Desaru Coast, among World's Greatest Places


“Congratulations!” to the Desaru Coast team for Desaru Coast to be named one of TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places of 2021, in the third annual edition of the list published on 20 July 2021.

Desaru Coast, designed as an integrated destination resort on the south-eastern coast of Johor, is the only destination in Malaysia to make this prestigious list this year.


A smooth drive to Desaru Coast
along the Senai-Desaru Expressway
across this impressive bridge

The list, that comprises 100 of the magazine’s top destinations from around the world, was compiled by TIME’s international network of correspondents as well as industry experts.


Desaru Coast joins this impressive list, recommended to a global audience as a beach escape that offers a coveted choice of international hotels and other draws such as world-class golf courses and cruises through the Sedili Wetlands.


Located in the south-eastern region of the country in the state of Johor, Desaru Coast spans over 4,000 acres along a pristine 17 km beachfront that faces eastwards over the clear ocean waters.

The iconic Mandala Guitar in the fore court
of Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast

Desaru Coast is curated as a premium destination resort in Malaysia with a portfolio of globally renowned hotels and resorts that include Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, The Westin Desaru Coast Resort, Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas and One&Only Desaru Coast.


The destination is also home to Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast - one of the world’s biggest waterparks, Desaru Coast Conference Centre - a fully equipped conference facility, The Els Club Desaru Coast – 45 holes of golf in total with two distinct clubs, Ocean Course and Valley Course, and Desaru Coast Riverside – a 23-acre water-front landscaped retail and lifestyle village.


A collection of Hard Rock pins

This integrated resort provides an indulgent getaway for the discerning leisure and business traveller alike. Set amid a rich bio-diverse location, this destination is easily accessible by road, air and sea.


The magazine also highlighted that the imminent opening of the Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal will offer increased transit options for Singapore and Indonesia.


Poolside view at The Westin Desaru Coast

"We are honoured to be globally recognised by such a renowned publication and we are proud to fly the flag for both Johor and Malaysia.


This is an outstanding achievement for a team only two years in operations, and after what has been and continues to be a challenging time for the industry.


With this notable feather in our cap, we look forward to welcoming guests from all over the world once travel resumes," said Desaru Coast Destination Resort Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Roslina Arbak.


A big splash for wet and wonderful fun at
the Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast

Since the 1970s, Desaru had been our family favourite even when travel time to this resort destination was some two hours of drive via Kota Tinggi from Johor Baru.


With drive time reduced to just 45 minutes to an hour’s smooth drive on the Senai-Desaru Expressway, Desaru Coast is now much more accessible.


I know this proud achievement in being counted among TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places of 2021, is indeed very special to my friends in Desaru Coast.


The swimming pools at Anantara Desaru
Coast Resort & Villas

This is because I had the privilege of being part of the development – and contributed in some small way – as I witnessed it developing and transforming, step-by-step into an international resort destination, until its official opening celebration in the Ombak Festival.


This grand opening by the Johor Sultan culminated with a charity-dinner concert dubbed, A Night with the Legends, that featured local music celebrities.


I also had the opportunity to be part of the official opening event for the iconic Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast and enjoyed conducting an interview with legendary Malaysian rockstar, Amy, who was the featured artiste in the event’s live show.


Roslina Arbak, Desaru Coast Destination Resort
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

It was also fun to witness the presentation of Rockstar memorabilia by a number of local celebrities from Jamal Abdillah, Ramli Sarip, Kathijah Ibrahim, Francissca Peters, Amy to Yuna, and joining their unique Hard Rock pin collectors’ events.


When Desaru Coast hosted a Gourmet Series that featured the culinary creativity of various celebrity chefs, I had the pleasure to dine on their specially curated menus.


I also had splashing good fun at the Splash Fest hosted by the Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast and reviewing the delightful Ramadan buffet spreads presented by The Els Club Desaru Coast and Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas.


It was my pleasure to meet Yuna at
Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, with
 Grace Chiam and Florence Liew

Already familiar with the destination and its many attractions, I did not hesitate to contribute, Welcome to Desaru Coast, to the Tourism Johor website in late 2020.


Then in December 2020, a friend who enjoyed a staycation at the One&Only Desaru Coast, told me that she saw my bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, in their luxurious hotel suite, provided for the guests’ reading pleasure.


On 15 July 2021, when this book celebrated the fourth anniversary of its launch, another friend sent me his best wishes and told me that he read my book when he stayed with the One&Only Desaru Coast.


My bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales,
Real People, Rich Heritage
, in the
One&Only Desaru Coast for guests to read
Not only did he pay high compliments for my stories, he even confessed jokingly that he wanted to steal the book from the hotel… (But he did not! I told him to get his own copy from MPH bookstores or online from


It was my privilege to work in partnership with Desaru Coast over the years and I share your pride and joy in being named among TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places in 2021.


Once again, “Congratulations!” to the hardworking team at Desaru Coast. Well done!


To view TIME’s full list of the World’s Greatest Places of 2021, please visit

DTHJB celebrates 7th anniversary

Ah! How time has flown and it was seven years since I shared my story Reinventing Jalan Ngee Heng in April 2014.

My choice of flower tea to go with High Tea

I can recall the exciting experience being escorted on a walk-about of the hotel in its pre-opening days, by none other than the hotel’s General Manager.

He remembered what I shared with him about growing up in grandfather’s house, which was once located at No. 154, a site directly opposite Wisma Maria.

The bungalow with a badminton court beside it, was demolished to make way for the construction of Jalan Tun Abdul Razak and what is left of it is only part of the driveway which is now occupied by an enterprising warung operator.

The Red Ruby High Tea set to
celebrate 7th anniversary of DTHJB

Locals know that Jalan Ngee Heng was once a long road that used to span from where Jalan Ngee Heng meets with Jalan Sulaiman right up to the intersection for Jalan Larkin, Jalan Kebun Teh Lama and Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek.

Now the road is much shorter, reduced to a portion that ends in front of Wisma Maria, while the main expressway that joins Jalan Larkin was renamed Jalan Tun Abdul Razak.

The arrival of DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru (DTHJB) in Johor Baru was a big deal to me because its presence on a heritage street like Jalan Ngee Heng, gave new life to a familiar old road.

What was left on this short road is a row of pre-war shophouses while all the other old buildings gave way to new sites like (the former) Tropical Inn, Wisma Maria and Landmark Mall which is linked to DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru.

Very soon, the landscape along this road would be further transformed when the now-under-construction Coronation Square is completed and opened.

A message for me!

I can never forget the thrill of a stay experience in the DTHJB just ahead of its opening to welcome in guests, one which I documented in Return to Jalan Ngee Heng because once again, I had the pleasure of waking up in this neighbourhood after leaving grandfather’s house some 37 years ago.

At the end of this stay, I had the task of providing feedback on various sections of the hotel for the management to make necessary improvements and adjustments, and I was pleased that my constructive comments were much valued and respected.

From then on, my friendship and partnership with this hotel developed steadily as I was often invited over for food reviews at their restaurants and caf├ęs.

I became more familiar with the hotel because it was a preferred choice of venue to host events and I had the privilege of being a guest at these prestigious and exciting events.

Sweet and savoury treats in 
The Red Ruby High Tea set

From club meetings, weddings to live performances and even fashion runway events, I was delighted to be part of these special occasions held at the hotel.

On January 4, 2017, my friend Gwen and I were at the Axis Lounge to indulge in a High Tea treat and to discuss my book project, the first in the My Johor Stories series.

As the project progressed, it crossed my mind that it would be meaningful for my book launch event to be held in this hotel that was located on the same road as where I grew up in grandfather’s house…

To find out if it was possible, I wrote to the hotel with a request and soon received a favourable reply:  Yes! The date and time I requested for, was approved!

After this confirmation, the next message I received from the hotel stated that General Manager, Simon McGrath, offered to sponsor the venue as well as light refreshments.

My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real
People, Rich Heritage, was launched
on 15 July 2017 at DTHJB

Thrilled with this generous offer, I sent an email to express my appreciation to Simon and his gracious reply read:

We are most happy to support your book launch, which is a further reaffirmation of the relationship we have enjoyed with you since the pre-opening of the hotel. We share your passion for the heritage of Johor and the stories that support the fabric of its history.”

Then on July 12, just two days before my book launch event in 2017, Gwen and I kept our date for a delightful time together at the Axis Lounge again, to enjoy High Tea in the theme a Tropical High Tea with Tea Drop tea.

In November 2017, I shared a summary of the many exciting happenings with the hotel that year in, DoubleTree by Hilton in my momentous year.

So I have what we call, a bit of history with the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru.

Fast forward to July 2021 when the hotel invited me to celebrate its 7th anniversary in JB with a kind offer to send over a High Tea set in the theme The Red Ruby for afternoon tea on July 12.

A photo memento from five years ago, 
captured at my book launch event held
at DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru

How uncanny! It was for the very same date exactly five years ago…

This Red Ruby High Tea was indeed a timely celebration for DTHJB’s 7th anniversary and to commemorate five years since my bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, was launched at DTHJB on 15 July 2017.

Served with Dilmah Tea, it was a joy to savour this High Tea set made up of a selection of sandwiches, scones and pastries, with my mum and eldest sister, Ruby.

It is now my pleasure and great privilege to wish a very Happy 7th Anniversary to DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru with every good wish for many more anniversaries to come.

Thank you for being part of my journey in My Johor Stories.

Priced at RM58 nett for two persons, The Red Ruby High Tea set is available from 12pm to 6pm daily until August 31.

DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru is located at No. 12 Jalan Ngee Heng, 80000 Johor Baru, Johor. Tel: 607 – 268 6868 or Email: 

Blue skies in Johor Baru

In April 2020, I shared a collection of photographs of Johor Baru city centre in Our Silent Streets to encourage fellow Johoreans to strictly stay home in order to break the chain of infection of the Covid19 virus.

View of the Sultan Ibrahim Building from
Jalan Ungku Puan, Johor Baru

Under the Movement Control Order (MCO) that was extended and modified over the past months, the public have been obeying the instruction to Stay Home to Stay Safe while only essential services are able to operate.

According to reports collected from around the world, public compliance to stay away from crowded spaces has yielded positive results and lowered the number of new infections.

Meanwhile here is another glimpse of familiar streets early morning in July 2021, that would remain free from heavy traffic throughout the day during the lockdown.

Jalan Trus, Johor Baru

Photo credit goes to a former colleague who walked through some of our city’s once busiest streets from Jalan Tebrau via Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Trus to HSBC bank and back.

It is truly an unprecedented time in history, not just for JB but also in many cities nationwide and around the world.

More than a year from the lockdown that started on March 18, 2020, each one of us may have a family member or know of someone who was infected by the virus or had passed away due to its ravages.

Johor Baru city skyline viewed
from Jalan Tebrau, Johor Baru

News reports shared horrific scenes about the overwhelmed conditions of public hospitals and the challenges in coping with the patients who were being brought in.

Last year, we saw scenes that happened in other countries but this year, the scenes are closer to home – happening right here, in the capital city of our own country.

Temporary wards are being set up outdoors in army hospitals and even within the basement carparks, to accommodate the flood of patients being admitted.

Skyscrapers along Jalan Wong Ah Fook

Instead of resting on hospital beds, patients have to lie on camp beds or just sit on chairs and must share their oxygen supply just to breathe more comfortably.

The number of Brought-In-Dead have been on the rise and funeral services are overwhelmed by the number of burials they must handle under very strict conditions.

It was good that recently (finally!) the vaccination exercise was decentralized and now vaccinations were also available at private hospitals and clinics, and mobile clinics are reaching outlying areas where the elderly and those without transport, may also receive their doses of vaccination.

Along Sungai Segget by Jalan Wong Ah Fook

Sadly, several established hotels and businesses were forced to closed while many are struggling to stay in operation or have diversified their businesses.

It was sadder still that some who were struggling to survive, decided to end their lives along with their families because they faced a bleak future and felt there was no hope.

In response to such a desperate need for food and daily essentials, a community initiative dubbed the White Flag Campaign, kicked off to meet this need.

Where Jalan Pasar meets Jalan Trus, JB

It was heartwarming to see the response from small and big supermarket brands as well as large corporations and small businesses, who rose to the occasion in providing Food Banks, food and health packages, and even cooked food, for the needy in the community.

In Johor, the disadvantaged sector of our community continues to be helped by individual volunteers, Non-Governmental Individuals and Non-Governmental Organisations, in a network of social heroes under the Social Hero Foundation (SHF) and Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards (IMSHA).

Backlane that links Jalan Wong Ah Fook
with Jalan Meldrum, Johor Baru

Our social heroes deserve a BIG Thank You for their commitment and caring hearts.

Another HUGE Thank You goes to the medical teams, uniformed personnel, government agencies and volunteers who are working hard at the frontlines.

While every effort is being made to deal with the bad effects caused by this pandemic, let us pause to pray – each in your own way – specifically for five main points:

Firstly, for people who are affected by the virus, the sick and the suffering; those in distress over the loss of a loved one, the loss of income and for needy people who are at a loss, not knowing where their next meal will come from.

Secondly, for all the heroes at the frontlines including scientists, researchers, doctors, nurses, healthcare team members from drivers, cooks to cleaners who are working tirelessly to care for patients.

May they continue to be blessed with high morale, dedication and courage to press on and remain focused as they serve others with their specific set of skills.

For the Police, armed forces, firefighters and other uniformed personnel who are involved with keeping the law; and as they carry out their duties, their highly esteemed code of conduct will earn respect from all levels in the community.

Also, for our social heroes who are reaching out to help the needy in the community, that their financial and material support will be sustained so that they may continue to provide practical help more effectively.

Another view of the Sultan Ibrahim on Bukit Timbalan from Jalan Ungku Puan, JB

Thirdly, for the leaders of the nation and the authorities in the government, to put the community first and to make wise, well-thought-out and effective decisions to protect and benefit the nation.

Fourthly, for this season of darkness to pass very soon, and that there will be relieve and restoration in individual lives, families, communities in every nation.

The fifth and most importantly, for God’s sovereign will to overrule and for His will and grace to abound as we recover and heal from this greatest crisis of our time.

As we prayerfully ponder on these points, let us also count our many blessings.

If you are exercised to pray (Read: Talk to God), do pray consistently on these points.

If you wish to volunteer or contribute to the Social Hero Foundation, write to email:

Thank you all for your partnership in prayer and for your help to the needy in this difficult time.

Meanwhile, my fellow Johoreans, go out only when absolutely necessary and please strictly stay home in order to break the chain of infection of the deadly Covid19 virus.

From photographer to farmer

When one lockdown period led to the next, it compelled many businesses and professionals to adjust and adapt to the prevailing circumstances to survive in this prevailing pandemic.

While office workers shifted to Working-From-Home, some hotels, restaurants and cafes diversified and established an online presence for takeaways and delivered food, cakes and pastries, and others pivoted to pursue various business avenues.

In October 2019, I was among a few facilitators invited to speak in a Citizen Journalism training course and a professional photographer, Vishnu Dev of Reel Studio, was the facilitator for the Photography module. That was probably the last time we met.

During the lockdowns, our media friends are staying in touch through a WhatsApp chat group and in a recent conversation, someone shared a photograph of Vishnu Dev that only showed us his back.

We could easily recognize him from his T-shirt because its design had the name, Reel Studio printed across his shoulders.

We also saw him standing next to a 4x4 vehicle with the cargo bed filled with baskets of durians and this image prompted a flurry of curious questions.

It did not take long for me to elicit some answers from Vishnu who explained that he was now farming and also supplying fresh durians from Tangkak that included a home delivery service.

It was interesting to learn that Vishnu had turned to farming and was applying technologies from India to cultivate the land and in rearing grass-fed goats and free-range chickens.

Vishnu Dev, parked outside our house,
opening fresh durians for me!

With fruits ripening this durian season, he was driving to Tangkak to collect fresh fruits for sale in and around Johor Baru during the weekend.

“Really good. Cakap2 suddenly I realized I had eaten one whole fruit myself!” the one who bought fruits from Vishnu and shared his photo, confessed in our group chat.

Her comments were followed by another who had also bought fruits from Vishnu and he confirmed, “Yes, very good fruits. Siap ada home delivery!”

The durian season which is happening during this nationwide lockdown, has clearly not curbed the desire for the taste of real durian.

I always preferred whole fruits that can be opened in front of me and this facility convinced me to arrange for Vishnu to come over with his carload of durians.  

After all, a durian treat would go a long way to cheer up mum who had been obediently staying at home.

By this time, Vishnu had sent me his Baby Agrofarm poster with the price list for durian species listed as D101, D13, Durian Kampung and Musang King.

I read the fine print and liked the assurance that Delivery was Free in the Johor Baru area for a minimum purchase of three kg.

Fresh durian from Tangkak

That was because I already had in mind to buy extra portions for two fans-of-durian-friends to bless them with a share of our durian treat during this difficult time.

I had arranged for Vishnu to come over the following afternoon and he arrived promptly at about 3pm.

His 4x4 vehicle with the cargo bed filled with baskets of durian, parked in front of our house, must have piqued the curiosity of the neighbours because two of them came out for a look.

It was mid-afternoon with cloudy skies after a light drizzle, just right for Vishnu to set up the rear of his car with a weighing scale, as he deftly opened the fruits and packed the fleshy seeds into a few takeaway boxes that I provided.

His telephone rang while he was wielding his knife on the thorny fruits so I told him to answer the call, which was probably another order for his delightful durians.

Pulpy durian seeds D101 and D13

He did already have another appointment in Desa Cemerlang and after taking one more phone call, Vishnu was off to his next destination to deliver more durian.

As soon as I brought the boxes of durian into our house, I was off to deliver the two boxes of durian to my friends so that they could savour the freshly opened taste of their favourite fruit.

Well done, Vishnu for your courage to move from photographer to farmer.

For a start, your durian delivery has brought a bounty of good cheer into not only ours but many homes.

For your home delivery of fresh durians, call Vishnu Dev on Tel: +6016 789 9996.

Chinese crispy treats

More than 30 years ago, when my eldest sister and her family lived in Taman Ungku Tun Aminah, she introduced me to the taste of a range of popular Chinese crispy treats bought from a humble stall in this neighbourhood.

Wah Cai 3-in-1 Chinese Cake in
Taman Ungku Tun Aminah, Johor Baru

After my sister and her family had moved to live in another area, we often returned to visit their old haunts to eat and buy food that they had grown familiar with.

Back then, these deep-fried delicacies were among our favourite takeaways to snack on for afternoon tea.

It had been some years since we enjoyed these tasty treats so when I read a recent post about it on Facebook, I had a flashback to those days when we had to queue up for our turn to buy these freshly deep-fried items.

Last week while I was out for grocery shopping, I decided to include a stopover at Taman Ungku Tun Aminah just to see if I could find that stall again.

A slow drive with my eyes carefully scanning the shops along the route reaped the reward of spotting a stall that looked like they were serving deep-fried items.

I made a safe U-Turn for a return drive on that same route to take a closer look at that stall and was delighted to read the words: 3-in-1 Chinese Cake emblazoned on the sign written in Chinese.

We may be familiar with the phrase 3-in-1, often used to describe instant hot beverages in a pre-mix of white coffee with sugar.

Look at those plump curry puffs!

This popular 3-in-1 Chinese cake was likewise, made up of three layers of ingredients, slices of yam, sweet potato and nian gao, a Chinese New Year sweet cake known locally as kueh bakul.

The young lady who was taking orders explained in Mandarin, the “buy-two-get-one-free” deal for selected items but because I was slow to grasp the meaning of what she was saying, she patiently repeated it to me.

By this time, several people had joined the queue behind me so I quickly picked my choices for fried whole bananas, their signature 3-in-1 Chinese Cake and of course, their famous Skudai Fried Durian.

In addition to banana and durian, their menu also offered fried tapioca, cempedak, patties of green beans and also plump-looking curry puffs.

Check out the three layers in their
signature 3-in-1 Chinse cake

Using split open brown paper bags that (to me!) resembled boats, the young lady neatly arranged my snack orders in separate boats for the fried bananas, 3-in-1 Chinese Cake and the blocks of fried durian.

Packed in these open boats for takeaways, the freshly fried items stayed warm and crispy when we savoured them for afternoon tea.

“Crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside,” aptly described the taste of real durian oozing out from the block of deep-fried durian, wrapped within crispy batter.

Generous portion of real durian oozing out!

It was not just the King of Fruits that keeps regulars going back for more but also their fried bananas which feature Pisang Rajah, ripe, sweet and tender King of Bananas.

The portions were generous and appropriate for the price, and I must admit that it was pure pleasure to reminisce about this familiar flavour and taste real ingredients with each crunchy bite.

Chinese crispy treats by Wah Cai 3-in-1 (Non-Halal) is at No. 86 Jalan Pahlawan 2, Taman Ungku Tun Aminah, 81300 Skudai, Johor. Open daily until 4.30pm.