Cherating Beach has long been a favourite holiday destination, and Club Med was the first facility built here 40 years ago on the southern headland (Hijjas worked on this project too). At the northern end of the beach at a village known as Chendor, the tidal Pak Siak River meanders through the forest behind the Kasturi Resort to its estuary, creating a long spit of land where the beach is backed by coastal forest with the river behind. A rich mix of species was identified by FRIM botanists before the project began, and every effort has been made to protect as much of the site’s rich biodiversity as possible. Some wildlife, like mosquitoes, the macaques and wild boar, are controlled, but there are also regular sightings of the shy and engaging leaf monkeys in the trees.
Guests have the opportunity to see coastal birds like Southern pied hornbills, giant sea eagles and tiny forest species. A highlight of many visits is the family of sea otters that regularly fish the river and bask on its banks, occasionally playing long games of catch with any dog that might accompany you on your walk.
Literally between land and sea is the Rimbun Dahan turtle hatchery. This rather rough and ready structure on the beach is revamped each year after the monsoon, but it was the first thing to be built when we started the resort in early 2014, as Hijjas’ wife Angela wanted the site to have some positive environmental values to compensate for the inevitable damage that building would involve. Our model for the hatchery is a simple one: buy the eggs that local boys dig up from nests during the turtle landing season and rebury them in the hatchery until the babies emerge about 6 weeks later. All hatchlings are released within 24 hours of surfacing, with many visitors participating in sending them off with a prayer for their survival. Our famous hatchery manager, Pak Su, is a local character who works tirelessly for the welfare of these tiny creatures; in the 2016 season he bought and reburied 25,278 eggs, about 250 nests, as well as raising much of the money to do so: this middle aged kampong man is a whizz at social media!
Life cycles on the east coast are driven by the weather: going to sea and drying fish in the off-monsoon, repairing boats and nets when it’s unwise to go out. Apart from fishing and farming, the local Muslim community heeds the calls of the azan from the Chendor mosque. The Kasturi has a Malay gamelan set especially commissioned from Solo in Java, which staff and neighbours are taught to play and enjoy, and guests may also join classes. A residency programme invites artists to stay at the resort to be inspired by the environment, and guests can visit the studio and see work in progress. Rimbun Dahan is well known in Selangor and Penang for supporting artists, so the east coast is a new frontier. A local nature guide conducts nature walks, and cultural tours are lead by people with deep local connections.