Four Points by Sheraton opens in Desaru

With the annual monsoon upon us, the weather was wet and drizzly in Johor Baru in the morning of November 18, the date for the Grand Opening of the all-new Four Points by Sheraton Desaru.


Facade of Four Points by Sheraton Desaru
located in Desaru Utama, Johor

After a leisurely afternoon drive on the Senai-Desaru Expressway, I parked at the open carpark in the forecourt of the hotel in Desaru Utama and was elated to see how cloudy skies had turned to clear blue with the sun shining through.


I was deliberately early to take in the sights before the arrival of guests and VIPs with Guest-of-Honour, Johor Menteri Besar, Dato’ Haji Hasni Mohammad, to officiate the opening.


From the façade of the hotel building, I saw that every one of the 311 rooms in this hotel has a balcony for guests to enjoy the spectacular sunrise and sunset views.


In the front porch, I spotted the ubiquitous string of red firecrackers hung from the ceiling, all ready to be set off as part of the opening ceremony in a typically Malaysian tradition of business openings to usher in blessings and good fortune.


As I admired the contemporary décor for the reception counters where staff were helping guests to check-in, natural light flooded into the lobby through the floor-to-ceiling glass front walls.


From the lobby, a wide staircase led upstairs that (later I discovered) led to the Wave Grand Ballrooom, where the Grand Opening event would be held, and a smaller event hall dubbed, the Breeze Junior Ballroom.


Guests at the Reception, checking into the hotel

Just behind the Reception counter, The Mesh Bar & Lounge was furnished with comfortable armchairs and low tables, and next to it was The Mesh Restaurant.


My eyes, however, were riveted to opposite the restaurant, to admire the outdoor swimming pools for adult and kids.


While I was thus occupied, I was met and welcomed by members of the Marketing & Communications team and introduced to the hotel General Manager, Maverick Loh.


It was a pleasure to meet someone who shared the same surname and I pointed out in jest that our ancestors probably came from the same province in China…


Prior to his appointment at the Four Points by Sheraton Desaru, Maverick held the positions of Executive Assistant Manager and Acting General Manager at the Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur.


Most recently, he was Hotel Manager at the Sheraton Dhaka where he implemented and drove the respective hotel’s re-opening and pre-opening strategies, in all aspects of operations.


“I am delighted to be leading the opening team of Four Points by Sheraton Desaru and am fortunate to partner with an owning company that has invested in delivering this great product,” said Maverick about the hotel’s partnership with the SKS Group.


“We aim to ensure that the Four Points by Sheraton Desaru is the perfect destination for leisure and corporate travellers, confident that the hotel and its offerings will reinvigorate tourism in Johor and deliver nothing short of an outstanding yet affordable level of hospitality,” he added.


To cater to family and group leisure travels in the New Normal, the hotel not only provides swimming pools but also facilities like games rooms and a gym for a fun-filled staycation here.


The Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony at the front
porch of Four Points by Sheraton Desaru

Observing my interest in the outdoor pools, Maverick pointed out that their swimming pools were interestingly, filled with salt-induced water.


Another unique feature in this hotel were their Family Rooms – 14 of them – each equipped with a teepee (play tent) for the kids to enjoy the thrill of outdoor camping under the stars, safely within the room.


This special effect of a star-studded ceiling in the dark, created by a galaxy projector, aims to further enhance the kids’ stay experience in the tent.


Alternatively, the hotel also has connecting rooms that link Deluxe King and Twin rooms for families and groups to enjoy their stay together.


The spacious rooms come with complimentary high-speed WiFi, private balconies, the brand’s signature Comfort Bed and coffee-machines to brew your own cuppa.


Meanwhile the buzz of activity in the nearby restaurant was getting louder and I turned to observe guest arrivals escorted by concierge team members, heading towards the elevators.


Maverick was pleased to share with me about their innovative menu in The Mesh, designed to match the Malaysian taste but with an international twist.


While the hotel has its own herb and vegetable garden cultivated on a nearby hill, the chefs are also working with the local community and suppliers to serve the freshest produce.


Among the specialties featured in The Mesh are the must-try dishes of Assam Pedas Oxtail and their 24-hour Slow-Braised Beef Short-Ribs.


The very thought of these dishes set my mind thinking about its taste and texture and when Maverick went on to mention about their specialty Cheesecake inspired by a local mung-bean delicacy, Tau Sar Piah, I could not wait to taste it.


Maverick was clearly proud of the presence of the only four-star international corporate based hotel for leisure and business travellers in Desaru, how it would complement the other accommodation choices here and support local attractions like nearby Desaru Fruit Farm and the sandy beaches.


Hotel GM, Maverick Loh, escorting Guest of
Honour, Johor Menteri Besar, into the ballroom

The hotel provides complimentary shuttle bus to the public beach in a schedule of every 30 minutes between 7am and 10.15am and in the evening from 4.30pm.


It was good to learn that Four Points by Sheraton Desaru aims to present guests with an authentic sense of the local along with genuine, friendly service for guests to unwind, relax and enjoy.


The announcement that the Guest of Honour was due to arrive very soon caused a flurry of activity in the lobby so Maverick and his management team took their places to welcome the arrival of the Johor MB and start of the official opening ceremony.


In the lobby, I joined my friends from the Johor Chapter of the Malaysian Association of Hotels to witness the arrival of the Johor MB and the ceremony.


In the tradition of business openings, the Ribbon-Cutting ceremony was accompanied by the sound of dramatic drums for an auspicious Lion Dance, followed by the lighting of those fire-crackers that set off deafening explosions that augured well for good fortune and prosperity.


While the VIPs were escorted upstairs to the ballroom, I trekked up that staircase from the lobby that led to the foyer for the ballrooms.


The event was held in the
Wave Grand Ballroom

It felt surprisingly good to witness this auspicious event especially after months of lockdowns due to the global pandemic because this marked a fresh start not only for the hotel industry as a whole, but also for the reopening of the economy and travel nationwide.


In his speech at the Grand Opening Ceremony, Maverick thanked their business partners, the SKS Group, and shared various details about the hotel facilities, some of which he already told me when we met earlier.


When he spoke about his early morning views from the room balcony and the beauty of morning mists, my imagination took flight as I visualized the mesmerizing scene…


But my ears pricked up when he mentioned that The Mesh features a Coffee Bar that serves artisan coffee and a coffee-based cocktail and that Four Points by Sheraton Desaru offers Best Brews, which was part of the Four Points’ signature craft beer programme that serves local craft beer on tap.


“We are very excited to welcome guests to Four Points by Sheraton Desaru for the first time,” said Maverick.


When I heard him say this, I made a mental note to include local craft beer and that coffee-cocktail tasting into my list of must-try items during my stay experience with the hotel – soon – I hope.


“We look forward to creating experiences that showcase the destination’s rich culture-heritage while providing travellers with everything they need to rest, relax and stay connected,” he added.


The Johor Menteri Besaru presenting his 
speech at the Grand Opening Ceremony

After he congratulated the hotel on its opening, Johor Menteri Besar, Dato’ Haji Hasni encouraged the industry players to work together to make Johor a most sought-after destination.


He said one of the ways to boost tourism here was by organizing impactful international events in the coming year.


With reference to the announcement by the Federal Government about the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) by air between Changi Airport in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, scheduled to start on November 29, he was excited to share another piece of good news.


He was pleased to announce that his call for the VTL by air to be extended to land travel to be opened on the same date, was also confirmed for November 29.


We know it was a unique situation between Singapore and Johor, and this was indeed very good news for families who had stayed separated in the neighbouring countries since the borders between Singapore and Malaysia were closed from March 18, 2020.


Many practical details were yet to be ironed out before the VTL by air and land came into effect on Nov 29 but this announcement of such good news certainly buoyed us up as the MB closed his speech with an encouraging comment that the year ahead, 2022 will be a year of optimism and growth.


Four Points by Sheraton Desaru is located at Jalan Kempas 2, Taman Desaru Utama, 8190 Bandar Penawar, Johor. For reservations, Tel: +607 – 832 8888.


Marriot Bonvoy members will earn bonus points upon booking a stay at Four Points by Sheraton Desaru.


For more info, visit website: or stay updated with the latest info posted on the hotel’s official pages in Facebook and Instagram. 

Road to My Johor Stories - Live!


In early March 2020, I was at a media event hosted in the Amari Johor Baru to kick start a series to showcase the work of local artists in the hotel dubbed, Art at Amari.


Photo courtesy of Sunah of Sunah Sakura; 
captured at the Art at Amari event, March 2020

Among the artists featured as the first in this series was Johor’s gifted young artist, Yap Hanzhen, but he was, however, not able to attend that day.


While waiting for other media partners to arrive, the crowd carried on with the casual chit-chat. When I saw some books on the table published with the artwork by Hanzhen, I picked them up and spontaneously introduced his work to the others.


I am familiar with Hanzhen and his gift in sketching and drawing because I had the privilege to feature him along with other Johor personalities who have impacted our lives, under Portraits in my 2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


I thought I should share a bit of background about Hanzhen as I was well acquainted with his story. Unknown to me, cameras were clicking, and I was delighted when my friend, Sunah of Sunah Sakura, captured a shot of me in action…


Attendees at my book launch events and other speaking engagements where I spoke about My Johor Stories, are familiar with how I could go on and on, talking about a subject which was close to my heart.


It was PR and Marketing Communications professional, Grace Chiam, then our host for the Art at Amari event, who observed how our media friends were paying rapt attention to my spontaneous sharing about Hanzhen and his gift in drawing.


It was she who was so inspired to suggest, “Let’s do a My Johor Stories Live event!”


While I already had this idea as a spin-off from My Johor Stories the blog and books, this was the first time that someone – Grace – had vocalized it.


Not long after this media event, the nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) came into force from March 18 and life as we knew it before the global pandemic, suddenly changed forever.


As we stayed at home to stay safe, it was a tremendous relieve that the use of modern technology kept family and friends connected during the lockdown.


I quickly learned to use WhatsApp video calls to meet up with family members based in various parts of the world – all in real time – and it was especially useful to video chat with a dear friend who was going through chemotherapy treatments.


When the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) came into effect from May 4 to August 31, the strict conditions under the MCO were slightly relaxed.


With Tan Chai Puan at the FB-Live event
in July 2020, held at the R & F Mall

As the situation in the country improved and the economy gradually reopened, the CMCO continued with less limitations from June 10 under the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO). I felt comfortable enough to send my car to the workshop.


That very day I received a phone call from Tan Chai Puan, co-founder of the 24 Festive Drums, who shared with me about the exciting online activities planned by the 24 Festive Drums Association to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the founding of this unique art of drumming.


He was delighted that the Association had found creative digital ways to mark their anniversary through Facebook-live events, celebrated with drummers and drum enthusiasts, both locally and abroad.


When he told me about the thousands of participants they reached in their series of online events, I congratulated him and the Association on their success.


These thousands of participants in their FB-live events, were made up not only of drummers and drum enthusiasts the world over but also from past and present alumni of Foon Yew High School, established more than 100 years ago, and the home of the first drum troop.


While all their anniversary events were hosted in Mandarin, Tan said that one event planned for July 2 was in English in a two-part live broadcast, with the first part featuring Tan in Johor Baru and the next with other drumming personalities in Kuala Lumpur.


As this presentation of the 24 Festive Drums was in the English language, Tan invited me to join him to share with the audience, an authentic Johor story on the founding of this art of drumming.


I was familiar with him and the founding of the 24 Festive Drums because I had featured Tan as an exclusive story under Portraits in my 2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


Armed with relevant knowledge on this subject, I agreed to join Tan in this presentation and came away from my first experience of a FB-live event with no regrets because I had benefited from this interesting and insightful experience.


With Tan Chai Puan [Right] and
Lee Sheah Liang [Left] at Infinity8 Reserve

In the wake of our FB-live event together, Tan was full of confidence about getting My Johor Stories to a wider audience through the FB-live platform.


Tan and I recalled our experience being guest panelists in the series of successful Sketch Design Talks, organized by y.architects back in 2015. This was a private event created for budding architects to hone their speaking skills by presenting their design ideas to a live audience and for a panel to comment or quiz them for any clarification.


This initiative by y.architects was the inspiration that encouraged Tan to push me to do My Johor Stories Live because he felt strongly that Johor was ripe for this form of live events with a very small and exclusive audience.


Tan was so supportive about the concept of My Johor Stories Live that he arranged for me to meet with Lee Sheah Liang at Infinity8 Reserve, a co-working space located at Level 18 of Menara JLand, in the heart of the city.


I had visited Lee at other Infinity8 co-working spaces, so it was good to meet Lee again and let him show me the facilities at Infinity8 Reserve in Menara JLand.


Infinity8 Reserve aims to work closely with Facebook, professionals and Johor personalities to host talks and workshops here, so Tan was hopeful that I would consider this facility favourably as the venue for hosting My Johor Stories Live.


It was fascinating to discover that this co-working space was the first in Malaysia to collaborate with Facebook and was equipped with Facebook-Live Lab facilities.


A photo memento captured
at my book launch event on 15 July 2017

While I was deeply grateful for Tan’s support, I explained that I wished to consider my options and plan my project in greater detail, with sustainability in mind.


On July 15, Grace sent me a photo memento to commemorate that special day she witnessed exactly three years ago when my 2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, was launched in an event held at DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru.


In later conversations, I shared with Grace about the events leading up to the recent meeting with Tan and Lee about my proposed My Johor Stories Live, a concept that was originally mooted by Grace at that event held at Amari JB, in March 2020.


Brainstorm session with Grace
Chiam, the PR MarCom professional

On hearing this, Grace did not hesitate to assure me of her professional PR and Marketing support to promote Book Three of My Johor Stories (a work-in-progress!) and the activities in the next chapter of My Johor Stories.


It was August 2020 when I met with Grace again, this time at her office for Brand Culture PR & Marketing Communications, to brainstorm and discuss further ideas about My Johor Stories Live.


Grace agreed that I should bounce off our ideas with two of our media friends, Edey Suresh, editor-in-chief of The Iskandarian, the official newspapers of Iskandar Malaysia and K K Lew, co-founder of MAGistrate, a bilingual print and online magazine platform.


To approach the project more realistically, we knew that it was healthy to share our ideas for constructive feedback from media practitioners and fellow content creators like Edey and KK.


Archive photograph of a master storyteller
in a bygone era

The idea was for the Johor Storyteller (me!) to read excerpts from my books, discuss Johor topics and maybe include a few guest speakers in an inter-active chit-chat.


In the olden days – before the age of radio and television – people had to create their own entertainment, some played musical instruments and sang songs.


With the introduction of radio and the gramophone to play vinyl records, those who could afford it, listened to recorded music and broadcasts for entertainment.


From records by the National Archives of Singapore, I learnt that people used to enjoy listening to a Chinese street storyteller in live storytelling sessions. Crowds of people would gather around to listen to his stories, told episode by episode.


Archive photo of Lee Dai Soh;
courtesy of the Singapore Archives

This master storyteller would light an incense stick or joss stick and knew how to end each episode in a cliff-hanger precisely when the joss stick burned out.


Eager to hear more, the listeners would pay a few more cents to make the storyteller light up another joss stick and continue with more juicy details in his exciting story.


To me, doing My Johor Stories Live was reminiscent of a Cantonese radio show that our grandmother used to listen to. I thought this was so nostalgic – just up my alley – to share culture-heritage stories from My Johor Stories.


Old-timers may remember this regular radio show by Lee Dai Soh on the Rediffusion channel where a traditional storyteller would broadcast a series of episodes popularly known as, Dai Soh gong gu, loosely translated as ‘Dai Soh tells a story’.


At end August 2020, a reader reached me because she was here to do some research on Sultanah Fatimah of Johor. Then I arranged to meet her and her friend in the heritage quarter for a walking tour, the walkabouts which I fondly call my Fifty-Sen Tour.


As always, I gave a lively commentary during our walking tour.


Brainstorming session with
Edey Suresh (Centre) and K K Lew (Right)
When we sat down for refreshments, her friend gave very encouraging comments (blush! blush!) about my style in sharing such an informative commentary and said that it was just-right for podcasts.


I appreciated his frank appreciation of my guided tour because my special heritage walks were tailored to the tastes of visitors where I plan age-appropriate walking tours for the young and young-at-heart, a Museum Trail for history buffs, a Food Trail or even a Temple Trail on our Street of Harmony.


Thanks to each one of you – you know who you are – for your support and encouragement because it was both affirming and reassuring to know that I was indeed, on the right track in progressing with Live events – in my style of storytelling and conducting heritage tours – to share more of My Johor Stories.

Kedai Kopi Otai - Kopitiam Semua

In 2016, Kedai Kopi Otai, a small coffee shop or kopitiam, opened to serve a menu of breakfast favourites to the local community in Desaru Utama.


Facade of Kedai Kopi Otai in Desaru Utama

And in 2017, when they started to bake their own loaves in an in-house bakery, they established a reputation as the preferred place not only for breakfast but all-day dining, both for locals and visitors to Desaru.


I first heard about this popular corner café in July 2019 (incidentally!) at the Grand Opening event of Desaru Coast where I distinctly remember my friends’ raving compliments for that mouth-watering taste of Laksa Nyonya served by Otai.


Serving a family-friendly menu, Otai gradually gained a loyal clientele of diners from all walks of life, who cannot get enough of their food.


Two choices of steamed Tapioca, each equally
popular [Left] Tapioca with grated coconut
and salted fish and [Right] Ubi Sira

Recently when my friends in Desaru Coast invited me for a dining experience at Kedai Kopi Otai, I jumped at the opportunity to meet with the family who runs this café.


It was a pleasure to meet with young entrepreneurs, Hadibah Sharif and her sister Nadiah, who had boldly quit their day jobs to pursue an ambition in setting up their family business, one that served a menu to meet the tastes of our multi-cultural community.


A family with Bugis-Javanese roots, their parents and seven children – four girls and three boys – originally from Pontian, later settled near Desaru at Kampung Air Tawar Dua.


Ubi Sira with Roti Bakar and Coffee

Hadibah shared about their business concept which aims to revive the spirit of unity from those good old days of racial harmony, where the coffee-shop was the meeting place for people from every race group, to chit-chat on any topic under the sun over cups of coffee or tea.


This brand identity was consistently reflected in their business name – the word Otai, a slang word for “Old Times” – from the signage and décor to every detail in its ambiance, all designed to smack of nostalgia in a bygone era.


Consistent with its concept, “Kopitiam Semua,” that speaks of a meaningful and inclusive sentiment, was the tagline for Kedai Kopi Otai.


A serving of Kacang Pool

Its signboard emblazoned with the name Kedai Kopi Otai, also has its brand name written below in Chinese characters and Jawi script. [Note: Tamil writing for “Sila Makan” (please eat), is written within a voice bubble designed in the wall mural.]


She recalled with a laugh, the challenges they experienced with Malay diners in the early days, about those who read the signboard, were skeptical and even hesitated to enter.


Ini kedai Cina ke?” they asked.


When she replied that it was their family business, they responded with more skepticism. “Betul ke?” the query continued.


This of course, is a thing of the past because once the locals understood their business concept, they readily accepted Otai for what it represented in the community here.


The in-house bakery in a 
kampung house inside the cafe

I smiled as I listened to Hadibah because it struck such a familiar chord with me.


What she shared about the unity through the kopitiam in a bygone era was in fact, reminiscent of my story, Our charming coffee-shop culture, featured in my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


While I was no stranger to the items listed in their menu, I made Hadibah and Nadiah more comfortable by sharing with them about my first taste of the Javanese way of appreciating steamed tapioca or cassava with spicy sambal.


It was in my homestay experience with a Javanese family at Kampung Sarang Buaya, a village in Semerah, Muar, where I ate what they served me in their home.


Ever since that exciting kampung experience, I was always thrilled to discover that this humble dish was now served in some café and restaurant menus, and never failed to place an order to enjoy its nostalgic taste again.


A serving of Laksa Nyonya that keeps
diners coming back for more!

Needless to say, this dish of steamed tapioca served with sambal tumis was the very item I longed to taste at Otai.


I was pleased to see that Otai serves their chunks of steamed tapioca, not only with sambal tumis but in traditional way, also with fresh grated coconut and salted fish.


Aware that I enjoyed my tapioca with a spicy zing, Hadibah recommended Ubi Sira, a version of their steamed tapioca that was stir-fried in sambal.


This recommendation was so agreeable that I had to remind myself to stop and keep some space so that I could sample other must-try items from their menu.


Lemping or kampung 
pancakes with sambal

Keeping to the kampung theme, lemping or kampung pancakes, are another popular dish to savour with a dollop of sambal.


In the tradition of kopitiam, Otai serves Nasi Lemak and Mee Siam wrapped in small packets for diners to help themselves from platters on the table.


Butter and kaya toast are also popular picks especially after diners tasted the quality bread made in-house in their tiny bakery designed within a kampung house built inside the café.


They bake four batches of bread daily so diners are assured of tasting freshly baked bread in their Roti Bakar or toast.


I soon learned that the Otai family business was a sisters teamwork project where eldest sister, Maslindah, helps with perfecting their recipes, along with the support from their sister-in-law who has a bakery in Segamat and brother-in-law who runs a frozen food business in KL.


A Nasi Ambeng set for four diners served
with Assam Pedas Ikan Kaci and a local salad

While Otai serves an all-day dining menu, the main course items are available after 9.30am.


Among the popular picks are Kacang Pool made with minced beef in their own recipe stew to savour with bread, Laksa Nyonya and Assam Pedas made with Ikan Kaci, a dish often served with the Nasi Ambeng set.


Their version of Laksa Nyonya has a distinct Peranakan flavour which is so agreeable that diners shamelessly slurped its gravy to its last drop.


In fact, (I was told!) those with larger appetites enjoyed finishing bowl after bowl of Laksa to stack the bowls up, in the style of boat-noodles!


Frozen pack of Ungkep paste by Kedai Kopi Otai

For those who preferred not to dine-in, Otai has a range of cooking pastes prepared frozen to buy as takeaways to cook at home.


Only the paste for Ungkep seemed unfamiliar so Hadibah explained that it was a typically Javanese recipe that they usually cooked with ceker ayam (chicken feet pronounced the Javanese way with emphasis on rolling the “r”) or innards.


Since I was unfamiliar with it, she graciously offered to prepare a portion cooked with chicken, to add to the Nasi Ambeng set, just for my taste experience.


Recognise any of these familiar treats?

The nostalgic feel in Otai continues in the furniture and fittings like wooden kopitiam chairs, table fan, old flasks and the décor which features a whole bicycle hung on the wall behind the cashier’s counter.


The sweets and snacks on the counter (for sale!) included familiar treats like Rabbit Sweets, Gold Coins filled with chocolate discs and rolls of Haw Flakes.


Local treats like crisps and snacks made from local farm produce as well as sauces like Otai’s own brand Sambal Belacan are also available.


My book presented to Hadibah 
and her family at Kedai Kopi Otai

For me, the top nostalgic treat here must be the taste of a cool tube of Ice-Cream Malaysia in a choice of refreshing flavours like Assam Boi (preserved plum), Red Beans and Rose Syrup or Choki-Choki (chewy chocolate).


When Hadibah and Nadiah saw how I struggled to chew off the tip of the plastic tube, they offered me a pair of scissors to snip it off, to which I declined because I wanted to reach this tasty treat in the typical schoolkid way.


With cool condensation melting into my hands, which inevitably dissolved the sheets of paper napkins I held, it was pure nostalgia to end my interesting dining experience at Otai with this cool treat.


Kedai Kopi Otai (Halal) is located at No. 74, Jalan Kempas 2, Taman Desaru Utama, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor. Open daily from 8am to 7pm; Closed on Saturday.


Hadibah and the friendly team at Kedai Kopi Otai in Desaru Utama

Visit Kedai Kopi Otai on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels for regular updates.


P.S. It was my pleasure to present Hadibah and her family with an autographed copy of my 2017 Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.