Enjoy a laid-back holiday at this gateway town for getaways with its own unruffled charm.
Pulau Rawa (Photo: rawaislandresort.com)
A quaint yet bustling fishing town located on the east coast of Johor, Mersing is where travellers usually simply pass through before getting on to their island holidays in this state. Travellers often continue their journey to the nearby Johor islands of Rawa, Besar, Tengah, Tinggi, Sibu, Pemanggil, Aur and Dayang as well as Pahang’s Pulau Tioman, which is actually geographically closer to Johor. However, Mersing itself actually makes for a good relaxing weekend getaway, or to extend your holiday after a diving trip on the nearby islands.
If you want to take a break from the beaches once in a while, you may want to get active and try a hike up Gunung Arong. Despite its name (“gunung” means mountain in Malay), it is technically a hill at only 247 metres high. It is, however, the highest peak in the Tanjung Resang area of Mersing and offers gorgeous views overlooking the South China Sea, including of the nearby islands of Sembilang and Seri Buat. The hike up is relatively easy, taking an average of about 1 to 3 hours, and is suitable for children as the trail is a gentle slope and quite wide for most of the hike.
Meanwhile, back on level ground, Pulau Mawar is an island you might want to visit for the unique experience of reaching it by walking on the sandbar during low tide. Accessible from Teluk Sari, the main attraction here is the “Gate to Heaven” arch, but the island is also popular among local astrophotographers as it is one of the best places in Malaysia to photograph the Milky Way. However, the trails around this area are unmarked so a first timer might want to get a guide that’s relatively familiar with the area.
Of course, Mersing’s proximity to the sea means it does have pretty decent beaches. The famous Pantai Air Papan is one of the quieter, pretty ones – it’s also home to the annual Pesta Air Papan, held every 1st of May. Apart from a few stalls (one sells particularly excellent coconut shake), there are also a variety of chalets and homestays scattered along the 3-kilometre-long stretch of beach. Meanwhile, closer to the town centre, Pantai Mersing is rather grassy and atypical of popular open-to-public beaches in West Malaysia, but it’s a nice place for a picnic breakfast or lunch.
Pantai Air Papan (Photo: Tourism Johor) Istana Mersing (Photo courtesy of Othman Jaffar)
If you’re up for just a stroll around Mersing, you might want to catch a glimpse of the newly-completed Istana Mersing, also known as the Flintstones Castle. Apparently the Sultan of Johor has a fondness for the cartoon series and commissioned the castle to be built with heavy influences based on the show. The castle is currently not open for the public to enter, but most visitors are welcome to take photos right outside the compound, which is styled just like the stone-age version of the cartoon and features murals depicting characters from the show.
Where to Stay
Apart from 3-star hotels such as Timotel Hotel and Seri Malaysia Mersing, smaller guesthouses and private homestays are also available around the Mersing town area. Mersing Merlin Inn is also a good option as it has a pool for the kids to enjoy.
What to Eat
Mersing was formerly considered to be one of the traditional Terengganu Malay areas, and hence, Terengganu dishes and delicacies such as satar, keropok lekor, lempeng kelapa and nasi dagang are easy to find in Mersing. Considered to be a variation of Johor’s otak-otak, satar is essentially grilled spiced fish meat wrapped in banana leaf. Go to Jalan Makam for this and other snacks, including freshly made keropok lekor. Grilled fish or ikan bakar is also a must-have - Brother Joe Ikan Bakar is one of the go-to places for this. Nasi Dagang Mek Yah and Nasi Dagang Warisan Kak Ju are among popular spots for nasi dagang in Mersing, while Sri Mersing Café serves fresh coffee and traditional Malaysian Chinese breakfast of toast with their homemade kaya spread and boiled eggs. Before leaving Mersing, look out for a stall selling grilled lamb served with a local tangy sauce, right across the Mersing Bus and Taxi Terminal.
Mersing is located approximately 128 kilometres from Johor state’s capital city of Johor Bahru. The nearest airport to Mersing is Senai International Airport - about 32 kilometres northwest of Johor Bahru. Local airlines including AirAsia, Malindo Air and Malaysia Airlines operate flights between Senai and KL International Airport (KLIA). From Senai Airport, travellers are encouraged to travel to the Larkin Bus Terminal (also known as JB Larkin terminal) to take a bus to Mersing. If you’re driving from Kuala Lumpur, the 350-kilometre drive takes about 4 hours, more or less.