The once quiet beach strip of Johor gazing at the South China Sea is the Lion City’s classic favourite getaway
For Singaporeans, a quick road trip into Malaysia’s southern state – Johor, is the islanders’ definition of a weekend getaway. There are a million things that connect Singapore and Malaysia, from their intertwined history to their physical proximity. Culture, cuisine and family are commonalities across the peninsula. Sharing a coastal border with two bridges connecting the two countries, a drive into the ‘green’ Johor promises adventure, relaxation and quick access to natural beauty.
Back in the late ‘70s, Desaru – a 15+ kilometre strip of beach on Johor’s east coast, then about two to three hours’ drive from Johor Bahru, was a sleepy outpost blessed with strong waves and an excellent beach. Facilities were below par, but thanks to word-of-mouth, people from Johor and Singapore started to visit this strip for the weekend, enjoying a swim in the warm waters and barbequing under the shade of trees. Picnics, music, the sizzle of the satay and the waves kept the parties going. Soon a couple of basic resorts and upmarket golf courses opened up and the fate of Desaru was sealed. It was going to be Johor’s top destination. During the ‘80s, quite a few of my lazy beach days have been witnessed by the golden sands of Desaru. As the decade sped forward, Desaru however stood on the sidelines, stagnant in development and maintenance, considered old and boring.
Of late, this beautiful coastline has found a new lease on life, with renewed interest from international brands and travellers. Its most significant vote of confidence comes from hospitality giants such as The One&Only Desaru Coast (opening in Mar 2020), Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas and Hard Rock Hotel opening here. This simply translates to a much better experiences for us. Between Anantara, Hard Rock and One&Only, we now have more than 15 new dining experiences! The Senai-Desaru Expressway cuts journey time to over an hour from Johor immigration area. The weekend road trip to Desaru just got more interesting.
Apart from the sexy coastline, a water theme park and many premium golf courses keep the weekend traveller engaged. The Adventure Waterpark challenges kids (and kids at heart) with its massive water-filled rides, including a wave lagoon, a surfing simulator, and a jaw-dropping roller coaster that swirls in a full 360 loop before the drop into the pool. For the 70’s kids, hammocks are strung by the beach, creating quiet havens for the daydreamers. At Els Club Desaru Coast, serious golfers are found in their casual corporates improving their swing.
The brand new Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas, opened in late 2019, currently sets the beat for luxury when at Desaru. With just over 100 premium rooms, deluxe sea view rooms, villas and residences, two pools including a beach infinity pool, speciality dining and quick access to the beach – one would be forgiven if they wished to extend their weekend for a few more days. I would have a preference for the one and two-bedroom lagoon pool villas simply because of the private plunge pool and gazebo. When done at the beach, the private pool and deck are my private retreat to continue enjoying the breeze. The Infinity bar with its tapas, shisha and smooth beats complemented with waves rolling in is the way every afternoon ought to be celebrated. The evenings are dedicated to the Observatory Bar with 360 degrees views of the sea. Pampering oneself in luxury in Anantara Desaru is a far better option than a staycation in Singapore. ◼
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© This article was first published in Feb-Mar 2020 edition of World Travel Magazine.