east coast enchantment.
16 Feb 2012 § 4 Comments
“Unmistakably Malay” is the tagline used by YTL to describe Tanjong Jara, the sister resort to the famed Pangkor Laut, situated on the East Coast between Kuala Terengganu and Kuantan. It is a befitting description for a resort that exudes a charm that truly is unmistakably Malay(sian) – from the chime of the gong that reverberates through the reception area as a greeting when you arrive (and three gongs when you leave, to signify “goodbye, have a safe trip, and please come back again“) to the soft-spoken and welcoming staff that seem to be constantly smiling and the resort’s traditional architecture.
Here’s a run-down of our recent weekend escapade where we were thoroughly enchanted by the lovely Tanjong Jara:
Situated on 17 hectares of land, the resort consists of 99 rooms, two main restaurants, a main pool by the beach and another smaller free-form pool situated amidst the abundant greenery. Getting from one place to another did require a fair bit of walking, but the extensive resort grounds helped to maintain adequate privacy without overwhelming the guests with its spaciousness.
There were a couple of resident iguanas flitting around, and we caught sight of some huge spider webs amidst the trees as we walked through the garden paths. Lounge chairs were scattered everywhere and not just restricted to the pool area, while pretty open-sided cabanas resembling four-poster beds lined the perimeter of the beach.
The main swimming pool that faced the sea was pretty large, with a section for kids and there were deck chairs set up all around the pool. I love how there always were chairs that had shade from the sun (for me), while some were angled for maximum sun-tanning (for him)! With the sea breeze constantly circulating through the resort, it was surprisingly not too humid and at times, pretty chilly too. Icy cold glasses of water were served and topped-up regularly by an ever-smiling waiter, and once we were comfortably ensconced there, the only time we left the deck chairs was to walk five steps to the nearby restaurant for lunch.
Given that Tanjong Jara has been around since 1979 before being bought over and restored by YTL (about 12 years ago if I’m not mistaken), the Bumbung room we stayed in was far from spanking new. Nevertheless, it was extremely spacious – we had a huge en-suite bathroom with a bathtub (the bathroom could probably pass off as a hotel room in Hong Kong!), a day bed as well as a king-sized bed. Best of all? The view! We were given a sea-view room on the upper floor overlooking the beach – absolutely gorgeous! However, in exchange for the view, we were situated in the room that was literally the furthest from the main pool and the restaurant where lunch was served. Still, our daily treks to-and-fro took us through plenty of lush greenery in the landscaped gardens and sightings of what I’ve personally come to call the ‘resident wildlife’ (yes, I’m such a city girl!).
The resort faces a wide expanse of sandy beach that seems to stretch on forever. The sound of the strong waves crashing upon the beach lulled us to sleep on both nights, and early in the morning, the resort staff would be hard at work clearing off debris left stranded from the high tide during the night before to ensure the beach stayed nice and spotless.
There was an outcrop of rocks near the room where we stayed – on the first evening, we saw a group of young men fishing off the rocks, and on the second evening, we had a good time clambering over it, spotting little crabs and all sorts of odds-and-ends that had been washed up by the sea before the tide receded.
While the water was clear and inviting, the waves are strong, and unless you’re a strong swimmer, I don’t think swimming in the sea is a really good idea (we reached home on Sunday evening to read in the news that three people drowned on Saturday evening while swimming in the sea in Cherating). The red flag was up during our second and third day at Jara, so we made sure we stayed along the fringes of the beach.
We were on a full-board package and that meant a semi-buffet breakfast, a 2-course lunch at Nelayan and a 3-course dinner at Di Atas Sungei each day. Every dish we ordered was well-prepared and tasted absolutely delicious (maybe the sea-breeze added some extra ooomph, who knows?) with exception for an odd chicken rendang dish during dinner on our first night – they’d gotten our original order wrong, and I have a feeling this dish was hastily prepared so that we could continue with our meal. That blip aside, we feasted like kings throughout our stay there, definitely gaining a few kilos in return!
Readers who have visited Tanjong Jara would know that the unique feature about Di Atas Sungei is that the restaurant has no menu. Instead, guests are guided by the resort’s Menu Masters – to put it simply, it’s freestyle ordering! While many people have raved about the buttered milk prawns, the star dish for us was the deep fried fish fillet that we ordered that came garnished with fried ginger strips and soy sauce which went perfectly well with white rice. ‘Twas so good we ordered the same dish on our second night there!
I have to give Tanjong Jara two thumbs up for their hospitality. I may not have traveled much, however, none of the hotels I’ve been to thus far has ever shown this standard of hospitality. We were able to check-in upon our arrival at 10am, the staff were infallibly warm and welcoming, greeting us with smiles wherever we went, and we were automatically given a late check-out without even needing to ask as we’d booked a late evening flight back to KL. Throughout the two-and-a-half days that we were there, we constantly saw the friendly guest liaison manager, Wai Gin, making her rounds and speaking to the guests.
The hotel also organized daily activities for their guests such as handicraft classes, nature walks, and keeping to their motto, their version of ‘kampung life’. We happened to be around for the latter, and it was quite a treat to see the staff and guests playing sepak takraw and the bamboo stick dance and sampling the local culture of batik-painting and ketupat-making. Stalls were set up and the smell of freshly cooked keropok lekor and cucur udang lingered in the air, mingling with the scent of the fragrant apam balik (sweet crispy pancakes with buttery centers, stuffed with peanuts and sweetcorn – so good I went back for seconds!), while freshly plucked coconuts, local coffee and roselle juice were offered to the guests as refreshments.
The time we spent at Tanjong Jara passed languidly as we whiled away the hours at the pool, followed with long meandering walks on the beach as the sun set (as cliché as it sounds, heh!). We returned to our room when dusk fell only to freshen up before making our way to the restaurant for dinner. A good part of the night was spent enjoying the food and each other’s company amidst the background strains of the gamelan, before having coffee on the verandah overlooking the river that flows towards the sea (hence the name of the restaurant, Di Atas Sungei or ‘above the river’).
Those two nights honestly took on a dream-like quality as we took a slow walk back to our room after dinner – try to imagine walking beneath a canopy of stars, hearing the crash of the waves and feeling the breeze from the sea upon your face while trying to catch a glimpse of the (almost) full moon as she played hide-and-seek amongst the clouds, reflecting the sea from afar and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Romantic-nya…
The warmth and hospitality that we enjoyed left us feeling well-rested and without doubt, well-fed, and we definitely have plans to return for a longer stay in the near future. Despite being a 5-star resort, the wooden architecture, swaying coconut trees and flourishing greenery ensured that it’s a far cry from the new and modern, yet sometimes clinical beach resorts – and therein lies Tanjong Jara’s beckoning charm.