Top 5 things to do in Desaru, Latest Travel News - The New Paper

Top 5 things to do in Desaru

DESARU, JOHOR - Desaru is cool again.

The beach destination on Johor's eastern coast, known in the 1980s and 1990s for its quiet coastline and rustic, chalet-like accommodation, has had a facelift over the past few years.

New attractions have come up, ranging from the family-friendly Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast to golf courses at The Els Club Desaru Coast. Luxury properties have also entered the fray, such as Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas in 2019 and One&Only Desaru Coast the year after.

These are all part of Desaru Coast, an integrated resort looking to woo more travellers from Singapore.

On July 7, a new ferry service linking Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal was launched. At 90 minutes, it is the shortest and most convenient route there.

Commuting by road takes between two and four hours, depending on traffic along the Causeway. Previously, travellers could also take a 30-minute ferry ride from Singapore to Tanjung Belungkor Ferry Terminal in Kota Tinggi in Johor, followed by a 30- to 45-minute drive to Desaru.

Besides Singaporeans looking for a new weekend destination, the new ferry service allows travellers to extend their stay in Singapore with a short hop to Desaru, says Desaru Coast chief executive Roslina Arbak.

She adds that the integrated resort will continue to attract visitors through events such as the Ironman 70.3 triathlon later this month.

At $70 one-way or $98 for a return trip (a deal by ferry operator Batamfast that runs till Oct 6; usual price for a return trip is $118), it is a good alternative to regional destinations such as Bintan or Bali, especially with flight prices now at a high.

Planning your next weekend trip? Here are five things to keep the whole family busy in Desaru.

1. Whizz down water slides at Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast

This one is not just for the kiddos. The water theme park, with wet and dry rides, has enough to entertain little ones, teens and adults.

Highlights include Kraken's Revenge, a water coaster that ends in a flume ride. It looks scary from the ground, but achieves the sweet spot of being fun without making you feel like you are going to vomit or be thrown from your seat. Parents will enjoy this too.

The Tempest at Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark. PHOTO: DESARU COAST ADVENTURE WATERPARK

When you are done, hop on the surf simulator and two huge water slides called The Tempest and Rip Tide, which are as turbulent and thrilling as their names.

Need a break from all that high-octane fun? Recuperate in a river hut (RM180 or S$57) or beachside cabana (RM300), which you can book for the day.

Guests at Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, which connects to the water park, get complimentary access. For more information, go to this website.

Tickets to Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast cost RM94 for adults and children at a promotional price (usual price: RM151 for adults, RM113 for kids aged three to 11). For more information, go to this website.

2. Live the resort life

The Ember Beach Club at One&Only Desaru Coast. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUIST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Stepping through the lobby at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas elicits gasps, even from a group of seasoned writers.

An infinity pool in the foreground leads the eye to rows of palm trees, a lawn dotted with beanbags, sunbeds on the beach and the South China Sea on the horizon.

In other words - paradise.

The property feels family-friendly yet upscale, and offers free activities such as yoga on the beach and a nature walk led by a resident naturalist on weekends. Or rent bicycles to explore the property, which includes rooms, villas and three- and four-bedroom residences.

A kids' club and teens' club will keep the children entertained while mum and dad nip out for cocktails or a massage.

Travel Correspondent Clara Lock with her floating breakfast in a two-bedroom Lagoon Pool Villa at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

My two-bedroom villa, which I share with photojournalist Lim Yaohui, comes with a private pool, outdoor pavilion and deck chairs for lounging. Palm trees and blue skies make it feel just like Bali, only closer to home.

For date night, splash out on the seafood platter (RM480) at Sea.Fire.Salt restaurant, which comes with a rock lobster, prawns, scallops, sea bass, calamari and soft shell crab. It is served atop a pink Himalayan salt brick that not only looks pretty but also seasons the food.

Alternatively, the spread at Turmeric restaurant's Thai-Malaysian buffet (RM148 for adults, RM78 for children) is extensive and delicious.

The spread at Turmeric restaurant's Thai-Malaysian buffet is extensive and delicious. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

I am a fan of funky, umami flavours and make a beeline for the salad bar, which includes Miang Pla Too, a lettuce wrap with mackerel, chilli, ginger and peanuts - a dish I had always been curious about, but passed on at Thai restaurants in favour of green papaya salad Som Tam, the safer choice.

And Laksa Johor, served with a thick, spicy fish broth, is piquant with generous toppings of torch ginger flower and other raw vegetables.

Rooms start at $300 a night and a two-bedroom villa starts at $2,150. For more information, go to this website.

3. Ride an all-terrain vehicle through Desaru Fruit Farm

Think you know your tropical fruit? I thought I did.

But Desaru Fruit Farm managed to throw up a few surprises. While riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) across the farm's 728,434 sq m (about the size of 1,470 basketball courts), farm ambassador Jeremy Foo points out varieties such as the yellow rambutan and pulasan, a hairless version that is closely related.

Both are more tart than the regular version I am used to. The seed of the pulasan can be eaten, says Mr Foo, 23, comparing it with an almond nut - though it is too bitter for my taste.

He also introduces the abiu, a softball-size, finicky yellow fruit. Eaten chilled, it has a jelly-like texture similar to persimmon, but at room temperature, it is watery. When sliced, it oxidises quickly due to its iron content. The flavour is sweet and mild, similar to ciku.

Travel Correspondent Clara Lock trying out ATV ride at the Desaru Fruit Farm. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

There are several ways to explore the farm, such as on a walking tour (RM30) or ATV ride (RM55), or via an open-top jeep, where you can pick fruit directly from the trees (RM598 a vehicle, which can take up to four people). Be liberal with insect repellent.

Just outside the farm's gift shop are rows of dehydrators making the fruit chips sold inside. At the entrance, staff make kuih kapit or love letters, a wafer-like snack, flavoured with fruit such as pineapple and durian.

And an in-house restaurant serves classic zi char dishes laced with fruit - think fried calamari paired with vibrant dragon fruit sauce, and assam fish cooked with passion fruit. A walking tour and set lunch, which comes with seven dishes and a fruit buffet, costs RM68.

For more information, go to this website.

4. Cruise down a mangrove to spot wildlife

About 40 minutes by road from Desaru Coast is Sedili fishing village, which you can explore via a two-hour river cruise run by ecotourism outfit JungleWalla.

Sedili River Cruise with tour guide Shahrool Anuar Bin Rohani. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Tour guide and naturalist Sharool Anuar is a trove of information, doling out all kinds of nuggets about the surrounding flora, including their germination methods and medicinal properties.

He plucks a leaf off a cannonball mangrove tree and urges me to try it.

"It is bitter, like panadol," he says, adding that it is consumed by some local communities in the same way - as a remedy for headaches and fever. The bark, charred and ground into powder, is drunk as a cure for diarrhoea.

A dusky leaf monkey in the mangrove. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In the trees, we spot the ringed gaze of dusky leaf monkeys. Macaques hop along mangrove roots and splash into the water. Overhead, a brahminy kite circles. Nature has a way of making me feel transported, even when I am so close to home.

The tour costs RM200 a person. For more information, go to this website.

5. Have a splashing good time in the sea

With 17km of pristine coastline, it would be remiss to visit Desaru Coast and not spend an hour or two lying by the beach.

Travel Correspondent Clara Lock trying out stand up paddleboarding at the Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

If you want something more exciting, go for water sports such as stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), kayaking or banana boating.

In Singapore, a powered pleasure craft driving licence is required to drive a jet ski, so take the chance to drive one in Desaru Coast instead.

Dash Outdoors, a water sports operator, has a booth at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas as well as a stand at the public beach. At Anantara, prices range from RM39 for 30 minutes of SUP to RM345 for a jet ski ridden by two people.

For more information, go to this website.

Travel tips

The sunset at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ferries depart from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and cost $70 one way or $118 for a return trip. Buy tickets at or

Batam Fast is now offering a special price of $98 for a return ticket for bookings via its website and social media pages. The promotion runs till Oct 6.

Each passenger can hand-carry 10kg of luggage and check in 20kg of luggage for free. Excess baggage is charged at $1 a kg, and odd-sized items such as bicycles at $10 an item.

Four hotels, opened in the past four years, are part of the Desaru Coast integrated resort. Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast and The Westin Desaru Coast Resort are both billed as family-friendly, with The Westin also popular for business conferences.

Feeling flush? Consider luxury properties Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas and One&Only Desaru Coast. One&Only has only suites, each of which comes with a private pool.

Get around by free shuttle, which plies a route around the four hotels and ferry terminal every 15 minutes.

  • The writer and photojournalist were hosted by Desaru Coast and Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas.