Large resort hotels don’t have the best reputations among independent travellers in Southeast Asia. Hogging great lengths of shoreline, and unleashing hordes of package tourists on erstwhile unspoilt beaches, many would prefer to avoid these over-priced, under-sensitive developments.
However, when it comes to Batu Ferringhi in Penang, the beach is now so dominated by resorts that few facilities are left for day visitors. Sadly, there is little, if any, budget accommodation on the beach, and you can’t simply come and sit yourself down on the sun loungers because they are all owned by the big hotels. There are no public showers or changing facilities, and if you choose to cool off in the sea, the likelihood of being stung by jellyfish turns this simple act into a game of marine-based Russian roulette.
Meanwhile, crowds of package tourists gaze down from under their shady parasols, quaffing chilled cocktails and beers before sauntering over to their hotel pool for a relaxing dip. If you’re going to visit Batu Ferringhi, then there is very definitely a case for putting aside principles and upholding that old adage: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Unfortunately, most of the resorts only allow resident guests to use their facilities, but fear not: you don’t have to fork out huge amounts of money to stay in one of these places because the Park Royal Resort offers day membership at a price that might surprise you.
If you can get your head around the concrete monstrosity which makes up the hotel itself, the landscaped beachside gardens are actually quite attractive. Their perfectly manicured lawns are strewn with red sunbeds and parasols, and little paths wind between coconut trees, shady bowers, two swimming pools, restaurants, bars and the beach itself.
From one of the resort’s sunloungers, you have all the benefits of being on the beach, with its views of the sea, but with the added bonus of parasols, fresh towels, changing facilities, showers and, of course the swimming pools. If you have children – or if you are just a big kid yourself – you can also play on the two waterslides, and there is even an outdoor ping-pong table on site if you feel the need to be active.
Make your way to the Cool Bananas bar, on the far right as you come through from reception, to arrange your day membership. It’ll set you back 40.60 ringgit, Monday to Thursday and 52.20 ringgit on Friday to Sunday. This includes a credit of 23/34.50 ringgit (weekdays/weekends), which can be used for food and drink from the restaurant and makes the deal particularly worthwhile. You will be given a plastic wristband, which you can show to the waiters to claim back your credit, and you will also be asked to pay a flat-rate towel deposit of 20 ringgit, regardless of the number of people, which you can claim back at the end of the day.
As you might expect, the drinks and food are charged at Western prices but the portions are large and you could easily share one of the main courses between two, as a lunchtime snack. The Western food is particularly good, including fresh baguettes loaded with roast beef and salad, ciabatta sandwiches, generous-sized burgers served with chips, huge cones of French fries or potato wedges, pastas, pizzas and fresh seafood, starting from around 35 ringgit. Soft drinks, iced teas, juices, iced coffees, frappuccinos, mocktails and draft beers are all 12-16 ringgit, while glasses of wine and cocktails start at 20 ringgit.
Alternatively, you are free to come and go as you please, so you could use your credit to buy drinks at the Park Royal, and then duck out to one of the cheaper nearby restaurants for some lunch, before coming back to enjoy your afternoon. Small bottles of drinking water cost 8 ringgit at the resort, so bring your own or you can pick up large bottles for 2 ringgit at the small grocery store on the other side of the road from the main entrance.
Even if you have reservations about such hotels, the gardens at the Park Royal are big enough that it doesn’t feel too crowded and this is a cheap and easy way to enjoy all the benefits of a resort without having to pay the exorbitant cost of staying overnight.
If you are going to do a day trip, buses 101 and 102 leave every 15 minutes or so from Georgetown and take about 40 minutes (2.70 for a single ticket). Alternatively, if you fancy staying in Batu Ferringhi, Park Royal is directly opposite Roomies Boutique Bed and Breakfast, which offers bunks from 40 ringgit a night. You could base yourself at the hostel and be conveniently placed to spend your days at the resort, saving yourself a few hundred ringgit per night, and proving that you can join ‘em — and beat ‘em.