Desaru is a coastal town in Kota Tinggi District, Johor, Malaysia. The town houses the integrated beach resorts with water theme parks, golf courses, hotels and villas facing the South China Sea. It is also known as the Land of Casuarinas due to the existence of casuarina trees along the beaches. The small town of Bandar Penawar, about 2 km inland, serves as the area's transport hub.
Desaru is an area stretched along the 22 kilometers of beach with various resorts.
Like all of Malaysia's east coast, Desaru is highly seasonal, with monsoon winds and rains lashing the coast between November and February. There is still plenty of sunshine even during the rainy season, but waves are high and it rains more. The "good" season is thus from April to October, with June to August being the busiest months, when the waters are inviting and the sand fine.
- 1 Penawar Bus and Taxi Terminal (Terminal Bas dan Teksi Penawar). There are direct Mara Liner  coach services four times a day from Johor Bahru's Larkin Bus Terminal to Bandar Penawar via Kota Tinggi at 10:30AM, 1PM, 5PM and 8PM. The one-way fare is RM8.20. From Bandar Penawar, you can either take a cab (teksi) for about RM10, or wait the minibus that will take you directly to Desaru Resort (the minibus is RM1, comes every 30 min).
Alternatively, you can take a non-express bus from Larkin Bus Terminal (Maju 227 or Causeway Link 66) or JB Sentral Terminal (Transit Link 41, Maju 227, Causeway Link 6B) to Kota Tinggi's bus terminal (duration about 1h; Maju 227 one-way fare from City Square RM4.80; average frequency of Maju 227 is 15 min), and then take another bus from Kota Tinggi to Bandar Penawar (duration max. 1hr, one-way fare RM4.50, frequency every 90 min). You can also take a cab from Kota Tinggi directly to Desaru Resort, this will cost you approximately RM35.
Take the Senai-Desaru Expressway and its bridge across the Johor River from Johor Bahru to Desaru which takes around 30 minutes. From Kuala Lumpur, take the PLUS Expressways southbound and exit at Senai Utara. From there take the E22 expressway until the eastern end, which terminates at Taman Desaru Utama.
Limbongan Maju Sdn Bhd (tel. (+60 7 8278002) operates 2 services daily on weekdays and 4 services daily on weekends between Changi Ferry Terminal in Singapore and Tanjong Belungkor Ferry Terminal in Belungkor, Johor. Car ferries are no longer in operation. The present service is operated using a passenger ferry with a capacity of about 120 passengers. The ferry operator charges S$24 for one way and S$38 return.
At the Changi Ferry Terminal, visitors can still arrange for tours to the Desaru Fruit Farm as part of a tour package along with a stay at the Lotus Desaru Beach Resort. Other ground arrangements can be made via the ferry operator as well. Tickets can be purchased online.
An alternative is to take a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal in Singapore to Pengerang for S$10 per person, and then hire a taxi from the Pengerang terminal to Desaru. This should cost around RM40 one-way. The schedule is flexible - boats leave whenever they have 12 passengers - but be prepared to queue for a couple of hours at weekends.
There is no public transport in Desaru. If you find yourself stuck with no bus to take you to Bandar Penawar, try asking the staff at the restaurant to call you a taxi. They know a lot of taxi drivers and most likely will love to help both you and their driver friend. The price should be around 15 RM to Bandar Penawar or 40 RM to Kota Tinggi.
- 2 KLezcar Bandar Penawar Car Rental, No. 101, Jalan Kempas 1, Taman Desaru Utama, Bandar Penawar 81930, ☏ . 8AM-10PM (Tue-Sat), 9AM-10PM (Sun-Mon). Car rental.
- 1 Tanjung Balau Fishermen Museum (Muzium Nelayan Tanjung Balau), Tanjung Balau. Museum.
- 2 Bandar Penawar Arca Park (Taman Arca Bandar Penawar), Bandar Penawar, 81930. Public park.
- 3 Bandar Penawar Public Field (Padang Awam Bandar Penawar), Bandar Penawar, 81930. Green field.
- 4 Desaru Beach (Pantai Desaru), Jalan Desaru. Beach.
- 5 Desaru Fruit Farm, ☏ . Sungai Cemaran Desaru. 100 cultivars of fruit and a mini zoo.
- 6 Koref Desaru Leisure Farm, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. An eco resort with outdoor water challenge, tree house & vegetable garden.
- 7 Penawar Lake Park (Taman Tasik Penawar), Bandar Penawar, 81930. Lake park.
- 8 Tanjung Balau Beach (Pantai Tanjung Balau), Tanjung Balau. Beach
Desaru is a semi-developed resort area and there are a lot of things to do while you are there. Take advantage of the nice wide beach, and of the shallow and clear water. All 22 km of it is open to all, even the stretches in front of the hotels, but most locals congregate at the public beach, which provides a carpark, a few barbeque pits and grotty toilets.
Snorkeling is a good option, but don't expect banks of colorful fishes and wonderful sea creatures. Scuba diving here is out of the question, although some of the resorts do arrange trips out to Johor's northern islands.
One thing you can definitely try is surfing. If wind is good, the waves are quite OK, and especially the lack of jellyfish and sharks makes it an attractive location. During December, January and first half of February (monsoon season), the waves are almost constantly high, but do expect the water to be a little cold. There is a company that rents surf boards for 20 RM/hour and provides surf lessons for 100 RM. The same company rents jetskis.
Excursions to see the fireflies (api-api) in the Sungei Lebam river are very popular. While it's possible to arrange yourself, this would require bumping about dirt roads to find the dock and then cruising around a pitch-black jungle river, so it's much easier to join one of the hotel excursions. The best time to go is after rain on a new moon.
- 1 Desaru Coast Adventure Waterpark, Persiaran Damai, Desaru Coast, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Th-Su 10AM-6PM. Water theme park with 5 different play zones.
- 2 Bandar Penawar Skate Park, Bandar Penawar, 81930. Skate park.
- 3 Penawar Stadium (Stadium Penawar), Bandar Penawar, 81930. Football stadium.
- 4 The Els Club Desaru Coast - Ocean Course, No. 4, Jalan Danau, Desaru Coast, 81930. 27-golf course.
- 5 The Els Club Desaru Coast - Valley Course, No. 2, Jalan Pantai 2, Desaru Coast, 81930. 18-hole golf course which spans over 41 hectares.
Desaru is home to the ELS Performance Golf Academy, the place where you can have the opportunity to learn golf the way it should be played.
If you have your own wheels or join one of the hotel-arranged "excursions", the fishing village of Sungai Rengit, some 30 km away, has a few seafood restaurants. (Oddly, the much closer Tanjung Balau does not have any.) There are also a few basic restaurants in Bandar Penawar.
- Terminal Cafe (Tanjung Belungkor Ferry Terminal). Another simple, friendly little eatery dishing out Malay favorites, located in the ferry terminal building (look for the signs to "Canteen"). The nasi ayam (chicken rice) is excellent. RM 5.
- 1 Penawar Food Court (Medan Selera Penawar), Jalan Dato Haji Hassan Yunus, Bandar Penawar, 81930. Food court.
- 2 Tanjung Balau Food Court (Medan Selera Tanjung Balau), Kampung Nelayan Tanjung Balau, Benut 81930. Food court.
Many of the nice signature restaurants are located inside the resorts, although non-guests are always welcomed to the eateries.
- 3 Lotus Seafood Restaurant, Lotus Desaru Beach Resort and Spa. Seafood restaurant.
- 4 Nakon Thai Boat Noodle Hot Pot BBQ, Tunamaya Beach and Spa Resort - Desaru Coast. Thai restaurant.
- 5 Nelayan Seafood By The Coast, Tunamaya Beach and Spa Resort - Desaru Coast. Seafood restaurant.
- 6 Prego, The Westin Desaru Coast Resort. Italian Restaurant.
- 7 Shiokaze Teppan, Sand and Sandals Desaru Resort and Spa. Japanese restaurant.
Accommodations in Desaru caters to various segments of tourists, from the traditional and classic style accommodations to the modern ones. Most of the accommodation are generally divided into two areas, which are the Bandar Penawar town areas and beach front resorts area in Desaru.
- 1 Desaru Holiday Chalets, ☏ . Opened in 1974, this is Desaru's oldest place to stay. Simple little beachfront chalets with aircon, fridge. "Standard" chalets have no hot water, while "Superior" ones do. The "Single" chalets house 2, while the "Doubles" are intended for four. From RM120.
- 2 K2 Hotel Desaru, No. 7-1, Jalan Jelutong 1, Taman Desaru Utama, Bandar Penawar 81930, ☏ .
- 3 Yolo Desaru, No. 2A, Jalan Dahlia 3, Taman Sri Penawar, 81930 Bandar Penawar, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Hotel.
- 4 Amansari Hotel Desaru (Hotel Amansari Desaru), No. 127, Jalan Kempas 1, Taman Desaru Utama, Bandar Penawar 81930, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 12PM. Hotel.
- 5 Amansari Residence Desaru, Jalan Kempas 2, Taman Desaru Utama, Bandar Penawar 81930 (From Larkin Bus Terminal or Kuala Lumpur TBS, take intercity bus to Bandar Penawar, Kota Tinggi. The Bandar Penawar Bus Terminal is located 4.8 km away from the hotel. Take taxi to the hotel.), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Hotel and resort.
- 6 Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, Jalan Pantai 3, Desaru Coast, 81930 Bandar Penawar, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel.
- 7 Anantara Desaru Coast Resort and Villas, No. 1, Persiaran Damai, Desaru Coast, Desaru, 81930. Resort and villas.
- 8 Bayu Balau Beach Resort, Kampung Nelayan Tanjung Balau, 81930 Bandar Penawar, ☏ . Resort.
- 9 Lotus Desaru Beach Resort and Spa, Lot 1854, Jalan Desaru, Bandar Penawar 81930, ☏ . Resort.
- 10 Sand and Sandals Desaru Resort and Spa, Bandar Penawar, 81930, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Resort.
- 11 Tiara Resort, 213, Bandar Penawar 82200, ☏ . Resort
- 12 Tunamaya Beach and Spa Resort - Desaru Coast, Bandar Penawar, 81930, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Resort.
- 13 The Westin Desaru Coast Resort, Jalan Pantai 3, Desaru Coast, 81930 Bandar Penawar. Hotel
Desaru is a beach popular mostly with the locals. As such, especially if you go outside the resorts, you will see a lot of Malays bathing with long pants and t-shirts, a good way to both fend off the sun and to maintain modesty. For visitors, toplessness is not appropriate, but a normal bikini for girls and shorts for guys is ok.
- 3 Bandar Penawar Tourist Information Center (Pusat Penerangan Pelancongan Bandar Penawar), Bandar Penawar, 81900. Tourist office.
- 1 Pos Malaysia Bandar Penawar Post Office, JKR 670, Jalan Dato Haji Hassan Yunus, Bandar Penawar, 81900.