Rawa, a Rustic Island Paradise in Malaysia

Could this be called the perfect family holiday, just a few hours from Singapore? Angela Manners tells you more.
Rawa Island Resort

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a princess when it comes to holidays and accommodation. I just love fancy hotels with room service and gorgeous decor. I’m a five-star kind of girl. When someone uses the word “rustic” in the description of their holiday, I tend to discount the experience and put it in the “roughing it” genre. This was the case with Rawa Island Resort, a place that almost everyone I know has been to and loved. Now I can happily be added to the list of those who loved my holiday on this island paradise.

I’m going to blame our Rawa beach holiday on peer pressure and a husband who would have no problem with less than five-star travel. “Just think of how much fun the kids will have”, they said. “It’s beautiful”, they assured. “We’re all going!”, they told me. Thank goodness they chipped away at my luxury needs and a few weekends ago, we found ourselves at beautiful Rawa Island Resort. It totally helped that someone in the group basically did all the bookings. All we had to do was show up.


The view from the porch of our two bedroom villa. Ask for number 29. I will be next time I go.

Taking over the island

When I say “peer pressure”, I mean it. Initially, four families signed up for the experience, three of which had already been there together. Rawa, I would say is perfect for ring-ins because by the time we arrived, and at our largest, the group numbered over 30. Now that might seem scary to some but at Rawa, you never felt overcrowded. The kids scattered into various groups or sometimes played as a pack. I am sure we had more than enough for a full game of cricket or football if we could have been bothered to organise that.


There was little need to worry about them. At high tide, the three-storey water slide into the ocean kept them running up and down. Even little ones, the smallest, being mine at two and a half years, were kept content watching, digging, splashing and sitting on the beach. Older kids could wander off the shore with snorkel gear and life jacket, tube or kickboard and safely snorkel for hours. The kids looked after each other and for most of the time, it felt like they weren’t even there.


Adults likewise could have their own space, taking a hike around the island, visiting the rustic (and I truly mean rustic) Thai style spa, bobbing around in the ocean, going for a paddle around the island or having a turn on the water slide. There are also plenty of spaces, lounges, picnic tables where you could congregate (if you want) to chat and order drinks from the beachside bar. Loners could find a bean bag or sun lounge down on the beach and read a book, nap or just do nothing. There is also a Orca Scuba dive centre, where you can rent sea equipment and book a dive or a class to learn how to dive.


Sand and sea

I am always laughed at when I say I don’t like sand (it sticks to everything, feels funny and is generally a messy substance). I also don’t like to actually be in the sea (salt water makes me sticky). Obviously, on an island, you get a lot of both substances! Probably another reason why I never thought I would find myself on Rawa.

However, when the view is simply stunning, the kids are happy, the water is so clear you can see the fish swimming by, it is totally something I can deal with. The rustic nature of their accommodation works because, without the frills, there is no worry about messing up your floors or tracking sand in everywhere. It’s island living at its best.

Oh, the sand is also powdery, soft and clean.


Rustic villas

I know my friends were concerned for me when it came to our villas. They know that I sometimes choose not to travel because I can’t afford the five-star luxury I would prefer. I think there might have been bets as to whether or not I would actually come along to Rawa. I did and the villas, though rustic, were completely comfortable.

Ours was beachfront, number 29, with two bedrooms that were air conditioned. If that had not been the case, it would have been a deal breaker. The rooms are separated by a hallway that, on one side, opens into the “open air” bathroom. Now don’t go getting any romantic ideas about showering under the stars. When I say open air, I mean that it just isn’t closed in and air-conditioned. A back door from the hallway opens to the concrete walkway. At the front of our villa was a porch with a table and chairs where you could put your feet up and take in the view. A few short steps down takes you right onto the beach. There is a faucet right there so you can wash up sandy feet before entering your rooms. For our family, this worked really well.

At the front of the villa is a roomy porch with table and chairs. Here is where you can put your feet up and take in the view. It’s also very convenient to hang up wet towels and clothes to dry quickly. A few short steps down takes you right onto the beach. There is a faucet so you can wash up sandy feet before entering your rooms.


Food and feasting

I was frequently warned before our departure that the food would not be instagrammable and with this, I would agree. But it was tasty, good food and I enjoyed it. Mostly because it took me back to my Asian roots of rice and sides. There was always a delicious stir-fry vegetable, a curry of some kind (my faves, the rendang and chicken curry) and several other dishes to accompany. The kids were kept happy with pasta, nuggets, chips and pizza. A salad bar was available at every meal.

For breakfast, there was an omelette station and each morning, a different local style breakfast option. For me, that meant feasting on Nasi Lemak, Mee Goreng and Roti Prata. All dishes that took me back to my childhood of growing up in this region. Saturday nights are barbeque night with grilled meat, veggies and salads.


The dining hall at Rawa Island Resort.

The buffet is the only food option available on the resort but I quite liked it and found much to eat at each meal. I brought along my own ground specialty coffee and v60 brew kit so I was taken care of in that regard. However, their bar makes pretty good coffee, from lattes to long blacks. There is always a bench with hot water, tea and instant coffee available and you can order a la carte meals and drinks all day long.

Don’t forget there is a beach bar as well where you can order jugs of margaritas, beers, anything really and have it brought to you where you sit on the sand.



A walk further down the beach leads you to their bar on stilts over the rocks. At sundown, this is a stunning location to get that perfect family photo, have a drink and enjoy the setting sun. The large deck has room for everyone and there are beanbags, lounges and umbrellas aplenty. Most of us would eventually make our way down there every evening before dinner to toast the sunset and enjoy the tropical breeze.


I loved my visit to Rawa Island Resort. It is an island paradise where you can just relax and not worry about work or the usual day to day. We spent three nights on the island and that was just enough to leave me wanting for more. The best thing was that it was a short, easy weekend away from Singapore but it felt like a much longer holiday.



From Singapore, if you don’t include the border clearance, it should only be a two-hour drive. The roads are windy and bumpy but the palm forests and greenery along the way are a nice change to concrete buildings.

Rawa is accessible by their private boats that leave from Mersing Jetty. They only take people who are staying at the resort so you are free from day trippers and tourists.

For more information visit www.rawaislandresort.com

We had beachfront villas and I would book that again, however, there are other accommodation options so check the website.

  • Book early. We booked our September holiday in March in order to get as many rooms as we did.
  • If you’re driving:
    • Register your vehicle before you go. In truth, you may not need it, but better safe than stuck at the border because you didn’t have it: https://vep.jpj.gov.my/
    • Have a usable Touch N Go card. Ours had expired so while we were parked at customs, someone had to hop out and get a new one. Thank goodness there was no one behind us!  http://www.touchngo.com.my/
  • Bring along some Ringgit. Parking at the jetty costs $54 Ringgit, cash only, but apart from that and the Touch N Go card, we used our credit card for everything else.
  • Don’t expect luxury but expect to be wowed by the view, the sand and crystal clear water.


What to pack
  • Swimwear, two sets at least – you probably won’t wear much else. Bring something to wear over them if you want to.
  • Sunscreen – you’re out all day so bring lots and remember to re-apply.
  • Insect repellant – there were some mosquitos but we weren’t eaten alive.
  • Beach towels – there are bath towels there but your own, fluffy beach towel is convenient to have.
  • A good book.
  • Snorkels and floatation devices – but if you don’t have this, you can rent them from the dive centre.
  • Sand toys for the younger kids.
  • Clothes – really just for going to meals or when you don’t want to be in your bathers so use your own discretion with this. I just had a couple pairs of t-shirts and shorts, PJs and a sundress or two.
  • Walking shoes if you want to hike around the island – it’s not too strenuous but good shoes are needed.
  • It did rain on one day we were there so a sweater or a scarf was nice to have. They also have a media room and a games room for those rainy afternoons.

Angela Manners loves finding an interesting story and talking to people about what they are passionate about. She is Australian but was born in Bangkok, grew up in Southeast Asia and then studied in America. Angela is passionate about coffee, food and everything that surrounds them.

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