Like many small towns in Malaysia, Desaru was a forgotten coastal town. It may have pristine beaches, but not enough people knew about it. At most, it became a place of ageing resorts, great for Singaporeans to head over for church camp activities. However, in the past decade, offbeat tourists began taking notice of the town. It was a time when people were itching to discover relatively unknown islands in Malaysia with no frills — Pulau Rawa, anyone? — and Desaru was one of those on the list.

Soon, the major bigwigs began taking notice of the coastal town’s opportunity. This led to the development of Desaru Coast, the latest luxury destination in Johor. Forget Johor Bahru and its Legoland park, because Desaru Coast is not only going to have multiple luxury resorts, but also a massive water theme park.

What to do

Outside of the luxury development, Desaru is actually a great place to get to know more about nature. We don’t mean hiking through various hills, but more of the educational side of things. Perfect for young children and curious city dwellers who know next to nothing about true agriculture, there are several “eco” farms in Desaru that give insight on how local crops are grown, and exotic birds are taken care of. Visit Desaru Fruit Farm where you can explore over 180 acres of the farm on a guided tour, as well as listen in on an Educational Bee Keeping Management so that it completely hits home on how important they are to our environment.

If you like big birds of the feathered sort, head over to Desaru Ostrich Farm. It is the largest one in Malaysia, boasting over 100 ostriches and counting. Get up close and personal with these massive fowls and learn some interesting facts about them, including why they burrow their heads when afraid. Adding on to the exotic animal experience is the Teluk Sengat Crocodile Farm, home to a century-old crocodile. Learn more about these leathery creatures and take as many pictures as you want. You can even join in the feeding frenzy at an additional cost.

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Finally, head to the Desaru Coast Adventure Water Park for a fun splashing time. Feel like a kid again in the many water-based rides they have, including several heart-thumping water slides. It also goes without saying that the beach is worth a visit if only to sit idly by and wade in the pristine waters. It’s not terribly touristy, so don’t expect a busy beach bustling with people selling you a variety of water sports.

Where to stay

While there used to only be desolate and ageing resorts, the development of Desaru Coast only means that there are finer options to pick from. Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast is the second Hard Rock Hotel in all of Malaysia, and it features a rock & roll theme perfect for music enthusiasts. The hotel currently has a music programme where guests are allowed to pick an electric guitar from their collection, bring it up to their rooms, and jam with it. If you’re worried about the entire resort sounding like a teenage garage rock band, worry not — there are headphones plugged into the amps. If playing the guitar isn’t your thing, you can also opt for a turntable with a selection of records to play in your room.

Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas. (Picture: Desaru Coast)

The Westin Desaru Coast Resort has also recently opened, bringing to you international standards of a five-star hotel with direct access to the beach. If you want to amp up the luxury, Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas is also part of the development and One&Only Desaru Coast — the first in the country — is set to open later this year.

How to get there

Currently, there are no direct flights to Desaru itself. There are several ways to get there. If you’re coming from KL, it takes a little over four hours arrive by car. Otherwise, take a domestic flight to Senai International Airport in Johor Bahru. From there, it’s an hour’s drive to Desaru.

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction. Reach out to Poh Nee via email at pohnee@lifestyleasia.com.