the water, schools of tropical fish flit away in front of us, we float over bone-white brain coral and I lose count of the fat sea slugs that litter the sea floor like the draft-excluders of the sea.

My over-excited four-year-old clings to my back, while the seven-year-old wrestles with his flippers. After a few more excursions, we join my wife at the Long Beach beach bar, where she is content to observe us seafarers with an umbrella over her head.

Because kids can never sit still, we soon move to the infinity pool, where our eldest does some flipper practice. I am once again being ridden by number two and my wife is reading a book on a sun lounge. She is clearly more rock star than me in this equation.

Later, we shower and change and turn up for dinner, where we are led to a table on a decking that juts out over the white sand, the table lit by candles and set for our three-course meal. It's always a concern when you are held captive to a single restaurant, but the food at Batu Batu would make the toughest inmate happy. The daily changing kids' menu is appealing but secretly healthy - a chicken stir-fry and freshly made pizzas, The adult menu comes from three different chefs - Western, Indian and Malay.

Dessert is house-made lime sorbet, and then the boys are off - down to the sand and in the Goldilocks Zone for parents, where they can be safely seen, but not heard. We finish our wine as the sun disappears and we head back to our villa by a tiki-torch-lit track and tuck them in to bed.

We certainly have it better than the island's previous inhabitants. From 1975 to 1981, this little lump of luxury was a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people, where they were processed by the United Nations for new lives in Europe, Australia and the United States.

This morning we are off on the Island Track, a trail that pushes through dense foliage and takes in a couple of far-flung (relatively speaking, on a mile-wide island) beaches that we are assured we will have to ourselves. We are also told to look out for the remnants of the refugee camp.

We start up a family-friendly incline at the south of the island, seven-year-old loping along as scout, my wife behind and me with the four-year-old in his usual spot, hung around my neck.

Before long, the track gets quite steep and we emerge on a precipitous lookout and we see why we are the middle island, with two fellow rocks jutting out of the sea on either side of us. Then it's down the other side, where we find the rubble of the old refugee camp. Overturned chimneys, remnants of a kitchen and pieces of twisted metal appear to grow out of the sand and coarse grass.

Tengah Island played host to a reality TV show called Expedition Robinson, a Swedish forerunner to the US Survivor series, and it really is that kind of beautiful - the kind of tropical idyll that TV location scouts dream of, the kind where you wouldn't mind being stranded with a bunch of money-grubbing fame chasers.

On our far more sedate Expedition Chai, we stop for a swim and complete the island loop just in time for a thirst quencher at Long Beach bar.

The sun is setting, so it must be time for the infinity pool, then dinner at our regular table and the daily dessert of house-made ice-cream and a moment's peace with the seaside as babysitter. I am not much of a fan of routine, but this is one I could get used to.

The next morning, our last, the kids make a beeline for the pool, while I go for a solo float among the coral and sea life at the patch of ocean just metres from our door, chasing a tip that a moray eel has been spotted a couple of villas away from us.

I lie face down in the sea, rocked gently by the waves, and search the sea for life.

I once again lose count of the sea slugs, and hunt among the coral for new species of fish to check off my mental list.

I realise it's almost time for us to go, but I'm reluctant. Just as my son couldn't wait to get into the water, I don't want to get out.

The writer and his family stayed courtesy of the resort.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

batubatu.com.my.

GETTING THERE

From Singapore, it is a three to four-hour drive, with a change of vehicles, then a 20-minute boat ride to the island. From Kuala Lumpur, it is a four to five-hour drive, then the boat ride. See the FAQ page on the Batu Batu website for recommended hire companies; vehicles come with drivers.

STAYING THERE

Villas range from RM750 ($250) for a one-bedroom jungle villa to RM1500 for a two-bedroom poolside villa.

EATING THERE

Adults: Meals RM200 a day for buffet breakfast, a two-course lunch and a three-course dinner. Children (aged from four to 12 years): RM100 a day (children under four years eat for free).

FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO ON BATU BATU

HAVE A MASSAGE

The Spa @ Batu Batu is hidden on a hill and shrouded in jungle shrubbery. Book a time at reception.

DO THE JETTY JUMP

Wait until high tide and launch yourself off the end of the jetty, but be careful of sharp oyster shells hidden below the water.

HAVE A BATU BATU DELIGHT

The signature cocktail features rum, mint, pineapple juice, sugar syrup, ginger, cardamom and lime juice.

PUSH THE BOAT OUT

The island has two recreational boats. Arrange with the front desk to get taken to explore the island and its near neighbours.

WATCH FOR ELEPHANTS

The drive from Singapore to Mersing can be long, but how many road trips have elephant crossings? A wild elephant made it into Mersing town the day before our arrival, plus monkeys are often seen by the roadside.

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