History and Legacy

A dense forested island, framed by powder white beaches seemingly motionless except for scuttling crabs and the dance of the ocean. The gentle lull of the waves harmonises with the whisper of swaying coconut palms, interrupted only by the occasional call of migratory birds.

When Dato Chua first set eyes on the island of Pulau Tengah in the early 1990s, it was love at first sight. The native Johorean took an interest in the island – then home to Pirate Bay, a rustic backpacker resort – and for the next 15 years, enjoyed the location’s pristine tropical beauty with family and friends.

 Pulau Tengah in 1978 while it was used as UNHCR Refugee Transit Camp. The photo was taken on Long Beach, then known as Trung Dao.

Pulau Tengah in 1978 while it was used as UNHCR Refugee Transit Camp. The photo was taken on Long Beach, then known as Trung Dao.

When she was in her teens, Cher, Dato Chua’s youngest daughter would walk around Pulau Tengah with her father and plan what a resort would look like if one day it was built. She went on to study social anthropology at Cambridge University and from that a bigger sense of building communities in the context of human interaction and action was instilled. It wasn’t until 2009 during Cher and her husband Laurent’s wedding that the decision was made to really go ahead with the  resort.

Friends in Europe would ask me where to visit stay in Malaysia and I would always talk about these beautiful islands in our backyard,” says Cher. “But I never knew where to recommend they stay”.

The following year, Cher & Laurent left London's financial district behind to move back to her native Malaysia where they threw themselves into the mission and vision of bringing what would eventually become Batu Batu to life. During this time, Cher drew significant inspiration from Sonu Shivdasani, chairman of Soneva Group, whose quote particularly resonated with her:

I think successful businesses happen when you have a clear vision. If you start a business just for financial gain they tend to fail, generally. Or they may have a short-term success but not long term. Long-term success comes when there is a passion about doing something and changing things.

 Within the resort, Turtle Watch Camp was established in 2014 to preserve, research and monitor the local population of endangered sea turtles. The organisation has now been renamed "Tengah Island Conservation".

Within the resort, Turtle Watch Camp was established in 2014 to preserve, research and monitor the local population of endangered sea turtles. The organisation has now been renamed "Tengah Island Conservation".

Mindful of the fragile ecology on and around the island, Cher and her family took it upon themselves to become its custodians and have since embarked on a journey to safeguard its natural beauty and rich biodiversity. Besides exploring and implementing technologies which would make the island run more sustainably, Cher and team have created Tengah Island Conservation housed at the Tunku Abdul Jalil Conservation Centre. The team of onsite marine biologists and environmental scientists conduct scientific and community-based conservation programmes to protect the rich biodiversity in the area - a project currently fully funded by the resort.

The beauty of the island, the reefs, the marine life are our biggest assets,” says Cher. “Protecting the natural environment is absolutely key for the tourism industry and key to the continuation of both our business and the sustainability of the local economy.

In addition to protecting the island, the founders also wanted every guest to reconnect with nature, learn something new, and leave with a greater sense of purpose in protecting the planet.

From the beginning, Cher also knew she wanted to create a unique community on Pulau Tengah, and to offer guests a resort built by passionate individuals rather than a corporation. Despite not having previously worked in hospitality, as an avid traveller she knew what experiences visitors would value the most, and she strived to create an atmosphere that was warm, welcoming and easy going. The result of her vision is a shared island home, with each member of staff contributing his or her quirks and individualities to create the soul of Batu Batu.

Turning her vision into reality presented a full set of challenges. The island is off-grid, so the team had to learn about energy production, water sourcing and treatment, and supply logistics. Using local carpenters and workmen with wood from an experimental plantation the family had acquired in the 1970s – Batu Batu was built plank-by-plank with each piece of wood, nail, screw transported to the island by barge, or when possible, by boat. The resort took three years to build and first opened to outside guests in April 2012.

For nearly two years, after the resort opened, Cher and Laurent lived on Pulau Tengah to run Batu Batu, arriving with a 20-month-old baby in tow, later joined by a second child. The Lassalvys now reside in Singapore where Cher works full time supporting Batu Batu’s operational team with a particular focus on driving forward the development of the resort’s environmental programmes and sustainable practices.

 

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