Chinese New Year Break in Remote Malaysia

A Staghorn Fern

Having rather belatedly managed to book a short holiday in North Eastern Malaysia for Kevin, myself and Rhona, flights back to Singapore proved impossible to find so there was little alternative but to drive the 670 odd kilometres north to the Malaysian state of Terengganu from Singapore. The Wednesday prior to Singapore’s Chinese New Year holidays (Thursday 19 & Friday 20 Feb) turned out to be a long day passing acre upon acre of oil palm plantations. There were short respites from the monotonous dark green with a few plantations of rubber trees and at odd times stretches of jungle or glimpse of a beach from the coastal road but mostly it was oil palm.

From just north of Kuatuan a new expressway made the journey faster though an early unexplained detour routed us along with dozens of other cars plus a few coaches off the motorway over a bridge through a toll booth, an immediate  U-turn back through the toll booth and back onto the original expressway where we passed through a third toll. Despite handing over our card at each booth we seemed to be charged a few ringgits just once in all the palaver! Further north the advertised service stations were still under construction so we had to make another detour towards Bukit Besi in search of fuel and loo’s; the first garage we reached a couple of kilometres from the expressway offered the latter but had run out of the former though the staff helpfully supplied directions to a rival garage. Back on the expressway it came to a confusing end somewhere to the west of Kuala Terengganu and not as shown on our map, south of the town. However the route north to Maranga and Penarik was reasonably well signposted and we never actually got lost.

Glass net floats by the gate

In fact the only mishap of the day was not of our making; as Kevin slowly pulled onto a roundabout on the outskirts of Kuala Terengganu, an elderly motorcyclist thought he could shoot in front of us taking the shortest route to the next but one exit…our Hyundai nudged him to the ground and we feared the worst as he disappeared under the near side corner of the bumper. Fortunately it all happened so slowly that only his pride was damaged. He apologised profusely, waving Kevin back into the car and the few onlookers away as he brushed himself down…his dusty pinstripe trousers seemingly took the brunt of his short slide along the gutter, peppered with holes but then they may have been like that already!

Eventually as dusk was falling we pulled up outside a sturdy gate. Terrapuri is situated on a long sand spit north of Penarik Beach with a river in one side and tall coconut palms, white sand fringing the South China Sea on the other. Above the outer wall we could see the red roof tiled tops of traditional Malay buildings on stilts with their quirky steep, gently curved gabled ends overhanging the lower end roof. The ancient wooden walls are weathered silver grey. Our first glimpses of Terrapuri were even more stunning than the photos we’d seen online, the welcome was warm and genuine even if the staff probably aren’t that used to European expat guests.

Tendrils of morning glory

The first challenge were the steps up to reception, this is not the place to stay if you have limited mobility but we had been warned. Broad but steep wooden stairs lead up to the reception “house” verandah and another flight of even steeper stairs into the house itself. Cold towels, a refreshing drink and diamonds of sweet melon were served as we signed in. Then as darkness fell, we were conducted to our two houses. Rhona chose one with a hand rail as it was easier to climb and ours tucked just inside the inner gate had curved steps that seem to rest lightly on the verandah framework but proved perfectly sturdy.

Terrapuri is the fruit of one man’s passion, apparently the owner Alex rescued historic 100 to 250 year old Malay houses from around the region for many years before he found the perfect plot of land to reconstruct them on. The result is laid out along the lines of a traditional Malay palace; four central buildings doing duty as reception, a lounge and for serving meals are surrounded by a shallow “moat” containing a variety of fish and some stands of reeds with stepping stones for access. On the northern side and also towards the rear of the plot more wooden houses each provide guest accommodation. A couple of brick buildings in the old style are home to the kitchen and the spa on the southern side. At the opposite end to the entrance gates is a gorgeous infinity pool overlooking the river. Beside the pool is a water feature made of traditional mill stones, the splashing water both cooling and relaxing. Scattered around are many large pots some containing water lillies, ancient farming equipment, wooden boats, spinning wheels, loom frames, plants, trees and the occasional cat.

The inner “square”
High Rise Dining Room
Breakfast was taken under one of the central houses

Tembakang – our home for our stay

Each unique house with it’s Malay name rather than an impersonal number, contributes to the beauty of the place. Inside “Tembakang” (our house) was a single long room about 20 foot long by 10 foot wide. The underside of the clay tiles visible high above in between the wooden rafters. The two set of doors opening onto the verandah are held shut from inside with wooden bars, the floor is a deep gleaming red like a pecan nut shell and the windows though now glazed still retain their intricate wooden lattice work. A pair of big ceiling fans spin lazily stirring the air from the floor based ac unit (looking for all the world like a European radiator). At the far end the bed is draped with white muslin mosquito nets sewn to a canvas square in turn hanging from a wooden frame suspended above the bed; essential equipment so close to the wetlands that line the river banks.  A desk, a single chair, a shelf carrying a brass tray with cups, saucers, kettle and a fridge tucked below it, a glazed cupboard and a small chest complete the furnishings. Every surface has been decorated with frangipane blossoms and a length of dark crimson songket, the locally woven gold threaded brocade runs across the foot of the bed.

Old farming tools hang under some buildings
Water feature by the pool
Water pot

 Stepping down into the room beyond that runs the full length of the rear of our nest we discovered a luxurious bathroom. To the left a pair of square sinks, by the central window a huge wooden bathtub. To the right of that a loo with a view over the wetlands and beyond, a slate shower room the size of many family bathrooms. A towel rail and a couple of oversized coat hooks complete the furnishings. These houses may be historic but their bathrooms have full mod cons including hot running water and an almost dustbin lid sized shower head!

Intricate windows

We opted to eat in for our first evening not being able to face the short drive to the beach cafes of Penarik. The set menu is simple but tasty local food though that first night was served up in a mysterious order that saw savoury and sweet courses arrive together. Odd but the view from the raised dining area over the swimming pool and beyond to the wetlands more than made up for it – even in the darkness it was dramatic.

The long drive was definitely worth the effort and the next few days proved perfectly relaxing and away from it all. We fell a sleep that night to the sound of the ocean breaking on the beach.

PS: There are lots more photos of this gorgeous and historic resort on Terrapuri’s website and their facebook page