A new-look Desaru Fruit Farm

My last visit to the Desaru Fruit Farm was in May 2019 for a tour experience with mum along with her sisters and their spouses, the pairs fondly known as The Seventies.

Facade of the fruit and souvenir shop at the
Desaru Fruit Farm designed with a new look

Since sharing my fruit farm experience in a Travel story, Tutti Frutti Moments, (NST Travel Times, May 2007), I have been back to the farm countless times with different groups and for various events.

After this piece was published in the Travel section with a nationwide distribution, I shared another piece, A Fruity Fun Time (NST, Johor Streets, October 2009), in the Southern section of the newspapers.

Then in conjunction with the Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia Travel Fair, I wrote a feature that highlighted a range of attractions in Johor that included the Desaru Fruit Farm in, Plenty to see and do in Johor (NST, Johor Streets, April 2010).

Fast-forward to 2017 when I published a collection of Johor stories in my bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, with the support of MPH Publishing and Think City Johor Baru.

On the first week this book was launched, it went to Number One in the MPH Non-Fiction Bestsellers list and stayed on the list for weeks and months. At the end of the year, this title was counted among The Best of MPH in 2017.

The success of Book One led to the publication of its sequel, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

The collection of Johor stories featured in Book Two of My Johor Stories included inspirational people and heritage traders not only in Johor Baru but also in Johor towns like Muar, Batu Pahat, Kluang, Kulai, Kelapa Sawit and Desaru.

To prepare the manuscript, I made road trips to meet with the subjects to let them share their stories with me.

Incidentally, all the subjects featured in Book Two were people whom I was already acquainted with from my own encounters with them – except for one.

Later I shared my travel adventures in, Building Bridges, (My Johor Stories, November 2018) and thanked the subjects for letting me document their family stories – many of them untold until then – now featured exclusively in my book.

The Er family who operates the Desaru Fruit Farm, were among the subjects featured in Book Two.

A new logo for the new image
of Desaru Fruit Farm
When I was in Desaru Coast again to visit the new developments and international brand hotels here, I was delighted to discover that Desaru Fruit Farm had opened a retail outlet at the Riverside.

In April 2019, while I was at the Tunamaya Beach & Spa Resort, Desaru Coast, for their Ramadan buffet preview, I met with Er Cheong Kee and his wife, Alice, of Desaru Fruit Farm, who were also dining there.

This was the last time I saw Mr Er, who – I later learnt – passed away peacefully on Father’s Day in June 2019.

Since 2020 the global pandemic adversely affected the economy everywhere and the Desaru Fruit Farm was no exception.

While the number of farm visitors dwindled and came to a sad stop due to the lockdowns, the farm work continued with nurturing the orchard attractions to prepare for the return of visitors.

As the economy gradually reopened, I accepted the invitation to the Ramadan buffet preview at Tumeric, the Malay-Thai restaurant in Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas in March 2021.

Fresh fruits dangled above the
round-about display

This was where I met with Steve Er of Desaru Fruit Farm who happily told me that he finally read my story on their farm, published in My Johor Stories Book Two.

I was glad that he finally found time to read it because at my book launch event in December 2018, I had presented a copy of my book to his mother.


When I expressed my sympathies at the passing of his father, I know that he deeply appreciated that the story of the humble beginnings of Desaru Fruit Farm is now documented in my book and treasured by their family for future generations.

In my recent visit to Desaru Coast, I decided that on the return drive, I should drop by at the farm to buy some fresh fruits.

So after I had checked out from the hotel, I drove directly to the farm which was situated close to the Penawar Toll gates.

The first thing that struck me about the fa├žade of the fruit and souvenir shop was how neatly the vehicles were arranged and that its image and colours had changed along with a new logo.

At the pavement I spotted Steve, shouting some instructions to another person, and when I said, “Hello!” to him, he did not recognize me until I had removed my hat (it was drizzling!) and shades.

I told him I was there to see what fruits were available and headed in while he went on his way to do that which I had interrupted.

At a glance I could see that the shop floor had been rearranged but their original round-about display counter was still there, now displayed with fresh fruits packed in see-through poly-bags and trays of fruits wrapped in cling-wrap.

Just as before, I saw bunches of fruits dangled enticingly from the wire mesh ceiling above the round display and this time there were bananas and jambu ayer or rose apples.

Among other fruits on the chiller shelves, I spotted melons, mangoes, guava and roselle, neatly packed and arranged, along with cups of cut fruits and jars of pickled fruits like sliced mangoes and whole umbra or kedondong.

Jars of pickled fruits and cups of cut fruits 
displayed in the chiller [Right]

I scanned the jars for pickled papaya (a favourite ever since I tasted it here!) and because I failed to find it, I asked the helpful sales-lady who was attending to me.

“Don’t have,” she replied and confirmed what I already guessed.

She then helped to select combs of bananas and recommended a species of mangoes which she said was called, Sultan.

As we chatted at the pay point, I quizzed her about how she was related to Steve and when she introduced herself as his eldest sister, I then introduced myself to her.

When I came to meet her parents for their story in 2018, I did not meet any other family members but she told me that she remembered seeing me.

At the pay point in the Fruit & Souvenir Shop

She was managing the shop and I have been at the farm countless times for farm tours that aptly ended with a fruit buffet, so she would have probably seen me.

As I left the farm with my pick of fresh fruits, my thoughts were about the farm and the family who was running it.

It was so good to see a new generation taking over the farm operations, upgrading its image and adding fun attractions like self-driven All-Terrain-Vehicles through the farm.

Desaru Fruit Farm is located close to Sungai Cemaran, Desaru, 81900 Kota Tinggi, Johor. Open daily from 8.30am to 6.00pm.

For more info on farm tours and meal reservations, visit website: www.dff.world

Note: My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, and its sequel, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People are available from MPH bookstores nationwide and online from, www.mphonline.com

Dine with the Desaru Coast Ramadan Passport

When I heard about the Desaru Coast Ramadan Culinary Passport that will let you travel on a five-star culinary journey to dine at three spectacular Ramadan buffets at this premium beach destination in Johor, I had to find out more.

The Desaru Coast Ramadan Culinary Passport

As my battery of questions were being answered, I soon learnt that for one price, this Ramadan Culinary Passport will entitle me to dine at my choice of three out of four participating restaurants in Desaru Coast.

This means that with the Passport, diners can choose to dine at any three of the four choices of five-star Ramadan buffets served at Tumeric at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas, Seasonal Tastes at The Westin Desaru Coast Resort, Sessions at Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast and Els Ballroom at The Els Club Desaru Coast, Ocean Course.

From previous Ramadan buffet experiences at these restaurants, I thought this Ramadan Culinary Passport with a one-price-for-three-buffets dining deal, is good value for money.

A warm welcome back to
Desaru Coast, Johor

In fact, I recently had the privilege to enjoy the preview of the Ramadan buffet in the theme, Selera Malaysia presented at Tumeric, a Malay-Thai kitchen in Anantara Desaru Coast, and came away longing for more.

So when I received the invitation to join Roslina Arbak, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer of Desaru Development Holdings One Sdn Bhd, for a breaking-of-fast meal at Tumeric (again!) I did not hesitate to accept.

Desaru is a familiar destination as our family made many memories from our staycations here, long before the international brands came to Johor.

And when Desaru Coast was developed, I was part of the excitement at many events held here as well as its official opening by His Majesty the Sultan of Johor.


The drive on the Senai-Desaru Expressway was smooth and the weather cooperated well throughout the day as our group arrived safely and settled into our accommodation at The Westin Desaru Coast. It was certainly good to be back at Desaru Coast again.

Our group with Roslina Arbak [Left] and her
team at Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas

I was pleased that the Desaru Coast team had also planned an itinerary for us to have a tour of the resorts and attractions in the region’s first premier beach destination.

While I was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with friends at Desaru Coast and to see the changes in these destinations, I was particularly keen on seeing the progress in the development of the Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal.

It was uncanny because on the very morning of my trip to Desaru Coast, I received a query from a reader based in Singapore, who was doing some research on the Johor Steamship company that used to operate steamships that plied across the Johor Straits.

Place card on the table at Tumeric

She wished to find out exactly where the jetty was situated on the Singapore coast and thought I should know because she had probably also read about how my grandmother used to travel between Johor Baru and Singapore by ferry to visit her uncles in Tanjung Pagar.

While the ferries from a bygone era transferred passengers across the Straits only from jetty to jetty, I thought that the purpose-built Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal was like a 21st century replica of ferries that mirror direct connectivity between the two nations.

With my mind whirling with questions about this spanking new Ferry Terminal, I waited for the right opportunity to quiz Roslina about it – maybe later, after dinner.

At Anantara Desaru Coast that evening, the itinerary started with a pre-dinner tour of the resort before meeting with Roslina and her team for the breaking-of-fast dinner at Tumeric.

With Roslina at Tumeric for dinner

Helmed by Executive Sous Chef Unaver Unabia with the support of a culinary team made up of Chef Mohd Zulkifli, Chef Faidz and Thai Chef Ammara, I saw the full spread of the Selera Malaysia Ramadan buffet, set up in and around the restaurant.

In addition to traditional Malaysian breaking-of-fast staples like satay, assam pedas and rendang, there were tasty Thai specialties like Som Tom or young papaya salad and Phad Thai or Thai-style stir-fried rice noodles.

I remembered the distinct taste of their Mango Sago pudding which I so enjoyed from my previous dining experience here and eagerly anticipated the opportunity to taste it again.

But when I enquired about it with the restaurant staff, I could not hide my disappointment when I was told that it was not on the menu that evening.

A serving of Mango Sago pudding at Tumeric

I know that many restaurants will serve a variety of menus on rotation and the menu that evening happened to be one without the Mango Sago pudding.

Quietly resigned to the (sad!) fact that there was no Mango Sago pudding, I went on to savour the many dishes in the good company of Roslina and her team.

As we lingered over the meal, we heard exciting details of how Desaru Coast turned out to be the preferred destination for locals who longed for a nearby beach get-away with attractions that rivaled international beach destinations like Mauritius.

With Chef Unaver and his Mango Sago puddings

In the post pandemic era when people needed to enjoy wide open spaces, the sandy beaches of Desaru Coast, hotels, resorts and family-friendly attractions like the Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast, have been hosting small group gatherings and retreats.

Desaru Coast is a unique leisure destination like no other because the coastline offers yachting and beach fun with international standard accommodation complete with spa pampering, nearby natural attractions like a Fruit Farm, Ostrich Farm and Crocodile Farm, as well as scenic cycling routes and even a mangrove forest to explore.

At Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast with our
host, Chantal [Left]
In addition to learning about the benefits of dining with the Desaru Coast Ramadan Culinary Passport, we learnt more about how Desaru Coast was gaining popularity as a destination for small groups, not just for golf and cycling but also for spa and wellness retreats.

With my attention focused on Roslina, who was sharing this exciting info with us, I was not distracted by serving staff who were moving unobtrusively around the table to clear away used plates…

Then I turned and suddenly saw – to my utter surprise – a plate topped with familiar small jars that were filled with chilled – Mango Sago pudding!

At The Els Club Desaru Coast with our
host, Farahin [Left]
Some angel must have whispered into the ears of the Chef about my desire for this dessert… and he did some magic to whip up this sweet treat... for which I was deeply grateful.

When Roslina and the others tasted the pudding, they agreed with me that it was extraordinary and would also highly recommend it.

Later (after I had eaten it!) Chef Unaver came to our table. He blushed deeply and smiled ear-to-ear when I thanked him for going the extra mile, just for me. Thank you, Chef!

With dinner comfortably behind us, over coffee Roslina then shared an interesting update about the Ferry Terminal.

Construction still in progress at the
Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal

With the building construction 95% completed and scheduled for completion by end June, full ferry operations may not start immediately due to the border closure with neighbouring countries.

In the meantime, the terminal will be used for island-hopping activities.

The terminal houses a Customs, Immigration and Quarantine centre, VIP Lounge, duty-free shops, slipway to launch private boats and fuel bunkering facilities.

When the Ferry Terminal is fully operational, visitors from Singapore can be free from the causeway crawl because ferry travel time between Singapore and Desaru Coast is anticipated to be reduced to about 90 minutes only.

Roslina, sharing the benefits of dining with
the Desaru Coast Ramadan Culinary Passport

Meanwhile the wet weather next morning did not deter us from visiting Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast and The Els Club Desaru Coast, Ocean Course, with a stopover for a look at the Ferry Terminal.

[As construction was still in progress, there was no access into the terminal so we only had an overview of the site from a vantage point outside its premises.]

It was good to see that construction on the Ferry Terminal in Phase One of this national infrastructure project for the greater good of Desaru will soon be completed because its ferry operations will certainly improve connectivity with Desaru Coast.

Get your Desaru Coast Ramadan Culinary Passport at only RM299 each and make your dining reservations at the restaurant of your choice at least three (3) days in advance from now till May 12, 2021.

For restaurant reservations and enquiries, contact the Desaru Coast Destination Concierge daily from 8.30am to 7pm on Tel: +607 277 2058 and by WhatsApp on Tel: +6019 791 2217 or email to: concierge@desarucoast.com

For more info, visit webpage: www.desarucoast.com

At the toddy shop ... again

It was still drizzling when I arrived at the Johor Baru Public Toddy Shop to meet up with Nagalingam Chelladurai, the licensed operator of the toddy shop.

Signboards outside the Johor Baru
Public Toddy Shop

Nagalingam, a father of three children – two boys and his youngest, a girl – told me that his daughter kept a copy of my story, Cheers to an old friend, (NST Johor Streets, January 2012) in his phone for easy reference.

When he re-read this piece, which recorded Nagalingam’s age as 49, he marveled that almost 10 years had already passed because he will be turning 59 this year.

A great deal has indeed happened in the past few years and we spent some time exchanging updates before I shared with him, the purpose of our meet-up.

A sign outside in multi-languages

I told him about my collection of My Johor Stories that were published and showed him my two books, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage as well as its sequel, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

I explained that I am preparing the manuscript for Book Three of My Johor Stories and proposed to include in its contents under Johor Culture-Heritage, the story of the JB Public Toddy Shop.

Nagalingam was delighted that my book will document this small but significant part of Johor history and went on to share with me, his plans to upgrade the facilities to give it a proper facelift.

From its signboard and historical references, the building was clearly ancient and believed to be built by the British as a government building in 1920.

The ancient design of the windows with
stained glass panes above

I could see from the building structure and its windows, designed with stained-glass panes above, that it was indeed an old building that had hardly seen any upgrading for a long time.

He was aware that the building and its use has rich historical value, and was thrilled that it will be documented in Book Three of My Johor Stories.

Meanwhile he had already started the application process to the various government departments and agencies to obtain approval for the upgrading work on the building and was seeking a document from the Chief Minister’s office to support this project.

The layout plan for the site in the Township of
Johore Bahru, District of Johore Bahru

Nagalingam had brought along a thick folder filled with ancient documents and opened interesting layout plans to show me the site allocated for use as a licensed toddy shop with an adjacent site for opium smoking.

Back in the 1920s, opium was regarded as a form of investment and source of much needed revenue in a developing town.

Even though it was a copy of the original plans for the Township of Johore Bahru in the District of Johore Bahru, I could tell it was an ancient document because in the past, Johor was then known as Johore.

While the opium business no longer exists, the JB Public Toddy Shop continues to serve toddy connoisseurs who range from ordinary folks to doctors, lawyers and tourists.

Presenting my book to Nagalingam

As I was seated in the shop chatting with Nagalingam, I observed customers coming in to buy fresh toddy as takeaways, bottled in 1.5-liter bottles.

The recent lockdowns and the border closure with neighbouring Singapore did affect the number of customers in the shop but with the reopening of the economy, they are seeing more regular customers returning for a refreshing drink.

While it was good to know about the changes Nagalingam had made with his coconut plantation that supplies fresh toddy to the shop, I was sad to learn that his father, Chelladurai Loorthusami, had passed away peacefully just two months ago.

Nagalingam had worked alongside his father, who took over the operations of the JB Public Toddy Shop under license with the Royal Malaysian Customs, Johor, in 1984, and learnt the ropes from him.

When his father retired in 2010, Nagalingam took over the licence to operate this business in 2011. I met him in late 2011 and shared their story in the newspapers in early 2012.

In fact, the people whom I met with him in the shop some 10 years ago, have since retired and now his brother-in-law is helping with the business in the shop.

Nagalingam untying the
ribbon on the book presented to him

In the course of our conversation, I was pleased to discover that his eldest son, who is involved with fish farming, has showed interest in the business and was learning about the day-to-day operations.

After hearing the plans Nagalingam had in mind for the future of the shop, I am looking forward to seeing an upgraded building with modern facilities that will appeal to both locals and tourists who were keen to visit this unique historical attraction in our city.

Before I left the shop, there was just one more thing to do: to present a copy of my 2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage to Nagalingam with my best compliments.

I reminded him to share my book with his family – especially his daughter, a medical doctor – and look forward to reading the story of the JB Public Toddy Shop in my Book Three, which is currently a work-in-progress. Cheers!

Local handicrafts for premium gifts

The Care United Malaysia, Fashion and Handicraft Gallery carries a line of indigenous art created sustainably in fashion and useful accessories, are handcrafted by tribal women from indigenous tribes in Sarawak.

A section of the featured items in the
Hari Raya Collection

These tribal women are among the indigenous tribes of Malaysia who called the rainforest their home.

They used to rely heavily on the rainforest to supply food and shelter, and while some remain semi-nomadic, many have transitioned into modern life and now live in resettled communities.

Among the skills handed down through generations is weaving with natural fibers harvested from the forests.

This unique skill is now applied to weaving with rattan and recycled materials like compressed paper and polyester straps that can be cleaned and reused sustainably.

Facade of the Care United Fashion and
Handicraft Gallery in Taman Molek, JB

Beautiful handcrafts made by tribal women are now available here for connoisseurs of indigenous art to use and present as premium gifts to friends and guests.

Brought to Johor by Care United, a passion-driven social enterprise, you can partner with them through buying these useful handicrafts because 40% of the profits will be contributed to their Food Aid Projects.

Established in August 2005, Care United is a club made up of a group of people from all walks of life with caring hearts that aim to help the needy survive.

They pledge to focus on the under privileged and assist in charitable undertakings while setting an example in building a more united and socially aware society.

Over the years, I had the privilege to attend and cover numerous events they organized to help the under privileged in our community, published in Streets Johor, a pull-out section of The New Straits Times that ceased publication in 2015.

Tote bags created with
the Sakura weave

Among these social, welfare and fun events were celebrating Merdeka Day with children, Back-to-School Programmes, Golden Years celebrations with the elderly and donations to families affected by seasonal floods.

One of the distinguishing features of the projects by Care United is the principle that their beneficiaries are the needy, regardless of race or religion, and all donations go to them instead of the club’s administrative costs.

Care United is also a charitable organization with tax-exemption status where donations of RM50 and above are entitled to tax exemption.

Based on these noble principles, Care United has fostered unity and friendships among Malaysians, and successfully organized fund-raising events to undertake the club’s annual charity programmes for the under privileged in the community.

After 16 years here, it is timely for Care United to showcase some of the unique and useful handicrafts made by tribal women in a fashion and handicraft gallery opened in Taman Molek.

Wall-to-wall display of attractive bags;
[Far Left] tote bags created with
the intricate grande starweave

Since I was in the neighbourhood for another appointment, I decided to drop by at the gallery for a visit.

In line with the coming festive season, the gallery featured a range of products to celebrate Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, suitable for use by house-proud hosts as well as premium gifts that are a pride to present to others and a joy to receive.

Branded a simple, MY to represent Malaysia to the world, it also means something personal for every individual to proudly claim the unique product as “my bag” or “my mug” or “my-something...”

I must confess that I could not help being distracted by the wall-to-wall display of eye-catching tote and carrier bags.

This bag was woven with compressed paper!

Later, when I met with founder and creative director of Care United Malaysia, Datuk Florence Goh, who pointed out that each bag was identified by a given name.

With her help, I began to notice why each type of bag were so named natural weave, tote baguette, tote crescent, classic mega, tote crisscross, tote Sakura weave, and tote grande starweave.

The natural weave products are original woven products by the indigenous tribes in East Malaysia while the Sakura weave was inspired by the Sakura flower.

Teacup with saucer sets
designed with Malaysian motif
and in Batik motif [Top]

As its name describes, the classic mega is a big bag while the tote baguette and tote crescent resembled the shape of a baguette and a crescent.

As I admired the designs, I began to understand that the grande starweave was a skillful and stylish weave that created and irregular but more interesting pattern.

The Hari Raya Collection features a charming MY Festive Teacups Set made up of four ceramic teacups with matching saucers presented within one MY bag basket.

The collection also features tea sets namely, the Vintage Tea Set with one Teapot with six ceramic mugs within one woven basket, decorated in matching decoupage designs.

Meanwhile the Palazzo Tea Set is made up of one Teapot and six ceramic teacups with matching saucers within one woven basket, decorated in matching decoupage designs.

Trendy footwear designed in 
matching pattern as handbag

With tiffin carriers making a comeback as sustainable takeaway food carriers, the Hari Raya Collection offers an attractive range of MY Superior Tiffins and MY Premium Tiffins, stainless steel carriers in three sizes that are beautifully decorated by vinyl stickers that are heat resistant.

The Vintage Casserole Set – suitable for presenting festive food like rendang – is made up of two casserole dishes within a small classic woven tote bag, all decorated in matching decoupage designs.

Staying close to tradition, the Hari Raya Collection also has a range of tudung saji or traditional food covers woven from rattan.

They come in a choice three sizes and two styles: cone and dome shapes.

Carrier bags for yoga
enthusiasts comes with a mat!
These are handmade with care so the sizes may vary slightly due to the nature of the handicraft.

To create a more cosy and festive ambience this Raya, light up the Hari Raya Collection of MY scented candles in the Travel Series, sold in sets of two candles, and the Wellness Series, sold in sets of three candles.

Besides looking at the featured products for the festive season, I took time to browse around the gallery to see the Normal collection, now on special promotion with good discounts on the listed prices.

There are even carrier bags made with yoga enthusiasts in mind. Best of all, the bag comes with a rolled-up yoga mat in a matching colour.

There are also fashionable clutch bags, specially designed with a ring that can be worn as a bangle when you wish to free your hands from holding the bag.

A range of clutch bags design with a ring/bangle

Sturdy yet stylish carrier bags with strong handle straps are suitable for use as document carriers as they comfortably fit files and documents.

But don’t just take my word for it.

For a better experience of indigenous art designed in useful products, drop by at the gallery for a closer look and feel of each item. Trust me. You will be spoilt for choice.

Cool footwear in designs for men and women

Discover more products on social media: Instagram @mybag.cu and @FloArt.my and on Facebook MYBag.cu and FloArt.my

Visit online shop at https://mybag.kyte.site Prices listed for the Hari Raya Collection are after 20% discount. Receive an additional 10% discount on your receipt when you buy from the Normal collection and Hari Raya collection.

The Fashion and Handicraft Gallery by Care United Malaysia is located at No. 42 Jalan Molek 2/3, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Baru, Johor. For enquiries, WhatsApp Tel: +6016 – 791 0546.

Open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Closed Sunday and Public Holidays.