I’ve been so fortunate over the last 3 years to travel to some beautiful places in Asia - none more extensively than Malaysia thanks to coronavirus. Just like my taste in men is quite specifically defined, it’s become clear to me that my taste in accommodation needs to meet certain criteria and topping that list is nature. When I go away or want to escape to a space temporarily I spend weeks looking for the perfect nature escape.
It’s probably no surprise that I have a Pinterest board dedicated to nature retreats and that in my dream home I don’t want much else but to be surrounded by mother nature herself. With that said, I thought I’d share some of the beautiful spots we’ve stayed in while in Malaysia that are immersed in the tropical rainforest.
Contrary to the name, there are no crocodiles at this beautiful spot on a private beach on Perhentian Kecil Island. What you will find are a few timber villas scattered in the jungle so as to not disturb the natural habitat in any way. The co-owner Erika is a qualified architect and has ensured every expansion of their property treads as lightly on the earth as possible. Her expertise has ensured the rooms are naturally ventilated, so much so that you don’t even need a fan at night, let alone an AC. The rooms are spacious with massive bathrooms that have western-style bathrooms.
The house reef at Crocodile Rock Villas was teeming with life, we saw blue spotted stingray, black tip sharks, angelfish and bump head fish. Rounding off the trifecta of what made our stay in Perhantian so perfect was the food - oh my word, the food! I cannot rave enough about it. As in their approach to architecture, Erika and Artord are passionate about living sustainably in their daily life as such they eat a plant-rich, mostly organic diet and their personal sustainable food philosophy extends onto their restaurant menu. They have an abundance of vegan and vegetarian dishes - almost 60% of the menu was plant-based, the roti canai was out of this world and you absolutely have to try the pandan pancakes.
Perfect for a long term stay, Alamanda’s self-catering villas are nestled on the hillside overlooking a valley of rice paddies and off the beaten track of Pantai Cenang. We rented a scooter through the accommodation for around RM400 for a month. We loved the ease of service as it was delivered to us and collected when we left.
With the independence of having our own scooter, we loved the central location of Alamanda villas as everything was 20 minutes away. We could easily do a grocery haul in Kuah town or scoot off to Tanjung Rhu for a mangrove kayak or paddle boarding and just as easily visit the beach bars on Pantai Cenang or the various waterfalls located across the island. The wifi was great and we found the hospitality exceptional in that every detail was thought of for us. We were recommended supermarkets, restaurants, laundry and every recommendation we enjoyed very much.
From the moment you arrive, you feel a warm welcome at Melina Beach Resort. We loved the ease and friendliness of the staff and their care for us as guests. Their secluded beach is perfect for some R&R however we found the sea life and coral reef not as abundant as Perhentian Islands. Up at our timber villa, we really enjoyed sitting on our balcony and being able to watch the giant black squirrels eat figs from the trees and were so fortunate to see a flying lemur with a baby in its pouch land on a tree right in front of our balcony.
This is the perfect place for a two-night stay as you’re quite restricted to eating from their menu, especially for dinner unless you’re willing to walk the jungle path at night. The staff were very willing to try to accommodate a plant-based diet with special dishes once I mentioned that I found their vegetarian options quite limiting. The wifi on Tioman island, in general, is not very good so if you’re a digital nomad like us, this is not a good option.
There’s something very serene about Rimba Resort, one of three resorts located on Pulau Sibu. I can’t quite explain the feeling but it’s tucked into this quiet bay with gentle lapping waves, so calm you could paddleboard all day. Its 22 jungle units are tucked ever so delicately into the landscape that you may not even notice they’re there. You really feel connected to nature given that the units are built from bamboo, have no air conditioning and only cold water showers.
Given that the resort is owned by a South African, we could more easily appreciate and relate to his ethos in wanting his resort to be akin to its natural surroundings. At Rimba, the wifi is great, the food is abundant and it’s very hard to say no when offered a beer at lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t book time off while we were there so I worked most days but this is really the perfect place to wind down so I almost wish there wifi was as good as it was.
There are daily snorkelling tours available and there’s a dive centre at the resort where Chris completed his PADI license while we were on the island.
We’ve visited Sekeping Serendah twice, staying in their 4 sleeper unit as well as their massive group house. I definitely recommend going as a large group as the big open warehouses are an experience worth having. Designed by the famous Malaysian landscape architect, Sek San the way that the space integrates with its surrounding is truly special.
There’s no such thing as indoor-outdoor living at Sekeping’s warehouse units as all the spaces are open to the outdoors. Aside from the bathrooms, there are no walls as we traditionally think of walls, instead, privacy is created by the rainforest. They’re also the ideal space for a yoga retreat. The wifi connection is limited and all units are self-catering. Given its proximity to KL, Sekeping Serendah is usually difficult to book last minute so it’s best to book ahead of time.
Malihom is a wonderful place to reconnect with nature. About 40 minutes drive from George Town and not super convenient to travel to with Grab - we rented a scooter for the month which we sourced ourselves from George Town. If it’s George Town you really want to see while visiting Penang I don’t recommend Malihom as it’s a bit too far away. Rather do your sightseeing thing in George Town and if you want some nature time, book a few extra nights to chill at Malihom afterwards.
Malihom has two options - Hilltop and Foothill. The hilltop villas are made up of traditional Thai Lanna rice barns - all restored from Chiang Mai in Thailand. They’re also all inclusive and the menu sounds delicious and very accommodating for plant based eaters as you can look forward to things like chickpeas and spinach for breakfast.
Since we were staying for 1 month, we opted to stay at the Foothill units where we had a kitchen to cook for ourselves. Not necessarily the ideal place for 2 people for a long term stay as the houses are designed with 5 beds and a kitchen, with no living area. We knew ahead of time about the setup and we were willing to sacrifice certain things to be able to stay close to nature so we didn’t in any way feel that our expectations weren’t met. Foothill also provides access to a beautiful wetland pool that’s filled with spring water. At the time we stayed there was no access to wifi at Foothill but we did get 4G coverage on our mobile hotspots.
Only 3 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur, Cherating is an ideal weekend escape from the city. What better way to be near nature than camping? We stayed at Payung Getaway with some friends for 2 nights and absolutely loved the vibe that Olga and her partner have created. The open-air bathrooms are super spacious and kept super clean. While the camping area numbers are strictly controlled so there’s no overcrowding, allowing all guests an uninterrupted view of the ocean.
Not only is Payung Getaway a little gem, but Cherating in itself also has a laid back surfer culture. Be sure to visit Ombak for the delicious brunch, Cafe Marion for French pastries and Don’t Tell Mama is where it’s at for dinner on the beach.
That completes my round-up of nature stays in Malaysia where you can escape from the city and reconnect with the elements. If you have any questions feel free to reach out in the comments.