Tanjong Jara Resort, Malaysia
The east coast of Malaysia a beautifully rustic area, rich with rainforests, long beaches and traditional Malay culture. It is often overlooked by holidaymakers in favour of the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur in the west.
Tanjong Jara sits on a crescent-shaped beach in sleepy Dungun, a coastal district of the Terengganu state. There is little else surrounding the resort but palm trees, jungle and the odd fishing hut. The sense of seclusion is high.
The resort is super-chilled, with 100 rooms spread out across 17 hectares of grass, sand and trees. The architecture is designed to reflect the elegance of 17th century Istanas, the timber palaces of Malay sultans, and it's gorgeous. These are the kind of buildings that make you want to kick your shoes off and start meditating.
Two swimming pools are available for lounging and dipping. The beachside option is best for families and sun-lovers and a free-form pool closer to the lobby surrounded by lush ferns, is targeted towards grown-ups keen to drink a negroni with their toes in the water. Both have bars, deck chairs, towels and a snack menu.
The beach is suited for frolicking rather than surfing, and lined with canopy beds perfect for yoga in the morning and paperback-reading in the afternoon. There are tennis courts if you feel inclined (the gift shop will sort you out for rackets and balls) and a very attractive spa you should definitely visit for a facial treatment or traditional Malay massage or both. (Probably both.)
Monkeys, squirrels and peacocks enjoy the resort too. One morning I even see a lumbering old monitor lizard swanning around in the river. Tanjong Jara also manages a turtle conservation project and you might be fortunate enough to witness the release of baby turtles into the wild.
Every room has a view of the South China Sea. Keen to meditate in your dressing gown and watch the sun wake up? That can happen.
I'm in a Bumbung room (55 square metres) on the top floor of a two-storey unit. A spacious bathroom has a double vanity and oversized bath for mood-lit soaking and the king-sized bed is perfect for deep sleeping and post-beach napping. There's also a daybed, but my suitcase spends more time on it than I do. All rooms have a writing desk, safe, mini-bar and ornate timber ceiling fan best left in the slowly rotating resort setting I like to call "Hemingway speed". There's a flat-screen TV but I never feel the need to turn it on.
The semi-detached, single-storey Anjung rooms are a couple of price-points above and feature all the mod Malay cons plus an outdoor bath, private courtyard and canopied verandah overlooking turquoise sea. Honeymooners, take note.
There are three main dining spaces that change offerings throughout the day and Di Atas Sungei is the largest of these. Malay for "Above the River" (because it is), this indoor/outdoor dining room is where you head for breakfast, an atypical resort buffet catering all Western and Asian tastes. Dinner here is a no-menu affair. Rather, a waiter or chef will talk you through what ingredients are the most delicious that day and suggest authentic Malay dishes that best showcase the fresh flavours. Maximum taste, minimum waste.
The beach-facing Nelayan restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and cocktails with Malay and Western dishes on the day menu (try the signature curry of mackerel simmered in coconut milk with tamarind and tomatoes) giving way to a more seafood-focused menu at night. Over by the grown-ups pool at Teratai Terrace, guests can cook their own dinner via Korean steamboat in the evening.
Private dining options are many, from a sand-between-your-toes table on the beach to silverware and champagne under a princely canopy. The best spot for romance is a secluded table on the rocks where you can dine surrounded by waves and seaspray. (You'll likely need to book the rock table in advance so honeymooners, again, take note.)
A fair number of activities are available to suit all levels of enthusiasm. A stay of three or more nights warrants an all-day snorkelling trip to pristine Tenggol Island, about a half-hour boat ride from the coast. You might be lucky enough to spot a hawksbill turtle gliding through crystal water, but schools of darting tropical fish are guaranteed. A jungle trek to the base of Chemerong waterfall is another all day adventure where you can enjoy a packed lunch and refreshing swim, and an easy-going afternoon bike ride is rewarded with waves from local children and light-as-air roti at a nearby fishing village.
Dungun town comes alive on Thursday evenings when the night markets open for trade. Tanjong Jara runs a return service to the markets (about 10 minutes' drive), worth visiting for the sights, smells and tastes of Malay street food. Go hard on the dessert pancakes.
With its secluded east coast location, beyond-the-call-of-duty service and elegant design rooted in Malay culture, Tanjong Jara is wonderful to place to escape the world and leave your cares at the door.
Swimming with hawksbill turtles on a snorkelling trip.
Not applying enough sunscreen to the back of my legs on said snorkelling trip.
Tanjong Jara Resort, Batu 8, Off Jalan Dungun, 23000 Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia. Rooms start from $190 plus taxes a night. See tanjongjararesort.com
Callan Boys was a guest of YTL Hotels.