I gotta admit.

I’m a sucker for those “exotic” resorts where you pay quite the premium for the aesthetics and intimacy. These sort of places are far from your five-star world class hotels standards in that they are limited in occupancy, known mainly through word-of-mouth and fulfills the desires of those who embrace it. Think about a beautifully-manicured cottage in the woods; a lakeside villa made of glass or a cliff-side bungalow overlooking a cove.

This brings us to Terrapuri.

A marriage of two ancient languages (Terra – earth in Latin; pura – palace in Balinese), Terrapuri is a Malay traditional house conservation and restoration project cum resort. Located in the scenic fishing village of Penarik, Terrapuri is perfectly wedged between a strip of near-deserted white sandy beach and the ecologically important Setiu Wetlands. In short, it’s my kind of paradise.

Restored Terrengganu Malay traditional houses turned into villas.
Restored Terengganu Malay traditional houses turned into villas.

This mini-village is found in the district of Setiu, about an hour drive away from the state capital of Kuala Terengganu. Setiu can be considered off-the-beaten-path by travelers and backpackers since it is overshadowed by the “Big Three” islands of Kapas, Redang and Perhentian. However, its relative obscurity is handsomely compensated by its natural beauty and warmth.

The villas are equipped with modern amenities such as air-con, refrigerator and hot water shower that are well integrated into the rustic feel of a kampung house. You will notice that the tea-making facility is nicely placed on an old brass tray while a wooden bathtub greets you once you enter the bathroom. It’s also nice to know that the villas are named after the village they originated from – the one my wife and I stayed in is named “Tembakang,” after its original home of Kampung Tembakang some 90 km away.

Breakfast on the verandah facing the courtyard.
Breakfast on our verandah facing the courtyard.

The resort itself is impeccably designed to look like a Sultan’s palace where the courtyard consists of the reception, reading room and gallery surrounded by the villas while you can soak in the view by dipping in the swimming pool behind the open-air dining hall. Terrapuri provides a vibe of absolute relaxation and isolation where a city-dweller like me can just sit back and take time to enjoy the beauty of nature for what it is. The unique concept is also the reason European travelers yearn to stay here – the opportunity to experience pristine and untouched Malaysia cannot be passed.

As mentioned above, the resort’s habitat borders the wetlands so the swamp at the back does attract your friendly-neighborhood mosquitoes during dusk but it also home to the fireflies. On our first night, the staff were kind enough to invite the guests to see the fireflies in action and these magical creatures have the ability to synchronize their flickering like lights on a Christmas tree. Fireflies live off the berembang tree which is indigenous to wetlands in Southeast Asia and efforts to gazette this area as a protected nature reserve is actively being undertaken by the government, NGOs and local community.

Taking a dip and catching the South China Sea breeze.
Taking a dip and catching the South China Sea breeze.

Terrapuri holds true to its authenticity by offering traditional Malay meals – usually they consist of rice with chicken, fish and vegetables cooked in a certain manner, followed by sweet kuih and fruits for desserts. The typical Western thoroughfare is also available throughout the day but I would suggest going local for dinner because the princely meal is well worth savoring to the last grain of rice. It is quite hard for me to explain how tantalizing each dish are to my taste buds so I’ll let this photo do the talking.

I still crave for the red snapper stew (center).
I still crave for the gulai ikan merah (red snapper stew, center).

Terrapuri takes us back to the time of a homely, close-knit community that respects nature and her elements. It remains humble amidst the grandeur showered upon it by travelers near and far alike. Perhaps its embodied humility attracted my romanticism to set foot on this place. Perhaps its collective history enabled me to appreciate my roots and culture.

Or it could just be the amazing gulai ikan merah that I still can’t stop thinking of.

Get into the details at Terrapuri’s official website or connect with them via Facebook.


Tips:

  • The annual monsoon season runs November – March while peak season is around May – August.
  • It is recommended to rent a car from the airport or an agent. Try Green Matrix Car Rental for good prices.
  • Terrapuri’s Halfboard Package provides the best value; it comes with two breakfasts and two dinners.
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