Ensconced in Lush Greenery, Tranquil Surroundings and the Zen-like atmosphere of a Semi Rustic, Rural Landscape
Sometime last year, my wife Patricia purchased a 2 night 3-day promotional package from our friendly travel and tour agency, AF Travel. We had intended to go to the YTL luxury resort sometime in early November last year.
However the weather conditions then and the almost daily rains forced us to postpone the drive to Dungun. This state lies on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia and almost 95 percent of its inhabitants are Malays.
We decided to make the leisurely drive to Dungun a two-part journey. Part One was the drive to Kuantan, in Pahang state. Part Two was the drive to Dungun after we had a good night’s sleep at the Vistana Hotel in Kuantan.
Prior to this drive to Kuantan, I had driven to that city on a couple of occasions. It was always a tedious and tiring journey with many trucks and buses clogging the two-lane old highway. This, in turn, slowed traffic considerably as we had to contend with a number of winding trails and uphill climbs. One had to be alert at all times.
Super East Coast Highway
On this occasion, I was somewhat surprised to see a relatively brand new East Coast Highway all the way to Kuantan and even if we so wished to Dungun. We stuck to our plan and made the pleasant drive to Kuantan in my comfortable, sturdy, eighteen-year old, well maintained Toyota Camry. The drive took about three hours in all, including making two brief pit stops for comfort along the way.
The East Coast Highway seems well constructed and we also noticed that the rest stop areas were much better looking, clean and well maintained compared to the ones on the North-South Highway. The other noticeable fact was that there was much less traffic on the way to Dungun from Kuantan and also from Dungun to Karak.
From Kuantan to Dungun there were just a few cars and almost no trucks on the road. From Dungun to Karak too, there was exceptionally light traffic. In short, you could be forgiven for thinking, even if momentarily, that you were the ‘ king of the road ‘.
Kuantan was a Revelation
While in Kuantan, we decided to check out the town in order to get a feel for the place. Kudos to the town’s civic authorities because Kuantan seems a well-planned town, spaced out and it has some excellent directional signs all over the town. This made it easier for us to move around the town with confidence.
Some interesting observations from a city dweller: shops close around 6 pm and there seem to be ample parking spaces. What a surprise. How refreshingly convenient!
People are friendly, kind and helpful. Someone recommended we try a well known western restaurant called La Casa. We found the place easily but were disappointed that the place seemed deserted. This was on a Saturday evening! So much for it being a happening place.
Tanjong Jara Resort
This luxury resort started life as a Terengganu Development Corporation resort. Over time, it changed hands and is today one of the jewels in the YTL luxury collection of top resorts.
The resort is situated a short distance from the estuary of the lovely, clean, beautiful, free-flowing green Dungun River ( aka Sungai Dungun ). This is in stark contrast to that muddy, dirty Klang River in Kuala Lumpur.
Aga Khan Award Winner
The sprawling resort occupies a 17-hectare site of undulating semi-rustic landscape facing the South China Sea. I understand that the basic design motif of the building was replicated from the grand and beautiful 17th-century palaces ( istanas ). These were elegantly crafted wooden palaces of the Malay sultans.
For the courage, the determination and the foresight to discover, successfully adapt and develop an otherwise rapidly disappearing form of traditional architecture and craft, the Tanjong Jara Resort was deservingly recognised internationally and applauded by the jurors of the prestigious Aga Khan Award.
One of the Best Beaches in Malaysia
The resort is blessed with a truly wonderful beach with shimmering light brown sands glistening in the hot noonday sun. This scene was contrasted against a dazzling blue-green South China Sea.
I have only noticed such a truly lovely sight once outside my Accra Hotel room by the beach in Barbados.
The only difference with the famed beaches of Phuket and Bali is that while those beaches are lined for miles by deck chairs and people relaxing on them, this beach was practically deserted!
I guess the visitors were being cautious because swimming in those open waters may be too much of a risk. This is because weather, wind and water conditions can change rapidly.
Nice Mix of Trees and Shrubs
I believe that some serious thinking must have taken place to determine the type of trees and shrubs chosen for the resort. I liked the way the various trees and shrubs were planted all over the resort. It was as though an inspired artist had planned this in minute detail.
I was suitably impressed to see the following trees on the grounds: Angsana, Flame of the Forest, smaller varieties of coconut trees, red palms, royal palms and the majestic Ketapang tree.
Thrown in between all these trees were a variety of interesting shrubs including the mighty Mengkuang. There are also many Bougainvillea plants adding much colour and variety to the landscape. I detected examples of the colourful plant with flowers in pink, magenta, red, purple and orange.
Facilities at the Resort
The place boasts three restaurants i.e. Di Atas ( for breakfast and dinner only ) and The Nelayan ( for lunch ). There is also another place which we decided to skip.
The dishes prepared here are basically Malay, mainly Terengganu cuisine. On arrival for breakfast, you can choose to sit anywhere unless a group has made a booking for its members. For dinner, you are given time to look at a food list – no, not menu but food list to look at the choices and then decide.
You are later approached by one of two resident, friendly and knowledgeable ladies. They are known as the Walking and Talking Chefs – one is called Chef Ann and the other is Chef Maz. Their job is to meet you, discover what catches your fancy in terms of food choices and then make recommendations on styles of Malay cooking.
We were lucky to get Chef Maz who is a genuine ambassador for the resort. Maz was friendly, patient and accommodating. We enjoyed the Malay cuisine especially their famous Nasi Dagang for breakfast.
- Mini Istana
The chalet – no, not chalet but mini istana – that was allocated to us was an impressive structure. It has loads of solid wood on the outside as well as polished timber flooring and even our ceiling was surrounded by lovely wooden panels.
The front section of the mini istana contained twin beds ( very narrow ones ), two writing desks for him and her and even a day bed! The housekeeping staff did put on a mosquito coil each night just as a precaution.
The back section of the mini istana contained twin sinks and facing the sinks a decent sized gleaming bathtub. On both sides of the bathtub, in properly enclosed areas, are a toilet bowl and a shower cubicle. It was a truly majestic experience.
Range of Activities
For guests who need to engage in some activity, there is a range of activities to choose from. There is guided jungle trekking, two tennis courts, two swimming pools, a gym and a spa that focuses on traditional Malay massages.
For those into eco-adventures and day trips, these can be arranged. Diving and other water-related activities are also available. There is, after all, another fascinating world beneath the waves. There are opportunities for outdoor games like Top Spinning, Volleyball and Sepak Takraw.
There are also opportunities to accompany the chef for a visit to the wet market and also a chance to catch a cooking demonstration. You cannot, however, partake in only one activity – you need to register for both as a package deal! And the cost: RM 270 per person and it is on if there are a minimum of two participants. My wife was only interested in the visit to the wet market. So she opted out of this activity.
She was not disappointed however because I quickly and gallantly volunteered to drive her to the market. We spent about half an hour there and ended up buying some lovely keropok lekor and salt fish. The wet market was a mere ten-minute drive over the scenic bridge that spans the Dungun River.
Quick Facts on Dungun
We also decided to have a quick look around the town. The town has a population of 156,000 inhabitants and there is extremely light traffic in town. It was easy to drive around.
Some parts of the old town near the jetty still retain the old shop houses featuring half brick and half wooden buildings.
And unlike many nut cases in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya who like to zoom around recklessly on their motorbikes, the residents here are more sensible. Their motorbikes are used as a means of transport.
There are also opportunities to go bicycling around the place with a guide but there must be a minimum of two participants. And the cost is RM 55 per person. There are even trips organised to see elephants near Lake Kenyir which is a good two-hour drive away. The cost of most activities is unexpectedly quite high.
Ideal Resort for Targeted Travellers
We did not see the need to engage in any organised activity throughout our brief stay. Walking to and from the beach or a restaurant was activity which led to some effort. This activated the sweat glands in our bodies and soon we were drenched. The walks were long and on paved walkways which were not always flat and easy to walk on. One has to be alert and wear the right kind of shoes.
Moreover, I also understand that for more than a month before our arrival, the whole place had not received any rainfall – one of the effects of climate change. None of the restaurants had an air-conditioned section. Dining at the Nelayan Restaurant however was an enjoyable experience because of the constant cool breezes from the South China Sea. This is truly resort living at its best.
Even at Di Atas Restaurant, although we had ceiling fans, I had to request for a stand fan to cool me down. I also noticed a few others making such requests. One of the attractions ( or curses if you like ) of Di Atas Restaurant is that there are four resident peacocks presiding over the place. At odd times these proud birds make loud, irritating sounds which, after a while, can be quite unnerving.
Active and sports-minded Malaysians who do not mind the heat and humidity and others from cold climes will find this resort a unique and unforgettable experience. In addition, the employees at this resort do actually make a huge effort to please.