Fancy a deserted island?

Jumping of Batubatu pier.
The islands of the east coast of Johor, Malaysia, offer myriad opportunities for recreation and relaxation within driving distance of Singapore. Batu Batu Resort, on Pulau Tengah, is just a 20-minute boat ride from the Port of Mersing across the South China Sea, but be prepared to be treated like a castaway on Gilligan’s Island, who somehow had all the comforts of home when they were shipwrecked.
Batubatu bar.
The only resort on this private island, it’s an exclusive, wild paradise where shoes are optional and sun cream is a must. The island can be circled on walking trails in about an hour, if you don’t linger on one of the eight beaches that ring it. The sand is fine and smooth, like cashmere, and shells are plentiful and unspoilt. The strips of sand beaches are narrow, perfect for enjoying the shade of the arching palms at the jungle’s edge while still being near the sea. The only built path, from the main hotel and restaurant area to the jetty and beach bar, is a planked pier.

Room at Batubatu
The eco resort boasts simple, chic villas built of sustainably harvested local hardwoods, 22 in all, some on stilts, like hip treehouses, beds draped with white mosquito netting. Floor to ceiling windows have slatted blinds to close out the bright sun, and wide verandas host pillowed sunbeds and dining tables. Several of the one-bedroom villas have children’s annexes, just big enough for a bunk bed, also tented in netting. The bathrooms are strangely dark for being designed with such an open plan, there’s little privacy from loo to shower to closets and sinks, if that’s an issue. Though shower floors slant to the drain they can be perennially damp.

Jumping of Batubatu pier.
No matter. The weather here is perfect in season (April-October) with tropical breezes cooling high temps. The sea surrounds and is perfect for swimming and snorkeling; the pilings of the main pier as well as various small reefs provide plenty of fish habitats to investigate, though the coral here is largely dead, the odd brightly colored piece stuck in amongst the grey ghost coral. The adventure center has snorkels, kayaks and paddleboards available, off-island snorkeling and PADI diving excursions can also be arranged ~ the island is a part of the Johor Marine Reserve, just teeming with secluded adventures.

Traces still exist of the island’s storied history: a brick foundation of a building used to keep prisoners after WWII. Later, a United Nations refuge for boat people after the Vietnam war was located here. More recently, the island paradise was used to film Expedition Robinson, a popular European pre-cursor to Survivor.

The food, brought fresh from the mainland on the boat speeding guests here, is fresh and simple, with a children’s option at every meal. Some meals are better than others, and the chef obviously thinks about making each ingredient do duty in multiple dishes ~ without too much repetition. Breakfast stars a buffet of luscious baked goods and tropical fruit, rich,organic museli and thick yogurt. The bar, on the edge of the restaurant, is perfect for relaxing with a deck of cards or a gin-tonic, with deep cushioned couches and low slung wood tables. The feel is all organic, without being austere.
Batubatu pier.

BatuBatu is good for what ails you. The beaches are clean and easy to walk to, the sea is calm and marine life accessible, though not teeming. If your ideal vacation doesn’t involve shoes, Batu Batu fits the bill. +60 17 755 2813
Pulau Tengah is 9 nautical miles, approximately 16 km off the shore of Johor, Malaysia at the port of Mersing. The resort arranges private transport to the island, boats leave and return twice daily. There is a modest additional charge. Mersing is 2.5 hours drive from Singapore and more than twice that from Kuala Lumpur. Taxi transport is also available; the resort can provide contact details. Most companies will change cars at the border, so don’t be suprised.
The resort has a mandatory full meal plan and food is plentiful however, if you have small kids or peccadilloes a wee stash of snacks (I travel with red wine, cashews, dark chocolate and Goldfish ~the crackers not the marine life). The coffee in room is also rather bad; next time I plan to pack a mini French press and some ground beans. Dress is casual, little more than bathing costume and coverup are necessary, and shoes are also optional, unless you plan to do the jungle trek around the island.


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