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Tuesday, May 9, 2023

3D2N The BEST Desaru Itinerary - Westin Desaru Coast Resort + Homestay

Ever since I got attached, not to even mention after getting married and having two kids, we haven’t had overseas trip with our parents. And since it’s my dad’s 70th birthday, we planned to make it slightly special by doing it overseas. So after researching on the basis of some considerations, such as budget, convenience and having to bring two children along, we decided on Desaru - a beautiful coastal city in Malaysia.

Animal feeding in Desaru Fruit Farm

What to do in Desaru

Considering the short 2 to 3 hour travelling time from Singapore, it's no surprise that Desaru is one of the most popular weekend getaway locations for Singaporeans. There are not exactly a lot to do in Desaru, but it's perfect to fill your itinerary for a quick one or two night's getaway from Singapore. You could check out:

  • Desaru Fruit Farm
  • Desaru Beach
  • Adventure Waterpark
  • Kota Tinggi Firefly Park
  • Desaru Ostrich Farm
  • Desaru Alpaca Farm *NEW*

Getting to Desaru

There are three main ways to get to Desaru:

1. Private hire cars - extremely convenient as they pick you up directly at our residence and drive you straight to wherever you’re going in Desaru. 2-way fees range from $300 (7 seater) to $380 (luxury 7/11 seater) for a 2.5-3h ride, depending on traffic. 


2. Ferry - multiple timings to and fro Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and Desaru Terminal (90min/way). Once you’re there, you would need to arrange for hotel transfer. Ferry 2-way tickets is approximately $110/pax.

3. Self-drive - pretty straightforward 1-2 hour drive (from Woodlands checkpoint, without jam and stopping) so it is a popular option, but please check you have the relevant document and items beforehand to ensure a smooth journey.

Considering that we have 9 pax, including two elderlies and two young children, the best method of transport for us is getting a private hire car. I didn't drive because (1) there are too many people even for my seven-seater, (2) never drove into Malaysia before, and (3) I read horror stories of wheels of Singapore cars getting stolen in bright daylight. So after researching and a lot of liaising, we decided on SGMYTRIPS, which offers multiple pick up points (at only $5 per additional location). It’s super fuss-free and unlike the ferry, we are able to go at our own schedule and pace. The ferry would cost close to $800 for all of us! We even stopped for lunch at Aeon on our way to Desaru (break chargeable at $40/hour).

General transport in Desaru

“You’re not driving?!” was the response from our AirBnb host. Yes, most Singaporeans who visited Desaru is either by coach (usually organised in a big group like CC/RC activities) or self-drive, because to be honest, transport is extremely inconvenient there. Is there Grab? Yes. But there aren’t many Grab drivers on the road. But fret not, hotel concierge would usually assist to get a private car for you, which we did.

Accommodation - Westin Desaru Coast Resort

There are some hotels for you to choose from, and ranges vastly in pricing. As my brother and his wife are only joining for the second day, we decided to do hotel for the first night, and a homestay on the second. For the hotel, considering our budget, we strike off Anantara and One&Only as they cost over $1000/night. Some of the hotels were quite old, so we didn’t consider them as well. After shortlisting, we were down to Westin Desaru Coast Resort and Hard Rock, and chose the former ultimately. Compared to their Singapore counterpart, Desaru’s was extremely worth it at approximately $350/night for a full sea-view room with balcony.

And here’s why we love Westin

1. Beautiful, clean rooms - completed with a superb uncovered view of the South China Sea. The beds are comfy and the facilities are great. That night, I had a great HTHT with mummy at the balcony. We absolutely love the spacious toilet with a full glass window, perfect for couples, those without the kids around. 

Complimentary fruit and cake platter for the birthday old man

2. Dining options - For a night's stay, there wasn't any need to travel out of the hotel, as we had dinner and breakfast at their international buffet - Seasonal Taste. The spread was nothing short of amazing, ranging from a wide range from local Malaysian to Western, from seafood to dessert. 

We settled lunch on the next day at their in-house Italian restaurant, Prego, which serves authentic pizzas, salads and pastas. It's quite empty during lunch-time, which is surprising, as we thought it's really good (albeit slightly more expensive). I supposed most people only stay one night at the hotel and wouldn't take their lunch here. Nevertheless, if you're here, I highly recommend the Margherita pizza. SEDAPPP.

3. Close proximity to its private beach - since we do not have a car, proximity is important and Westin has its own private beach just 2-3 minutes walk from the lobby. Perfect for beach goers and families. There’s even a beach bar too.

4. Dedicated play area and gym - there’s a nice play area with a pool table, ping pong table and other games just beside the gym. Heck there’s even a yoga room inside the gym.

5. Lovely swimming facilities - since we have children, the wading area was a big plus and both of our children thoroughly enjoyed some water play. Even if you’re not swimming, there are a lot of benches for you to suntan and watch the day pass by.

The following day - Homestay

After checking out the following day, we asked the hotel's concierge to make a private taxi booking for us to our homestay at Bandar Penawar. It was around MYR$40 per taxi for a 15-min ride. To be honest, it felt like they charged us extra since they know we are foreigners, nevertheless my dad decided to tip them extra anyway. 

Tip: If you are not driving, and travelling to and fro from somewhere obscure like our Airbnb, get the contact of the taxi driver and WhatsApp the details, such as location and pricing. Be it 4 or 9 pax, they are able to arrange the relevant transport for you and it's way cheaper than the ones you find online.

Our Airbnb is a double-storey terrace with 4 bedrooms, perfect to house all of us under one roof. For only $250 per big  by, we were absolutely amazed by the size and cleanliness of the whole unit. Our Airbnb host was also very friendly and responsive to our questions. You could check out her place here.

Source: AirBnb

We spent the evening BBQing. Yes, we actually ordered a BBQ set online here and got it delivered to our homestay. To be honest, it is not the most extensive, but it's perfect for a simple BBQ. Their ingredients were fresh and nicely packed. We even over-estimated our appetite and ordered more than we could consume (we spent about MYR$450, incl. delivery). Nevertheless, please do check them out if you're planning BBQ at Desaru.

Third and Final Day at Desaru

Being born in a family of chefs, meal-time is the least to worry about. We (or rather, I) woke up to a great, simple yet scrumptious breakfast prepped by my brother, his wife, and our helper. I mean, just look at the three different variety of eggs.

Desaru Fruit Farm (and ATV)

One of the more popular destinations within Desaru is Desaru Fruit Farm. They do offer packages such as fruit farm tours, lunch, ATV, and various combinations. For reference, we took:

  • Fruit Farm Tour with Lunch & Fruit Fiesta (MYR$136 each) - for my helper and mum, who's taking care of little Emmanuel too.
  • Combo B 1.0 - Tour + Lunch + ATV (20mins) (MYR$118 each) - for the rest of us.

We had the driver from yesterday pick us up in the morning for Desaru Fruit Farm. For a two-way trip from our homestay, it costed MYR$100 for 9 pax. And if you do the math and convert that into SGD, it's only $1.60 per pax, each way. So I'd reckon it's super worth it.

After a 15-minute ride, we are at Desaru Fruit Farm and managed to join a farm tour which was starting within 20 minutes. It was an extremely hot day, so we actually bought hats and fans in the main shop. The tour is approximately 45-min and it's unsheltered. The guide was extremely enthusiastic and engaging in introducing their plants, animals, and various parts of the farm. 

Tip: Check the weather beforehand as there's no refund for bad weather. Bring along your own hat, fan, umbrella, sunscreen, or whatever to stay out of the sun, and don't forget to stay hydrated!

There are also various sections where you can feed the animals, like fishes, goats, and other birds.

ATV was fun as we drove one huge round around the farm, just that my father was overly confident and took more than 10 minutes to get used to driving the ATV. Nevertheless a great experience for all of us, especially little Olivia who shared the ride with me. I love how everyone was given a shower cap for hygiene purposes.

The only disappointment at Desaru Fruit Farm was the service at their restaurant. When we were there at 12.30pm, we explicitly told them to serve all the dishes by 1pm (because they tend to be slower), as our ride would be arriving at 1.30pm to pick us up. Well, when we finished our ATV at 1pm, and even till 1.15pm, no food was served yet so we had to ask them to pack the lunch and they had the audacity to charge us for the plastic boxes. Just to clarify, it's not the MYR$8 that I care about, they could at least offer a hint of sincerity by waiving that off since the food was served way later than it should.

Rant over.

Back to SG

The ride back to Singapore took close to 3 hours as we were stuck in the Sunday evening jam at Johor Bahru. Emmanuel pooped halfway during the jam but the driver was nice enough to allow us to change inside the car. Nevertheless, the ride was sweet and smooth, and everyone reached home safely.

Despite being a short 3D2N trip, I'm sure we had a long awaited family bonding time, especially with my parents. From the accommodation to itinerary, I felt that we all enjoyed it thoroughly. I remember our parents bringing us overseas nearly every year, although most of them are to nearby places. Now that we are all grown up, it's our turn to bring them to see the world when they are able to. Desaru will definitely be the first of many.

This post is partially sponsored by Westin Desaru Coast Resort.