Best of both worlds

Facade of Thistle Port Dickson Resort reflected in pond
From its five-star hospitality with a touch of English charm to its value-added service, nothing beats the Thistle, writes PEGGY LOH

IF you are like me, always eager to explore the culture and heritage of a place, content with the knowledge that I can return to the comforts of a hotel resort, then you can appreciate why I was thrilled to be a guest of Thistle recently.

I had the pleasure of being pampered by the hotel’s five-star Malaysian hospitality with English charm in Johor Baru and Port Dickson, giving me the best of both worlds.

My journey from Johor Baru to Port Dickson was a smooth and leisurely 3½ hour drive on the North-South Expressway, with just one stop for a mug of hot teh tarik.

While Port Dickson is renowned as a weekend destination for city slickers in Kuala Lumpur, I discovered something new about this state from the locals: Unlike other states, in Negri Sembilan, a family’s wealth and fortune are generally inherited by daughters and not sons!

I slowed down to appreciate the Minangkabau legacy evident in the horn-shaped roofs of traditional wooden houses and spotted several new buildings which also had modern replicas of such roofs.  When I saw glimpses of the glittering sea to my right, I knew that I was already close to Thistle Port Dickson. One thing that struck me both times as I entered each of the Thistle hotels was the feel of retreating into an oasis of refreshment.

Thistle Port Dickson Resort

I cannot forget my first sight of the lobby, bathed in a golden glow from the setting sun. As I stepped out into the balcony that overlooked the swimming and bubble pools, the sun was sinking on the horizon. The combination of the sea, which looked as if a thousand diamonds were scattered on it, the landscaped garden and the setting sun was picture perfect.  The resort’s 251 rooms are created around the pools with balconies that open out to panoramic views of the sea.

I was charmed by the artistic rendition of floating mangrove leaves as a consistent motif throughout the resort. My room even had a comfortable window seat, complete with fluffy cushions and a bolster to lounge around to read or write while I enjoyed the sea view. With such captivating views, I just didn’t feel the need to turn on the 32-inch flat-screen television.

Situated on the coast, the resort has a stretch of sandy beach and a green field on the edge of the sea, which is an excellent venue for special events such as private parties and weddings. Next to a matured fruit and herb garden, a well equipped SWAT (Superior Work and Attitude Training) camp offers teambuilding facilities.

As I explored the garden, ripe great hog plum or umbra hanging heavily from the trees were begging to be picked, and as I crunched my teeth into the crispy, tangy fruits, I was glad that guests were welcome to help themselves to the ripe fruits.

Chilling out in the infinity pool at Cumulus,
Thistle Port Dickson Resort
The resort has five restaurants and bars. Fresh, the café that overlooks the landscaped pool garden, offers all-day dining in a contemporary setting while Glass presents a choice for more sophisticated dining.

There’s Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine to enjoy at Chinoise, but the airy ambience and excellent vistas from Steps, the lobby lounge, made it my favourite hangout in the resort.

After a refreshing dip in the infinity pool at Cumulus, I enjoyed poolside drinks. At dusk, this place turns into one of Port Dickson’s hottest spots for live music entertainment.

Fish feeding is one of the resort’s leisure activities. The speedboat’s pilot tracked down shoals of hungry fish before dropping anchor to allow guests to see hundreds of hungry mouths rise to the surface and swallow morsels of scattered bread.

In the lobby of Santai Spa,
Thistle Port Dickson Resort
While we were out there, the pilot took us on a quick cruise along the coast to catch a glimpse of the towering Tanjung Tuan lighthouse, previously known as Cape Rachado, from the sea. Built in 1528, this is the oldest working lighthouse in the country.

Santai Spa is among the resort’s main attractions and I took the opportunity to have several treatments to detoxify, energise and relax under the skilled hands of my therapist. The signature aromatherapy massage, foot reflexology treatment and a gentle body scrub with a mixture of strawberry, pineapple and apple extract completed my blissful sensory experience and restored a healthy balance to my mind, body and spirit.

Facade of Thistle Johor Bahru
Thistle Johor Baru

There’s something strange about any return journey because it always seems to be shorter. My return drive was comfortable but when I arrived safely in Thistle Johor Baru, fatigue crept up on me and I did not have any appetite to eat.

But it was dinner time and Chef Effendy graciously whipped up a platter of hot canapés that’s not quite on the menu, to whet my appetite and warm my stomach.

I fell in love with the ultra feminine shades of purple and mauve in my room décor and when I looked closer, I noticed the iconic Johor motif of kuda kepang repeated on the cushion covers and bed runner. I realised later that this design is used throughout the hotel to give it a distinctively Johor identity.

Enjoying a panoramic view of the Johor Straits at twilight
A sliding door opened to a wide terrace where I could enjoy balmy breezes and a lovely view of the Johor Straits and beyond to Singapore.

When I snuggled down for the night, I loved how the bed and pillows smelt of sunshine. I was so pleased to discover the comfortable support that I had to check under the covers and found that they are locally made latex products.

For a slow start to my day, I chose to have breakfast in my room and it was delivered as requested on the order form, which I left hanging on my door-knob the night before.  After lounging around on the canopied divan in the terrace, I made my way to Life Spa, located in the fitness centre and decided to indulge in a traditional deep-tissue massage.

Later, as I floated back to my room feeling pleasantly languid and lazy, I congratulated myself for this decision because I found that this treatment was both relaxing and stress relieving.

Landscaped garden around swimming pools at
Thistle Johor Bahru
The hotel has 125 luxury rooms out of its 380 rooms designed around beautifully landscaped swimming pools. It has two contemporary restaurants — Glass for all-day dining and as dusk falls, Oasis offers open-air dining by the pool with an interesting fusion menu of Japanese and Italian cuisine.

Steps, the lobby lounge, is great for wine and nibbles or cakes and coffee while Hive is an American bar and grill, which turns into a chill-out lounge that features live music, late into the night.

It was difficult to leave after a pleasant stay. As I was collecting my luggage to go to the car park, the concierge asked for my car keys. He brought my car to the porch and helped to load my luggage. It was a nice touch in a value-added service. As I drove home, I wondered if I was asking too much when I wished that my car could also be washed!

Fast Facts

Situated opposite Johor Baru’s landmark Dataran Johor, Thistle Johor Baru is located at Jalan Sungai Chat, Johor Baru. Tel: 07-222 9234, Fax: 07-222 9009.

Thistle Port Dickson is located at KM16, Jalan Pantai, Teluk Kemang, Sri Rusa, Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan. Tel: 06-648 2828, Fax: 06-648 2868. Reservations hotline: 1-800-886 886. Email: For details, visit

Photos by east indie

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 28 April 2011

More photos:

It's sunny outside the Lukut Museum - Photo by SAR
Baked Ratatouille Potato halves stuffed with braised vegetables
and cheddar cheese are among the items in popular platter of Hive Five
appetizer that includes Mozzarella sticks, chicken poppers,
barbecued chicken wings and celery sticks with sour cream dips
[Served in The Hive, Thistle Johor Bahru]

My bed turned-down for the evening when I
checked into Thistle Port Dickson Resort
Chef Effendy presented me with a
platter of hot canapes when I returned
to Thistle Johor Bahru


1 comment:

  1. Over a years when i was doing the platter for you...Now I in St Regis Doha Qatar as Commissary Chef..Look forward to meet you again..I will coming back to Malaysia soon..My Email address or facebook is the same.