Back in the year 2000 (when I was still a tween and VCDs were still a thing), I watched a Hong Kong romcom called Summer Holiday. In the movie, a materialistic Hong Kong woman (Sammi Cheng) travels to Redang island in Malaysia to claim inheritance of a resort – only to find that she can’t sell it unless the owner of the other half, an island boy played by Richie Jen, agrees to relinquish it. In true blue romcom fashion, Sammi initially tries to seduce the guy, but soon finds herself falling in love. Story was kinda blah, but I remember the setting well – a beautiful tropical paradise, with clear blue waters, soft, sandy beaches and swaying palm trees.
17 years later, I finally got the chance to visit this place on a media trip – and to a five-star luxury resort to boot. I was understandably excited setting off from Merang Jetty in Kuala Terengganu.
Our organisers definitely weren’t kidding when they said they wanted us to ‘experience’ the sea. It was the tail end of the monsoon season, so the seas were rough. The small boat, which seated 10, bounced and rolled like crazy – at points I felt my butt literally flying off the seat. Now it’s all good and fun for the first five minutes, but imagine going through that for a full 1 hour 15 minutes. The waves were high and all of us got soaked to the bone. At the end of it I was very close to puking, despite the two seasick pills I popped before boarding.
Imagine our relief when we finally pulled in to Redang Island jetty, dotted with fishing and speed boats against a backdrop of tropical hills. Hotel staff were waiting for us with towels, and we hopped onto a bus to the resort, which was about 10 minutes from the pier.
‘Taara’ is Sanskrit for Goddess of the Sea – an apt name for The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, which is owned by Berjaya Group. The lobby fits the tropical theme, with loads of wood and delicate Malay-style carvings. Peering out from the verandah, I spotted lush greens, swaying palm trees and dozens of villas leading out to the private beach. Visitors can choose from 183 rooms and suites: some with ocean views, others with garden and cliff scenery.
Had one unit all to myself – and best part was it was just a few steps away from the beach (although the view was blocked by a few other villas :P). I entered to a cosy looking and spacious living area, complete with sofas and a work desk near the window. There was also a basic toilet at the far end. A really nice touch throughout my stay was that they replenished my fruits/cookies and also had a platter of really yummy welcome chocolates.
The room was equally spacious, with a nice and soft queen-sized bed, sliding wooden shutters, closet and the usual amenties such as coffee making facilities, clothing rack and TV. The TV was fuzzy and had a lot of static though, and there weren’t too many channels to choose from. I guess they’d rather you go outside and enjoy the ocean breeze rather than be cooped up in your room all day.
Note: The Wifi at the resort is bad. I mean, yes, a beach getaway is about disconnecting from it all, but it would be nice if I could have sent work emails without having to use my data. Digi internet reception was fair.
The tub was so fancy it had three taps which I spent an eternity trying to operate because I couldn’t get it to adjust to the right temperature. They also provided bath salts so I could pretend I was in a real spa.
My villa was super close to the pool. Which, unfortunately, I didn’t manage to use during my stay. They had these fun, giant inflatables of swans and unicorns.
After the seasickness subsided, I was feeling ravenous. Lucky for us lunch was already served at the Asean All Day Dining area – a cosy restaurant with views of the pool and the beach beyond. There was a nice selection of local and international cuisine, along with dessert, appetisers and fresh fruits.
Cold cuts/salads, bread.
Noodle station where they cook your customised bowl of noodles to order. The tom yum soup was not up to par, so I abandoned my bowl.
(Right) Starting off with some cold cuts and salad. The meats were good. Moving on to the mains (left), the pasta was al-dente, with the carbonara sauce thick, rich and creamy without being cloying. Had it with stewed lamb (tender and not gamey), and curry chicken.
After lunch, we were taken to the Redang Island Resort nearby; another place run by Berjaya Group that caters to a mid-end crowd.
No private beach, but they have pretty good views too.
After the quick visit, back to The Taaras for some free and easy. I took the chance to head to the beach. The sky was cloudy, like it was going to rain soon, so the pictures didn’t turn out so well.
Dinner that night was at the Beach Brasserie; fittingly located just next to the beach where guests can watch the ocean waves lapping against the shore and the sunset. While live music played, we tucked into our course meal.
First up: appetiser of seared tuna, still pink on the inside, served with greens and balsamic vinaigrette.
The soup was hearty and warming, a thick and rich pumpkin puree with salty toast.
Clearing up the palette with a refreshing berry sorbet tart.
Our main of the night was fragrant rice and tender chicken in a mushroom sauce and a side of firm, white fish. The meal was good but after a long day, I was practically asleep on my legs and excused myself early to go to bed. Fell asleep as soon as my head hit the covers.
More to come!