Peninsular Malaysia’s quieter east coast is a traveler’s delight. Here, life moves at a slower pace. Balmy coconut trees sway lazily to the coastal breeze, people move about unhurriedly and the seafood is fresh. Life is as such from the seaside areas of Kelantan down to Johor that it makes one wonder why this particular stretch doesn’t get more visitors than it already does.
While this side of Malaysia has plenty to offer visitors, quality accommodations are sorely lacking. There is just one resort in this whole 700 kilometer seaside stretch that gets it right, the iconic Tanjong Jara Resort located in Dungun in the state of Terengganu. Part of the YTL group of hotels, it is the highest rated among the luxury resorts dotting the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. During my short jaunt to Kuala Terengganu, I stayed at the Tanjong Jara to check out what visitors have been raving about all these years on this relatively low-key resort.
In keeping with the demographic profile of this part of the country, the Tanjong Jara Resort has a strong Malay theme. In fact, its tagline is “unmistakably Malay” with architectural details that mimic the palaces of old. There’s a strong usage of wood – the structures were made to resemble the Rumah Melayu or traditional Malay dwellings, complete with gabled roofs and curved roof edges.
my favorite scene in the resort – by nelayan restaurant
I arrived at Tanjong Jara Resort after an evening flight to Kuala Terengganu. From the airport, we were whisked by taxi to the resort which is about an hour away. Alternatively, some visitors fly to Kuantan in the state of Pahang, where the resort is around 2 hours car ride away.
The banging of a gong heralded our arrival at the resort, as is the custom. Even from the check-in alone, I was already being prepped up for the resort experience with cold towels and a Hibiscus-flavored welcome drink in hand. A staff member led me to my room and made sure we had everything we needed there.
The same Malay theme that dominates the resort extends its way into the rooms. I was billeted at the Serambi Room, a lower floor room that has its own veranda. At 55 square meters, it was a well-appointed affair. Wooden brown shades were prominent in every corner and Malay handicrafts were carefully placed throughout the room to serve as decor. The configuration was quite unique. There was no couch inside – it was already at the veranda – and within that extra space, I found a day bed. If you’re coming with kids, the day bed makes for a nice touch in order to avoid crowding at the main bed.
The room was also large enough to accommodate a walk-in closet which I found alongside the fridge and minibar. The latter was well-stocked with snack and drink items as well as complimentary bottles of water.
One of the highlights of the rooms at the resort is probably the bathroom. It’s one of the largest hotel bathrooms I’ve seen! With separate toilet, bath and shower areas, the atmosphere inside is pleasant for those keen on having a good soak in the tub. Orchids were placed generously all over the bathroom. Toiletries were by Mangosteen, a local brand which focuses on local scents for bath and shower products.
Dining Options at Tanjong Jara
breakfast buffet at di atas sungei
While the resort offers tons of activities and is close by to Dungun town and only an hour away from Kuala Terengganu, it is entirely possible to relax and stay in the resort all day. Tanjong Jara has three food outlets, each with their own specialties.
Di Atas Sungei is where breakfast is served. Those who don’t hail from Malaysia or Singapore will find the morning food offerings to be quite special and an introduction not just to Malay cuisine but to the specialties of Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast.
Of particular note is Nasi Dagang, the most popular dish in Terengganu state. Comprising of rice flavored with coconut milk and fish curry, it’s often wrapped in banana leaf before being served. This is a staple at the resort’s breakfast buffet.
I also had dinner at Di Atas Sungei and I must say, it’s one of the best meals I’ve had during the many times I’ve visited Malaysia. The lunch and dinner concept in the restaurant differs – there is no detailed menu in which to order from. Instead, diners are guided by menu masters. In my case, I just indicated the main dishes that I wanted and the method of cooking, while the rest was up to them.
scallops in buttermilk sauce – just thinking about this makes me hungry!
First dish that came up was a scallop dish, stir-fried and flavored with buttermilk sauce. This was amazing! Other than the fresh and succulent scallops, what made this dish stand out was the buttermilk sauce which I found highly addictive! In fact, I liked it so much that I mixed it with just about every other dish that came next.
prawns in sambal sauce
Then came the prawns, simmered and with sambal sauce. I was quite a bit unsure about this when it was first suggested to me. I’m not really into spicy food but I was assured it would not turn out fiery hot. In the end, I was glad to have accepted this suggestion. The prawns were enormous and the sambal sauce turned out quite addictive as well, though not at the same level as the buttermilk sauce.
amazing lava cake!
For dessert, I was suggested the lava cake with vanilla ice cream. Though not a fan of chocolate in general, I easily finished the cake. The hot liquid chocolate that oozed out was rich and aromatic. Actually, Terengganu is probably the last place where I expected to find such delectable lava cake but there it was.
Another food outlet I tried in the resort was Teratai Terrace. This restaurant in contrast, has fixed menus which change every day. During the lunch that I tried there, I was served chicken rice, a dish that I missed for the past 8 months. Fine dining menus are also available here.
my very own spa area
During my stay, I also managed to try the spa at the resort’s signature Spa Village. Prior to coming here, I didn’t really expect to find a prominent spa culture in Malaysia. Mention the word “spa” or “massage” and people would most probably associate it with Thailand or Bali. But I was proven wrong with the spa offerings at Tanjong Jara which again incorporate traditional Malay culture in order to create a unique spa experience.
guests are given a sarong to wear and later to keep as a souvenir
after i had the mandi bunga or malay bath
The spa experience here is very ceremonial in nature. I had booked an 80 minute Warrior’s Massage. But before the actual massage, a had a most intriguing Malay bath experience. It all started when the therapist gave me a sarong, which turned out to be something I had to wear! The Mandi Bunga or Malay bath was quite unlike any spa experience I’ve ever had. While sitting on the outdoor bath, the therapist poured water and fresh flowers on me seven times. Each time he poured, he shouted out positive words such as longevity, health, happiness and prosperity. It was only after this ritual that the actual massage began.
the air-conditioned spa treatment room
The Warrior’s Massage was also quite special. It incorporates traditional Malay healing techniques and traditional martial arts. During the session, the therapist performed a lot of pressing on my tired muscles. I finished the treatment feeling very refreshed and relaxed. At the end of it all, the therapist gave me back the sarong I wore as a souvenir which made for a nice touch.
Facilities and Activities
Beyond the usual facilities, the resort offers plenty to keep visitors occupied. There are two swimming pools located close to both ends of the resort. The one facing Nelayan is especially scenic in the day time. There is also a tennis court, a gym and even a garden where guests can plant their own trees.
Besides this, there’s also a list of resort activities available for guests to partake in. Changing based on the day, this ranges from turtle watching in the evenings to cooking classes in the afternoons and short excursions to fishing villages and to Dungun. During my stay, I toured around Kuala Terengganu, conveniently having Tanjong Jara Resort as my base. As there are no good hotels in Kuala Terengganu, the resort proved to be an excellent base and is still a most suitable place to stay for those exploring the state capital. I was in Kuala Terengganu in an hour, marveling at the mosques and monuments around the city. I will be writing about this in a later post.
Everyone deserves a break once in a while. For those desiring a few days to relax, it’s hard to go wrong with Tanjong Jara Resort. It’s perfect for those going on short getaways. Those who like to spend entire days doing nothing will be pleased by the resort’s lush gardens and delicious food while those looking for activities and cultural immersions will be pleasantly surprised with the interesting activities this property has on offer. During my next visit, I’d make sure to go for turtle viewing and spend one morning on a cycling tour. And the scallops with buttermilk sauce as well – I’d definitely be expecting that.
Tanjong Jara Resort
Off Jalan Dungun
Dungun, Terengganu, 23000, Malaysia
Tel No: +60 9 845 1100