Chill-out at Pulai Desaru

Façade of Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa
from the beach
I’m so looking forward to some chill-out time and a quick retreat away from the city is just what I need.  I long for the soothing sound of waves breaking on sandy shores to help me recharge my batteries and I guess a pampering spa treatment will also do me good.  Driving to Desaru is a breeze since the expressway opened in 2011 so I’m off to the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa. 

It’s mid morning as I join the expressway from Ulu Tiram to drive along the Senai-Desaru Expressway to Desaru.  Keeping to the left lane, I take my time to take in the scenery and slow down to admire interesting vistas of orchid farms and undulating terrain covered by plantations of young oil palms.  When I cross the scenic bridge that spans Sungai Johor near Teluk Sengat, I slow to a crawl to enjoy the view.

The lobby of the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa
Even though it’s a weekday, the carpark in the resort is almost full and I wonder if I came at the wrong time but my fears are put to rest as I walk into a balmy breeze and pause to take in the panoramic view of the South China Sea from the lobby.  It’s like coming home because I’m familiar with the Pulai Desaru and from the refreshing colours and new fittings, I can see that the resort has been recently refurbished.  A great deal may have changed in the resort’s décor but I’m happy that nothing has changed in their familiar, friendly and attentive service.

Resort Bliss

I pull back the curtains and open the sliding doors to enjoy the sea view and welcome sea breezes into my room.  In the distance I hear laughter and loud cheers from a group enjoying beach-front activities, probably in a corporate team-building retreat.  After a satisfying lunch at the Palm Brasserie, all I want to do now is to curl up in bed with a book.

Deluxe room features a couple's lounge bed next to
the balcony for a panoramic view of the sea!
A little shut-eye later, I’m refreshed and ready for my spa appointment and I remember to close the balcony doors before I find my way to the Pulai Spa.  I surrender myself to my therapist and let her pamper me with an eclectic mix of Asian and European therapies to undo the knots in my shoulders and restore balance to my mind and body.  I can feel the tension melting away as aromatic oils and her healing hands work together to rejuvenate and get me ready to enjoy my stay at the resort.

There is a little rumble in my stomach, reminding me to go in search of some food but I make a quick stop at the Tour Desk to arrange my visit to a few nearby attractions tomorrow.  I step into the cafe and an enticing aroma of sizzling garlic and succulent meat from the Teppan Japanese Restaurant convince me to join the guests seated at the counter for a freshly cooked teppanyaki dinner.  Strolling musicians provide live entertainment during dinner and when I wash down the tasty meal with my final cup of green tea, I decide to hit the sheets and catch up on some sleep to gear up for tomorrow’s activities.

Day Fun

I loathe to leave my comfortable bed but the sunlight streaming in through the slit in the curtains tells me that I should get moving and have some breakfast before I join the group tour.  When I reach the breakfast terrace, the breakfast buffet is in full swing as guests help themselves to an array of food laid out in banquettes in the terrace and in the Palm Brasserie.  I peek at what others are eating and can’t help but notice that the spicy onion sambal seems to be a hot favourite (pun intended!) as many guests are having a portion of the red-colour condiment with their food!

Getting a whiff of cocoa from a cocoa pod
at the award-winning Desaru Fruit Farm
A few ladies join me for the tour and in our first stop at the Desaru Fruit Farm we meet our guide, Henry Goh, who happily shared his exceptional knowledge about fruits and trees to give us an interesting and informative tour of the farm.  It’s fun to walk around the trees and get ferried back to the reception area in a modified truck.  After learning so much about the fruits, it’s just right to end with a drink of refreshing chilled passion-fruit juice and a mouth-watering fruit buffet.

The tour continues with a drive to Pengerang for a taste of kampung food in a home-cooked lunch hosted in a 70-year old family house in Kampung Batumas.  Mahya Mohd Yusof, our host and cook, prepared a menu of fish – ikan selar masak lemak cili padi – cooked in spicy coconut milk gravy, deep-fried chicken, stir-fried mixed vegetables, fried salted fish and a side of spicy sambal belacan condiment with banana fritters for dessert.  In true kampung tradition, we sit on the floor and eat the food with our hands.  For drinks, we have pandan infused sweet tea at the start followed by sweet black kampung coffee after the meal and there is also refreshing coconut juice!

Night Treats

Our return drive to the resort is through another scenic route and our driver kindly pointed out various places of interest en route and I’m particularly fascinated by the World War II relics left behind by the British in the Pengerang Battery.  A historical site such as this is rich with legends and horror stories, presenting us with an interesting conversation topic as we return to the resort.  Coming in from the warm and humid weather, the swimming pool looks very welcome so I didn’t hesitate to change into my swimsuit before plunging into the pool.

Our group boarding the barge for our night
river cruise to catch a glimpse of fireflies!
I keep an eye on the time because I should assemble at the Tour Desk to leave for the night’s adventure to see fireflies so I have a quick dinner at the Palm Brasserie.  The trip entails a drive to a jetty built into the edge of the river for guests to conveniently embark and disembark from a wooden barge that cruise the river in pitch darkness to better observe fireflies in their natural habitat.  We sit on stools as Bujang, the barge operator, pilot the barge gently down and upstream, and when his assistant splashes water on overhanging branches of mangrove trees, we gasp in excitement as shimmering clouds of tiny lights rise and move in the pitch darkness!

Live music entertainment and drinks at the Beach Bar
The rare and exciting experience with the glittering fireflies is quite unforgettable and as the night is still young, I take a moonlight walk along the beach with thoughts about how impossible it is to see fireflies in the city!  The sound of live music from the Beach Bar is a definite draw and I join the crowd there for a drink. 
As I sip my attractively adorned drink and listen to the constant swish of rolling waves in the background, I’m feeling very much like myself again.

Fast Facts:


Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa
P O Box 29, Bandar Penawar
81930 Kota Tinggi, Johor
Tel: 607 – 8222 222
Fax: 607 – 8222 223


Getting There

Enjoy a smooth and comfortable 45-minute drive from Johor Baru on the Senai-Desaru Expressway that links East and West Johor. 


Recently refurbished spacious guest rooms in Standard, Standard Superior, Deluxe and Loft rooms feature contemporary designs and comfortable elegance in a palette of fresh green shades and signature floral motif.

Main Attraction

Family-oriented beach resort.

First Impression

Laid-back and leisurely.

Overall Service

Friendly and attentive. 

F&B Outlets

Palm Brasserie, Teppan Japanese Restaurant, Lobby Bar and the Beach Bar 


The Pulai Spa, function rooms, recreational facilities like gymnasium, swimming pools, a range of water sports and Kid’s Club indoor children’s playroom.

Places Within Walking Distance

Twenty-two km stretch of sandy beaches and panoramic views of the South China Sea.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 8 August 2013

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