Unmistakably Malay SuciMurni Yoga retreat at Tanjong Jara Resort
Bask in the soft ray of sunshine as the sun rises over the horizon, feel the sea breeze blow over your skin, bring your awareness to the yoga mat and clear your mind. Amidst the rustic ‘kampung’ (village) feel of Tanjong Jara Resort in Terengganu on the east coast of Malaysia, Yoga extraordinaire Tara Stiles led us through three sessions of her very own Strala Yoga recently.
Hidden Gem 4 hours from KL
Unbeknownst to many city dwellers, Tanjong Jara Resort is a hidden gem just four hours away from the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur. On the other side of the peninsular, the resort features soft sandy beaches facing the South China Sea, a herb garden which leads into a short jungle trail which we explored on our own and was surprised by the resident peacock, and the baby monitor lizards which popped up from their underground dwellings.
The architecture of the buildings at the resort are beautifully crafted from wood, with the ‘Unmistakably Malay’ cultural elements which has also won the Aga Khan award for architecture. The rooms are generously furnished with a comfortably soft bed that even Goldilocks would approve of, plus a day bed and a gigantic bathroom with a bathtub that you might consider living in!
The idea of ‘Sunrise Yoga’ might sound like a daunting task to drag yourself out of that comfy bed, but it was extremely rewarding that I even looked forward to it again the next day. The pool near the Spa Village was a scenic place to bask in the first light of day, and it’s nice to focus on yourself first thing in the morning, for a change.
Clear your mind, bring clarity to the yoga mat, and just go with the flow.
Tara’s instructions were easy to follow at a comfortable pace even for beginners. Strala Yoga doesn’t require you to hold poses in difficult positions, so you’ll feel at ease straightaway.
This was a nice change from all harsh cardio and weight-lifting that we usually put ourselves through, which usually compacts our muscles. However, we also need balance by doing some Yoga and Pilates to lengthen your muscles and build some core strength.
Bend, stretch and relax all your muscles which have been tensed up from the rat race and city life, and free yourself from all thoughts.
As you look up into the sky, the sound of birds chirping and the sight of coconut trees, brings a sense of relaxation and tranquility.
If you would like to continue your rest and relaxation mode, a few private pavilions dot the sandy beach, draped with curtains and furnished with mattresses and pillows for you to watch the sunrise, relax or plunge your nose into a book.
Numerous hammocks big enough for two are strung around the resort, distanced enough to give you some privacy, especially when you conveniently fall asleep in the tranquil settings with the sound of the waves in the background.
Secrets of Tanjong Jara Resort
The most valuable assets of this resort, is indeed their staff in the likes of the Talking Chef – Chef Ann, and Captain Mokh the latter who is a retired army captain and now leads his very own ‘SuciMurni’ morning exercise, unique crafted from Tai Chi, yoga and some animal chakras.
We caught Captain Mokh and got him to tell us his treasure trove of stories about the history and origins of this resort through his 16 years of experience working at this resort and passing on the rich Malay culture which you will never be able to find on Google.
Chef Ann led us on a visit to the morning market at Pasar Besar Dungun, in the town 10 minutes drive away from the resort. But she first took us on a tour to view the ‘kampung’ way of life first hand, while the kids had fun spotting farm animals. The variety of seafood was overwhelming from awkward looking fishes to stingrays and lobsters, before we moved onto the vast collection of vegetables, herbs and asian spices. These are foundation of every mother’s kitchen secrets which leaves tantalising memories etched in your heart.
Meandering the narrow pathways of the market, Chef Ann was like a mayor whom everyone knew and grown to love, it was more like visiting friends at the market. This part of town is also known for ‘ulam’ – a traditional fresh salad made out of various shoots and leaves e.g. fern shoots, soft cashew leaves, wild pepper leaves (daun Kaduk) akin to betel leaves, basil and many other herbs and greens, eaten on its own or with ‘sambal’ – a chilli dip, or ‘cincalok’ – made from fermented small shrimps.
Unmistakably Malay Culinary Delights
We also loved the ‘Nasi Dagang’ which is a favourite local dish served with soft rice steamed with coconut milk, a delectable fish curry with only the freshest mackerel and a side serving of pickled vegetables to pique your tastebuds.
Having rice for breakfast is one of many ‘strange’ asian concepts in the westerner’s opinion, but it makes for a hearty meal to last you throughout the day.
Chef Ann and Tara Stiles also demonstrated their culinary skills where they proved healthy meals are quick and easy to prepare. They delighted us with a vegetable curry and a mango salad to complete the healthy journey from yoga mat to dining table.
Once we built up our calorie store of the day, we joined the Move Play bootcamp-like sessions for an energetic group workout involving basic movements like squats, push ups, burpees and running on the beach and garden. The theme of the day was teamwork and teams competed for victorious bragging rights.
At the end of the day, we sat down at ‘Di Atas Sungai’, literally the restaurant atop a river, to a specially crafted dinner starting with Chef Ann discussing how we would like to plan our dishes at our table.
Lo and behold, we were served with supremely delicious Asian and Western flavours and was even surprised with a combination of scallops in milky butter sauce that we never knew could taste so good!
A Gift of Life
The east coast of peninsular Malaysia lays bed to Greenback turtles who nests and lays their eggs between the months of May and September each year. The resorts hosts Lang Tengah Turtle Watch which keeps an eye out for this diminishing species and retrieve their eggs to be born in a guarded hatchery within the compound.
The incubation period takes 50-70 days and we were privileged to witness the release of some 200 hatchlings into the sea. We were briefed about not using any white lights or camera flashes, to avoid confusing the turtles and attracting sharks. Instead, red lights were used to enable us to watch how the natural instinct guides the turtles to the sea.
This was an inspiring reminder of the circle of life, yet on the other hand, the number of turtles who survive the vicious ocean life and men disguised as fisherman are far and few between to be able to continue the next generation.
Signature Malay Spa Experience
Throughout our stay, we already didn’t feel like leaving home and the Spa Village only confirmed our sentiments even more. We were treated to ‘Asam Roselle’ – a signature Malay experience. This dark red petalled flower is also commonly boiled into a Ribena-like drink which the resort served as the Welcome Drink upon your arrival at the resort. Known for its anti-inflammatory and healing powers, this flower has been used in traditional medicine and local delicacies too.
Clad in the traditional Malay wrap known as ‘sarong’, the experience started with the SuciMurni flower bath, with freshly plucked frangipani, ‘kenanga’ known as ylang ylang, rose and other flowers from the surroundings.
The bath water is accumulated from the seven jars around the resort representing the different source of waters and bringing together a wholesome philosophy of spiritual well-being.
Wiping ourselves dry, we drifted away into slumber land with a relaxing massage using a special oil blend utilising Roselle and other elements, which soothed all the tension in our muscles.
We emerged with soft, plump skin as smooth as silk, from the Roselle Cream Scrub incorporating a rich concoction of coconut oil. And as a bonus, we took home the sarong as a souvenir after having a cup of Roselle tea, boosted with anti-oxidants to keep you healthy. My only complaint was that I wished the treatment could have lasted longer, or till infinity whichever comes first.
All good things must come to an end, and as a wise man once said, ‘Only then, can the next adventure begin’. We bade a fond farewell to Tanjong Jara Resort but rest assured, we shall return.
This SuciMurni Yoga Retreat by Tara Stiles was proudly presented by Reebok Malaysia and YTL Hotels into their third edition and will continue on with elegance. Casio Exilim FR100’s wide angle lense created nice perspectives for photos published here.
This article was first published on ToughAsia.com. Photos were taken by myself for Tough Asia unless stated otherwise.