In need of a family holiday on a budget? Head to Sea Gypsy for Asia’s best kids' club and back-to-basics island relaxation
Maybe it’s this sweltering summer heat that’s to blame, but right now we’re obsessed with tropical island escapes from Singapore. (Check out our recent wrap-up of a long weekend in Koh Samui, day trip to Pulau Ubin and guide to holiday style essentials for mums, and you’ll get the gist). While we’re fans of the luxe five-star experience, there’s also a lot to be said for a rustic, back-to-basics beach holiday with the fam. That’s where Sea Gypsy Village Resort & Dive Base on Sibu Island, Malaysia comes in: think untouched sweeping sandy bay, wooden huts, relaxed vibe and super-friendly staff. Sea Gypsy boasts arguably the best kids club in Asia, awesome land and sea activities and a covetable, close-to-Singapore location. And with prices like these, you can’t afford not to go!
It’s mission impossible to find a resort anywhere on the planet more laid back than Sea Gypsy. You’ll feel any residual city stress melt away the moment you step off the boat onto the sand. Forget the usual buzz-busting check-in (we actually only checked out), and settle in on the vintage cane chairs at the open-air bar with your welcome cocktail. An enthusiastic gap-year student will deliver your bags to the verandah of your keyless cabin via wheelbarrow, and then return to whisk your kids off to dinner.
Sure Sea Gypsy is simple, but therein lies its undeniable charm. There’s something for every castaway in the family to enjoy. The kids will fossick for shells along the shore, climb on the handmade wooden playground, shoot hoops and play on the rope swing for hours. You’ll unwind reading mags and books from the in-house library, and maybe indulge in a gin and tonic or two (all in the pursuit of ingesting mosquito-repelling quinine, of course). Even the family dog is welcome!
There’s no wifi access unless you go the business centre (we did not, and the concept is frankly a little comical in a place like this). It’s a welcome break from emails, iPads and social media scrolling.
Asia’s best kids’ club
The kids’ club has got to be THE most undersold element of the Sea Gypsy experience. Only on arrival did the full impact of how fab the kids club is really dawn on us, and we would have paid more for this unbelievable service. Not only do the fun, energetic staff feed your kids dinner, they then treat them to an outdoor activity before retiring to the club for secret kids’ business until 10pm (for kids four years and above, or under four if they’re with an older sibling). You are left to enjoy an adult dinner of fresh local dishes like beef curry, barbecued meats, satay, rice, vegies and fresh fruit. If your kiddos are on the younger side, and they don’t fall asleep on the beanbags in front of a movie, they’ll be returned to your table for a cuddle.
There are also great optional morning and afternoon child-centric activities including T-shirt painting, jungle hunts and a pirate costume workshop for a few dollars a pop.
Just a hop, skip and ferry from Singapore
Sibu Island is only a 2.5 hour drive from Singapore to the Tanjong Leman ferry terminal, followed by a 20-minute speedboat ride. Sea Gypsy offers a door-to-door transport service for approximately SGD190. Don’t forget to have a small stash of MYR handy to pay the Marine Park fee at the ferry terminal (MYR80 for two adults and two kids). If you can, leave the island on a weekday to avoid the horrendous Sunday evening immigration queues.
Diving, snorkeling, island-hopping and jungle trekking
Nestled in a marine park, Sea Gypsy has a solid reputation as a go-to-Scuba Diving destination. Not a PADI certified diver? No sweat. For only MYR150 you can be trained by the professionals, and go on your very first dive! Or, if snorkeling is more your speed (or risk profile), grab your kids and head off on a boat trip to the coral reef, and marvel at clown fish darting amongst the sea anemone. Or opt for a spot of jungle trekking. There’s also a cheeky sans-kids sunset booze cruise!
Affordable and eco-friendly
Sea Gypsy’s got to be one of the cheapest island escapes on the market, coming in at just a shade under SGD1000 for a family of four in a beach hut (queen bed and bunk bed). This includes accommodation, boat transfer, all food and drinks and kids activities. Bargain! The folks on the island are also committed to maintaining a pristine wilderness, and have a worm composting system for ecological nappy disposal. They even sell biodegradable nappies on site, so families with a bub in tow don’t have to worry about bringing a suitcase full just in case…
In the interests of full disclosure…
If you’re high-end holidaymaker, then Sea Gypsy is not for you. If, however, you adjust your expectations to a notch above camping, then you’ll be thrilled. The beds are equipped with military standard mosquito nets, and there are no hot showers. While sand flies on the beach pack an itchy sting, eucalyptus oil is an effective deterrent. The booking process is also a little frustrating and long-winded, but forgive them; they’re on island time. Life’s a beach!
Photography (top image): Sally Roydhouse