When I was looking to take my little sis somewhere special for her (ahem, sorry about this sis) 40th birthday while she was here visiting with her family I ran through all the usual ideas. Swanky restaurants, weekends on Bintan, spas breaks, staycay at MBS and so on. But, being the selfish person I am, I figured why not make it something I’d enjoy too – in fact something both of our families would enjoy. I’d heard about this special island just off Malaysia and started doing some digging. A couple of days later and we were booked. I didn’t tell sis, or her family. It was all going to be a big surprise. And what a surprise it was for us all.
Batu Batu is a private resort set on the previously uninhabited island of Pulau Tengah – meaning middle island – just 16km off the coast of Malaysia. A quick drive through the Johor border and over to Mersing and then it’s a quick 20 minute boat trip on the resorts own speedboat. Simples!
The resort is a relatively new venture having opened its jetty just four years ago in 2012. Built with sustainability in mind all of the buildings on the resort were constructed by local carpenters using traditional techniques and a huge emphasis is placed on preservation of not only the island, but its wildlife, flora and fauna.
Check in, check out
As you spot Batu Batu in the distance, honestly there is something that happens to you. A sigh escapes your body that is barely discernible. As the boat glides in to the jetty and you climb the rustic wooden steps a lightness seems to take over. The expanse of sea and sand is breathtaking and if traveling with children, hold on to them tightly, as you may find they can’t resisit the urge to throw themselves off the jetty right there in to the ridiculously clear waters is almost overwhelming. There’s plenty of time for that later on.
We were met by a friendly young man called Nicholas (we were all – grown men included already falling for his french accent, laid back swagger and stories of sharks in the water) who led us along the jetty towards ‘reception.’ As we passed wooden Kampung style villas nestled amongst the rocks and spied steps that led down to white, sandy beaches – the island has eight such beaches for you explore – it was clear this wasn’t your typical resort at all.
We were shown to the restaurant area – having passed the office, reception and shop without actually realising it – and encouraged to relax on huge wooden chairs, given refreshing drinks and handed cold flannels to cool us down. As we took in our surroundings the smiles on everyone’s faces grew, the knots in our shoulders loosened and the shoes on our feet were kicked off.
Eating at Batu Batu
A spacious open sided pavillion with views across the sea whichever way you turn, the restaurant and bar area is not a bad place to sit and while away some time. As we had arrived on the early boat we knew our room wouldn’t be ready and took the offer of lunch while it was prepared.
At Batu Batu all meals are included in the ‘board basis’ which you pay for when booking. This includes a buffet breakfast, two course lunch (main and dessert) and three course dinner (starter, main and dessert). The menu changes daily and whilst we were there there was a choice of 4 or 5 dishes each day ranging from fresh local seafood to traditional Malaysian dishes. Children are well catered for with their own menu, or they can opt to have a smaller version of the grown ups food if they like. Our young people were mixed in their tastes and the staff were always happy to accommodate (“fries with that, of course,” “less spciy randang, no problem”)
The adults were more than happy with the food too with portion sizes keeping us full between meals. If we did get a little peckish though there was always fruit and home made cake available.
Even though there are just 22 villas on the whole resort – I swear I spotted no more than half a dozen, which is testament to the design and layout of Batu Batu. With a choice of beach, ocean, poolside or jungle villas it’s best to choose dependent on your needs and preferences. We opted for beach villas which, as promised, were sat directly on the island’s ‘Sunrise beach’ and are ideal if you have a few beachcombers in your group.
The jungle villas are set back from the coast and offer a bit more privacy being nestled in the jungle. But to get to them there are a good few steps to climb; not good for those who are not as agile on their feet. The ocean villas offered stunning views out across the sea and are set in to the rocks. Again a few steps to climb – though not as many. The two poolside villas are better suited to larger families as they have two bedrooms (all the others are one bedroom with or without children’s annexe) and are directly behind the resorts only pool.
Our villa was simple and yet stunning. With a huge four poster bed taking centre stage offering views out to the beach and ocean. A separate and equally massive bathroom led off the main room and held double sinks, wardrobes, a dressing area, shower and toilet. A large bathtub sat regally in front of the almost floor length windows inviting you to take a soak and watch the sun go down. Interestingly, the windows – that can make you feel slightly, shall we say, exposed at a time you may prefer some privacy – are cleverly designed so that they offer a feeling of being outside without those on the outside seeing in. We know, we tested it out.
To the other side of the main room was a small, but perfectly formed ‘annex’ – a room with just bunk beds in to accommodate children. We found it comfortably accommodated our 10 year old and surprisingly our 17 year old. Our 15 year old opted for the daybed in the main room. This layout worked fine for us for the few days we were there. Anyway, who wants to stay in the room when you’ve got the beach on your doorstep?
All of the rooms had everything you’d need for a comfortable stay including wi-fi (though this was hit and miss; something I liked as it meant phones were switched off), dvd player, iPod speakers, tea and coffee making facilities, mini bar etc. There were some simple but really helpful touches too like the plastic box in which to store your snacks away from any mini critters and gorgeous smelling, environmentally friendly toiletries.
A balcony complete with daybed led you out to the star of the show, the beach. Most of the time we were there it felt like our own private beach and many an hour was spent snoozing on the sunbeds listening to the sound of the sea or watching the kids look for shells. Every now and you may spot someone having a wander past but very rarely was our peace interrupted. Again this is testament to the way the resort has been designed.
The pool – an infinity pool – on the other hand was a slightly different story. This was where a lot of the kids hung out and despite our protestations we did spend some time there. As with any resort pool, children can be a bit noisy (not ours of course!) so if I were returning sans kids I’d definitely give the pool area a miss, which is pretty easy to do considering the choice of beaches to relax on. It wouldn’t be hard to find yourself a quiet spot away from noisy youngsters. But honestly, this was only occasionally, we had the pool to ourselves on occasion too.
If sitting on a beach relaxing isn’t your thing one of the other attractions of Batu Batu is the fact that it is surrounded by stunning coral reefs and clear blue waters that beg you to dive in to explore. Last year saw the opening of the resorts dive centre – with all profits generated from it going straight back in to environmental projects on and around the island.
With various PADI programmes open to anyone over 8 years old (and who meet the medical requirements) this is not a bad place to start your diving hobby. As the two youngest members of our group discovered.
Two, patient, fun and confident instructors took the two girls off, kitted them out in full wetsuit and diving gear and before we knew it they were fully fledged Bubblemakers and could be spotted as little black dots heading down to the ocean floor. Us mums were a little pale faced and needed a cocktail or two, but this was an experience that the kids were absolutely raving about afterwards (and ever since) and both were keen to go back for more. For those who didn’t dive there is the option of snorkeling and this kept many of our group occupied as they were gone for hours exploring around the islands reef. Even if you didn’t want to dive you could let off some steam by hiring out kayaks or trekking through the interior of the island. You really can be as active as you like.
The resort also offers a spa where you can be pampered with massages, facials, pedicures and so on. We had to try it out – for research purposes obviously – and can verify it’s worth a visit or two. There’s also a kids club where the littlies can spend some time away from mum and dad. Ours didn’t use it as they were having too much fun on the beach and in the pool, but should think it’d come in handy for some.
For me – and in fact, the whole group – though, the true highlight of our time on Batu Batu came in the form of eggs and what came out of them. The ethos of the Lasalvy’s ever since they began building the resort was to ‘tread lightly’ so the turtles that come to nest on their island have been in the forefront of their mind from the beginning. Turtle Watch Camp on ‘Long Beach’ is a program they run to help protect, conserve and educate visitors about and is something they are rightly proud of. Before the camp was set up many of the eggs laid on this and the surrounding islands were subject to illegal poaching (the eggs are a delicacy in some parts of Asia) and the Dugong and Green turtles had become endangered – the Hawksbill turtle critically so.
Now, through monitoring nests, a controlled hatchery and spreading the word to its visitors, the conservation team at Batu Batu are really making a difference. The turtles continue to nest and the Camp help keep their eggs safe until they hatch, then they gently help them on their way. If you are lucky – as we were – you’ll get to see the tiny baby turtles released; a truly magical experience. (see turtle camp blog post for more on this)
Sunsets and cocktails
As well as Turtle Watch Camp, Long Beach is home to the beach bar. Just as any good beach bar should it had a decent cocktail list and plenty of cold beers as well as juices and smoothies and was the perfect place to sit and watch the sun go down.
It’s fair to say that once the sun goes down there isn’t that much going on at Batu Batu. The restaurant finishes serving around 9pm and most people have headed back to their villa by 10pm. So not the place to go if you like late nights.
Our time on Batu Batu can be summed up by something the usually stressed hubby said. “This is the first place I’ve been to and felt myself relax on the first day.” The fact he didn’t seem to mind too much that the wifi didn’t work too well was also a good indicator that we’d found somewhere worth visiting.
For more information visit the website at www.batubatu.com.my