After a somewhat grueling flight from Los Angeles that included plane changes in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, we had arrived in Kuantan, Malaysia. Situated on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, this was to be our final destination for a few days until the Ocean Rover SCUBA boat picked us up—right here in the bay outside the hotel no less—for a week of SCUBA diving in the Malaysian islands. Considering my wife and I had not really taken a honeymoon (we were married in the Bahamas), it seemed fitting to take a few days prior to the dive trip to luxuriate in a beautiful resort.
At the airport, a driver was waiting for us, sent by the hotel as a courtesy pickup. This was a welcome sight, as we knew it as only a short time before we could shower, eat and get horizontal, un-kinking the cramped muscles and creaky joints befitting those on long haul international travelers. We loaded up our bags in his Skoda and headed out through the small city of Kuantan for the beautiful beaches of the East coast. This was going to be a great adventure, with 4 days in a luxury resort, 8 days diving on a live-aboard boat, and the final 4 days spent in the bustling capitol-city of Kuala Lumpur.
Arriving at the Kuantan Hyatt resort we entered via a large circular drive. The structure itself is enormous, and is designed to resemble a traditional Malay hut compound typical in villages around the countryside. This large structure has an open-air entry offering breathtaking views of the South China Sea. Just as we pulled up, a massive rain storm started with lightning, thunder, and a torrent of rain: quite exciting for travelers from Los Angeles who rarely see much precipitation!
Hyatt Club Regency
As part of Hyatt Regency Club, we were treated like members of an exclusive club, which I guess we are, although truth be told: you just have to sign up online, and it is free. We were treated to a personal tour of the enormous resort: four courtyards, all styled differently, gardens, 2 pools, gym, massage/spa area, steam rooms and saunas, tennis, squash court, three different restaurants and an outside Sampan bar. Taken to other end of 3 attached “villages,” we met with another woman who sat us down and took our info as we checked in. We were offered orange juice and a welcome cocktail in the lounge, but exhaustion drew us to the comforts of a hot shower, soft bed and room service. The meal consisted of chicken satay and rice with prawns with veggies (Nasi Goreng). I was getting the feeling that not only was this going to be a wonderful stay, but the food was going to be excellent as well. The price was reasonable, unlike most Western hotels that gouge you on food and minibar items. An average diner for two from room service ran about 30-40 Ringgits, or roughly $10 US.
Another nice feature of the Hyatt is the patio area. There are 2 pools to choose from, the primary pool situated directly in front of the main entrance and one closer to the Regency Club area. Nearer to the main building is a massive restaurant overlooking the South China Sea, with a cascading waterfall coming down rounded stones near the lounge area. The sounds and view are unbeatable. Relaxing there is a great way to lull yourself into a seated coma of happiness.
The main pool is quite large, and has a swim up bar replete with all the famous drinks you can think of, as well as wines, a few beers and liquors of all types. They also have a bar menu, and if you like you can order anything from the main restaurant, situated to the left side of the pool.
An interesting feature is the Sampan Bar, a Vietnamese refugee boat that landed here on this beach in 1980. The boat was purchased from the United Nations, restored and permanently mounted into the patio as a bar. It is an interesting bit of history preserved and still in use in a modern context. Of note, the money that was used to purchase the boat went to the families of refugees making this a fantastic use of local culture and history.
There are three restaurants to choose from, and an extensive menu. We are lucky in that we arrived the day before the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Ramadan is to remind us that there are those less fortunate in the world, and after fasting all day, the locals here take in a buffet that was simply amazing. Located in the main Kampung restaurant, there were all manner of foods, some recognizable and others, well, not so much. Everything from spiced beef to chicken satay, soups, salads, fried doughy things, and desserts of all types. The fruit is wonderful here as well, with star fruit, pineapples oranges and other citrus in abundance. Again, the price was right at 45 RM each, or about $12. All meals, drinks and general services include a 10% gratuity and 5% government tax, making tipping a no-brainer. This is especially handy when you backstroke up to the blue tile bar and order yourself some satay and a cocktail.
Monkeys wander over the rooftops like banana-powered burglars, ready to creep into an open room and steal fruit, clothes, luggage, etc. A small sign on the patio door states that the monkeys are not to be fed, as they can be aggressive and often downright nasty. Small and solid grey they have lanky bodies and tend to look less human than other species. They are pretty cute, and certainly the children love them but feed these little beasties and take your own life into your hands! A few camera flashes will start the hissing and exposing of pointy teeth…
Wandering the large scallop of beach is interesting, rocky outcroppings that flank both sides, with dense, steep jungle terrain coming right down to the sea. To the North is a public beach with a settlement consisting of small vendors hawking ice cream, snacks and other little touristy items, although I get the feeling this is mostly locals-only. Monkeys were present, digging through the garbage cans and looking for a handout. Of note: there is a McDonalds located there, so if you either hanker for a Big Mac or just want to be stunned into silence by the far-reaching tentacles of globalization, it is right there, a short walk away from the luxurious Hyatt.
Just past this is an interesting feature: a wooden boardwalk that wraps up and along a steep jungle hillside. This is a great way to see and hear the jungle without getting too far from civilization, and get acclimated to the types of flora that are common to the jungles in Malaysia. It was built as a nature preserve of sorts, with nicely kept trails and seating all along the way.
To the South, there is another hotel directly next to the Hyatt. It appears to be abandoned, with the lower floor boarded up and the upper floor rooms all open wide to the elements. I have seen this in the Bahamas we well: a huge resort takes a battering in a hurricane or monsoon, and the parent company takes the insurance settlement and walks away. Just past this ghost-hotel are the rocks marking the end of the beach. Here, the sands are swirled on top of the rocks that reach right down in to the sea. There are some small caves to explore, and springs pop out of the sand in random spots mingling with the sea.
The main beach is a large, flat expanse of coarse, white sand and no rocks or coral heads. The waves are very small and manageable. Water temperature is 80-85 degrees F, and with a light breeze the temperature could not be more perfect.
There are strict government regulations on many things in Malaysia. On our immigration forms and posted all over the airport are warnings about drug smuggling: punishable by death! This was shocking, but perhaps a strong-handed attempt to control the problems associated with illegal activity so prevalent elsewhere in Southeast Asia. With nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
Strangely, there are no such laws about littering. Surprisingly, I saw it in the jungle, off the trails, and on the beach. I hope in 5-10 years, visitors will see this beautiful stretch of beach as clean as it is nearer to the Hyatt. Malaysia does, in fact, employ strict policies for SCUBA diving and reef preservation, so it is a bit odd that there was not a larger conservation effort. Our dive boat, Ocean Rover, is one of only a few live-aboards allowed to operate in Malaysia, and I look forward to discussing this situation with them.
In no way do I want to dissuade anyone from traveling to Malaysia, in fact the opposite. As a westerner and I was disheartened by the amount of litter I have found in some areas. I truly hope to see it change, as Malaysia is a beautiful country.
Malaysians are an interesting mix of native Malays, Indians, Chinese and native tribes of Malaysian Borneo. The people that we have met are warm, friendly and quick with a smile. English is commonly spoken, and while it would behoove you to learn a few words of Malay, you can get by with English easily.
Whether you stretch out on a chair under a palm frond umbrella or bubble up at the poolside bar, the Hyatt Kuantan is quite a wonderful experience. For resort lovers, everything is here: friendly catered service, great food and drink, spa services, gym, sauna/steam rooms, tennis. For the more adventurous, there are wind surfers, sea kayaks and Hobie catamarans, all available for you to explore the beautiful South China Sea. Whether you consider yourself a resort person, it is hard to beat the locale, available options, and comfort of this fantastic locale in Kuantan, which blends traditional style with modern conveniences.
Written and photography by Jesse Siglow