With two young kids, we don't get to travel as often as we would like to, but when we do, it is always handy to visit somewhere in the domestic scenario. One doesn't need to face the hassle of flying or wading through long and frustrating immigration lines, which can be a burden with young impatient children in tow!
It just so happened, that we got invited to spend the weekend at Tiger Rock, a boutique jungle hideaway on the beautiful island of Pangkor, which lies on the western coast of peninsular Malaysia.
It has been a few years since I had last visited Tiger Rock, and I was pretty ecstatic at taking the kids on a beach holiday. I guess you could call me a bit of a beach bum, as I'll jump at any chance to just chill and relax by the pool or sea. Furthermore, one doesn't need to keep such a close eye on the kids, as they can happily amuse themselves building sandcastles in the sand or paddling in the swimming pool!
After spending the night at the plantation in Perak where hubby works, the children, my mother and I caught a ferry from Marina Island, a recently opened jetty pier in Lumut, where it only takes a mere 10 minutes to Pangkor Island. The kids were pretty excited, of course, to be on a boat. It is indeed such a joy, seeing their sweet faces light up at the littlest things that we adults take for granted!
Once we arrived in Pangkor, we were picked up by Mr Mohan Kasi, the ever friendly and efficient caretaker of Tiger Rock. He whisked us away in his four wheel drive car, winding his way with much expertise, up the hilly enclaves of Tiger Rock. We were then greeted warmly by the staff, with a dash of rosewater on our heads together with an icy refreshing drink, each of us given a bindi on our foreheads which seems to be Tiger Rock's unique and friendly way to welcome travellers entering the resort.
Soon after, we were served up a simple but sumptuous light lunch of fried rice, stir-fried chicken and tempura-styled vegetables. Tiger Rock is well known for its magnificent yet wholesome feasts of dishes all prepared by Chef Bavanni, who happens to be married to Mohan. We were definitely spoiled silly with all the fresh and home-cooked style dishes which were both tasty and gob-smackingly good.
When staying at Tiger Rock, one pays full board which means all meals are provided for, including an afternoon tea where a local delicacy or snack such as goreng pisang (fried bananas) or cucur udang (shrimp fritters) are served. This definitely takes off the pressure of looking around for a restaurant to eat at, and you can be rest assured of having delicious fuss-free home cooked meals, right on your doorstep! Furthermore, all the ingredients have for the most part been locally sourced, and it's simply a delight to sample how tasty and fresh everything is.
After our lunch, and a quick exploration of the grounds near the cool and inviting saltwater swimming pool, we made our way up to the Main House to where our rooms were located.
The Main house happens to be where the owners, David and Rebecca Wilkinson used to live before they opened up their property to paying guests. It so happens that my husband, Geoffrey, and David, have known each other for more then 20 years, both having worked in the plantation industries and having similar backgrounds, growing up in Malaysia from childhood. It is through their friendship, that I got to meet this creative and innovative duo.
Rebecca, a Malaysian artist, told Batik&Bubbles "Both David and I grew up within plantation environments - close to the jungle, outdoors, in nature. It was a privilege that is no longer available in Malaysia. It gave us both a real appreciation of the value of our natural environment, how precious it is and the value of it going forward into the future. We moved the family from KL in 1995 and started from scratch building Tiger Rock in the jungle. Part of the land was old rubber small holdings but it was completely overgrown. We decided to keep as much of what was there, including trees and boulders, and the Main House was built around huge boulders that are characteristic of the landscape of Pangkor Island".
Rebecca and David then bought a shophouse in Lumut and lived there the first year, before moving full time onto the island when their sons started school. The boys went to the local Chinese school and Tessa, their youngest was born in Setiawan (on the main land) and brought back to the island the following day. Rebecca continued "It was a brilliant time and has very much made an impact on them as they grew up. Pangkor is a stunning island full of diptocarps, forest reserve, hornbills and unique wildlife!".
Rebecca and David are now based in Georgetown, Penang and do travel back to Pangkor now and again. Fortunately they have the amazing Mohan, the caretaker, who has been running the property since its inception.
Rebecca told us how she and David came upon Mohan "We first met him at the cocktail bar on Pangkor Laut a long time ago! His charm and attentiveness got to us even then. We kept in touch, and once Tiger Rock was pretty much complete, we asked him to come take a look. He thought we were just a bunch of 'A' frames in the jungle. Once he got there and saw what we were doing, planning and hoping for, he understood immediately what we were after. We wanted service of a certain type for our guests, where their needs were anticipated even before they realized that they wanted. Mohan is a true genuine person and this is what makes him so delightful as a host at Tiger Rock. His wife Bavanni, is our wonderful chef and together they are our "Team Tiger Rock". It is very much his personality and genuine care that makes Tiger Rock so special" she enthused.
It was also interesting for me to learn, that the retreat was built using materials locally sourced from the island and surrounding areas. One can really feel that the houses were built with a labour of love with its attention to detail and homey, artistic appeal.
Rebecca said, " David designed the whole property around the existing jungle landscape and I went in with my own style of interiors and decoration. It was a wonderful experience using the local island communities to build Tiger Rock and it was something extremely special to have lived on the island participating very much in the normal everyday life of this very vibrant local island. We worked hard to build the houses and continued to work our businesses in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. On Pangkor, I personally made the decision to work more intensely on my artwork and was hugely inspired by the environment I lived in!".
Coming back to our accommodation, the master bedroom in the Main House was on the same floor as the kid's room, with a shared dressing hall (and extra bed), a really perfect option for families. There was plenty of space for everyone and each room had its own bathroom. The kid's room used to belong to Rebecca and David's children, and our kids felt very much at ease with the charming and colourful artwork on its walls and old toys and trinkets placed around the room.
In the Main House, there is also a very cool kitchen and living room where one can lounge about in. It has a very Old China rustic appeal about it paired together with an ethereal artistic vibe. As Rebecca mentioned, there are some rocks bulging out of the floor-work which again shows just how much care has been given in maintaining the natural environs of the landscape.
My mother was placed in the Pool House chalet, which is a perfect room for the more elderly or physically challenged, as it's only a stone's throw away from the poolside and Pool House where all the meals are served. Her room was lovingly decorated with rustic and colourful throws and various knick-knacks from around Asia.
Most of the rooms have their own verandahs, which really is a perfect place to read a book and have a sip a tea or just to simply relish in the peace and quietness of the retreat. One can hear some amazing sounds emanating from the jungle such as hornbills, pheasants and sometimes fish owls and wild boars at night!
Tiger Rock also offers guests a complimentary round Island Tour hosted by Mohan. So the next day we took the opportunity to visit the various sights.
Our first stop was at the Dutch fort which is located at the entrance of Tiger Rock. Formally known as Kota Belanda, we took a walk around the fort to explore its surroundings. Kota Belanda was apparently built in 1670 by the Dutch to store and protect tin supplies gathered during its colonization, however it was destroyed by the Malay residents who were unhappy with the way these goods were acquired. It was then rebuilt in 1743 and finally abandoned in 1748.
Across from the fort, we popped over to look at a huge boulder which is apparently how Tiger Rock got its name!
This rock has historical inscriptions carved on its surface, which seem to resemble a tiger and a child. No-one to this day, really knows who made these carvings and what they mean, however, it stands out as one of Pangkor's most significant historical landmarks. A roof structure has even been built around it to protect it from any environmental damages.
After viewing Tiger Rock, we were taken to look at a Buddhist temple which is nick-named "The Mini Great Wall of China" or Foo Lin Kong Temple. Living in Malaysia, we often get to see many temples in our surroundings, however, newcomers will definitely appreciate seeing this temple of worship and its colourful and majestic setting. There are also fishponds for the kids to gawp at and a fun little slide!
After traversing around the island in our vehcle, our final stop was at the Ikan Bilis factory. Ikan bilis is basically anchovies which have been dried out in the sun and are a salty flavoured condiment often used in Malaysian cooking. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of the ikan bilis in the process of being made, but it was pretty amazing to see all the different varieties on offer.
For those who fancy a bit of shopping, Mohan can also take you to some of the local shops where you can get hold of some batik and inexpensive t-shirts and memorabilia. I couldn't help myself and bought some sweet little batik dresses for my little girl and some swimming shorts for the boys!
After our island tour, and a a quick lunch break at Tiger Rock, we headed out to the beach. There are two beaches close to Tiger Rock that one can explore on the island, Teluk Nipah, which is closer to the resort, and Coral Beach. Mohan drove us to Coral Beach (all transfers in the island are complimentary by Tiger Rock) as we had not explored it properly on our last trip. Like most of Pangkor Island, the beaches were quiet and unscathed. We loved the white powdery sand and jumping through the warm turquoise blue waves.
After returning to Tiger Rock, we took a walk around the library which has a plethora of books and magazines to choose from, ready to satisfy any avid bookworm. There are lots of comfortable chairs and seating areas to reside in with huge open door balconies and windows for you to gaze out from and enjoy the nature. There's even a television, for those who need their daily fix of the news or a movie but that was something we happily absconded from!
Throughout the private retreat, there are plenty of paintings and artworks of the tropical landscape created by Rebecca, for one to feast your eyes on. Rebecca, who is a graduate from the Parson's School of Design in New York, gets some of her inspiration from the flora and fauna of Malaysia, and one can easily see why she and David chose to build their home here. There is really so much to see there in the awe-inspiring lush green jungles of Pangkor. It truly is a nature lovers paradise!
For our last evening, we spent our last night just enjoying the soothing ambience of Tiger Rock. We got cooked another massive spread of food with my most favourite dish of all, freshly caught seafood!
Although there were a few other parties of guests at Tiger Rock while we stayed there, we were still able to enjoy some privacy. The houses are spread quite far apart from each other, and there are plenty of places to lounge around in, especially around the swimming pool. There is also another saltwater pool and seating lounge on the other side of the retreat at Hill House, and even some tennis courts on the grounds for those who feel like a quick smash on the courts! Tiger Rock boasts 8 bedrooms in total, so it really is a home-away-from-home experience, perfect for a group getaway or a family reunion!
According to Rebecca, Tiger Rock, apart from hosting overseas guests, also receives alot of local families and guests coming to enjoy the beautiful jungle environment. She said, "It really is lovely to see 'city' families coming and totally relaxing, kids really enjoying this great jungle environment, when so many of them are quite apprehensive when they first arrive, often scared in fact! It is wonderful to offer guests from Europe or elsewhere, a sense that they have been very much in the jungle, felt the natural elements, lived through a huge thunderstorm, sensed the wind in the jungle, hear wild boar outside their rooms..this is invigorating, stimulating in the best way, exciting and reconnects them to the 'real' world".
What Rebecca says, really does sum up our experience over at Tiger Rock. It's a great retreat or hideaway, where one can really escape and bond with nature. A unique and special place to take your family and have a break from the hectic lifestyles we tend to lead these days. I sometimes worry that my kids don't get enough exposure to the outdoors but at places like Tiger Rock they can really truly explore and appreciate Mother Nature at its glorious best!
*Many thanks again to Rebecca and David for hosting us at Tiger Rock. Lily Aziz for the arrangements and Mohan, Bavanni and the Tiger Rock team for taking care of all our needs!
Don't miss out on this unique experience, to make your booking at Tiger Rock or find out more info, go to http://tigerrock.info/ or call 04-2263016 .
To find out more about Rebecca's work and designs, please go to her website : http://rebeccaduckett.com/