Why this oft-overlooked island off Malaysia’s East Coast deserves more attention
A speck in the ocean, 16km off the Mersing coast and part of the Sultan Iskander Marine Park, tiny Pulau Rawa (Rawa Island) flies under the radar, overshadowed by nearby Tioman and similar destinations with bigger marketing budgets. But the lowkey Rawa Island Resort has a charm all of its own, making it well worth a trip.
1. It’s the very definition of relaxing
With beach huts spilling out onto a long strip of impossibly soft white sand, Rawa ticks many of the boxes (even clichés) of a dreamy Southeast Asian getaway. Staff at the Rawa Island Resort are extremely welcoming but also very hands-off. And with few places to go besides the restaurant and the sunset bar, relaxing comes pretty easily. And if you do need help, one other spot worth a visit (it’s all of a five-minute walk from the beach) is the spa, which boasts amazing sea views and treatments starting from just RM90.
2. There are rooms to suit all tastes
As well as those beachfront chalets, there are waterfront villas jutting out over the South China Sea, hillside villas set back from the sand, and Frangipani Villas a short walk away, some of which come with interconnecting balconies, thus making them ideal for multi-family stays. All come with ensuite bathrooms as well as freshwater showers for rinsing off after the beach (before heading back out again, because really, why else are you there).
3. It’s a great spot for water sports
In addition to snorkelling, Rawa is well set up for paddleboarding and kayaking (you can rent both there and circumnavigate the whole island in not much more than an hour). There’s also a PADI-certified dive school run by Orca Nation, that’s now gearing back up after being closed throughout the pandemic. And while the coral surrounding the island has seen better days, there’s still a wealth of sea life right off the jetty.
4. It’s amazing for kids
The first thing that greets you as you approach the island by boat are two towering water slides that deposit you directly into the ocean. You’ll have a hard time prying your young ones away, but there’s plenty more for them, including a trampoline, free-to-use scooters, a TV lounge, an iconic swing over the beach and, of course, acres of that glorious white sand for them to play on. Because it’s such a small island, they can’t really get far – and the fact that all meals are buffet-style spares you indecision and tears at dinner time.
5. It’s great value in a prime location
Rawa’s nearest neighbour, Batu Batu, is a lot swankier and the arrival of Anantara and One & Only in Desaru has made the south coast a more appealing upscale escape for residents of both Johor and Singapore. Despite that, there’s something delightfully old-school and easy-going about Rawa, not to mention that rates at Rawa Island Resort are much lower than most of their competitors (two nights in October go for around RM2,070, all-inclusive).